Tag Archives: siliconvalley

Left to right: Kaveri Lalchand, India Mask Project, Siddharth Ramalingam

#MaskPodu: Bay Area High Schooler Joins Forces With Mask India Project

As COVID-19 makes its way down to the southern parts of India, there has been a silver lining. We have seen a surge of humanity that is lending a helping hand to India in this time of crisis.

One such initiative is by a 14-year-old school student Siddharth Ramalingam. He started The Bay Area Mask Care Project last year where he would make and sell cloth masks to raise funds for COVID relief.

“Bay Area Mask Care was formed to give back to the community in several ways during the pandemic. The COVID situation in India drove me to explore avenues to contribute to the Indian community where my close family and friends currently live,” says Ramalingam.

Parallelly in India, after the lockdown last year, when all businesses had to shut, Chennai-based designer Kaveri Lalchand had an idea to start making masks which had become mandatory.

“As we were told we need to wear masks all the time as the simplest and most effective way to protect ourselves, we started making masks. And one year down the line we need to be protected now more than ever. We decided to focus on the welfare of the country and the health and safety of our employees, friends and family, and the community at large. Our masks have been hugely popular, and this was one way we could think of to give back to the community,” says Lalchand.

So, she started The Mask India Project that manufactures and distributes masks free of cost. Kaveri and The Mask India Project have joined hands with the Bay Area Mask Care Project (USA) and with Chennai Volunteers and the #MaskPodu movements to give away thousands of masks to people of Chennai. Masks are also being distributed through the Suyam Charitable Trust to children in rural areas of Tamil Nadu.

When Ramalingam heard about this project, he stepped up to help raise funds for relief work in India by reaching out to his network of people in the USA. “I have always been impressed with Ms. Kaveri Lalchand’s contribution to society. When I heard about ‘The Mask India Project’, I decided that partnering with her would be the best way for me to serve the Indian community. I am excited and honored to be part of this initiative,” says Ramalingam.

The lockdown has also affected businesses and daily wage earners. Through this initiative, we have been able to provide eight tailors with machines to work from home. As a brand, we supply all the materials used in the mask free of cost fabrics, elastic, and threads. The tailors are paid for every mask they stitch. They have done a fantastic job with the uninterrupted supply,” says Lalchand.

The masks that are distributed as part of this project are 3-layer, reusable cloth masks. The top layer is linen and the inner two layers are cotton. “The mask is printed with our logo – the map of India with a heart at its center. The heart is to honor the memory of all those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19,” says Lalchand.

The Mask India Project also works with Chennai Volunteers, a voluntary organization started by Rinku Mecheri, that manages welfare and relief work in fields like gender equality, disaster relief, and uplifting the less fortunate. Lalchand has tied up with the Chennai Volunteers to distribute our masks to the people of Chennai.

The #MaskPodu movement was created to bring about awareness about the importance of wearing a mask and wearing it right (not under your nose or on your chin!) This was created by two responsible citizens of Chennai, Kishore Manohar, and Siddarth Ganeriwala. They have spread the message using a very catchy tune that has been written by Aravind-Shankar the musician who made the famous Chennai Super Kings song “Whistle Podu.

“We will be giving our masks to them for distribution amongst the people of Chennai. The song has also been made into Kannada and Malayalam with the Hindi version underway,” says Lalchand.

As the predicted third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to affect children the most, the Suyam Charitable Trust decided to raise money to provide masks to children across districts of Tamil Nadu. With vaccinations for children still a little further away, masking up is the only proven method to protect oneself.

This is also why Maya (16) and Eka (13) Kachibhatla, a sister and brother duo from Chennai wanted to contribute towards COVID relief in a more meaningful way and associated with Lalchand and her team. They started to raise an amount of Rs 30000 (USD 410), which they could surpass and now The Mask India Project is providing them and the Suyam trust with 7000 children’s masks. And to make the masks more fun, the masks are being printed with a heart or a star or a design of an elephant or some other cute design.

Since its inception, the team has started seeing a sustained increase in the demand for masks. “We have now committed 1000 masks for an entire village in Haryana. We have also tied up with the Apollo Shine Foundation to distribute masks to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and we hope to help more,” concludes Lalchand.

If you want to help contact the team on their Facebook page.


Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.


 

Eliminating Caste Discrimination is What Hindus Should Do

bell hooks once wrote that “homeplace” was a place constructed “where Black people could affirm one another and by so doing heal many of the wounds inflicted by racist domination.” I like to think that the Indian American, specifically the Hindu American community that raised me is a homeplace of sorts for brown folks in the racial superstructure of the U.S. It is the place where I made sense of my diasporic, non-white, Brahmin Hindu social position.

