Tag Archives: Indian

Letters to the Editor: Response to Instagram Filters

Dear India Currents and Medha,

Medha, may I take the liberty of stating you looked so much better and more natural with no filter than with it?

I love your points about society deeming certain White physical traits as attractive ones, however, we don’t have to pander to it. We can simply ignore those standards and learn to feel comfortable in our own skin. No one is holding a gun to the heads of Indian women and forcing them to get blonde highlights, or worse, go totally blonde, yet many Indian women do. It will be a while before Indians feel pride in their nation, their religion, their dress, their food, their customs, and their languages. It is the unfortunate aftermath of the toxic British colonialistic legacy that still lingers on and makes us belittle ourselves.
It has nothing to do with White culture, and everything to do with how we Indians feel about ourselves. Let’s take accountability for it and begin the change from within. Kudos to you for your candid self-expression.
Go ahead and eat that idli-sambar and lick your fingers clean!

Sincerely,

Gayathri Chakravarthy

Cupertino, CA

Left to right: Anuradha Kumar and her book, 'A Sense of Time and Other Stories'

Losing Your Sense of Time While Reading Anu Kumar’s Newest Book

Anuradha Kumar is a writer who has already produced a variety of works. Born in India and currently, residing in New Jersey, she contributes to the Indian publications Scroll.in and the Economic and Political Weekly. She is the author of Coming Back to the City: Mumbai Stories and under the pseudonym of Adity Kay, she is the author of best-selling novels of historical fiction. Her newest book, A Sense of Time and Other Short Stories by Weavers Press, presents a wide canvas of Indian life as well as the author’s ease with multiple genres of the short story.

The opening story ‘The Entomologist at the Trial’ is at first glance a courtroom drama. Narrated from the perspective of a nephew recounting the details of an interesting case in the professional life of his lawyer uncle, the story touches on issues of sexual harassment and speaks to our “Me Too” moment. However, as it unfolds, the short story reveals itself to be a trenchant social satire on the moribund justice system lubricated by money and power. The fact that justice is served in this story seems to be a serendipitous anomaly in the general routine of corruption. Kumar’s concern with sexual harassment against women spans across classes.

While in ‘The Entomologist at the Trial’, the victim is a middle-class woman who is a social worker, in ‘All the Way to the Twelfth Floor’, Gauri, a servant, faces domestic violence at home and the predatory advances of her employer, Hasmukh Singh.

Kumar focuses on the everyday oppressions of women in ‘Missing’, another story in which the protagonist is a rural peasant whose husband has gone to serve in the army. When he returns on leave, the trauma of his experiences at war creates an invisible chasm in the marriage. The story ends with her husband’s desertion from the army and a continuation of the precarity of the wife’s life in the village.

The precarity of intimate relationships is a continuing thread in this collection and Kumar explores the implications of marital disharmony in rural subaltern as well as urban elite contexts. In ‘Rekha Crosses a Line’, a wife facing a crisis of identity falls victim to the charms of a godman while being aware of his manipulations.

Marital disharmony leads Malati in ‘Dorothy Cries in the Bus’ to leave her husband, Ashok, and board a bus for another town. It is on the bus she develops a sudden friendship with a Canadian female tourist, Dorothy, who is also experiencing her own romantic travails.

While the oppressions and solidarities between women form a connecting thread between stories, some stories are more directly a critique of the current state of Indian nationalism, the erosion of the founding promises and ideals of Gandhi and other leaders.

In ‘The Man Who Played Gandhi’, the power of Gandhi is symbolically diminished to that of fading actor invited to play Gandhi in village functions, who is mistaken not for the original Gandhi but the actor who resembles Ben Kingsley. The invitations to play Gandhi gradually diminish till the protagonist who has spent a lifetime perfecting the details of Gandhi’s mannerisms is forced to succumb to a magician creating the illusion of Gandhi disappearing on stage. The disappearance of Gandhi is a metaphoric invocation of the disappearance of Gandhian ideals in contemporary India, characterized by the regime of neoliberal globalization and the dilution of his secular vision. 

Another story that offers a harrowing comment on the failure of the Indian nation-state is ‘Big Fish’, which also invokes the fragility of life for Indians living in coastal areas increasingly subject to violent cyclones as a result of climate change. In this story, we encounter, a young girl Munni who is an internal refugee as a result of a devastating cyclone. The family rescues a stranger from another cyclone, but the guest remains traumatized and unable to speak of his past. In the end, he is taken away by the police since he has no papers to prove his legitimacy. The story dramatizes the hardening of definitions of citizenship, which leaves refugees of wars and natural disasters, displaced and unaccommodated.

While developing some of these serious themes, Kumar never loses sight of the story as a form that entertains even while it presents complex portraits of society. The title story ‘A Sense of Time’ is an interesting rendition of the genre of the glost story, where the drama is played out on a train in a deserted railway station. Like other stories, it is a telling comment on feudal hierarchies and intrigue over the family fortune, while transporting readers into a supernatural experience on a train moving through a desolate countryside.


Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


 

'Choices' Film Poster

Pro-Life or Pro-choice: San Jose Indian Writes a Film on Abortion

A short film about abortion written by a San Jose resident and an Indian American is an exciting prospect. Choices, a film directed by Amir Jaffer, produced by Ajit Mukundan, and written and co-acted by Puneet, is taking on the socially relevant debate surrounding abortion. The short film is about two individuals who are steadfast in their views but are forced to reckon with changed circumstances requiring them to revisit their entrenched positions on being pro-life and pro-choice, respectively. 

Though Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of a woman’s choice to seek an abortion, felt like a positive resolution, the 50-year discourse on pro-life and pro-choice continues to be contentious. This year, 165 bills banning abortion were introduced in state legislatures. Every election cycle, hopeful candidates seek a platform built on the divisive issue in an attempt to pander to their demographic. 

According to Jackie Dallas, the female lead of Choices, “Stances on abortion have become heavily politicized, with opponents citing religion or science without a true understanding of either. However, in actuality, an individual’s decision may not be based on fear of eternal damnation or a conscience against murder at all, but something as selfish as shame or deceit. This is a story that could be told by anyone, but I appreciated how it gave a voice to Asian-American representation, and by doing so, exposes a cultural taboo that is rarely discussed in such communities.”

I could not agree more! I was ready for the Indian American and, possibly, Hindu prerogative on the subject matter. A topic that is rarely discussed in Indian households would benefit from a film written from the lens of an Indian American in the Bay Area.

“As a Muslim, I believe in projecting the benevolence of the almighty towards all,” Altaf Khan (Puneet) preaches in the first scene of Choices during a book signing on his pro-life book. 

Puneet, who does not identify as a Muslim, plays into the trope of Islamic tradition (western religion) and the discourse surrounding abortion. When Puneet was questioned about his decision-making process, he responded, “Altaf Khan could have been a conservative Christian person too…[He] can be modern and orthodox. [He] could have been anyone.”

The unique viewpoint which Puneet has to offer was overlooked for generic appeal. Religion is pivotal to the plot but cultural implications of abortion within the Islamic community are left unanswered. Much like his character, Altaf Khan, Puneet chose to pinpoint religion when it was expedient to do so. 

What I knew began with good intent, seemed derailed by the many themes it ventured to address – religion, politics, career, marriage, infidelity, AND abortion. It took a bite out of the very extensive, nuanced dialogue and presented it to the viewer in 20 minutes.

And, perhaps, that bite was much too big. The film wasn’t able to do justice to any of the motifs and touched on each one in a superficial way. 

Some elements of Choices that I did appreciate were: the interracial couple, the diverse cast in every scene, the directive to approach a heavy topic, and the willingness to underscore the hypocrisy of the male approach to the female body. 

Ultimately, I wish this short film had offered more than what already existed in the media space but I do think it was worth the watch. More narratives on abortion are welcome and, potentially, the film can prove to be thought-provoking for South Asians once they see themselves represented on the screen. 

Choices is now available on Amazon in the United States and in the United Kingdom. It is also available on Disney+ Hotstar (India and other geographies). 

For the trailer, pictures and details go to: https://www.pranapictures.com/movies/choices


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.


 

Bajrang Punia wins the gold in Rome.

Bajrang Punia: Fighting for Gold at the Tokyo Olympics

He wrestles with all his might and communicates in immaculate Hindi. 26-year-old freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia is among the foremost Indian stars for the upcoming 2021 Summer Olympics.

On March 8, 2021, after fighting his first big match in Rome since the pandemic struck, he’s re-secured the 65-kg weight category number 1 spot in the world.  Doing the unthinkable, he defeated his Mongolian opponent in a nail-biting last 30 seconds of the match to clinch the Gold! High on positivity about repeating the same at the upcoming Olympics, he had been training in Michigan.

Awarded with some of the country’s highest honors since 2015, including Padma Shri, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, and Arjuna Award, Punia started wrestling at age of 7 years by playing in the mud in his village in rural India; he hailed from a financially poor but deeply encouraging family. 

Punia took out time from his challenging routine to speak to India Currents about his devotion to discipline, training during the coronavirus lockdown, and why he has released statements urging the Indian government to resolve the 2020 farmers protest.   

Bajrang Punia shows off his Gold medal in Rome.
Bajrang Punia shows off his Gold medal in Rome.

IC: The announcement of nationwide lockdown in India and the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics came within hours of each other on March 24. What were your first thoughts? 

BP: First thoughts were definitely saddening – we were just three months away from the Olympics and preparing hard for it. But on second thought, we didn’t know such a virus would arrive and everything around the globe would stop. Lockdown gave me more time to work on my performance. Life is important, the Olympics can come again. 

IC: Tell us about your daily routine. 

BP: The most essential quality for a good athlete is discipline. Without discipline, you are a zero. And the next important thing is – diet. Maintaining these is crucial. If we are at a training center – like now – we have to wake up at 4-4.30 am. I wake up, bhagwan ka naam leta hoon (pray), get fresh, and have bananas or an apple before heading out. We have to be on the mat for the first match by 5 am irrespective of the season.     

