Tag Archives: #IndianAmericanminority

Notes From an Indian American Ayurvedic Massage Patient

(Featured Image by Prakriti Ayurveda Center)

Veena and Devi, the two young women who were to be my massage therapists, start their procedure with an invocation to Dhanvantari, the god of medicine and Ayurveda. At the end of the invocation, they chant ‘lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (may all beings everywhere be happy and free) three times in their clear voices, every day, for the seventeen days of my treatment, taking turns to stand in front of me, right palm on the top of my head where a few drops of warm herbal oil have been dribbled to start the routine. I sit there on the massage table in nothing but a skimpy konakam (loin cloth), mesmerized by the sounds and simple tune of the invocation that bounces off the bare walls of the treatment room. 

This last line spins in my head like a song that is stuck in a good way. The tune stays true to theirs but the words change to ‘let go, surrender, savor the moment’. The only way to savor each moment is by learning to let go. Letting go, as in disconnecting the body from the mind. To stop thinking of body parts as ‘buttocks’, ‘breasts’, ‘thighs.’ Most of all, to get rid of identifying these body parts as mine. Only then am I able to relax and enjoy the power of touch – the main sense awakened during the treatment.

Once the invocation is over, the ears are at rest – the massage is done in silence. The only sound is the drone of the ceiling fan. Occasionally, sounds seep in from the outside, like the caw-caw of a crow in the neem tree or the drawn-out ‘pay-paar’ call of the recycling trader, bicycling the neighborhood shopping for old newspaper. I close my eyes through most of the hour in order to better take in the smells – the next most salient sense that is evoked during these massages. Fragrances fill the room – herbal oils, camphor, roasted pumpkin, wild brown rice, boiling milk.

Image by Prakriti Ayurveda Studio

Apart from some perennially inflamed finger joints, I did not have any major problems when I walked into Prakriti, the Ayurvedic center close to where I was staying on this trip to Chennai. But I had time on my hands so decided to check it out. The doctor, also a young woman, very well-spoken, spent an hour with me asking me questions. She told me how Ayurveda treats not just symptoms but works holistically on the entire body. Most treatments improve blood circulation and remove impurities at a cellular level, thus reducing inflammation. She prescribed a detox and rejuvenation regimen that included a series of three massage treatments supplemented with two kashayams (a liquid decoction of medicinal herbs), and a ksheerabala capsule. 

I remember ksheerabala from my childhood – it was my grandmother’s wonder drug. It didn’t come in capsule form then. My grandmother always had a skinny 3-inch bottle of this dull yellow oil and she would apply a few drops to the scalp on the top of her head. Unlike other herbal oils, I remember from my childhood, this one didn’t smell good so I was glad to see it come wrapped in a bright green capsule now.

I was expected to eat simple vegetarian food for the duration of the treatment. The three massages, which I’ll get to, were udvarthanam, elakizhi, and navarakizhi in that order.

Unlike many Ayurvedic clinics especially built for the purpose, Prakriti is housed in a rented home on a quiet street in Chennai. All three bedrooms with their attached bathrooms have been turned into ‘treatment rooms’. I realized very quickly that an Ayurvedic massage is not for the faint-hearted. Nor the bashful. One of the women leads you to a treatment room, locks the door, and hands you your disposable konakam. You change into it in the bathroom, though I’ve wondered why I bothered with the bathroom – walking back into the room in that little white loin cloth was more embarrassing especially since a post-menopausal body isn’t exactly a showpiece. You face your masseuse and sit on the massage table with your legs dangling over the side.

After the invocation, one masseuse applies more warm oil on your scalp and hair and massages your head and temples for about ten minutes – heavenly. You then lie on your back on the wooden massage table that shines with all the oil it has absorbed over the years. The bottoms of your feet are wiped clean. Warm oil is poured on your stomach, chest, and limbs, and is worked into your body with Veena and Devi on either side of the table and four strong hands moving swiftly in tandem. Then you lie face down and the process is repeated except sans konakam. These first few steps are the same for all seventeen days. The medicinal massage follows the oil massage and is different for each kind of treatment. The ceiling fan is turned off during the medicinal massage. 

Treatment Room at Prakriti Ayurveda Center

In udvarthanam, which I did for three days, the kizhi (read ‘kiri’) had a mix of medicinal powders. Kizhis is a Malayalam word that means bundle. Various medicinal substances and rice are tightly held in a cloth. It is used with or without moisture for massaging the body. It is heated in a dry pan and applied to your body in upward strokes. Some of the powder seeps through the cloth so you smell brown and earthy by the end of all the scrubbing. It is mixed in with the smoky fragrance of the kizhis getting heated. There is a twenty-minute rest period at the end of the forty-minute massage. 

The elakizhi was seven days of intense massage. The kizhi is filled with medicinal leaves that smelled like roasted pumpkin and is dipped in hot oil before being applied on your body. ‘Apply’ is too soft a word. It was more like pat-pat-pat, pound-pound-pound, scrub-scrub-scrub all over, front, back, limbs, until you felt like pumpkin pulp. There is a thirty-minute rest period at the end of the forty-minute massage. 

Navarakizhi also lasted seven days. It was the gentlest of the three but the most labor-intensive and hence the most expensive. The process starts the day before with 12 liters of water mixed with medicinal herbs boiled down to 1.5 liters. Milk is added to this and a special variety of brown rice called Navara is cooked in this kashayam (decoction of medicinal herbs) until soft. The kizhis are filled with this cooked rice and heated in boiling milk before being applied. The strokes in navarakizhi are circular in motion and feel satiny on your body. Mushy starch oozes out covering you in a soft film of pinkish brown, the color of my palm but lighter. You feel cool as soon as this massage starts. There is no rest period. 

I was surprised at how easily I fell asleep during the rest periods and sometimes even during the massage. Lying on my back on a hard, wooden table with a tiny two-inch-thick plasticky pillow would hardly have qualified as comfortable. Yet, I almost always had to be woken up at the end of the rest period. 