My earliest memory of my childhood religious upbringing was my father and I laying at the foot of my bed, reading mythological epics from Amar Chitra Katha. My favorite was the story of Shakuntala, the mother of Bharat. In her story, due to a vicious curse from a Rishi known as Durvasa, Shakuntala’s husband King Dushyanta forgot that she existed until years later when he saw the ring he gave her; all his memories of his love for her came rushing back. As a child, I considered Durvasa’s curse to be the most evil, most vile thing to bestow upon another being. What would my life be like should my loved ones forget about me? 

My father, an amateur theologian himself, smiled sadly at me. But don’t you see? This is the curse of humanity: we have all forgotten that atman, the soul, mirrors brahman, our cosmic reality. According to the teachings of the Upanishads, a forgotten truth of humanity is that every soul that exists is a perfect reflection of the universe. Of course, in my childhood, I could not grasp the radical inclusiveness of this concept. For, if atman is brahman, and brahman is atman, thus every soul is identical and equal in value and dignity. 

As I continued my studies and pursued a Ph.D. studying South Asian America and caste, I found myself fixating on this concept that encapsulated the foundation of my belief system. I learned that in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy of my youth, every soul could achieve liberation from the earthly cycles of violence and indignity, should only they remember the fundamental equality of all people. 

In my study of Hinduism, of the history and legacy of caste, and of South Asians in the diaspora, I came to recognize the disproportionate influence of caste on one’s livelihood. What was the difference between my soul born Brahmin and the soul of someone born Dalit, other than the random positions of our births? Yet, material outcomes told a different story. I grew up privileged, comfortably upper-middle-class, and with access to resources and education. As Ajantha Subramanian argues in her book The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India, while caste has increasingly become less visible in India, it still overwhelmingly benefits the caste privileged in terms of one’s educational and socioeconomic outcomes, including one’s ease of mobility to move to the United States. A 2003 study by the University of Pennsylvania found that only 1.5 percent of Indian immigrants in the United States were Dalit or of another oppressed caste. Equality Labs’ recent report on Caste in the U.S. found that 1 in 3 US-based Dalits experienced caste discrimination as students and 2 in 3 US-based Dalits experienced caste discrimination in their workplace. 

The complex and fate-determining caste system itself largely stems from the Manusmriti (Laws of Manu), a text that legal scholar Charles J. Naegele has positioned as similar in influence to the Code of Hammurabi. Unlike texts like the Vedas and the Upanishads that establish core Hindu teachings, the Laws of Manu put forward a code of conduct and manners for Hindu citizens during the 2nd century BCE. Along with a rigid caste system, the Laws of Manu put forward strict notions of gendered social roles, ideas about taxation, and clear guidelines on hygiene habits, much of which have been disregarded throughout history. 

While the Laws of Manu can be understood in its historical context, it is inconceivable to me that such an antiquated text should inform people’s futures — particularly when doing so moves us to forget the resounding truth that atman is brahman is atman. Moreover, Quare studies theorist E. Patrick Johnson emphasizes homeplace is also a site that we must critique in order to make it better. To envision a Hindu American homeplace where all souls are alike in dignity and equal in treatment requires liberation from the indignity of caste. Just as King Dushyanta remembered Shakuntala upon seeing his ring, we must remember the radical sense of justice enshrined in the Hindu faith. 

The Santa Clara Human Rights Commission heard public testimonies on April 29th to determine whether citizens should be protected against caste discrimination. As Hindu Americans, we must acknowledge that caste discrimination exists, that the caste oppressed must be protected, and that ensuring equality for all souls is what Hindu Americans should do.


Pavithra Suresh is a first-generation Indian Tamil American. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University where she teaches Global Affairs 101. Her dissertation will investigate the legacy of caste in the South Asian American community.


 

Agni Whips You Into the Environmental Crisis Overtaking Bay Area Landscapes

The world premiere of Bay Area Based Chitresh Das Institute’s (CDI) short Kathak film, “Agni” is on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, at 7:30 pm PDT. The video premiere will be followed by a Q&A panel discussion moderated by India Currents.

The short film is directed and voiced by Filmmaker – Alka Raghuram, choreographed by CDI’s Artistic Director – Charlotte Moraga, composed by musician – Alam Khan, and shot by cinematographer – Anjali Sundaram.

To purchase tickets for the event, head on over to ODC Dance website:

Tickets are $10 before the day of the event

https://t.co/Yw2IfPqjYH?amp=1

Be sure not to miss the event this Thursday!

Here are some sneak peeks about the film when we spoke to the director and producer, Alka Raghuram. 

What was the inspiration to make this film?

Before getting into that, I want to give some context of my association with Chitresh Das Institute. I had worked with Pandit Chitresh Das for his last performance for a live Kathak Flamenco production named “Yatra,” where I was doing the audiovisual element part of it. Initially, Charlotte wanted to create a live show called “Mantram” based on Panchabhoota, five basic elements of cosmic creation. Due to pandemics, live performances are not happening.