During training, we take munakka (currant) and supplements. We drink badam (almond) being made right there in kundi sota (a traditional Indian grinding instrument set). It’s strengthening and body cooling. These are specific to Indian wrestlers. After training for 2-3 hours, go back, take lunch, shower, have milk, and sleep. The same routine is repeated in the evening. I sleep by 10 pm. About 9 hours of sleep is essential. If I’m at a local training camp (when at home), the routine is a little delayed, but the same.  

IC: How was lockdown spent? 

BP: The first month was disturbing. As players, we had never stayed at home before. Now, we had to appeal to people to stay indoors and set an example too. But then I started making arrangements so that my training doesn’t suffer. I took a room for rent near our house in Sonipat and got my partner Jitendra to practice with me. I requested our community in my village Khudan in Jhajjar district, Haryana, for the wrestling mat – which they immediately sent me and we set it in the room. I bought and set up gym equipment worth Rs6-7 lakh ($8,154-$9,153); my physiotherapist Manish Konwar Chetri was with me. And the training started! 

IC: When you are playing in the ring, do you feel connected with the audience and hear them? 

BP: No. When I am on the mat, I think nothing. My full concentration is on kushti. At world-level matches, all players are good. If at all I hear someone shouting/cheering, I think it’s for me; it cannot be for the opponent! 

IC: What is your favorite food? 

BP: Churma (a traditional sweet made with wheat and ghee) made by my mother is my favorite food but I cannot eat it often due to a restricted diet. I relish it after returning home from tournaments. 

IC: Which is your favorite wrestling match? 

BP: It was at the 2013 World Championship. This was my best ever and one of the first senior matches. I won a medal (bronze). Whenever I watch that bout, I think I have to do more. At that time, India had fewer medals in the world championship. If I can win this at the age of 18, I can definitely win it at the Olympics. 

IC: What facilities at your American training center for the Olympics would you want your Indian facility can accommodate?

BP: Indian centers have it all too in my opinion. But here at this center (Cliff Kleen Wrestling Club, Michigan), everything is under one roof – a gym beside the mat, basketball, football, steam, sauna, massage…everything. It helps. 

IC: You have released messages on social media for the government to resolve the largest ever ongoing farmers’ protest in India. What is your opinion on it?

BP: If the farmers are not happy with something, why try to force it on them? If the government believes it is beneficial to them, then sit with them and explain it. Why would farmers not understand? I come from a farmers’ family and thus I understand. If you go to my home, you will see my parents work in the fields. There isn’t a single family member in the job sector. Only I am an exception, a sportsman. Farmers won’t be on the road if there is a benefit in the three farm acts.  


Suruchi Tulsyan is a freelance journalist from Kolkata, India. 


 

Satyajit Ray's 'Bankubabur Bandhu'

How Satyajit Ray Influenced E.T.: Remembering the Legend on His 100th Birthday

Tell A Story – a column where riveting South Asian stories are presented like never before through unique video storytelling.

May 2021 marks the 100th birth anniversary of legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Though centenary celebrations are stalled amidst pandemic, filmmakers across the globe paid respects and remembered one of the world’s finest directors, who still remains the only Indian filmmaker to have received the renowned Academy Award.

Ray directed 36 films including feature films, documentaries, and shorts that earned international acclaim. In his lifetime, he was bestowed with many accolades – 32 national awards that include the six National Awards for the Best Director, which is the most by any filmmaker so far. 

But did you know there is an inconspicuous mystery that surrounds his illustrious career including deceit? Though Ray had laid his footprint in Hollywood in the 1960s and even grabbed an opportunity with Columbia Pictures for making a movie, he was unfortunately deceived and later got disillusioned with the project.

In the 1980s, Steven Spielberg came up with the much-acclaimed Hollywood movie E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. The movie faced plagiarism charges for having replicated an Indian Filmmaker’s script, who was none other than Satyajit Ray. 

Unknown to many, Ray had penned down the first-ever script on aliens in 1967 named ‘The Alien’. The screenplay was based on his Bengali science fiction story, Bankubabur Bandhu, published in Ray’s family magazine, Sandesh. He had envisioned a movie on aliens, discussed its pursuance with Hollywood producers, and even had talked for a US-India co-production with renowned actor Peter Sellers and Marlon Brando as leads.

The striking similarity between the Hollywood movie E.T and Ray’s alien indeed became a talk of discussion. It is believed that this was one of the main reasons for E.T underperformance at the Oscars, only receiving technical awards. Rumors also claim that it is guilt that compelled Spielberg to recommend Ray’s name for the Academy Awards.

Tell-A-Story unveils this obscure mystery through this video story detailing the facts that uncover the resemblance between E.T and Ray’s Alien. It unearths the story behind Ray’s journey to Hollywood, the talks he had, and the bare truth that he revealed in his own words. A remarkable writer cum director, an exceptional illustrator, storyteller, and music composer, Satyajit Ray’s astounding creations continue to marvel filmmakers across the globe and no wonder he is still commemorated as one of the World’s greatest filmmakers.

For more such intriguing stories, subscribe to the channel. You can also follow the stories on Facebook @tellastory2020 and Instagram @tell_a_story2020


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. Tell-A-Story is her latest venture into video storytelling that includes video narratives along with thought-provoking content in less than 5 minutes, to engage and entertain the audience.


