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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. 


 

Odes to Bay Area Beauties

Any San Francisco, Bay Area resident can vouch for their fondness and love for living in this area. Being the Silicon Valley of the world and a Technology hub, it draws thousands to its fold every year. People flock to the area for the jobs but stay for the sheer number of outdoor options available within a short drive, offering a distinct lifestyle as compared to any other parts of the country. The miles of beaches by the Pacific Ocean are as easily accessible as the skiing haven of Tahoe. For anyone who loves wilderness and mountains, the allure of Yosemite is an easy draw. And if you are a wine lover, Napa and Sonoma are a must-visit destination.

I was similarly swayed by the pull of the region when I decided to immigrate from India, more than a decade back. Since then, I have spent a considerable amount of time in the Bay Area outdoors exploring its serene beaches, county parks, golf courses, biking trails, hiking trails, mountains, and wilderness within the area’s vicinity, a short drive away.

Over the years, I have been captivated by the abundance of natural beauty in the area and after every jaunt, I have come back rejuvenated. Sometimes, those feelings found utterances in a free verse or poetry – can you expect any better from a creative heart (figuratively speaking)? That said, you will find below a set of three poems inspired by my hikes to Monterey, Yosemite, and Lake Chabot.      

Before we move onto the poetry section, let’s remind ourselves that we are blessed to live in this region of nature’s bounty. The environmental issue of climate change is real and poses enormous threats to the health of the Bay Area and its ecology – perhaps the last year’s raging wildfires were a manifestation of this threat. Conserving and protecting the forests and their habitat is imperative for sustainable development and for the future writers/poets to emerge from this area in the footsteps of John Muir, Jack Kerouac, or Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  

***

Lake Chabot in Oakland, California.

Overlooking Lake Chabot 

The white velvet 

spread across the azure sky,

The gently undulating green slopes

Rolling hills and a deep blue oasis

flowing through the turquoise landscape.

 

The gentle breeze swaying my grown hair,

The feel of cool on my bare skin,

The panorama of the striking beauty

Soothing my tired eyes.

 

The climb across the overlook point,

And the gentle exertion of the legs, 

The calmness of the surroundings 

Radiating the stillness that calms the mind.

 

It’s in these Nature that,

the Zen of mind resides.

It’s in these outdoors that, 

the sense of well-being pervades.

***

Monterey Bay in Monterey, California.

At Monterey 

The setting sun casts

a golden streak

on the azure, transparent water.

The distant horizon

kisses the vast expanse of oceanic water.

 

The green vegetation doting the hillside,

swaying in the cool breeze

hustles sweet nothings in the ears.

The feel of the cool sand

beneath the feet 

pleases every pores.

 

The waves lapping against the shore

rising and falling in a crescendo,

beckons me to its lap.

I plunge forth at their invitation,

wading through knee-deep water.

 

The gentle frothy waves

rhythmically caressing my body

elevates my senses to paradise.

My mind in magical ecstasy;

experiences a cool tranquility.

The evening at Monterey

is a sheer delight.

***

Firefall in Yosemite Valley, California.

At Yosemite: a brush with life itself

Miles of verdant wilderness

The panorama of snow-capped hills

The majestic half-dome rising in splendor

Across the delightful Curry village.

Fluffy, velvety clouds

breezing across,

the cool zephyr

rustling through,

the humming alpine butterflies

wafting in thin air,

a herd of ‘mule deer’

galloping into the distant wood,

majestic waterfall in its vicinity

rushing through in all its grandeur,

the redolent ambience,

the unbridled silence

(except the ‘voices’ of nature)

nestling in the wilderness-

lentissimo drizzle

soaking me wet;

I stand alone

transfixed, mesmerised

experiencing

my inner self;

body in complete harmony

mind in immaculate peace,

spirit in blissful ecstasy;

Rejuvenated

I breathe again,

I can feel

the pulse of life

coursing through my veins.

After days of jejune existence,

I can sense again

the lightness of my being.


Lalit Kumar works in the Technology sector but retains an artist’s heart. He likes to read and write poetry, apart from indulging in outdoor activities & adventure sports. Recently, he started curating famous works of poetry (and occasionally his own).


 

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.

IC Wins 10 at the 2020 SF Press Club Awards!

This past year was challenging for us – adapting to changes with our medium of storytelling, turnover of the editorial staff, and limited resources for our nonprofit media company. This is not unheard of in our industry – and yet we push forth!

Because we must. Because of the desire to tell our stories. Because of our many willing collaborators. Because of our readers. Because our voices MUST be heard!

As I reviewed the articles we had curated in 2019 I realized that, despite the challenges, we were able to produce insightful and meaningful stories. My work and the work of countless others was validated as I saw the results of the San Francisco Press Club Awards 2020.

Jaya Padmanabhan, former IC Editor, wrote this on social media:

And my favorite magazine India Currents and dear friends Vandana Kumar, Meera Kymal and Nirupama Vaidhyanathan among a whole host of other writers (Sarita Sarvate) have walked off once again with well-deserved awards this year.

 

Vandana Kumar once told me years ago, “we’re like the little engine that could” at these award ceremonies, competing against Goliaths like Bloomberg, the Chronicle, and Examiner. Every year, every single year, IC and its little engine does us proud! So happy!