The last step of the session is the ‘bath’. You sit on a plastic stool in the bathroom and one of the women ‘bathes’ you. She scrubs your body with a mung dal paste that removes all traces of oil and herbs. She applies shikakai (Acacia Concinna) paste to clean your scalp and hair. Hot water is poured all over your head and body. By the time you finish and step out, you are ready for another nap.

As imagined, I was relaxed and rejuvenated at the end of the seventeen days and sorry to see it end. It has left me, however, wanting more such ‘treatments’, perhaps at lush locations with the sound of waves lapping against a seashore…


Lakshmi Narayanan lives in Ann Arbor MI when she is not spending time in Narberth, PA with her two grandkids, or traveling. Pre-pandemic travels included one or two trips a year to India. A recent longer stay allowed this experience. 

Farzana Doctor’s Book, ‘Seven’ Confronts An Abusive Tradition

Trigger Warnings: FGM/C

Some Christian denominations believe a seven-year-old can make spiritual choices. Judaism and Islam hold that a seven-year-old boy is able to participate in fasting and praying. For many, seven is the age at which a child knows right from wrong. For others, it’s simply a lucky number. In award-winning book, Canadian author Farzana Doctor’s bold and compassionate novel Seven, the significance is painfully different.

Sharifa, a 40-year-old Dawoodi Bohra woman born and raised in America, is a classroom-weary high school history teacher. Her marriage to the jovial Murtuza is an agreeable one, but behind closed doors, there are ongoing issues: Sharifa once engaged in a brief online affair, and she never has experienced an orgasm before or during the marriage. However, when she, Murtuza, and their daughter Zeenat travel to India for his eight-month teaching sabbatical, they hope for valuable marriage mending.

Aside from homeschooling her second-grader in India, Sharifa dives into researching her venerable great-great-grandfather Abdoolally and his rise from poverty to philanthropy. Family visits double as research sessions, ranging from willing contributions of bits and pieces to handed-down myths to hesitant refusals. Hazy stories about Abdoolally’s four wives—especially Zehra, whom he allegedly divorced—grab her imagination and expand her focus.

Meanwhile, conversation with her favorite cousins Fatema (a bisexual, outspoken feminist and activist) and Zainab (a traditional Bohra wife) turns to the uncomfortable subject of khatna, female genital mutilation/cutting. Sharifa learns khatna, assumed to be illegal and long believed by some to prevent girls from being sexually promiscuous, continues to be enforced by the women of the Bohra community.

To complicate matters, Fatema and Zainab hold diametrically-opposed views not only about the practice itself but also that it is performed on seven-year-old girls. When Fatema reveals most of the girls in their family have been cut, Sharifa is shocked. And when Zainab offers confirmation, Sharifa protests, insisting it never happened to her. 

Yet, this new knowledge, coated with panic, seeps into Sharifa’s relationships and research, and she unearths astonishing details about her predecessors.

Part domestic mystery and part call to action, the novel serves up tense encounters, private marital scenes, and personal victories and defeats. Doctor’s writing is skillfully layered, yielding a novel that is complex, gripping, and thought-provoking. Her ability to present a highly readable story while raising awareness about a difficult topic is to be congratulated, and despite the weightiness of the subject, Doctor provides an occasional burst of humor, allowing the reader a moment to breathe and regroup.

Seven is a singular engrossing, emotional, and empowering story of the strengths of women, family, and truth. Unreservedly, Doctor examines the thorny dualism of women’s lives—as victims vs. offenders; activism vs. suppression; responsibility vs. conformity; pre-marital sex vs. marital sex; belonging vs. longing. She is an accomplished storyteller whose characters are effortlessly embraced and not easily forgotten, and she hits the mark in this nuanced story about family dynamics and khatna’s adverse effects on women’s sexual, mental, and other health concerns.    

Seven is an important work about an abusive action that continues without a medical foundation. A khatna survivor herself, Doctor volunteers with WeSpeakOut, a global organization working to ban FGM/C in her Dawoodi Bohra community.

For more information about khatna-FGM/C, access the United States Office on Women’s Health and the United Nations International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a long-time contributor to India Currents, a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association, and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She always wears a mask in public settings, avoids crowds, believes in social distancing, and washes her hands. 

Azaan Sami Khan’s Debut Album is Adnan Sami’s Musical Legacy

Composer Azaan Sami Khan recently released his debut solo album Main Tera. Son of popular singer, musician, music composer, and pianist Adnan Sami, Azaan is known for giving the Pakistani entertainment industry hit after hit in critically and commercially acclaimed films such as Parey Hut Love, Superstar, and Parwaaz Hai Junoon

The album will be released under the banner of HUM Music, an initiative established by HUM Network Limited to support and highlight the incredible music and diverse roster of creative musicians that Pakistan has to offer. Its nine-song tracklist also includes a collaboration with the legendary maestro Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

In this exclusive interview, he talks about the idea behind the album, his relationship with his father, and his recent anthem of hope “Tu Hai Mera”.

You are Adnan Sami’s son. Tell us about your earliest musical influences, and the relationship you share with your father. 

If anything, I am a huge fan of my father’s work, I am probably his biggest fan. I listen to every single thing he’s ever made and study it thoroughly because after all, he is my musical legacy. It’s my responsibility to understand what all he has done in his musical career and hope to live up to that standard. That in itself is very important to me, and I am very proud to be his son. 

Tell us about the experience of collaborating with the legendary Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

It was incredible, to say the least. I feel truly honored to have worked with him and to have learned so much from him in the process. He added his own magical touch to the song, and it is something I feel his fans would surely enjoy as well.

Your recent track “Tu Hai Mera” is a kind of anthem of hope that was sung by some of the most sought-after names in the industry. Tell us more about the song, the idea behind it, and its process of collaboration. 

It will always remain one of the most important songs of my life. As I finished the song in the studio, I felt proud and happy that I had the honor of working with the artists that I did. It’s a song that really went beyond my expectations, and will always hold that special place in my heart. 

I got to work with Sufi legends, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, and Hadiqa Kiani, who will always hold a very special place in my heart because she sang for my father many years ago. I also worked with Ali Tariq, who’s a fantastic singer and a great friend. And Hadiya Hashmi, who is absolutely mindblowing. 

Tell our readers about our debut solo album Main Tera.

