Tag Archives: multicultural

Left to right: Book - Incense and Sensibility and Author - Sonali Dev

The Yin and Yang of Jane Austen Is Alive and Well Thanks to Sonali Dev

Yash Raje, the son of a royal family who’s uncomfortable with privilege, worked his way up the California political ladder. Now, he’s running for governor on a platform of fiscal and social reform, healthcare, and equity. At a rally three months before the election, shots are fired by a white supremacist. Abdul, his trusted bodyguard, shields him but is critically wounded. Yash, too, is wounded, and he’s unable to regain control of himself in order to control the situation.

And so begins Incense and Sensibility, Sonali Dev’s third well-crafted, grandly-romantic entry to her Jane Austen-inspired Raje Family series.

Survivor’s guilt. Trauma from gun violence. Rushes of stifling anxiety. Yash can’t resume his campaign. His beloved sisters, Nisha (his long-time campaign manager), Trisha (a top neurosurgeon, Book One), and cousin Ashna (a celebrity chef, Book Two) insist he sees their friend India Dashwood, a top Bay Area yoga and stress management therapist. Yash balks at the suggestion but acquiesces when Ashna reveals she’d suffered anxiety attacks, and only India could help her.

To the sisters, India helping Yash is perfect. To Yash, India is the one he secretly let slip away a decade earlier. To India, Yash is the supercilious one that led her on, then treated her badly. Thus begins the delicious dance of sexual tension that Dev writes so well.

When Yash and India come face to face ten years after their serendipitous-but-secret meeting and Yash’s sudden alliance with a high-profile businesswoman, neither knows how to react. Neither wants to release the feelings they’ve internalized for ten years: Yash’s regret, India’s hurt. Nevertheless, India sees his once-golden aura has diminished, and because of her innate kindness, she agrees to help.

Emotionally taxing for both, Yash and India become magnets, attracting and pushing each other away when they come too close. They can read each other but can’t say the words. They don’t know how to handle unspoken emotions and assumptions. India reminds Yash he’d told her that he wanted to be a public servant, not a politician. That distinction, dripping with honesty, ultimately sparks the choices both must make in order to move forward professionally and romantically.

The Raje Family series honors Austen’s brilliance while fresh enough to celebrate Dev’s creativity. Therein lies the delightful flexibility of interpreting Austen’s novels; they are timeless, and her women are second to none. Strong Indian, Thai, Ghanaian, Korean, Black, White, bi-racial, and LBGTQ women populate Dev’s story.

“I think Austen’s genius lies in the fact that she wrote from a place of complete honesty when it came to her belief that women deserved to get what they desired,” Dev told me.

And Dev, like Austen, aptly embraces social commentary. Essential issues—gun control and violence, immigration and racism, healthcare and equality—are interlaced without lectures; daily lives play out with their respective outcomes. Still, she judiciously balances those issues with love, tenderness, and the joy of purpose.

“[Austen] effortlessly dresses her themes in character and story,” Dev said, “but what she’s exploring is the power imbalances in society and the courage it takes to value yourself enough to shatter ranks in the face of those imbalances in order to get what you desire.”

So what inspired her to create the superbly romantic, ultimately joyful Austen-based Rajes Family series?

“I always dreamed of tying my four favorite Austen novels into one story universe,” Dev said. “The Rajes gave me an opportunity to explore and speak to things relevant in today’s world. I also wanted to spotlight the side of immigrant life that’s not dislocated and angst-ridden…there’s the personal strength and power of making and claiming home where you desire it.”


Book One: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors Book Two: Recipe for Persuasion Book Three: Incense and Sensibility Book Four: To be published May 2022 based on Austen’s Emma.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas and 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. 


 

Film still from IFFLA featured film 'Kanya'.

Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles Opens with an Expanded Virtual Lineup

The 19th edition of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) returns with an expanded virtual lineup of shorts, narrative, and documentary features on May 20-27. The festival boasts a total of 40 films, including 3 World, 8 North American, 5 U.S., and 17 Los Angeles premieres, spanning 17 languages, with 16 women directors. 

IFFLA will open with the Los Angeles premiere of the powerful female-centric film, Fire in the Mountains, the 2021 Sundance-selected debut feature by Ajitpal Singh that immerses audiences in the splendor of the Himalayan mountains. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia will join Singh for an insightful conversation and Q&A, highlighting the journey of the making of the film. 