 

Letters to the Editor: Boost Your Immune Response to COVID

Dear India Currents,

It appears Covid-19 will be with us for a while, and so it makes sense that we prepare ourselves to fight off the virus as best as we can.

Several factors determine how sick one might get from Covid-19. Principal among the reasons appear to be: (1) Viral load carried by the transmitter, (2) Distance from the transmitter to the receiver, (3) Duration for which the receiver remains in the vicinity of the transmitter, and (4) Immunity of the receiver. This brief article focuses on the last x-factor in this list.

First, Yoshinori Ohsumi received the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for showing how fasting is supportive of health and longevity. Researchers report that fasting activates autophagy, the process of cell recycle and renewal, which helps slow the aging process and has a positive impact on cell renewal. Along these lines, supplements such as vitamins D have also been reported to boost immune response.

At the fundamental level, scientists say that they have identified a set of genes that fight the Covid-19 infection. These genes are related to interferons, a group of signaling proteins made and released by the host cells in response to the presence of viruses. The researchers found that a weak interferon response to the infection results in some of the more severe cases of COVID-19. This understanding led researchers to search for the genes that are triggered by interferons, known as interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs), which act to limit SARS-CoV-2 infection, and they identified eight such genes.

Against this background, medical researchers have found that meditation lengthens telomeres and slow aging. It is plausible that meditation may strengthen the interferon response, boosting immunity to Covid-19. By now, the medical benefits of meditation are widely documented.

Covid-19 being primarily a disease of the lungs, enhancing the functioning of the lungs should be supportive of higher immunity to the disease as well.

A 2014 report in Nature found that pranayam (breathing exercises) and meditation could help fight flu-like systems. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, The Healing Power of Breathing offered evidence of the medical benefits of proper breathing.

Maybe with the regular practice of pranayam and meditation, fewer people will be sickened by the dreaded disease, and those who do get sick, will not become as sick. Be sure to talk to your healthcare service provider before adopting these suggestions.

Sincerely,

Pradeep B. Deshpande & James P. Kowall


Pradeep B. Deshpande is Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at the University of Louisville, and President of Six Sigma and Advanced Controls, Inc.

James P. Kowall is an independent researcher based in suburban Eugene, Oregon. He is a retired physician certified in Neurology, Internal Medicine, and Sleep Disorder Medicine, and he additionally holds a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics.

If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note. 


 

Letters to the Editor: Earth Day Open Letter to Mayors & CEOs

Dear India Currents,

To the Community Leaders –

Please do not try to rush back to the pre-Covid normal. Indeed, drop the idea altogether. It will be the best thing you can do for the planet, for your residents & employees, and for the overall US economy.

To the Mayors of large metros –

Many of you are leading your cities to become more environmentally friendly and demanding Congressional leaders take bold action to protect our planet. One of the boldest actions you yourself can take for the planet is to stop pushing for businesses and people to come back to your city as soon as possible.  Your large metropolises have for decades drawn resources from the surrounding areas facilitated by cars, buses, and trains – each mode of transportation relying predominantly on fossil fuel. Cities can facilitate lower carbon lifestyles, being densely packed they reduce miles traveled for city-dwellers and most of that travel is on public transport, which is easier to electrify. However, there is a serious counter-balancing externality of daily travel in and out of cities for suburbanites. The same engine that has spurred your cities’ spectacular growth has also imperiled the planet and choked areas with air pollution. Scientists had been warning about the potential of a global pandemic, now they are warning us that going back to pre-Covid normal, when normal is what has brought us to the brink of disaster, is simply untenable. We don’t have much time left and your actions/inactions will help seal the fate of our planet. Why must you then push for an anti-planet agenda?

Your cities haven’t just fueled climate emissions; they have also been funnels of economic activity sucking jobs and wealth from their surrounding suburbs. In many ways, your cities have imbibed the logic of the market with competition dominating the sphere. In pre-Covid times, the country was littered with listless towns, their sole purpose being feeders of human resource to your illustrious cities. Covid-19 changed that. Suburban house prices have gone up all across the country, especially as many city-dwellers flocked to the suburbs in search of more spacious housing. People already living in the suburbs, unencumbered by the rush of getting to work each morning and returning exhausted at night, find themselves with time to relax, so they spend it enjoying their own neighborhoods, eating out more often, revitalizing their own localities. Our own little Long Island town’s Main Street is buzzing like never before; even during weekdays and weeknights, when it used to be nearly deserted before, is now swarming with people at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the vibe is superb. If these people are again forced to go back to their sordid commutes, it may bring more economic activity to your cities, but it would be at the expense of the suburbs. Why is it that for the benefit of your large cities so many small towns across America must suffer?