A huge shout out to the writers who choose to share their voices on our platform. Thank you!! 

The San Francisco Press Club’s Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards ceremony and dinner honor the outstanding work of Bay Area print, TV, radio, and digital media journalists, graphic designers, and photographers, as well as the work of documentary filmmakers and PR materials from nonprofits and corporations. The annual event is usually held in November but was hosted online this year. Find the video below!

India Currents Wins 10 Awards:

Digital Media: Overall Excellence

First Place: Vandana Kumar, “Can Public Charge Deny Your Green Card”  “Making of a Jihadi”, India Currents

Digital Media: Columns-News/Political

First Place: Meera Kymal, “Growing Political Power”, India Currents

Digital Media: Business/Technology Story

Second Place: Vandana Kumar, Sarita Sarvate, Rajesh Oza, Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, “This American Life of Mine”, India Currents

Digital Media: Feature Story / Light Nature

Third Place: Ranjani Rao, Nandini Patwardhan, Vandana Kumar, Nirupama Vaidhyanathan, “Desi Root’s Global Wings”, India Currents


Vandana Kumar has been the Editor for India Currents and is serving as the Publisher. 

Why I Took Down My #BlackOutTuesday Post…

I care so deeply and strongly for the minority communities in America. This is not a question of a singular time point but a story that transcends time and geographical location. I dedicated my life to the cause when I began to see how profoundly entrenched the problems were within our government. 

In just a few short months, compounded factors have exposed that network.

Ask yourself the questions:

Who is working on the frontlines?

Who doesn’t have food access? 

Who doesn’t have healthcare access? 

Who doesn’t have shelter access? 

Who has lost their job?

Who is being abused?

Who is being targeted by the police?

You will find that the same people can be grouped into the answer to many of those questions. 

Violence creates a response. I see that. I understand that. I am with that. When Trayvon Martin died unarmed, at the young age of 17 in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction and I saw a path forward.

“I can’t breathe”, said Eric Garner as he was ruthlessly murdered by cops in 2014 – for what reason – possibly selling untaxed cigarettes.

And so many more have died. Here were are today – #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, #JusticeForAhmaudArbery, #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.  

None of their murderers have faced prison time. 

In 2016, I felt helpless when I was pulled over in Alabama and asked to step out of my vehicle and come to the back of my car to speak with a white officer. The person in the passenger seat had no view of me and was not allowed out of the car. I was cited for driving 5 miles below the speed limit but my stop had nothing to do with my driving and more to do with my skin color, a brown-skinned woman traveling with all her belongings on a road trip home to California. She must be an illegal immigrant.

I was let go but so many aren’t. I feel the injustice. I want to protest. But now I find myself asking the question, in the middle of a pandemic, is that the smartest move?

As I scroll through my Instagram feed, it seems that every person I know is engaged in the BLM movement – even the ones who have been apolitical till this point, the ones rapping the n-word without being part of the black community, and the ones who have shut me down for being too “political” for talking about these issues. 

I’m unsure how to feel. 

Is this a product of unrest or restlessness of being at home? 

Unfortunately, killings by police are not isolated to a few times a year. Mapping Police Violence is a great resource and presents a reality that is not surprising to me. Out of 365 days last year, there were only 27 days that the police did not kill someone – an indication of oversight in due process.

This is not a singular time point. We are not in this for instant gratification.

So we quickly share the information we see on social media, join the cause, spread awareness. We see something happening and we are quick to act, rightfully so. BUT then the next hashtag comes around and we forget the last one…

Social media activism can be beneficial, as we’ve seen with #MeToo and #BLM, but with #BlackOutTuesday, there was criticism, almost immediately. People began the day by posting black squares but soon after, black and brown activists were cautioning people to spread information rather than suppressing it by blacking out Instagram feeds. 

Even as an engaged, politically active person, I was confused about what stance to take. Eventually, I took down my post with a black square. I am in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, which I will execute through my actions, spread of information, donations to groups, and dialogue with my family and friends. It doesn’t need to be on social media. 

What I AM seeing: people coalescing in a way like never before. 

Who cares if you were unaware before. I’m glad you’re part of the movement NOW. 

Social media doesn’t need to be performative. But it can remain informative. Take the time to reflect and find the best way for yourself to get involved. Keep in mind your social responsibility with the ongoing pandemic:

  1. Protest with a group of fewer than 6 people at your neighborhood street corner. Maintain social distance.
  2. If there is a curfew in your city, like the one in San Jose, go outside and walk around for 10 minutes after curfew (only if it is safe for you to do so).
  3. Start conversations with people you normally would not.
  4. If you don’t currently have money, the AdSense revenue from these following videos will be given to organizations working on black movements:
  5. If you have money, donate to these following organizations:
  6. Find local black organizations to support (here are some for my SJ community):
  7. Email your local representatives.
    • Email Mayor Sam Liccardo and Chief Police Garcia using this template.
    • Report what abuse you see here.

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and could not have written this piece without the help of all the black and brown activists sharing valuable information. Most of the information within this article is compiled with the help of Ritika Kumar. Thank you to all the black and brown people committed to change!