We tried to bring out a collaborative effort for “Agni,” the element that brings out the fire’s force or ferocity. Fire is a destructive force but also creates fertile ground for rejuvenation. This film was very much a response to the wildfire burning in California and the social and political wildfires of social injustice in the spring and summer of 2020. Earth’s perspective on fire and what our role is to play in it. It is a collaborative effort to tell the story through different mediums. Charlotte tells the story through dance, and me through film, poem, paintings, and Alam through music. It is the plant’s seed, i.e., the actual live show coming up in the near future. We are going to do a series of short films like this in each of the elements. 

How is watching this film different from a live dance show (watching from the front)?

Projecting a painting is usually static. Watching a show as an audience is a different experience altogether but watching a movie is dynamic. I filmed the dancers from various angles so that they are dancing in other ways. That helps viewers to witness as an insider. Even the side wings of the auditorium stage have the same three-dimensional visual effects. We took a creative decision to make this film distinct that way from watching a show from the front. 

Can you tell us about the poem used in the film?

I wrote the poem to highlight the environmental aspect of the story. The artistic process is iterative by nature. Your vision evolves and gets refined as the work progresses. The first cut of the film was eye-catching and beautiful but we were missing the allusion to the wildfires of the last couple of years. Which led us to experiment with text that would complement the visuals and bring out that dimension without sensationalizing it in any way. We wanted the whole piece to be cut from the same cloth

The poem in the film is complimenting what is already there rather than underlying it. The poem is also another culpable way here to ask whose fault it is. Dance and visuals say whose fault is this, and the verse is also saying that through words. It is giving a hint to the audience about what is going to come. I recited it as well. 

Music is one of the critical elements of this production. We noticed no particular raaga or taala associated with it, like traditional Indian Classical performances. Can you give some background about the creation of this unique music?

Alam Khan created the music piece, and Charlotte made the bols and rhythmic composition. The taal is a complex five and half-beat taal. Charlotte Moraga notes that it’s like fire, it is quick, exciting, and unpredictable! Alam adds that the music is not based on any particular raga. The music is a continuation of Alam’s contemporary approach in blending Indian classical instruments with other instrument types. He has been doing this for many years now and feels his style in this vein continues to grow. We wanted to do something musically out of the box for Kathak and push the limits of what we are accustomed to. 

Can you tell us about the artwork and paintings used in the film? it is an integral part of this film. Is it digital? Can you tell us a little more background of it?

Those are hand-painted, and I used ink. I am a painter too, and the idea was to use those paintings projected in the auditorium during the performance. In the film, the backdrop is not so much focused. I painted blue woods and redwoods and took pictures of tree barks and fire. I needed to rearrange, superimpose, and layered all of these during editing in such a three-dimensional way, telling a dynamic cinematic story altogether. Paintings are also done in a way to interpret it globally, not so region-specific. I used a blue color tone in paintings overall. Blue represents the hottest and the most intense part of the fire’s flames. Blue is also the calm part of it before the fire starts. 

What is the concluding message of this production from the environmental aspect? Can you tell our audience about it a little more? 

The film communicates from the perspective of the Earth and speaks about who is culpable for it. It asks the question and includes everyone. Towards the end, the dancers stare at viewers and say whose fault it is. Then there is smoke, and the Earth’s mouth is filled with ash. Earth speaks with grief. Then there is ash in the landscape, and birds are disappearing. It is like Earth’s lament through the poem, dancer’s expressions, and visuals – Why is this happening? Who is to blame? Our deeds are recorded in the time ledger how we acted so far caused us to come to this point. Agni is raging and destroying. It brought us to think brink for our deeds. This film visually takes us on the journey from sparks to the raging fire. 


Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps. 


 

Congressman Ro Khanna’s South Bay Town Hall on 2021 Priorities

We currently live in a complex and uncertain world. In addition to this, content can now be created by anyone, anywhere, and published on multiple platforms – it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. However, the proper functioning of democracy and governance relies on citizens being aware of their representatives and issues that they support. Direct and transparent dialogue between the constituents and their representatives ensures the minimization of misinformation. 

It was great to see that Congressman Ro. Khanna (Congressional District 17) and Senator Dave Cortese (Senate District 15) recently hosted a town hall for the constituents of the Bay Area on April 8th, 2021. This was an opportunity for people to engage with their elected representatives and understand their focus on various critical topics like overcoming COVID-19, housing/homelessness, climate change, and more. 

Congressman Khanna mentioned that under the new administration, the federal government has allocated close to 2 billion dollars for infrastructure and development for the area which should help drive positive change within the region. This would help combat homelessness and make affordable housing more accessible. In the last few years, federal cuts in funding to redevelopment agencies had hurt the state’s ability to focus on development projects for the community.