To the CEOs of big corporations –

For decades, there existed a model of business and management that assumed employees’ physical presence in an office a prerequisite for growth and profitability. Covid-19 has finally proved this to be a fallacy. Corporate profits are skyrocketing and an overwhelming majority of employers acknowledge that remote work has been successful. The best example of remote-work success is the software/tech industry. This success is now possible because by 2020, the technology to work remotely had matured in the form of high-speed internet access and myriad video conferencing software.  Any remaining kinks in technology will soon be sorted. Towering skyscrapers with their gleaming glass offices have already started to resemble monuments of the past. Many employees have discovered that not having to spend 2-3-4 hours each day driving in rush hour traffic or riding on trains & buses offers a much higher quality of life. Sleep deprivation has been a major detriment to the health of long-distance commuters, napping being the most common commuting activity. Imagine having an extra 2-4 hours added to your daily life; you can sleep more, play more, spend more time with your kids, have more time to think creatively, or just ponder. This prized gift of time improves productivity and makes for happier employees. Why would you then try to upend this superior work-life balance?

Of course, some employees, especially young people, might want to come back to the office. Others, especially older ones, who have homes & roots in the suburbs and/or are raising young children may vastly prefer to either fully or mostly work from home. It is not so difficult to find ways to facilitate these shifts. Those who do not desire to go back to a daily commute should be allowed to come to the office once or twice a week as per need, potentially for a day of meetings or if a new employee on-boarding requires physical presence. Even those employees who would mostly prefer to work in the office are more likely to appreciate being able to work from home 1 or 2 days a week, especially if the home is no longer a cupboard size apartment. Pre-Covid, the living arrangement in some of these “wealthy” cities was close to inhumane for most people, tiny apartments carved up into “flexes” converting living rooms into extra bedrooms to add another roommate. The sole objective of renting such an apartment was to get away from it for most of the day. Facilitating more employees to live and work from homes in the suburbs not only adds to their quality of life, but it also relieves housing pressure in cities allowing the employees living there to be able to afford humane housing conditions. Why not embrace this win-win for both employees and employers?

To all reading –

You might ask the fundamental question – if people start working right where they live and if corporations close offices in large cities, what does it do to the stature of a big city? What would “New York, New York” mean if the suburbs in New Jersey, Long Island, and the other NYC boroughs no longer funnel all their resources to the tiny island of Manhattan?

While you may not like the answer, the truth is that there is nothing sacrosanct about the stature of a big city. History shows that crises and disasters have always set the stage for new paradigms of thinking and living. Mega-cities have long been considered the engines of human progress, but they have also brought immense misery to countless areas through depopulation & brain-drain, and commuting to and from cities is a huge source of sleep deprivation and carbon emissions. For far too long, scientists’ warnings have been ignored by governments and corporations alike, both unable to see beyond the next fiscal quarter’s growth figures. And the abomination of “business as usual” has continued unabated.

Covid-19 has brought the world immense tragedy but it has also given us a glimpse of new possibilities. It has shown us that even cherished old paradigms have an expiration date. For the sake of the planet, our own well-being, and for the greater good, we are counting on you for the right kind of leadership.

Thank you!

Swati Srivastava and Mark Bartosik

Long Island, New York


Swati Srivastava is a filmmaker and an environmentalist. Mark Bartosik is an engineer and an environmentalist. Together, they try to lead a sustainable life and live in a Net Zero Energy Home in Long Island, NY. They can be reached at Swati@TiredAndBeatup.com and Mark@NetZeroEnergy.org 

If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact editor@indiacurrents.com with a submission or note. 


 

Author, Lakshmi Rao with her tanpura(Image by Jigna Desai)

The Enduring Poetry of the Gwalior Gayaki

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

“Geetam Vaadyam Tatha Nrityam, Trayam Sangeeta Mucchyate.”

This quote from the ancient Sangeet Ratnakar by Pandit Sharangdev, defines ‘sangeeta’, or ‘collective music’, as singing, instrumental music, and dance. De rigeur for many Indian children, I have fond memories of training in Bharatanatyam and Carnatic vocal music myself. While my exposure to playing instruments was limited, I spent time listening to soulful Hindi film songs and singing in the school choir.

 I also ventured outside ‘sangeeta’. Over the summer holidays, I lost myself in brooding Dutch skies and the idyllic English countryside, while painstakingly recreating the paintings of the Old Masters on my own. My unexpected partner in artistic ventures was my mother. I still remember her reciting “For whom the bell tolls”, during our weekly Sunday oil-bath ritual. The oil was smelly and the bathroom floor was cold, but John Donne lit up my seven-year-old imagination. 

“No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.”

Captivated by words, endless hours were spent in bookstores and libraries, train compartments, and dull classes secretly devouring Dickens and Austen and later, Sheldon and Nabokov. Fascinated by these cerebral and rather mysterious personalities, I wondered: was writing art? If a picture paints a thousand words, are words then less, or more? And do they not have a place in “sangeeta”?

Time passed and I “grew up”; focusing my energies on studying and working, traveling extensively while juggling the demands of career and family. In 2009, I decided to take a much-needed break when we moved to Mumbai and rekindled my interest in the arts, this time through Hindustani classical music. I found a compelling and motivated teacher in Vidushi Neela Bhagwat, the doyenne of the ancient Gwalior parampara. Neelaji, as she is affectionately known, traces her lineage through her guru, Sharathchandra Arolkar, to Krishnarao Shankar Pandit and in turn to Haddu and Hassu Khan. Of course, the millennia-old river that Indian music is, there have been many others that gently fed the rivulets and streams. I feel incredibly lucky to be connected to this lineage of artists, spanning space and time.