IFFLA’s closing film on May 27 will feature a screening of Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space) by Akshay Indikar, the Marathi film that premiered at Berlinale 2020 and has captured the hearts of audiences at festivals around the world for its breathtaking minimalist exploration of the inner life of its protagonist, a young boy named Dighu. Long-time IFFLA alum Anurag Kashyap (Sacred Games, Gangs of Wasseypur) will join Indikar in a Q&A discussion, putting together an exciting up-and-coming independent filmmaker with one of the most celebrated independent filmmakers of our generation. 

“This is a very special year for IFFLA. Taking the festival online has given us the freedom to curate programs we would not have been able to present in a physical setting. We have expanded our reach to all California residents, doubled the shorts program with a strong representation of films from the diaspora, and curated discussions on timely and pressing topics, celebrating the independent film community from India and the Indian diaspora,” said Christina Marouda, Executive Director. 

IFFLA’s feature lineup includes a vast array of highlights from 13 regions in India, representing over seven languages, including the Los Angeles premiere of Rotterdam Tiger, the award-winning Tamil-language debut film from director PS Vinothraj Pebbles; the North American premiere of debut filmmaker Thamizh’s Seththumaan Pig, about the caste politics of food culture in rural Tamil Nadu; IFFLA alum Bhaskar Hazarika’s romance-thriller Aamis (Ravening); the powerful Bengali ensemble film Debris of Desire; and the North American premiere of National Award-winning filmmaker Farida Pacha’s disarmingly intimate documentary Watch Over Me.

The shorts competition lineup will spotlight notable films directed by women, including the 2021 Academy Award shortlisted film, Bittu by Karishma Dube and Sushma Khadepaun’s 2020 Venice Biennale selected Anita.

For more information and passes visit www.indianfilmfestival.org

Opening Night

FIRE IN THE MOUNTAINS

Film still from 'Fire In The Mountains'
Film still from ‘Fire In The Mountains’

India | 2021 | 104 mins | Hindi

Director/Screenwriter: Ajitpal Singh

Chandra single-handedly manages her family’s homestay in a Himalayan village, struggling to save for her son’s medical treatment, while her alcoholic husband spends their money on shamanic rituals, pitting desperate pragmatism against entrenched superstition. 

Closing Night  

STHALPURAN (CHRONICLE OF SPACE)

'Sthalpuran' film poster
‘Sthalpuran’ film poster

India | 2020 | 86 mins | Marathi

Director: Akshay Indikar

When eight-year-old Dighu’s father mysteriously disappears, he is forced to relocate with his mother and sister from their Pune home to his grandparent’s coastal village, turning his life upside down. 

BRIDGE

Film still from 'Bridge'
Film still from ‘Bridge’

India | 2020 | 88 mins | Assamese

Director/Screenwriter: Kripal Kalita

Drawn from real-life incidents, the story follows the unusual struggle and the accompanying empowerment of a teenage girl residing at the bank of a tributary of the mighty, overflowing Brahmaputra river in Assam.

THE TENANT

Film still from 'Tenant'
Film still from ‘Tenant’

India/USA | 2020 | 112 mins | English, Hindi

Director/Screenwriter: Sushrut Jain

A conservative Mumbai suburb is bestirred by the arrival of an alluring cosmopolitan woman in their midst. When a wide-eyed 13-year-old boy pursues a friendship with her, he stumbles upon her secret past and is thrust headlong into adulthood.

VANAJA

Film still from 'Vanaja'
Film still from ‘Vanaja’

India | 2006 | 111 mins | Telugu 

Director/Screenwriter: Rajnesh Domalpalli

After seeing 14-year-old Vanaja’s prowess, the reigning local landlady decides to teach her Kuchipudi dance. The initial chemistry between Vanaja and the landlady’s son turns ugly, pitching Vanaja into a battle of caste and hostility. 

KANYA

'Kanya' film poster
‘Kanya’ film poster

India | 2020 | 15 mins | Tamil 

Director: Apoorva Satish

An adolescent girl growing up in a traditional Tamil household aspires to become a competitive swimmer, but her life takes an unexpected turn when she gets her first period.

RAMMAT-GAMMAT

Film still from 'Rammat-Gammat'
Film still from ‘Rammat-Gammat’

India | 2018 | 18 mins | Gujarati 

Director/Screenwriter: Ajitpal Singh

Their different socioeconomic backgrounds have not stopped two schoolboys from being best buddies, but a brand-new pair of soccer shoes will put their friendship to the test.