The Bay Area tends to be one of the most diverse and tolerant areas in the US but despite that, it has been contaminated by the recent incidents of hate crimes against Asians. One such assault happened in March when an Asian woman was dragged by the hair and tossed around for over a minute by an assailant who kept cursing her for being Asian. What has been even more troubling is the targeting of the elderly Asian population. 

Both Senator Dave Cortese and Congressman Ro. Khanna expressed deep regret and disappointment at the recent escalation of hate incidents and crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander communities. They urged citizens to speak up when they see these incidents happening and also for citizens to be aware of the history of Asian immigrants in the USA. Some of this history is not taught in schools. 

On the topic of COVID vaccines, Senator Cortese mentioned that the state was currently receiving 1.8 Million vaccine doses per week and that was going to increase to 2.5 million doses per week and then to 3 million doses per week by the end of the month. This increase could help achieve herd immunity sooner if people choose to get vaccinated as they become eligible for vaccines. The senator also shared how he has pushed for recalculation of equity formula for vaccine allotment for Santa Clara county. You can read more on this topic here

It is critical that we keep ourselves well informed about the vaccine and encourage our communities to get vaccinated as the vaccines become available. The recent focus of public health messaging has clearly helped with awareness but we all have to play our part in debunking myths and concerns within the South Asian community to play our part.  

Curious for more information on issues backed by the Senator and Congressman? 

Recently Congressman Khanna was appointed chair of the Subcommittee on Environment. You can read more about the issues that Congressman Khanna is supporting here.

To read more about Senator Cortese’s work you can visit his website.


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.


 

Silicon Valley’s South Asian Theater Weaves Women’s Narratives into Performance

Women in performance art are playing a pivotal role in crafting compelling cultural narratives, whether in the roles of founders, directors, costume designers, set managers, or music directors, they are increasingly helming the process of creation, rather than jumping into something already created.  

This new positive and empowering image of women is what you will see in EnActe Arts’ latest initiative WEFT (Women EnActe for themselves). A brave space for women, it presents writers to exercise their craft under the guidance of qualified mentors. Women may make up 50% of the population, but the representation of women in the Arts hovers between 16% to 20% globally, and EnActe is doing its bit to redress the balance. Launched last year, WEFT is a fellowship program offering female-identifying writers a space in which to work under the guidance of a global, incredibly talented group of mentors to craft their stories, workshop them with professional talent and produce them under the EnActe banner. Mentors for the program include such seasoned artists as Anita Ratnam, Patty Gallagher, Susan McCully and Roberta Katz.

This week Reena Kapoor, EnActe’s first WEFT Fellow, opens a showcase of the four pieces she has written and produced through WEFT. Kapoor was born and raised in mostly urban India. “And while I have been gone from India for over 30 years, growing up there in the 70s and 80s was formative. It is a culture, a way of life, a social metaphysics that is not easily erased. Ironically while India, especially in the metros, has changed and moved on, the Indian diaspora I have encountered here continues to reenact much of what I had hoped was left behind. In fact, in some ways the diaspora holds on even tighter to all that is Indian – good, bad, and ugly,” says Kapoor. 

Her stories are informed by what she saw, and grew up within her own extended family and among friends–even in social circles that professed modernity. Kapoor says her story inspiration came from her “surprise, and often disappointment, at the rigid and less desirable attitudes that the Indian diaspora continues to abide by here. Women are expected to occupy, and often submitting to, prescribed roles, dictated by stricture and double standards that deserve to be rejected; and women repeatedly asked to sublimate their own desires and self-respect in service of meaningless tradition.”

The first play she wrote from this vantage is Art Of The Possible and is a somewhat humorous look at a situation where a young woman decides she can no longer sustain a marriage with her “perfect” husband and worse she cannot come up with a “good” enough reason why. What is she to do? 

Bollywood Rules: For Women is a rather tongue-in-cheek rap song about the inherent patriarchy in Indian films, starring a host of aspiring Bay Area talent – from professional actors to Arts Council members. Highlighting the “double standards for women that Bollywood films have long embraced. I do not wholly blame Bollywood; in my view, it reflects and yes, perhaps amplifies, what we hold dear. But we can protest, and powerfully mock it and hopefully, as a result, dismiss its focus and amplification,” adds Kapoor.

Art Of The Possible, a 45-minute play, explores the beautiful relationship between a nervous mother and a determined daughter as she plans to walk away from a marriage, not because there is anything wrong with either partner, but because she wants other things out of life. The play stars Anita Ratnam from Chennai, Shubhangi Kuchbhotla from Baltimore, Sreejith Nair from LA, and Anususya Rao from Bay Area.