Gwalior Fort (Image by Pavel Suprun and under Creative Commons License)
Gwalior Fort (Image by Pavel Suprun and under Creative Commons License)

Famous for its “ashtanga gayaki” (or eight-fold ways of voice projection), the distinctive Gwalior aesthetic relies on the composition as the portal into the raaga. The gayaki employs  a number of musical forms to render emotion: “khatka”, “meend”, “gamak”,”aalaap”, “behlava”, “taan”, “kampan” and “murki”. The richly detailed, complex compositions typically contain many of these forms, both conveying the essence of the raaga and the unmistakable singing style. Gwalior singers typically favor the “siddha” raagas (principal raagas). Yet, what drew me most was the focus on the “bol” or words of the bandish, and the interplay of these words with the “layakari”, or play of rhythm. While many gharanas emphasize similar musical forms, the Gwalior gayaki melds them with the “bol” – and “bol aalaap” is a hallmark of this tradition. 

In my quest to convey the beauty of these verses, I stumbled upon an entire world of poetry and lyricism. One of my favorite bandishes, set to raaga Vrindavani Sarang:

“Bore jina Allah ko yoon na jaaniye. Karna tha so kar chuka, aur ji chaaha so kara.

Adarang sanchi kahat, as kaaman ko, rahim reejha reejha layi, kahu ki as kaaman kara, so hi det rab”. 

Translated:

“Oh simpleton, do your duty and once done with it, do what you desire.

Adarang says truly Allah will satisfy your sincere wishes.” 

Written by Adarang who was a poet in the Delhi court of Mughal Emperor Mohammed Shah Rangile (1702-1748), the soaring notes pay tribute to the Creator. Singing the composition day after day, I noticed how my mood gradually grew more positive – and I realized the power of poetry. Poets weave magic, and “geetham” would be closer to “vaadyam” without their precious words.

Another evocative piece set to raaga Bageshri, about the plight of a lovelorn woman pining for an indifferent partner and confiding in her friend strikes a different chord. The second stanza, especially, conjures vivid imagery:

“Kaun gat bhaili, mori sajani, yeri mayi, piya na pooche ek baat;

Ek ban dhoondhoon, sakala ban ban, gayi daar daar, karahi paat paat”

Translated:

“Where has he gone, dear friend, my love did not take leave of me;

I am searching for him in the forest, through all the woods, branches, leaves.”

I joined the “Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley” circle in 2019, hoping to better understand poetic sentiments and bring more feeling into my singing. Surrounded by verse in languages ranging from Pali to Portuguese, and meeting online as a getaway from Covid-imposed isolation, I eventually summoned the courage to write, too. Here’s a bandish on my travels, to meet my teacher:

“Badhi kathinayi saha guru dwaar aayi,

Ghar baal chhod kar, gyan pane mayi.

Guru haske kahe, jaanat nahin baawri,

Main antar mein rahoon, tu kahaan jayi”

Translated:

“Braving great troubles, I came to my guru’s door,

Leaving my family, in order to gain knowledge,

The guru laughed, asked if I didn’t know,

That the guru resides inside, where are you headed?”

Listening to poetry has unexpectedly grown into a much-anticipated weekly ritual. I’m delighted in my discovery of an art form within an art form, expanding my horizons and making friends along the way. Many of the members in our circle share common interests and creative collaborations bubble up quite often. I look forward to the ventures and adventures that beckon in 2021!


Lakshmi Rao is a senior disciple of Vidushi Neela Bhagwat, training in the vocal style of the Gwalior parampara. She calls the Bay Area home, and remains ever curious about the world that was, that is and that will be! 


 

Pagglait Approaches the Insular Hindu Family With Humor and Heart

Pagglait is a Hindi dramedy film that released this past March on Netflix. The narrative follows the emotional reaction and circumstance of a young widow, Sandhya (Sanya Malhotra), after the death of her husband. The film is set in a small town near Delhi and chronicles the aftermath of the death of a breadwinner in a middle-class joint family.

This film, written and directed by Umesh Bist, is a winner! The producers Shobha Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor, Guneet Monga under the banners Balaji Motion Pictures and Sikhya Entertainment deserve praise.

The film plunges us into the middle of a drama. Astik has passed away. Sandhya is alone in her room, amidst a house full of grieving relatives, sifting through “routine” condolence posts on social media about her dead husband, Astik. Sandhya is very natural in her confusion and state of shock.

When asked, “If she wants some tea?” She says she would prefer a cola

Ghanashyam, a relative, suggests she has PTSD and Sandhya’s mother tries to ward off evil spirits by burning chilies. Sandhya’s attitude leaves the others puzzled but the viewer gains more insight into Sandhya’s character after her friend Nazia (Shruti Sharma) arrives. This vegetarian “chips” craving, Muslim school friend helps Sandhya process her grief. Sandhya admits that she is not feeling sad and sneaks away with Nazia for spicy street food while Astik’s brother is performing rituals for Astik on the river bank.