PEBBLES (KOOZHANGAL)

Still from film 'Pebbles'
Still from film ‘Pebbles’

India | 2021 | 74 mins | Tamil

An irascible drunkard drags his reticent boy to a distant village to get his estranged wife to return, but when the encounter turns ugly, the journey home through unforgiving Tamil Nadu barrens transforms the father and son’s parched relationship. 

SETHTHUMAAN (PIG)

Film still from 'Seththumaan'
Film still from ‘Seththumaan’

India | 2020 | 112 mins | Tamil

Director/Screenwriter: Thamizh

A basket seller with big dreams for his grandson is asked by his bellicose landlord to prep a pig for a victory meal. The ensuing affair reveals the fraught caste politics surrounding forbidden meats in rural Tamil Nadu.  

WATCH OVER ME

Film still from 'Watch Over Me'
Film still from ‘Watch Over Me’

Switzerland/Germany/India | 2021 | 92 mins | Hindi, Malayalam

Director/Screenwriter: Farida Pacha

A palliative care team in New Delhi helps terminally ill patients and their families come to terms with the inevitability of death.

Short Films:

BITTU

India/USA | 2020 | 17 mins | Hindi 

Director/Screenwriter: Karishma Dev Dube

When adversity strikes, the future may depend on Bittu, a defiant young girl with a brilliantly foul tongue.

ANITA

India/USA | 2020 | 18 mins | Gujarati, English

Director/Screenwriter: Sushma Khadepaun

Anita returns to India for her sister’s wedding, eager to share some news about her exciting, independent life in America. But her pride quickly turns to disillusionment when the deep-rooted force of patriarchy rears its ugly head.


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]


 

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: From Trinidad to America

Being newly retired, memories of my childhood bubbled up, as I finally had time to daydream. My father’s grandmother, Gangee Maharaj, arrived in Trinidad from Raipur, India in 1900. Many Indians came to Trinidad as indentured laborers eventually earning plots of land from the British. Thus, my great-grandparents received their own land, passing it on to my grandparents, on whose farm I grew up. I remember vividly our two beloved cows, Rani and Raja. We were often blessed with fresh and nutritious milk.

To become an eligible bride, one requirement was to be able to skillfully puff a paratha! Achieving the perfect architecture and weight of the delicious and well-known flatbread takes practice. Only then could you have your handprint painted on Grandma’s kitchen wall. This meant that you were allowed to enter her kitchen and prepare a meal under her supervision. My first painting had to be of this kitchen!

I also remembered the wonderful folklore of Trinidad infused by the many African immigrants. We heard many stories of mythical creatures. Moko Jumbie was invoked to protect the people during the long and arduous slave boat journeys from Africa. The Soucouyant is a vampire, popular in many Caribbean countries. I remember being very scared hearing some of these stories as a young girl!

My paintings are of memories from my childhood, which was steeped with traditional Hindu ceremonies, African folklore, the natural beauty of the islands, and the array of cultures of the diverse population.

The world is a family 

One is a relative, the other stranger, 

say the small minded. 

The entire world is a family, 

live the magnanimous. 

Be detached, 

be magnanimous, 

lift up your mind, enjoy 

the fruit of Brahmanic freedom. 

—Maha Upanishad 6.71–75 

The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors is the title of my newest painting collection.

Imagine that these ethical principles, the yamas and niyamas of the ancient Upanishads are embedded in all my paintings. The sage, Patanjali expounds on them in his Yoga Sutras. Sutra means “thread” in Sanskrit, which you can see represented by the many-colored line segments in this painting collection. 

Indra Persad-Milowe’s Art Piece, The Yamas and Niyamas of Healing Patterns and Colors.

YAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists five yamas, or moral restraints, which apply specifically to how you behave outwardly toward other beings.

1) Ahimsa – Non-violence in thought, word and deed 

2) Satya – Truthfulness 

3) Asteya – Non-Stealing

4) Brahmacharya – putting the “path to the Divine” first and foremost in life 

5) Aparigraha – Non-hoarding, freedom from grasping 

NIYAMAS: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra lists five niyamas, or observances, which apply specifically to how you conduct yourself on a more personal level. 