Burned is a deeply resilient response by the victim of an acid attack, addressed to her attacker, in which she finds the courage to live to the fullest the life he has attempted to rob her of. Starring Yeshaswini Channaiah from Bangalore. 

Oasis is an epistolary piece that traces the thoughts and memories of a child abandoned by an abusive father as she navigates through childhood and adolescence and reaches precarious adulthood.

The narrative that weaves through all of Kapoor’s work is that of urgency. “My character is a woman of Indian origin who finds herself in a situation that was visited upon her and in which she suffers. But she doesn’t succumb to a narrative of victimhood and instead reclaims her voice and life. Her savior is not out there but within. She suffers — and yet SHE rises!” 

While WEFT is a dedicated space for the feminine lens, other EnActe initiatives explore female relationships too. As physical interaction shuts down in the new reality of the pandemic, the world has moved to virtual communication, opening up avenues of global collaboration amongst artists not possible before. In a bid to capture this COVID-dictated reality, and to provide a platform for artists to stay engaged and collaborate internationally, EnActe Arts, USA and Rage Productions, India launched a Festival of New Plays by accomplished and aspiring playwrights on the subject of love, life, and family in the pandemic-altered reality of today.

The second play in this series How It Happens, opening April 30th, explores the shifts in the relationship between two former high school friends connected by a dark past. Set against lockdown despair of the raging pandemic, a positivity influencer accuses an essayist of adolescent bullying, a story that burns through social media, destroying the fragile trust between COVID infected friends. Written by the Bangalore-based playwright Deepika Arwind and played by Bay Area’s Roshni Dutt and Sonia Balsara. 

More Info About WEFT:

WEFT(Women EnActe for Themselves)  is a program designed to support women writers writing on women’s issues to take their nascent stories to completion, and work with a sisterhood of creatives to bring those stories to life as a performative art, first presented by EnActe.

In this program women writers research, create and write stories that are pertinent to women, and bring these stories to life in theatrical performances that can reach audiences in meaningful, resonant, and entertaining ways.

The program works as follows: 

Phase 1: Ideation & Research

Phase 2: Story/scriptwriting through workshops

Phase 3: Script/story development as a performance piece

Phase 4: preparation of the piece(s) as a live presentation workshop

Phase 5: Event creation & rehearsals

Phase 6: Premiere Performance

Bollywood Rules For Women & Art of The Possible

Sat, Apr 10

5:00 pm PST, 8 pm EST, 5.30 am (Apr 11th) IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

Burned & Oasis

Sun, April 25

10:00 am PST, 1 pm EST, 10.30 pm IST

Pay What you Can Tickets: $0-$25

How It Happens by Deepika Arwind

Fri, April 30, 8 pm PST  

Sat, May 1, 5 pm PST

Sun, May 2, 4 pm  PST

Tickets: $15 – $100

Pay-it-Forward All-Access Pass for the entire 2021 Season:

https://enacte.org/seasonpass/


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: mona@indiacurrents.com


 

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

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

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

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

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

Cambodian Classical Dancer, Charya Burt, emulates Cambodian Gods.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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: mona@indiacurrents.com

Bay Area Burmese Americans Protest the Military Coup

In response to the recent military takeover in Myanmar (Burma), the Free Burma Action Committee (FBAC)–a coalition of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Burmese American activists–will stage a peaceful protest on Saturday, February 13, from 1 PM to 3 PM at the UN Plaza in San Francisco.

Ko Ko Lay, a member of the Free Burma Action Committee (FBAC) and a former student leader, said, “We’ve just heard that in Naypyidaw, the police shot into the protesting crowd with live ammunition. As a result, one protester is now fighting for her life in the hospital. The news is of great concern to us. We condemn the Myanmar military’s use of deadly force.”

This protest, led by FBAC, is part of a growing movement among the overseas Burmese Americans and their supporters. FBAC members join the UN Security Council in calling for the immediate release of Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other detainees.

They also demand that the Myanmar military:

  • respect the people’s right to peaceful assembly and protest
  • recognize the outcomes of the 2020 General Election
  • restore civilian rule in Myanmar, led by the people’s elected representatives

Ordinary Myanmar citizens and civil servants have been lighting candles, refusing to go to work in mass protests, and noisily beating their kitchen utensils nightly in defiance of the unwelcomed military rule. In response, the Myanmar military has begun using force—water cannon and rubber bullets, among others.

With this protest, we aim to reinforce and highlight our loved ones’ civil disobedience campaigns from overseas; and restore democracy in our homeland.

About FBAC

On February 1, 2021, FBAC is formed with Burmese Americans living in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento region to respond to the current political crisis in Burma.