Ashutosh Rana looks sufficiently tired and hapless as a grieving father of a young son. Raghubir Yadav as the interfering orthodox uncle who orchestrates the funeral arrangements and thirteen-day right of passage of the deceased soul is natural. Another easy feather in Sheeba Chaddha’s professional cap as a traditional middle-aged mother who has no time to grieve. She just carries on cooking bland food for visiting relatives, massaging her mother-in-law’s ankles, giving her enema, offering support to her husband, and seeking guidance from her “guru”.

Sandhya admits that in the few months of marriage like any other arranged married couple, she was not very close to her husband. The loss of her pet cat affected her more than her husband. It takes time to develop feelings for someone…

The other family members are distressed but I think they are more concerned about the repercussions of the loss in their lives rather than genuine grief for the departed soul. Meanwhile, Sandhya discovers a photograph of Astik’s crush in his book. Sandhya is angry at her dead husband and is curious about Aakanksha, played flawlessly by the lovely and well-groomed, Sayani Gupta.  Aakanksha, who worked with Astik, came to offer her condolences with others from Astik’s office. Sandhya confides in Aakanksha and tries to gain more information about Astik from Aakanksha. She meets her a few times and tries to dress, act, and live vicariously through Aakanksha. Sandhya finds it hard to believe that Aakanksha and Astik were not involved after marriage and broods over it. 

The plot presents a twist when the family finds out who is the sole beneficiary of Astik’s life insurance. Questions arise. Will Sandhya remain in the joint family home or return to her parents’ home? Will she accept another proposal of an arranged loveless marriage? She has been craving soda and “gol gappas”, is she expecting? Can she find a job with her Master’s in English literature?

There are so many questions for Sandhya who is caught unawares at a crossroad.

But if you look closely, this ludicrous state is not Sandhya’s alone! This is the state of so many female denizens of a repressive society in which all decisions are made for them. From birth. Whether they have a right to be born to upbringing, education, toys, books, clothes, career choice, marriage, emotional and financial stability. Their ability to choose food, love, happiness is nullified by others. All decisions are made for them.

I highly recommend this film to everyone who supports gender equality. To quote the beautiful Sanya Malhotra, “Pagglait is a person who listens to their heart!”

A round of applause to Bist for hitting a home run with his flashlight on an insular Hindu family, the predictable characters with their hypocrisy (coming late to the funeral and drinking while making others abstain), warmth (treating the old dadi with respect and cuddling up in her comforter), jibes (at the in-laws), stress (of one bathroom), prolonged rituals (despite poor financials), every attempt to draw a line between a high caste Hindu and a Muslim, and the rather odd raunchy doorbell!

Death opens doors for self-realization in unexpected places.


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.


 

Not Really Indian: Subhashini Prasad’s Book Compiles Global Narratives

Subhashini Prasad was born Indian, raised Indonesian, educated American and professionally groomed to call the world her oyster. Her debut book, an anthology – Not Really Indian, was published in 2019 and made it to Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers in its first month of release. Her first children’s book – Hoo and Hau, has been published on Storyweaver. In 2020, Subhashini won the runner-up Storyteller of the Year Award by Beyond the Box. She shares funny and sincere stories of motherhood on her Instagram page, @dosaiamma. She believes that laughter is an instant vacation and that dancing is the solution to everything. Subhashini currently resides in Gurgaon with her husband and two children.

Here’s a purview into her writing process and her journey on finding inspiration to write her debut novel, Not Really Indian.

Cover of book, Not Really Indian.

What inspired your book ‘Not Really Indian’?

When I was 4, my family moved from Chennai to Jakarta. When I was 18, I moved to America to pursue my Bachelor’s degree and career opportunities. Therefore, from a young age, I have been a cocktail of cultures: sometimes confused, sometimes misplaced but always inquisitive and respectful of diversity. Stories from my own life and those of other third culture women have inspired Not Really Indian. Not Really Indian is a collection of short stories that challenge stereotypes and narrate the tales of women who long to be both Indian and worldly at once. 

Are the characters in your book based on people you know?

I am a writer who strongly believes that ‘reality is stranger than fiction’. Not Really Indian therefore takes inspiration from real life and from acquaintances who share experiences of living in India and abroad. Every time I made new friends or encountered incidents that pertain to the theme of Not Really Indian, I had made notes in a journal or on my phone. The notes made over the years came in handy when I crafted each story about women and their journey in India and abroad. The story: Goodbye, My First Love is loosely based on my family’s experience when we moved to Indonesia in the late 1980s. Offshore’d is based on the experience of many of my colleagues who worked round the clock supporting the Western finance world from India. And finally, Not Really Indian takes snippets from my own life, mixed with a pinch of drama and a fistful of twists. 

Did you struggle to develop any of your characters?

Author, Subhashini Prasad.

Surprisingly, the character sketches came naturally. Plotting the story, keeping the character development in mind was more challenging especially because I chose to use the short story format. It was challenging and exhilarating when the idea merged perfectly to reveal a character’s true color or to provide closure to the character’s personality. 

If you choose to be one of the characters in your book, who would it be and why?