The album is basically a musical amalgamation of my personal experiences. It defines who I am and who I’ve been up to this point. Whoever listens to it would probably get to know me better than they would when they hear me speak or any other way. It gets very dark in some places and is super happy in some, so there are reflective points in every song. Fortunately, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some tremendous music producers and artists from around the world, who have all put their hearts and soul into bringing this album to fruition.

Main Tera is about the innocence in the first steps of falling in love. The album is a rollercoaster ride of romance. It’s love and romance in their different forms, and you’ll get to see different shades of love being explored. No matter what the language of the songs is, it’s still catering to the feeling.

What is the idea and inspiration behind it?

Everything in this album is a personal experience. Each song has its own personal story. I was motivated by feelings that took over the key moments of my life, which I also feel the audience might resonate with. The main idea was to be vulnerable in this album and to put out a side of me that the audience hasn’t seen before.


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

Standing Tall As a Brown Boy

Hey M10! 

Please put down that Agatha Christie novel for a minute. You don’t know who I am, so it will come as a huge surprise when I tell you that I’ve walked with you every step you’ve taken. Bear with me – I’m not being mysterious; those are the facts. You’ll get to know me well in a few decades. In the meanwhile, can you take some time now to chat with me? I have something to share.

You are not quite 10 years old. It’s summer, and you’re in Mandya with your parents and sister at your cousin’s wedding. You are happy, enjoying the festivities, and having a great time playing with your other cousins. Suddenly you’re not having fun anymore. I know why!

An adult walking by your little group pauses to poke you in the ribs with a comment that begins to prey on your mind. “Look at that! Even Gita is taller than you are!” It dawns on you for the very first time that other people see you as a short person. Is Gita ‘better’ than you by that measure? Apparently, height matters. Why am I not as tall as Gita? This question rises to the forefront of your consciousness and dampens your enthusiasm and spirits. I see you brooding.  Concerns about your height will continue to nag you.  I want to share some thoughts about this. Before I do, I want to bring two others into this discussion.

Hello M13.

You’ll recognize me someday as that enigmatic voice from the future checking in on you.  Stop hanging from that horizontal bar and drop to the ground. Come join me and M10 on the bench over there. We should talk. You know M10 well, though he doesn’t know you yet. 

Finally, you are a teenager! You’ve spent the last four months fighting and recovering from a serious case of Infectious Hepatitis. You’re even punier now than you were before you fell ill, and you don’t like what you see in the mirror. Shouts of “Arrey Chotu!” from the playground ring in your ears. You are sick of being the first boy on the left every time your class lines up by height in the school ground at the start of PT period. You are determined to grow tall, big, and strong. You’ve heard that gravity compresses our spine and joints, and squeezes cartilage, and contracts muscles. You’ve read in a magazine that hanging from horizontal bars can help fight the effects of gravity. Your lower body is stretched and the spine elongated to promote growth. You are in your ‘spurt years’ and determined to push it along. You want to be six feet tall! 

Your dream will never be realized. All your life, you will have to contend with the unpalatable reality that your sister is taller than you are. Hang in there, M13. There’s more to you than your height. Let’s talk it over as soon as we get one more to complete our quorum.

M42.

Look here! Can I get your attention for a few minutes? You don’t know me, but you know these young men all too well.  Take a break from your busy day to chat with us. I promise to make it worth your while. You do recognize M10 and M13, don’t you?

You recall hanging from the horizontal bars in vain as a teenager, trying desperately to grow taller. Almost 30 years have gone by, and you’ve made do, standing upright and stretching to your full 5’-3½“ frame. You’ve continually struggled with a conviction that people don’t take you seriously at first, because you do not command an imposing presence; that you are too small to make an impression. You feel passed over in social gatherings and mixers, and initially at work as well. There’s a memorable incident during the international-student orientation on Stanford Campus. You’re chatting with local community members there to welcome incoming students and help them settle in a new country. A nice well-meaning lady asks innocently, “are you here to go to Palo Alto High School?” You see her utter astonishment when you say, no, you are enrolled at Stanford; whereupon – and much to your chagrin – she blurts in amazement “wow, you are already an undergraduate.” You don’t have the courage then to tell her you are actually here for the Ph.D. program in Engineering. That incident haunts you for a long time until it gradually becomes a funny story. Over the years, you feel passed over for opportunities at work and play because of your small stature. You feel inferior. You literally feel small. It has been a rough ride at times; then you slowly learn to overcome these feelings, understand your own true worth and use your strengths to flourish.

Good, we are assembled together! Let’s start with introductions.

We are all the same person, guys!

M10, you will become M13, then M42, and eventually, one day in the distant future, you will become me.

I’m M73. I want to chat about our feelings of inferiority and how we’ve come to terms with them over the years. Like most things, it’s been a gradual learning process. It gave us heartache and anguish over the years. We experienced many difficult days; first chasing a dream that was never realized, then struggling with feelings of inadequacy, and confronting unfairness both real and perceived. It took us a long time to understand that physical height was not the only measure of a person’s stature, even if society frequently behaves as though it is, by judging us from first impressions.

We learned that the other qualities and skills we possessed more than made up for any physical shortcoming. We even learned to joke about it; “I’m not short, I’m vertically challenged,” we’d remark to others. We learned that this supposed shortcoming wasn’t really one at all. Our height is determined by a combination of factors not in our control, including genetics, the environment, and the circumstances and conditions in which we grew up. We realized that physical attributes are transient – they can and do change, and what matters most, in the long run, is the heart, the mind, and the attitude that we bring to our lives. We figured out that people’s attitudes changed when they got to know us for who we were, and what we were capable of. In the hearts and minds of those that mattered, we were ten feet tall. Along with our realizations, our stature grew! Guys, look at the bright side; our feelings of inadequacy did not turn into an inferiority complex; we didn’t turn into little Napoleons!

What’s the message for us? We should continue to learn from the experience and counsel of those who are wiser than us. Continue to reflect and learn from our own experiences.  Understand that life can be unfair, and though we do not control the cards we are dealt, we can teach ourselves to play the best game possible with the cards we have. We should continue to make the best decisions we can at any given moment, with the information that we have. A true sense of self-worth, happiness, and fulfillment, and doing what we love with those we love is what life is all about. We must derive that sense from within us, not from the outside.  We can and must continue to learn about ourselves, and consider how to live our lives in the best way possible as we move forward, by reflecting on our past. 