The committee

  • condemns the Myanmar military’s recent coup in the strongest of terms
  • demands that the outcome of the 2020 November election in Myanmar be recognized
  • calls for the releases of all civilian and political leaders detained in the coup
  • supports the actions of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) in Myanmar
  • urges UN Security Council to take stronger actions to restore democracy in Myanmar

We applaud and stand with the people of Myanmar in their civil disobedience movement and other nonviolent movements to express themselves peacefully. We are committed to protecting and restoring democracy in Burma. We will work with the overseas Burmese communities around the world to end the military rule in Myanmar.

We believe that a single action can make a difference in the community, and collective action can create positive changes.


 

Our Land Remains Green in Our Souls

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

Like everyone else who loves poetry, I too see it as an art. An art of saying everything without saying much. A means of conveying the felt, without needing to justify the said. A formation of words which read like a garland, or convey the fragrance of a delicate rose, or sometimes the anguish of the pain caused by its thorns.

 But I am no poet, for I lack that art.  

 I seek a voice

which is free

from the burdens

of the identity

of the face,

 

a voice 

that can reach you deep,

irrespective of the distances

we seem to have created

based on 

unfounded

ungrounded

unwarranted

egoistical states,

 

hear me 

from where I hide,

and you’ll see me 

with a knowing clarity

far beyond

the simplistic visions,

mechanically reflected

by your 

curious eyes.

For me, my writings remain a liberating one-way communication.  A release, a vent, an outpouring emanating from the palette of emotions that simmer within. Sometimes for identifiable reasons, and often, just out of a longing for an elusive, imagined, or wishful state of being. 

Sunrise image, taken by the Author.

Divinity enters life
in many ways,

 

not all can be seen
or held in tangible forms,

 

to feel the invisible deeply
is often an insane job,

 

and I’ve never felt any remorse
for letting my sanity go.

Words help me find myself and sometimes lead me to discover and identify parts of others which over the years have become an intrinsic part of me. Till it lasts it is a fun game of hide-n-seek, in which thankfully, there are never any losers. 

A fellow blogger friend invited me to join a poetry group, the Poetry of Diaspora in Silicon Valley, which instead of their routine physical meet-ups had started connecting virtually due to the COVID restrictions. And I found myself virtually amongst a group of strangers,  strangers who slowly began to seem more my own than them that I often see around. 

Was I diaspora where I sat, or were they it? Them who carry their roots with them even when far away from a land which still remains green in their souls. 

It is a thought which renders me somewhat eligible to be a valid part of this group, for in those hours once a week that we meet online, I too am ‘diaspora’ connecting with my own. 

Personally, this space has been a journey of discovering my words in my own voice (a first for me). Listening to the many other voices which can write, recite, and even sing poetry in different languages. A sharing of worded sentiments emanating from different cultures, regions, poets, writers, and time periods. An interaction which invariably touches and tingles various chords of emotions within. I remain grateful to each one of them for this very unique experience and for giving me an opportunity to share some of my own.

Gentle souls,
past
their own
painful
transformations,

 

flit around
like angelic
butterflies,
uplifting
falling spirits,

 

by their
thoughtful,
cheerful
presences
alone,

 

and in those
moments
of soulful
gratitude
within,

 

I bridge
the distance,
between
earth
and sky.


Vidur Sahdev is a 50-year-old guy who lives in Delhi, India, and writes on his blog titled VerseInEmotion. In its essence, his blog is a collection of some thoughts, some words, some memories, some moments, some dreams, some fiction… inspired by the elements of nature, the people who came and those that went away, some remembered, none forgotten, a few bits of his journey over the lived years. The rest ‘about him’ keeps changing faster than he has ever been able to pen it down.

Dandiya Raas Meets Mexico’s Folklorico

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

In 2016, Mosaic Silicon Valley commissioned their first two artists – Indian folk dance artist Srividya Eashwar and Mexican Folklorico artist Arturo Magana – to come up with two minutes of an informed, performative collaboration between their cultures. The mission was to bring their audiences together, to build a connected community – as diverse in the audience as on stage.

Srividya, artistic director of Xpressions Dance first encountered Arturo’s team rehearsing in their studio shouting out the “agrito” and stomping their feet to an infectious rhythm. She recollects, “I looked at my dancers and saw the concerned look on their faces as they feared about how they were ever going to dance barefoot next to a group that dances in shoes with nails in them?

But, “as soon as we started working together, we found that common thread,” says Arturo Magana, artistic director of Ensamble Folclórico Colibrí. It was fascinating to see how the two teased out a common rhythm – Srividya kept up the beat with her dandiya sticks to Arturo’s percussive feet.

Weeks later, I remember the thunder of dancing feet and the loud music as I approached the rehearsal space, feeling nervous about finding a stage that could accommodate these two large cultures. I was humbled by the enormity of the experience. Something real was taking shape from an idea born out of an instinct to stem the miasma of divisive forces spreading throughout the U.S. in 2016. “RaasLorico” was part of Mosaic America, an event that drew hundreds in Marin and Santa Clara counties. 