1) Saucha – Cleanliness 

2) Santosha – Contentment 

3) Tapas – Self Discipline 

4) Svadhyaya – Self Study 

5) Isvara-pranidhana – Surrender: offering yourself completely as a vehicle of the Divine will 

My ten-piece paintings capture religious and cultural life in so many patterns and colors, just like our world is full of varieties of patterns and colors. They reflect many disciplines and ideals of life: faith, fortitude, sacrifice, respect, and love. Love and respect for all patterns (ways of life) and colors (global cultures) are a very important Hindu worldview – “VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM” (The world is a family).


Indra Persad Milowe is a visual artist living and working in Salem, Massachusetts. She is currently working on an extensive series of paintings, drawing upon childhood memories of growing up in Trinidad during the 1950s.

Starving

Starving 

the Indian in me spares no expense with words

every sentence decked in red and gold

every phrase clanging like the silver bells

tied around the necks of cows tethered to stakes

the Indian in me is the master of flamboyance

every stanza bursting with metaphors like 

samosas crammed with potatoes and green peas

yet the Indian in me is hollow, and when i search

for meaning beneath rows of red masala packets 

and bundles of empty splendor, i find Nothing. 

the American in me uses not but seizes words 

every phrase in gleaming shackles as though

they were stolen from another

the American in me clenches the metaphor

until it shatters, and grasps the allegory

so hard it loses shape 

the ravenous American in me imprisons all words

and in the end, finds Nothing. 

and so in my entirety, i present the Great Nothing

the product of crumpled wads of paper

of broken poems and meaningless verses

so painfully painless, so perfectly empty 

both the Indian and the American in me 

have been gorging on Nothing for years 

and yet the human in me 

still starves

——

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.

Belief in a Myth Can Cost Us a Decade

I keep trying to put ten years into perspective. Ten years ago, my prevailing concern was getting into college. Ten years later, my prevailing concern is the Coronavirus pandemic. It is inevitable that there will be a next ‘thing’ we must focus our energy on but we shouldn’t forget that Census 2020 is currently underway. The census comes once a decade and will measurably affect our lives for the foreseeable future. 

It is imperative, then, that Census 2020 be accurate. 

The census is a series of questions from which….arise more questions? Disclosing race, income, citizenship status conflicts with our sensibility to keep information private. However, if that information is to benefit the community around me, I would like for it to be done in a thorough way. Racially identifying Indian, I generally get frustrated with the box that demarks all Asians as the same. I know I’m not the only one. Then I think about my friends who are mixed race and the complications they face.

But like a true millennial, I am quick to jump to conclusions. So I recruited my mixed race friends, Ajay Srinivas and Nisha Kumar, to help me explore the myths and realities of Census 2020. 

Nisha predicted using a biracial/mixed race option and Ajay said he would identify as South Asian and West Indian. 

A quick FAQ search on census site informed us that: 

Answers to this question should be based on how you identify. Each person can decide how to answer. You can mark more than one race for each person. Once you check a category, you’ll also be asked to write in the person’s origin.

  • White: The category “White” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. These groups include, but are not limited to, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Polish, French, Iranian, Slavic, Cajun, and Chaldean.
  • Black or African American: The category “Black or African American” includes all individuals who identify with one or more nationalities or ethnic groups originating in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Examples of these groups include, but are not limited to, African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Somali. The category also includes groups such as Ghanaian, South African, Barbadian, Kenyan, Liberian, and Bahamian.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: The category “American Indian or Alaska Native” includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. It includes people who identify as “American Indian” or “Alaska Native” and includes groups such as Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan, Aztec, Native Village of Barrow Inupiat Traditional Government, and Nome Eskimo Community. Census respondents should report the person’s American Indian or Alaska Native tribe or tribes in the space provided.
  • Asian: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Other Asian (including Pakistani, Cambodian, and Hmong)
  • Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: There are individual checkboxes for people who identify as one or more of the following: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Other Pacific Islander (including Tongan, Fijian, and Marshallese)
  • Some Other Race: The option “Some other race” includes all responses that don’t fit within the categories above.

Nisha would be able to use the multiple check marks to identify her half-Indian and half-White origins, but Ajay was a little more confused. “Will the Census account for my Trini population?…Will my diaspora benefit from the write-in option considering West Indian is marked as Black/African American and I’m of Indian descent?” 

Ajay highlighted that there are many Indian diaspora populations in countries outside the Asian marker. Those populations benefit from their voice being represented and are left at a disadvantage when lumped with South Asians or Blacks/African Americans. 

These were good questions I didn’t have answers to. This will be the first year that we have a write-in option. And perhaps, until we use the write-in option, we may not know of its impact.