Each of us can learn to stand tall in our own way; look forward by looking back to understand our past

I wonder what advice M80 will have for all of us!


Mukund Acharya is a regular columnist for India Currents.

In Solidarity Against AAPI Hate: Bay Area Poets Look Back at Tagore and Xu Zimo

(Featured Image: Rabindranath Tagore in China)

About a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore visited Shanghai where he was hosted by a young Chinese poet Xu Zimo, who had studied at Cambridge. Xu died young but changed poetry in China forever by liberating it from the formalism to introduce free form, and his work was influenced by Tagore.

Tagore wrote a poem called The Year 1400 (Bengali calendar – 1996 in Gregorian) addressing a reader a hundred years into the future. In it, he tells the future reader: “My spring birdsong and breeze fills me with song and I can’t send it forward but won’t you too sit by your open window and think of a poet who wrote this poem for you to share the youthful passion spring brings for all.”

Jing Jing, an immigrant from China, moved to the U.S. and taught herself English, to earn her young American daughter’s respect, and eventually become the current poet laureate of Cupertino (aka the place where Apple has built its spaceship HQ). She heard Tagore’s poem, The Year 1400, late on a Saturday night, when she visited our Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley readings last May. We happened to be celebrating Tagore’s birthday by inviting all our Bengali poets to read. One poet, Jayanta chose Tagore’s poem and its English translation by Ketki Kushari Dyson, from Oxford. It moved Jing Jing to goosebumps and tears.

As Jing Jing planned the Lunar New Year celebrations with poetry reading, she invited the grandson and great-granddaughter of Xu Zimo to read his work. Jing Jing remembered Tagore’s poem and wondered if our poets would be willing to read it at the celebration — to bring the old poets’ works together — like the friends who met in Shanghai a century ago.

I had no recollection of it and wondered who might have read it. Jing Jing had saved a screenshot so I knew it was Jayanta. When I reached out to him, he said “Anything Jyoti asks, I have to do.”

But as it turned out — there was a conflict in his schedule. He found the poem and its translation for us, even though he couldn’t read it. That is how I ended up reading Tagore’s poem and another of our poetry circle members, Debolina, read the original in Bengali.

130 people attended this online event. This is amazing for so many reasons. The China, India, US, and UK connections, the passion and love of poems and ode to spring, old friends connected through poetry, strangers making happenstance connections across the impossible distance and centuries, in springtime for celebrations with verse, and me getting caught up to enjoy it all, without leaving the comfort of my home.


Dr. Jyoti Bachani is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a former Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, with degrees from London Business School, UK, Stanford, USA, and St. Stephen’s College, India. She translates Hindi poems and edited a poetry anthology called The Memory Book of the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley.

This article was first published on American Kahani.


 

Mira Had to Fight Back: A Common Woman’s Story

This story is inspired by a true incident. The names of the characters have been changed.

Mira was barely 16. Excited about life. She had dreams. She was vulnerable. She was impressionable.

A young, bubbly teenager with a big dimpled infectious smile, she was a happy child. She had dreams, Cinderella fantasies; her prince charming would come one day on a well-bred groomed horse and take her away to the land full of pots of gold. She was a hard-working girl, full of grit; however, she was a daydreamer, stargazing and moonstruck with all the hues of the rainbow in her small world.

Mira was enveloped by immense love and support from her family. With her parents living out of the country, she had to settle in a boarding school for her high school years. Routines were very different, but no complaints as she managed to sail through them every single day. Jubilant moments were accompanied by melancholy ones when she would long for one warm hug.

Going to her maternal Aunt Krishna’s house every weekend was the highlight for her. She eagerly waited by the school gate every Friday afternoon when her Uncle Hari would pick her up. The late-night chit-chatting and sharing her innermost secrets with her cousin Simrin was something she looked forward to week after week. Summer vacation was right at the corner, and Mira was super excited to travel and spend time with her family. As always, her favorite Uncle Hari picked her up from school around 6:00 pm that Friday. Mira could not stop talking to him while they drove back home.

It was getting dark at 7:00 pm, the traffic jam was at its peak, and Uncle Hari took a detour with the intention to reach home on time. Mira started feeling a bit distressed and cramped in the car. Her gut was not too happy and was sending signals to her brain, ”Mira, something is not right. Even though there is traffic, it should still not take that much time”.

Uncle Hari came to a halt near an office building and said, “Mira, I need to meet an office colleague for a few minutes. Please wait for me in the car, I will be back soon.”

The few minutes turned into an hour, and Mira was nervous and getting jittery; she wanted to be home as soon as possible. Finally, Uncle Hari made his way back to the car, but in a different form. Mira felt uneasy and was afraid of her Uncle, who was in an inebriated state. His alcoholic breath made her uncomfortable, and she wanted to dash out of the car.

She was numb when she felt her Uncle’s awkward gestures as he tried to get close to her physically. She felt paralyzed as though someone had handcuffed her. What was happening? Mira felt trapped and powerless till some unknown power took over her.

She assertively requested, “Please behave, Uncle. You are not in your right senses, just drive me back home.”

The man who she idealized all her life turned into a villain, and Mira felt betrayed. It was like a bomb had blasted with full speed. The respect came crashing down, and in her full senses, she slapped the man sitting next to her—the man whom she had put on a pedestal and had glorified all these years.

Uncle Hari was shocked and dumbfounded. A timid man who tried to take advantage of his niece was stunned and felt impotent at Mira’s undaunted behavior. He was baffled at her militant and lion heartedness act. Quietly, he started driving back home in awkward silence.

That night onward, all changed for Mira. She had this unseen cloud of tension between her cousin Simrin and Aunt Krishna. It was not their fault. However, the gap widened.

She detested her Uncle; there was intense repugnance towards him, and she wanted to punish him for his misdoing. She tried a few times to confide in Simrin but held back with a feeling of shame and guilt. She started chastising herself internally as though it was her fault. Her house visits reduced and came to a stop when Mira decided to take their name off the list as her local guardian. It was a tough decision and hard to explain to her parents, but they abided by it.