The idea behind bringing different arts together is simple: It is to build a sense of Belonging. While all of us appreciate the diversity in Silicon Valley, we all lead segregated lives, not everybody is included in the same way. Economic opportunity has made us impervious to history, the pursuit of building a better home has blinded us to historic struggles that literally handed us that opportunity on a platter.

We see attractive buildings but don’t understand that they are built on Native ground; we see the reticence of Japanese-origin Americans but may not understand that some have been marked by internment; we see successful brown farmers but do not realize that they are “Mexican Hindus.” Each of us belongs to our own tile but we need to now build a Mosaic from our tiles that affirms each identity while confirming each of us as Americans.

An effective way to pave the path is via the Arts, using culture as a way to organically commune with one another and build familiarity and friendship. Mosaic Silicon Valley, which I Co-Founded with the help of Usha Srinivasan, purposefully and deliberately chooses cultures, representative artists, and venues. The audience and artists are hyperlocal. The lineup for a museum might be influenced by the exhibits on display. A commissioned work is typically a deep-dive into local history. Each event is a work in progress, a dialogue in the ongoing conversation towards belonging.

So how did Srividya and Arturo converse through their dances? Watch below!

Have you any cultural experiences you would like to share? Please write in!


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

Former Mayor Speaks Against Measure RR

The CEO and board of directors of Caltrain are doing a major “dis-service” to the residents of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties with Measure RR.

Their proposal to address and remedy the Caltrain loss of revenue problem is to place on the backs of the total population another tax initiative, while only a limited few will directly benefit if this measure passes.

One, the tax is regressive and negatively impacts the families with household incomes of $50,000 or less, which is more than two-thirds of families in these 3 counties, significantly harder than the families who are directly benefiting from this measure passing.

Remember Caltrain ridership, 80% of those individuals have a household income greater than $200,000.

Two, the measure is asking the public to commit to this tax for 30 years…..Caltrain, is dying, a dinosaur, even before the pandemic, ridership has been steadily decreasing….now after the pandemic, the world has changed….we work from home, our bay area’s companies will never return to employment levels pre-pandemic, and ridership will never approach yesterday’s numbers.  

The bottom line is, the board and CEO have failed their fiduciary responsibility……they should have foreseen this coming at least 5 years ago ……they did not and did nothing…now with their backs up against the wall, they offer a remedy that lacks any strategic thought, does not consider today’s technology direction, no consideration for the existing and future work patterns,  and chose to ignore the impact another tax has on the lowest wage earners, to name a few. One question I have is why no reduction in headcount, salary expense,  or their fully paid pensions and medical benefits?

We should not suck out of the public another $100,000 million annually,  taxes to provide a service for less than 1% of the population….let me remind you that 1% are the wealthy 1%……and again,  make this law for 30 years!  This board and CEO have not demonstrated they are worthy stewards the public can trust….and the measure has no allowance for independent oversight and reporting back to the public.

Think of the impact these tax dollars could have on improving our school, housing, health care, youth employment training, and programs, etc.

Before I close, let me address the key selling point of this Measure…….”it will result in less traffic on our freeways”.  An empathic No, Caltrain’s impact on reducing traffic congestion is and will be very minimal, less than a 1% reduction may be achieved if this measure passes. It is expensive to ride and inconvenient, for the majority of us to even consider.

In closing, the proponents of this measure were also not transparent in the pre-work/surveys that they used to gauge the level of public support…they did not inform the public they were seeking approval of a measure that will be the law for the next 30 years.  Why place this tax on the backs of our children?

I hereby humbly request the board to have the moral compass to withdraw this request to the public.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Lawrence

Former Mayor, Foster City


Jim Lawrence is the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Expertus Inc. A change agent by definition, is active in his community, having served as Mayor of the city of Foster City, appointed to numerous county & Statewide boards and committees, and elected to the board of several nonprofit organizations. 

Featured image found here and license here.

Reimagined Communities: Safety For All

(Featured Image: Srishti Prabha at the September 23, 2020 protest at San Jose City Hall)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Imagine you were sleeping in your house and you heard someone break-in. Would you protect yourself and your family?

Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, fired his gun in self-defense, in accordance with Kentucky gun laws, which permits the shooting of someone trespassing on your territory. He was immediately arrested with an attempted murder charge and his partner was fatally shot. 

The three white Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, roamed free after the incident. Last week, September 23, 2020, they were cleared of the first-degree murder charge, with only one officer receiving a lighter indictment for wanton endangerment

A protest was in order. In a case so clear, how could these men be let off with a slap on the wrist? I took to the streets of San Jose to show my support for the injustice inflicted upon Breonna Taylor’s memory and her family.