Niyati Shah from the story Offshore’d is a very brave, young professional who has found the ideal balance of interacting with clients across the globe and still, staying true to her Indian identity. Even when she faces challenges from her boss and colleague as she climbs the corporate ladder, she doesn’t give up and knows how to showcase her Indian team to the rest of the world in a banking world. Niyati, believe it or not, is an embodiment of every young lady that works in the outsourcing or IT sector in India. I would choose to be Niyati for her perseverance, courage, and patriotism she shows for being Indian. 

Can you tell us about your writing process?

As a writer, I spend more time planning than in writing. I start with a one-line summary of each story and develop a character or chapter outline, depending on the length of the story. Once the planning is complete, I sit to write without distraction and find the flow. Once I find the flow, it is easier for me to finish chapters or stories at a length.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Since I work on planning and finding the flow for the words to occupy my page, it takes me more time to finish writing a large novel. And with the pandemic, with two small children at home, it is very difficult to find a distraction-free time. Also, planning can become very extensive and take time and effort away from creative writing. 

Who are your favorite authors?

Khalid Husseini and Jhumpa Lahiri have always been my favorite authors. Recently, I have enjoyed reading Elif Shafak and Indian women writers like Anuradha Roy, Madhuri Vijay, and Kiran Manral

Tell us about your future projects

I am currently working on my second book, which is a novel in the genre of dark romance. I have also completed my manuscript for two children’s books. If all goes well, all the manuscripts will be taken to publishing. 


Surabhi Kaushik is a writer from the heart and finds joy and comfort in her words. You can find all her published work on her blog: https://surabhiwritersmind.blogspot.com 


 

Indian Women Revolt: The Problem Lies in Your Genes and Not Our Jeans

A recent comment over women wearing ripped jeans by an Indian politician has once more thrown open the misogynist mentality prevalent in our culture.

On March 18, my journalist friend Sid Shukla wrote a post on Facebook which read: The problem lies in your genes, not in my jeans. RIP #Ripped_Genes. This was right after a storm broke out across the country over the ripped jeans comment made by Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat, who wondered what values women wearing ripped jeans would pass on to their children. Following his insensitive comment, several women posted pictures of themselves wearing ripped jeans on Twitter and other social media platforms. Female politicians like Jaya Bachchan and Mahua Moitra also condemned the chief minister’s comments heavily.

Such careless and thoughtless remarks by politicians are not new in India where women are often blamed for inviting rape by their choice of dressing, conveniently forgetting the fact that children fall prey to pedophiles in this country. 

Delhi Pradesh Mahila Congress members take part in a protest against Uttarakhand CM remarks over ripped jeans | Parveen Negi (Image from New India Express)

Jeans have always been the bone of contention and in many homes, women are not allowed to wear them.

Early on in my life during high school, I have fought for the two Js in my life, jeans and journalism. My mother wanted to restrict my choice of clothing. She was dead against my wearing jeans, citing her conservative family members and their value systems. Seriously, I have never come across such bizarre logic in my entire life, the very fact that relatives can dictate the choice of a woman’s dress. 

Author, Deepanwita Nyogi in ripped jeans.

I was adamant and the day I first owned two pairs of jeans, I knew I had scored a point. Later during my college days, whenever I bought jeans, my mother made her sentiments clear.

Back in college, friend Devi Banerjee (name changed) admitted that wearing jeans was a big issue in her house, but her mother was supportive of her choice. Devi told me that some of her relatives nurtured the idea that only bad women wear jeans. Another college friend was never allowed to wear jeans, always arriving to classes in salwar kameez. While salwar kameez is never an issue, debarring a girl from wearing jeans because hips and thighs become pronounced is the most baseless argument I have ever heard. However, while Devi was content in Indian wear and I rebelled against my mum.

College days are long past. But to imagine that someone in 2021 can remark on how women in jeans can fail to impart the right sanskaar (value system) to children can take India back to the medieval ages and nullify all the achievements it has made till now. 

With globalization, many things have become a part and parcel of the Indian culture or that of South Asia as a whole and jeans are one among many. To criticize women for wearing jeans or ripped jeans while letting go of men attired in the same outfit is shameful and deeply disturbing. It points to the fact that society always wants women to be the torchbearer of tradition even if these are regressive.

Jeans, which originated in America in the late 1800s, are often associated with western culture and value systems. It has a certain sex appeal and an association with rebellion. Hence, those indulging in moral policing think it should be shunned by women in conservative cultures. But ironically in our society, people feel proud of their sons settled in the US and it becomes a point of discussion. Even in the US, the culture pervades the thoughts of the Indian community. India Currents very own, Srishti Prabha spoke to me about her experience. She said, “When I first wore ripped jeans in middle school (my mom was pretty progressive and let me wear them), the parents of my Indian friends would comment on how I looked like a beggar or trying too hard…”

In the Bollywood movie, Lipstick Under My Burkha, one of the female characters out of the four portrayed in the film wears jeans under her burkha because of restrictions at home. While it may appear to be a trivial issue for many, for Rehana Abidi’s character, it is the first step towards independence. 

I love wearing jeans and often remember how hard I fought to have them in my wardrobe. If jeans have to be indeed shunned, avoid it because it uses a lot of water to be manufactured and not due to stupid morality issues advanced by regressive minds… 


Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.