The secret got buried in her heart with no mention to anyone. She often questioned herself, “Did I do anything wrong?”

She never got a concrete answer to her question and let it go by. She embalmed her innermost feelings and mummified them. The point of contact with her aunt Krishna and Simrin was all gone. The gap widened till there was no communication between the families. Mira’s mother once asked her, “Please tell me what happened, let me help you.”

” No, mom, I am fine. I have grown apart from Simrin. Leave it.”

That was the last time they ever spoke about this topic.

Years passed by, Mira was in a happy place in her life. Actively chasing her dreams, attaining her life goals, she was married and had a fulfilling family life. One evening her phone rang and she heard the news that her Aunt Krishna had passed away in a horrific accident. Mira was dismayed, and a colossal teardrop rolled down her cheek. Her most loving Aunt was no more and she had not spoken to her for almost two decades. Her mind flashbacked to all the priceless memories of their times together.

The phone rings again after a few years, with Mira’s mother on the other line, ”Your Uncle Hari is on life support. He is dying alone with no one by his side.”

Mira felt a sigh of relief and said to herself, finally, he will be gone forever. Her anger and detest seemed to vanish away suddenly in the air. It was as though a gargantuan burden had been lifted off her chest.

Uncle Hari passed away. He was in physical pain during the last few days of his life. However, Mira always wondered, did he have any remorse or shame? Did he ever want to redeem himself for what he had done? Did he have any realization of his hideous act? Was she right in her thought process? Should she forgive him?

Mira never got her answers. She decided to forgive herself for having held on to the feelings for so long. She gathered her guts, opened up the skeletons from the closet, and confided in her sister Ahana. She bawled her eyes out, cried for hours, and finally escaped from the chrysalis. All these years, she wanted to be heard but evaded the truth, and finally, it happened. Mira was relieved and felt comforted in the arms of her sister Ahana.

The bold and beautiful Mira decided to educate her daughter Sia to be a vocal, balanced and competent woman. She felt she owed it to her, and it was her duty to encourage her sense of autonomy to handle all the trials and tribulations within the circle of life.

Mira’s message is loud and clear, walk like a queen and never take any abuse. Speak up at the right time, take risks, be gentle but not too nice to be taken advantage of, and lastly, you get to decide your worth – not the world around you.


Dr. Monika Chugh is a resident of Fremont and a doctor by profession. She has an undying love for blogging and actively shares her personal experiences with the world on different topics. An active Rotarian, nature lover, coffee-fitness-yoga-hiking enthusiast, domestic violence advocate, in her free time, you will find her reading in her Zen sipping coffee working on her writing. 

A Foreigner Unpacking Social Stigma Toward Pune’s Queer Community

(Featured Image: Image taken by Dan Soucy at the Pride March in Delhi)

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to conduct research on the pervasiveness of heteronormative expectations toward gender in Pune, India. I sought to understand how these expectations influence the Queer community’s daily lives and experiences. As a second-tier city near Mumbai with a remarkably young population, I expected Pune to be far more inclusive than some more traditional locations. It has a vibrant night-life scene, many exceptional universities and generally a feeling of youth and progression.

Despite these expectations, conducting my research was jarring. I confronted deeply held beliefs about the importance of heteronormative family structures. While I tried to maintain a neutral approach to my research, merely discussing LGBTQ identity rarely came with ease due to the discomfort and taboos surrounding sex and in particular homosexuality.

Of course, it is also important to note that I am white and in conducting this research, I was also a foreigner. These identities certainly shaped both my own expectations for the importance of LGBTQ rights and inclusivity as well as my respondents’ sense of trust and confidence in my work. Elderly individuals, in particular, challenged my research, saying that it was not right to indoctrinate youth with such “abnormal and dangerous” ideas. In many ways, I was viewed as the epitome of a negative, Western and foreign influence on the city’s sense of tradition, spirituality and stability.

Furthermore, I conducted this research before the Indian supreme court made the decision to decriminalize homosexuality by deeming section 377 of the Indian penal code unconstitutional, thus further exasperating the social stigma surrounding queer identity. With that said, I tried to approach this research in recognition of my privilege as a foreigner and the familial and social implications that LGBTQ rights have on both queer and heterosexual, cisgender individuals in Indian society.

Author, Dan Soucy at a Pride March in Delhi

In spite of the discomfort that came with my research, I was still able to engage in what I saw as valuable conversations regarding sexual taboos in Indian society. I was particularly surprised to learn that such a large number of young people in Pune viewed gay relationships as immoral.

More specifically, 62 percent of the people I interviewed agreed that marriage should only be between one man and one woman while 19 percent were unsure or remained apathetic. Similarly, 45 percent of respondents believed that homosexuality was actually a mental illness that required medical treatment to resolve. These numbers increased to 70 percent and 47 percent respectively when I only considered the respondents 31 years of age or older. 

I was encouraged by the fact that young people seemed to have slightly more progressive views regarding the queer community, I was still disappointed to learn just how stigmatized LGBTQ identity remained. 

Equally as important to me was learning where these social attitudes and lack of acceptance came from. As I asked respondents about their opinions regarding the “cause” of LGBTQ relationships, many individuals pointed to the idea that queer identity results from a subpar or confused upbringing as a child. More specifically, of the respondents who conformed to the notion that a man’s responsibility is to be the ‘bread winner’ of the family while the woman should care for the children, 75 percent also viewed homosexuality as a mental illness while 44 percent believed it reflected the fact that the queer individual’s parents did not raise them “correctly.”

Based on this information, the stigmatization of India’s queer population seems to result from a place of concern. Concern over traditional family values. Concern over what should be ‘normal’ in Indian society. In other words, the LGBTQ community symbolizes a disruption to the norms and expectations inherent in a heteronormative family, neighborhood, city, and society. Broadly speaking, these respondents experienced a sense of discomfort when it comes to talking about sexuality and in a particular a sense of moral discomfort when ideas about LGBTQ identity were raised. 