What we do know is that there is a possible outcome the census can have. I ask Nisha and Ajay about the potential influence and receive well informed responses. Ajay and Nisha both agree that it will arbitrate “federal funding and resource allocation”. 

I cross-check their information with that provided by the U.S. Census Bureau:

Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use the data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data is used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.

Nisha, Ajay, and I are in consensus on why it is crucial that we fill out the census. However, things aren’t so simple, right? 

PRIVACY. FEAR. DATA USE. Do we have something to be apprehensive about with the census?

Nisha decidedly responds, “I am not worried for myself but I understand the fear of filling out the census if you’re undocumented. How can I ensure the information won’t be used against them? We’ve seen it happen with DACA.”

Ajay corroborates, “There is a fear that census data will be used maliciously by the Trump administration against POC, DACA, minorities, immigrants, etc.”

I resonate with their anxiety for the people around them but sometimes research is a panacea. I find that:

The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. In fact, every employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life.

The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential. This law protects your answers to the 2020 Census. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. The law ensures that your private data is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Violating Title 13 is a federal crime, punishable by prison time and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You are kept anonymous: the Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.

Make it a part of your daily tasks – drink chai, eat cereal, take the census, shower, laundry, lunch, etc. 

And if that isn’t enough of an encouragement, taking the census is a legal obligation and you can be fined $5,000 for not completing it and up to $10,000 for falsifying information.

The census information should be mailed to you between March 12- March 20 and you have until April 1st to complete the census by mail, on the phone, or online

It is our social responsibility to urge everyone to take the 2020 Census. You are equipped with the knowledge to ease the worry that others might have. Don’t forget – we are what we report. 

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

Indian Americans – Inclusive in US, Intolerant in India?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States to join President Trump to address a gathering of over 50,000 Indian Americans is an opportunity to not only strengthen the ties between the oldest and the largest democracy, but also to pressure the Prime Minister to stand up to his promise of an inclusive and secular India.

To Prime Minister Modi’s credit, he has implemented developmental plans from space exploration to health insurance schemes at a rate unheard of in Indian politics. After a decade of unprecedented corruption and poor governance, Modi’s vision of India as a developed country has captured the dreams and imaginations of many.

But the economic strides comes with a cost: intolerance, bigotry and hate crimes.

Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) and allies have made no secret of their vision of India as a Hindu country, contradicting India’s secular founding principles.

Just months after the B.J.P.’s rise, a Hindu right wing group induced over 3000 Christians to participate in mass conversion ceremony to Hinduism by a combination of intimidation and bribery. In a move unbecoming of the largest democracy, the B.J.P. endorsed sedition charges against students who had cheered for the Pakistani cricket team in an India-Pakistan cricket match.

This August, just a few months into his second term, Modi revoked the semi-autonomous status of the disputed state of Kashmir. Not by debate and deliberation, but by a security clampdown that left the residents of the Muslim-majority valley without internet, mobile and even healthcare services for weeks.

The rising intolerance is all too palpable on social media too.

The slightest hint of dissent is quickly silenced with raucous accusations of anti-nationalism.

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousaf was trolled for tweeting her concerns about the ongoing crisis in the Valley affecting the education of school children. Hindu American Foundation, an American non-profit and ally of the Modi government lambasted Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders for speaking out against curtailing civil liberties in Kashmir.

The similarities in the politics of Trump and Modi are hard to miss.

Both  are immigration and national security hardliners, ran for elections on populist policies, and frame any criticism of their policies as unpatriotic. Their majoritarian beliefs have galvanized the far right of their respective countries resulting in a wave of bigotry, intolerance and hate crimes.

Despite their similarities, it is ironic that the popularity of the two leaders are at polar opposites among the Indian diaspora.

As minorities in the US, we desis accept and enjoy the benefits of secularism, freedom of religious expression, and evangelizing (the Hare Krishna movement).

We vote for secular left wing policies in the US, and accuse Trump of instigating hate crimes  against Indian Americans, like the killing of an Indian engineer in 2017, by his racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Yet, Indian Americans, the majority of whom are Indian-born Hindus, hypocritically champion the Hindu nationalist policies of Modi in India, the very policies that we are critical of in the American setting.

If we want an inclusive and tolerant America, we must start by cleaning our own backyard. We must insist that Prime Minister Modi create a secular, inclusive and multicultural India, much like the America we seek for ourselves.

Ashwin Murthy is a software engineer at LinkedIn and a freelance writer of Indian descent.