A bright and beautiful black woman, who served her community as an EMT, was taken in her sleep.

“Black women matter!,” we chanted as a group at SJ City Hall. A group much smaller than what I had seen earlier this year. 

Michael German, Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice, Liberty and National Security | former Special Agent, FBI

The protest cycle, gaining and losing traction, is not a new one, neither is the information it is disseminating. Michael German, a Fellow from the Brennan Center for Justice and former Special Agent for the FBI, spoke about the pattern of white supremacy and far-right militant behavior repeating in 1990, 2006, 2015 at the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 5th.

“White supremacy and far-right violence in the US is a problem that…is poorly understood, partly because the federal government deprioritizes it and the state and local governments don’t want to pick up the slack,” informed German. A consistent issue and a potential threat since the 90s, the ideology of white supremacy cannot be dismantled unless it is understood. 

Why do I bring up white supremacy in relation to Breonna Taylor? It’s this simple. 

The initial act of entering unannounced and shooting an unarmed black woman comes from the fear of her Blackness. The potential cover-up of her murder and the subsequent ruling in favor of the three white cops is the influence and power accrued from fear and oppression of colored communities. 

Data presents a clear distribution. For every 100,000 people, 2306 black people are incarcerated to the 450 white people. A number five times higher. 

There is always some ambiguity in a case or the possibility of nitpicking a story. Here is the question that should be asked…

Did the warrant put out related to a drug offense that was MAYBE loosely linked to the use of Breonna Taylor’s house require an unwarranted attack? 

The fact remains that black people are disproportionately exposed to such encounters or convicted of crimes. Why is that?

Brennan Center for Justice finds that “structural or institutional bias against people of color, shaped by long-standing racial, economic, and social inequities, infects the criminal justice system.” And these systemic inequities are exacerbated and can lead to implicit bias when the law enforcement interacts with the public.

In any ordinary job, negligence would lead to the loss of a job, at the very least. Even insider trading has a consequence. And killing an innocent person has little to no repercussion? 

“Crime in the United States has been a highly politicized issue,” Michael German very succinctly states. Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove did not do their job. A job where their first and foremost duty was to provide safety to the community they served, to the people they served, to Breonna Taylor. 

A study by The Sentencing Project provides some historical basis for the drivers of this disparity. They find three recurrent explanations from a multistudy analysis: policy and practice, the role of implicit bias and stereotyping in decision-making, and structural disadvantages in communities of color which are associated with high rates of offending and arrest.

Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder and National Executive Director of Mothers in Charge Inc.

The structural disadvantage for communities of color permeates through and beyond policing. Societal thought and implicit bias are part of the quotidian. Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight and her nonprofit organization, Mothers in Charge, work to understand the violence in their communities. Johnson-Speight didn’t need to be part of the criminal justice system to live through the injustices faced in her community. As a mother who lost her adult son to gun violence, she poignantly said, “You don’t really have a clue, if you haven’t walked in those shoes.” 

During the briefing, she mentions case after case where there is video evidence that speaks contrary to the police narrative. She uses Breonna Taylor’s murder to highlight the multitude of ways that powerful people use untruths to support the violence inflicted in her communities. 

“She has never had any criminal history but to save the face of the corrupt police officers…to get them off [for murder]…they create these untrue stories. These are the kinds of things that have been happening in communities of color for years.”  

What needs to happen for these narratives to be revised? Where do we start?

Raj Jayadev, CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-bug

No one understands this better than community activist and CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, Raj Jayadev. “Communities have been sacrificed in the name of safety”, advocates Jayadev and very quickly makes the adverse correlation between safety and policing. The premise of law and order has been synonymous with policing, surveillance, prosecution, and incarceration, yet,  evidence proves those two are antithetical. 

Jayadev’s organization runs out of San Jose, a rather progressive city with a low crime rate. Despite this, he points out that San Jose has a relatively high rate of death caused by police violence. White supremacy is not limited to one particular space, it is national. We are all having the same political discourse. 

Jayadev probes, “How do we reimagine safety, safety for all, if law and order isn’t the mechanism to get there?” 

“Defund The Police” reads my sign that I hold up to passing cars at City Hall. I hear a call, “What is her name?!” The group responds, “Breonna Taylor!”

In unison we chant, “Black Lives Matter” to anyone who is willing to hear us. 

Black Lives Matter. Say Their Names. Defund The Police.

The words are different but the message is one. We are hoping and praying for a reimagined world in which safety means communities of color are part of the whole. A world where safety means equal access to mental health services, education, livable wages, rehabilitation, halfway homes, housing, and social services geared towards the benefit of all. 

Deprogramming what we know is difficult and will take time. Together we can reimagine…


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant 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.