The pervasiveness of this discomfort became even more clear as I interviewed members of Pune’s queer community. In fact, all of the individuals I interviewed expressed fear about coming out not because they were concerned about their own safety but because they were afraid of the way their families would be perceived and stigmatized as a result of their identities.

In this light, homosexuality was viewed not just as a burden and a point of contention between the queer individual and their community but as stigmatizing to the queer individual’s entire family. Aside from demonstrating just how isolating it is to be queer in Indian society, this also elucidates the deeper reasons for queer exclusion. Namely, people fear and become upset by the broader destruction of heteronormative familial and community values.

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. Rather, the LGBTQ community has made strides toward acceptance and inclusion. I had the privilege of attending Delhi’s pride parade and conference in 2018 and was overjoyed by the enthusiasm and excitement that came with Delhi’s first pride parade in the wake of the end of Section 377. People were overjoyed by their ability to be out and proud, surrounded by love and marching for freedom from oppression. It was a stunning and remarkable scene to be a part of. One of the main rallying cries of this event was a call for continued conversation. Although there was a recognition that advocacy should not be the exclusive responsibility of queer individuals, ultimately, only through exposure, honesty, and open conversation, is change possible. People will continue to cling to their deeply held beliefs in the sanctity of the heteronormative family and society unless queer individuals step forward to express their dissatisfaction with this norm. This research and the Pride celebration taught me that a better, brighter society is only possible through continued discussion that exposes society to the beauty and normalcy of an openly queer India and its diasporas that exist outside of India.


Dan Soucy currently supports refugee resettlement and advocacy efforts throughout New England as a case manager and employment specialist with the International Institute of New England. He graduated from Saint Joseph’s University where he conducted oral history interviews with South Asian migrants to the United States. Dan has also studied, lived, and worked in various parts of India for 2 years. 

San Jose’s Virtual Cinequest 2021 Features Indian Origin Films

Every year around this time, the community of film lovers mingles with film creators, directors, and artists at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose downtown’s many theaters. Giving film artists and film lovers a rare opportunity to connect at nightly soirees, the fun part about attending the film festival is a chance to talk to other people about the experience.

However, Covid times call for a pivot, and though there won’t be any in-person screenings, Cinequest is coming back with a virtual edition. Cinejoy, as the online edition is being called, will run March 20-30, with more than 150 U.S. and world premiere movies featured in the Showcase lineup and several high-profile movies in the Spotlight portion. The Showcase films can be viewed anytime by passholders but the 12 Spotlight movies will be shown at specific times.

Zoom parties can never really replicate the magic of the nightly parties, where you converse with like-minded film lovers, filmmakers, and performers, but Cinejoy is attempting to create a sense of community with Zoom-hosted “screening parties.” Ticketholders can host one or join in someone else’s.

Here is a sneak peek into films of Indian origin:

Thaen  

A glorious love story about transformation and giving in to the things we want most. While on her journey to fetch medicine to treat her sick father, a woman falls in love, gets married, and hopes to lead the life she wanted. But, even the Gods of Nature disapprove. A journey that explores the unexplored and challenges what we view as “normal.”

Horse Tail 

An alcoholic bank employee from Chennai has to solve a strange mystery: why did he wake up one morning with a horse’s tail?

Ghastly Fowl 

A stark, beautifully animated short story that sheds light on what human destruction is doing to our beautiful planet.


Mona Shah is a multi-platform storyteller with expertise in digital communications, social media strategy, and content curation for Twitter and LinkedIn for C-suite executives. A journalist and editor, her experience spans television, cable news, and magazines. An avid traveler and foodie, she loves artisan food and finding hidden gems: restaurants, recipes, destinations. She can be reached at: [email protected]

Preeti Vasudevan Dances Stories of Ethnic Folklore to Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello

New York-based award-winning choreographer and performer Preeti Vasudevan is known for creating provocative contemporary works from Indian tradition. Founder and artistic director of the Thresh Performing Arts Collaborative, her mission is to create experimental productions that foster a provocative dialogue with identity, and our relationship with heritage cultures and contemporary life. 

Preeti has been recognized by a number of prestigious institutions in the US for her outstanding contribution to dance. Cultural diplomacy is key to her work through education. As an artist alum of the US Department of State, she leads groundbreaking educational initiatives encouraging self-expression and artistic risk through cross-cultural creative exchange among artists and the community.

Preeti partners her educational and creative leadership with world-impacting organizations, such as Silkroad founded by legendary musician Yo-Yo Ma and the National Dance Institute founded by celebrated dancer Jacques D’Amboise. Recently, she started The Red Curtain Project (RCP), a new initiative from Thresh dedicated to sharing stories from around the world. Born during the NYC Covid lockdowns, RCP’s innovative digital stories highlight universal tenets, inspiring children to see connection and unity between cultures, while also encouraging them to live by the principles featured.

In this exclusive interview, she talks among other things about her earliest influences, her new operatic musical theater production, and the process of presenting ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop.

How did you get interested in Bharatnatyam, and who were your earliest influences?

I was always interested in dancing, any dance would motivate me. My mother always says that she saw me dancing even before walking! I had this high energy that would make me want to move all the time. As we are from the south of India, I think my mother wanted me to learn the culture from where we are. At that time, I was growing up in New Delhi. So, it was all the more reason not to lose the connection to one’s roots. 

My earliest influences were dances I saw through the cultural exchange programs between India and China and India and the USSR. Living in the capital, we were exposed to some of the most incredible dances, something I had never seen before. The dynamism and costumes all were mesmerizing. I grew up watching some of the Indian greats as well from Kelucharan Mohapatra to Birju Maharaj to the Jhaveri sisters, teachers from the Kalamandalam. 

My first proper influence was my own teacher, the late Shri U.S. Krishna Rao who made me see dance for its own beauty and didn’t make it over precious. He loved cricket and was a chemistry professor, so he put it all in perspective as something all humans must do – dance! My own gurus, the Dhananjayans, were like my second parents. I owe a lot to them beyond dancing. They taught me how to look at life and where movement can come from. These further opened my eyes to the world of human expression through movement.

How did your dance evolve with the influence of a western and eastern range of dance and theater forms while you were teaching in Japan?

Japan made me grow up! I was used to traveling by then, touring and performing a lot. But these were mostly in India or the west. The Far East was still a mystery to us in the 90s. When I got a cultural scholarship to go there, I was partly nervous and excited – I love adventures! Japanese dance, Nihon Buyo made me experience my own body differently. The kimono, which first confined my body, taught me how to use my spine to liberate myself from the inside; the fans held during dance taught me how to channel the energy of emotions through my fingers onto them as an extension of my body. Thus, when I did perform the Bharatanatyam, I felt all these changes from the inside and made my dancing more three-dimensional and alive than before. 

Prior to Japan, I was a cultural delegate at the India International Dance Festival where the American dance festival came to New Delhi for three weeks to teach Indian dancers modern dance. Almost everything was new for me – falling, lying down, and moving, touching another dancer…between giggles and shocks, I learned to open my eyes to see movement as one of the most amazing energies there is! After these two crucial influences, I felt it seamless to collaborate and continue investigating my own approach to dance. Over the years, I have cross-trained in various forms of movement, theater, and voice to keep searching for the next meaning.

Preeti Vasudevan Choreographing at the Joyce Lab.

What is the idea behind your company Thresh, and tell us about some of the work that you do with it?

Thresh is like the threshold – it is about the present – the now. We come with a past and we go into an unknown future. What’s important is how we see and experience the present. It’s the liminal zone. That’s how Thresh came about in 2005 after I completed my Master’s from the Laban Centre in London. It’s an experimental platform to bring international artists together to create a provocative dialogue on identity and our relationship between our contemporary lives and heritage cultures. It’s about finding the universal experience and truth from the diverse voices as a collective.

Tell our readers about the Red Curtain Project, your recent initiative of sharing stories from around the world that was born during the NYC Covid lockdowns.

The Red Curtain Project (RCP) was born due to Covid. When all performances shut down, we had to find out what we stood for and what we could do for the larger society. Digital storytelling came out of this. My husband, Bruno Kavanagh, does online learning and therefore, he jumped in to help Thresh develop this amazing online platform. We have created 14 stories to date including one of our highlights with the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Through RCP, we have also done similar work for a Lebanese organization on stories from the war. Now, we are embarking on a new social impact venture called First Voices where we are working in partnership with the Indigenous people of Montana in the US to create a series on ancestral creation stories. This will lead into school workshops within the reservations to empower the youth with leadership skills through the arts.

Describe the process you use to present ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop?

Thresh has a great network of artists globally who share a common mission of sharing a story. For RCP, we work with children’s book publishers to select stories based on chosen themes and then license them. We then seek composer and visual artists to work alongside me as I do the choreography. This year, I have been the sole dancer due to distancing and restrictions. But from next year, I will be seeking other dancers who can be a part of this incredible sharing. The Red Curtain is a metaphor – in theater, we reveal everything once we open the curtain and the color red has multiple symbolisms the world over. In my apartment in New York, we have a red curtain. I simply used it, and it became the indicator for our project!

What are you working on next?

As mentioned, we have created our project First Voices. On December 10th, we launched the first performance online. We welcome everyone to come to see this and be part of our new adventure. Apart from this, we are also in residence creating a new operatic musical theater production called L’Orient: Search for the Real Lakme. This is a 21st-century take on the 19th-century French opera, Lakme. It looks at gender and Orientalism, and plays with Bharatanatyam, ballet, opera, and Carnatic music. It hopes to be a really fun production with a lively cast of unusual performers. We have received a residency commission from Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, NY.


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

Dinesh Mohan Is Busting the Age Myth in Indian Fashion

As someone whose work has always been in front of the camera, I must admit that as the years went by, I expanded my horizons (and waist) to have my kids. I often felt the need to catch up backward. It was now time for me to find some much-needed inspiration from people whose stories inspire me for my future.

Dinesh Mohan, a 62-year-old male model, walks for India’s top designers. That’s enough of a stand-out story but there’s more to him, I realized, as he spoke to me about self-love and beauty standards. Dinesh Mohan recognizes that he is an exception in the fashion world – he went from being overweight and confined to his bed to becoming an actor and a model.

His journey of personal transformation began when most other models were well into their retirement. It started at 53.

“It is easy to change on the outside by wearing clothes and makeup but on the inside, if you are defeated, nothing can save you.” Says Dinesh who at 62 says he feels 26. 

But it wasn’t always like this. Far from it.

I ask Dinesh why he described himself not long ago as‘ fat and sick’ – was he being unfairly harsh on himself?

“I indulge in no age shaming of any kind but in my case, I was eating to punish myself and the result was that for 5-7 years I needed assistance even to walk, and was fully bedridden for 10 months. So in my case, I was being brutally honest.”

How did he go from being unable to walk to walking runways, modeling, and then acting in movies as if to the role born?

“ It might sound like a cliché but it was spirituality that really helped and I told myself why not give myself a chance at life. I had given up in front of the negative circumstances around me, forced to retire from a comfortable government job. But then it was a choice between living like this for ever or giving life a chance. I started by going out with great courage, even though some people would look at me and laugh. Then I joined a gym and started swimming again. Doing all this while being seen by  judgmental people made me very strong.”

With a local newspaper carrying his ‘before and after’ journey, Dinesh was spotted and soon appeared in some big ads including one for BMW, where while taking a break during the shoot, his signature look was captured and went viral. He is now also known for his own brand of insta-swag and a mass following.

“I live on social media,” says Dinesh. “I love observing people, stepping out, going out for coffee and watching the world go by. There was so much I couldn’t do that I can do now. The first step on the ramp and people went crazy. So yes, I guess I am an exception in the fashion world.”

The world is hungry for more exceptions. It’s the kind of inspiration everybody needs. Dinesh is both exception and inspiration with style and heart.

“I am so grateful to all the negative circumstances and people I met. It is because of them that I am where I am today.”


Amrita Gandhi is a Lifestyle TV host who interviews inspiring personalities on her show ‘So, What’s It Really Like‘ on her Instagram

South Asian Sex Workers’ COVID Struggle For Survival

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

Covid-19 has impacted many but the sex workers across the globe have been the worst affected. The entire industry has come to a standstill amidst the protocol, with their livelihoods at stake. Most of them are on the verge of starvation and struggling to make their ends meet.

Alarmingly, there are over 800,00 sex workers in India. Spread across eight large red light areas and over 16 small clusters scattered across the country. The lockdown and covid norms have made thousands of them penniless prone to deplorable conditions. The social stigma and discrimination deny them basic moral support or cooperation from the nearby communities.

With no proper government documents or basic identity records, like adhaar card and ration card, the community does not qualify for any of the government subsidies released during the pandemic. Majority have failed to pay rent for months and are threatened with eviction by rowdy landlords. With school going kids and family to support at their hometown, the plight is daunting, leaving them helpless.  

Abandoned at the mercy of various non-governmental organizations, their ordeal for basic needs is horrifying to note.

In Oct 2020, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) proposed to recognize sex workers as ‘informal workers’. However, many organizations came forward citing the risk of decriminalization of prostitution. After a month-long legal battle, the NHRC advisory, which was issued by a panel to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the human rights of women sex workers, included them under the section – ‘women at work’. But whether the provisions under the government scheme would reach them in time remains a question to ponder.

Not just in India, the sex workers worldwide are among the hardest hit in pandemic and continue to suffer destitution. Unknown to many, March 3rd was the International Sex Workers Rights Day.

In 2001, over 30,000 sex workers in India staged a protest to raise awareness of their rights. Organized by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, they gathered in Calcutta for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who wanted to revoke their permit. The event had a huge impact globally and since then sex workers across the world commemorate the day every year. Programs are organized to spread awareness about the abuses sex workers face and the violation of their human rights.

This year, unfortunately, it’s a fight for survival. In the wake of International Sex Workers Rights Day 2021, Tell-A-Story unveils the appalling story of Indian sex workers, the hidden truth, and the harsh reality behind the red light areas of India.


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.

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

The Power of Visualization: A South Asian Dream

Are you ready to achieve your goals and ideal life? 2021 is the year to renew, refresh, revitalize and move towards achieving your goals. Visualization is a tool you can use to realize your goals and attract what you desire. I use this tool regularly and would like to tell you more about it.

A Vision Board is a tool that is used to represent your intentions and goals to create your ideal life with images, pictures, symbols, numbers, positive words, and affirmations. It helps you clarify your goals.

Define your goals in your relationships, work, family, finance, or more by writing them down. To make it simple and more effective, let’s build yourself a Vision Board. Choose pictures and images that bring forth objects and experiences that you want to attract in your life. Take a board, or if you prefer things online, you could also use an online tool like a ‘Pinterest’ board. You can cut out pictures from the newspaper, magazines, and the internet which may speak to you about your goals, ideas, vision, and success. 

Add a happy picture of yourself to this collection! 

Try to organize your pictures to make them appealing to yourself. Bring forth your creative juices while working on your vision board. You can use markers or metallic pens to write quotes, positive words, and affirmations. 

Your vision board could be oriented towards a short-term or long-term goal or a specific area. I tend to create different boards for the various aspects of my life; relationships, health, job goals, finance, travel.

Place your vision board in a place that is easily visible to you. You may like it on your nightstand, worktable, fridge, or even on the lock screen of your phone.

I have learned that seeing it for 5 minutes when you awaken and just before sleeping are the most powerful times of the day. Seeing the images the first thing in the morning helps in creating what you want to happen or have. In addition, seeing these images one hour before bedtime keeps these images running through your subconscious mind at night in a replay mode.

What is Creative Visualization? You start to create mental images vividly and repeatedly in your mind of what you want to happen, in order to help that event come about in real life.

We have all heard the quote, “ A picture is worth a thousand words.”

We picture the images we want as IT HAS HAPPENED. Our brain and subconscious receive the message of what it is we desire and set the wheels in motion to make that wish come true. When we learn how to visualize correctly, the images we generate become a reality.  

Image from www.berries.com

Once you have created your Vision Board you can select and focus on one image. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, where you won’t be interrupted, and begin picturing in your mind what it is that you want. It could be an event you want to occur, a goal you want to achieve, or a personality trait, such as self-confidence or compassion, that you want to develop more fully. It may also be that you want to improve your health, relationships, or work life. 

See it clearly in your mind’s eye and really get into the experience. Give your imagination free reign, Imagine all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations you would expect to be there when your dream finally manifests as reality. Picture yourself inside the story, not outside looking in

Feel as it has happened, not happening. 

If, for example, you wish for your children to be healthy and well-balanced. Picture them in front of you – laughing, happy, caring, and loving. Listen to the sounds of laughter, the smell of the scent of the soap after the kids have showered, and the aroma of a home-cooked meal. Feel the joy of reaching out and hugging your children and the bonds of being together. 

For instance, a Bharatnatyam dancer who wants to achieve her goal to be an accomplished dancer has to have ambition, dedication, and a want to achieve her dream. While closing her eyes she imagines herself on stage in front of people, dancing with confidence and grace. The dancer can hear her heartbeat and the elation of the crowd. She feels the swish of her colorful attire against her skin. Her ‘abhinaya’ or the expression in motion should be felt like a warm feeling coursing through her body. In the ‘tilana’, she explodes into leaps and jumps, moving in all directions with the fast tempo of the music. The Bharatnatyam dancer hears the three clangs of the cymbals and knows that she has given it all. The more she visualizes this with all her senses, the more she will be able to achieve her goal. 

Athletes use visualization to help them achieve peak performance By picturing themselves flawlessly executing a difficult maneuver, they are more likely to execute the maneuver flawlessly when the time comes to actually do it. Speakers visualize in order to stay calm during speeches. 

The more real and detailed the experience is in your imagination, the more powerful the visualization will be and the sooner it will happen in your life as a reality. Repeat this a few times during the day. For extra oomph, try combining an affirmation with each visualization. The practice of visualization will help you achieve your goal. Have patience, focus on this powerful tool, and learn to enjoy the beauty of this magical resource. Go on to try building your Vision Board and using Creative Visualization and see the results!


Geetanjali Arunkumar is a writer, artist, life coach. She is the author of ‘You Are The Cake’.