Tag Archives: #southasia

BET Island: An Untouched Gem

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

If you appreciate the vastness of the sea, boat rides, and heritage temples of India, then this place is for you. A place where you feel immersed in serenity one moment and the adventure in the next. 

Okha is a small coastal town in the Dwarka district of Gujarat. It is surrounded by the sea on three sides and has a sandy beach on the Arabian Sea coast. BET Dwarka Island situated 3 km across a small creek from Okha port and reached by ferry, which was a memorable experience for me.  For the about 20-minute journey, you only have to pay Rs 20 per person. If you want to hire a personal boat, you will have to shell out Rs 4000.

For me, amidst the clean blue sky, hovering seagulls, and the coos of birds, the soothing cool breeze was like a tranquilizer.

Indeed, Bet Dwarka is a magical, beautiful, untouched, and enchanting island. This is a place on the western coast of India where I get the opportunity to see both the sunrise and sunset from the ocean. It is a lifetime memory. The long stretch of the Bet Dwarka beach is perfect for a long walk. The best part was that I did not find a lot of commercial activities here and it might be because Bet Dwarka beach was the first in Gujarat that the Government earmarked for eco-tourism development.

BET Dwarka Ports

Archaeological Importance 

The place derived its name from the ‘bhent’ or gift that Lord Krishna received at this place from his friend Sudama. The island is also called Shankhodhar as it is dotted with a huge number and variety of conch shells. Archaeological remains found under the sea suggest that there were settlements of the Harappan civilization from the Late Harappan Period or immediately after it, from the Indus Valley Civilization. It was an important shell-working center during the Harappan period. During the explorations in and around Bet Dwarka, a large number of antiquities of late Harappan period which include pottery, a seal, coins, etc, were found.

That is the reason Bet Dwarka has always stirred the curiosity of archaeologists. Probably because of the mythical claim that points that this place had been Lord Krishna’s original house in the yesteryears. 

Ferries going to and from Okha to Bet Dwarka Island.

The Beauty of Nature 

While getting to the jetty to board the boat, I saw people selling packets of bird feed. Not knowing why, I also bought some packets. And as soon as the boat left, seagulls flocked to the boat for the feed that’s in our hand. It’s was an incredible experience to see the gulls flying extremely low at such close range and even picking the feed from your palm. After getting down at the jetty, I walked for nearly 700 meters to reach the Lord Krishna temple. I saw hand-pulled trollies taking elderly persons to the temple. The main temple which closes at 12 noon, is believed to be built by Rukmini, wife of Lord Krishna. This is the place where Mirabai, the devotee of Krishna, disappeared at the feet of the Lord’s idol.

Sri Keshavrai Ji Temple in BET Dwarka Island.

Story of Sudhama and His Gift

The main temple here is Sri Keshavrai Ji Temple. Interestingly, here the idol holds the shankha (conch) in an oblique position. The temple is like a palace, built in pink limestone and filled with carvings. Small shrines are built for every queen of Krishna. Rukmani who is believed to have carved the idol here is not found, instead, Satyabhama, the second wife of Krishna, is very prominent here.

Devotees offer ‘rice’ here, which reminds one of the legendary tale that tells how Sudama, a friend of Krishna, had bought him ‘rice’ as a gift. 

When Sudama decided to seek Krishna’s help, to come out from his poverty, his wife packed him a handful of Poha to offer to the Lord. Sudama was hesitant about how to give his gift to Krishna. Krishna asked what gift his friend has brought for him. Sudama tried to hide it but Krishna took it and ate the Poha and offered it to his wife. Sudama returned without asking for help. But a surprise awaited him back home! Instead of his broken hut, there stood a palace and his wife and children were dressed in expensive clothes. That’s when he realized of Lord Krishna’s magical powers.

Other Shrines 

Apart from the main temple, there are various small shrines dedicated to Radha, Rukmani, Jambavati, Lakshmi-Narayan, Devki, Matsya form of Lord Vishnu, and many more. Hanuman Dandi temple of Bet Dwarka enshrines idols of Lord Hanuman and that of Makardhwaja – Hanuman’s son. According to myths, a drop of sweat from Hanuman Ji’s body was gulped by a fish who later delivered a son known by the name of Makardhwaja. Interestingly, the Bet Dwarka region has two Dargahs – Sidi Bawa Peer Dargah an Hajo Kirmil Dargah.  

Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple, so better leave either in the hotel or you will have to keep them in the lockers specially made for this purpose.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 


 

South Asian Queer Voices Fill The Void

“Not straight, not gay, not girl enough,

miles away from man. Just queer, man,

as in queer.

I dentif i

As queer.

I like the way it sounds like the start

Of ‘weird’. The way I don’t have a plan.

Queer.”

—From the poem ‘Queer As In’ by Delhi-based non-binary, femme disabled poet and journalist Riddhi Dastdar. 

The World That Belong To Us: An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia is a first of its kind anthology that brings together the best of contemporary queer poetry from the subcontinent. The collection, which has been jointly edited by poet, writer and artist Aditi Angiras as well as poet, translator and teacher Akhil Katyal, took more than a year to put together. The themes in the poems range from desire and loneliness, sexual intimacy and struggles, caste and language, activism, the role of families, heartbreaks and heartjoins. 

In the book’s Preface, Angiras and Katyal write that the call for the anthology was widely circulated online, emailed to friends, copied on Facebook groups and WhatsApped to acquaintances. Over a period of time, the text of the call kept evolving from what it was to what readers wanted it to be. In order to increase its reach and spread, it was also translated into several South Asian languages. In no time, submissions began trickling in from cities across the globe—Bengaluru, Vadodara, Benaras, Boston, Chennai, Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, Dublin, Kathmandu, Lahore, London, Karachi and New York City.

Aditi Angiras (left) and Akhil Katyal (right)

The more than hundred contributors, poets and translators in the book are all varied in terms of their language, region, caste, gender, sexuality, class and publication history. While many are established queer poets from South Asia, many are also first-time poets. Apart from English, the book features poetry translated from a number of languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Punjabi and Urdu.

In his poem ‘What is Queer?’, Chand, a queer, agender trans research scholar, sets about trying to explain to his mother what queer is: “Queer is being the lowest of the low/ The absolute scum of the sexual pyramid/ And somehow still taking pride in it.”

Nepal based Phurbu Tashi elaborates further on the plight of queer people like himself in his poem ‘This World Isn’t For You’: “This isn’t nature’s fault, these are your own desires/ Why would I embrace desires that make life harder for me”.

US based Sehrish Rashid, a bisexual woman from Pakistan, writes in her poem ‘Shame’: “What for you is a thing of shame, only spells my truth, my name.”

Gee Semmalar, a queer trans man from Kerala writes in his poem ‘Resistance Rap’: “New skin stubbornly/ Grows over old and new wounds/ Proud scars/ That tell stories of tender love.”

Coochbehar based Arina Alam, writes in her poem ‘I Know’: “When I revolt against this construction of gender, I will keep my head held high.” 

Lahore based Asad Alvi’s poem ‘La pulsion de mort’ talks among other things about the impossibility of queer love “for whom the only future carved out is death,” which he illustrates by citing examples of famous writers Tennessee Williams and Virginia Woolf, both of whom committed suicide. 

Abhyuday Gupta, who identifies as agender, non-binary, writes about the angst of growing up in his poem ‘Bildungsroman’—one that feels like “the ache of the attic floor which squeaks at the slightest touch and dissolves into a wallflower to apologize for its insolence.”

Shaan Mukherjee Ghosh, who identifies as non-binary and bisexual, writes in his poem ‘Pantomimesis’: “I can’t be gay or trans or depressed./I won’t hurt my body even when it hurts me. I will not abuse others as I have been abused. Everything I thought was wrong. I suppose. I was too young to know.”

Sahar Riaz, a psychiatrist from Pakistan living in Dublin, writes in his poem ‘Do you want to get to know me’: “All day I wait for the night to come/ So I can wipe off this mask, Reveal something real, If only to myself/ I know 3 a.m. like the back of my hand.” 

Though an anthology of separate poems, this unique collection advocates a singular voice—of diversity, compassion and justice for this historically marginalized community—one that thrives within the complex multiplicities of South Asia and its religions, sexuality, cultures, and languages.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

Indian-Americans Must Resist South Asian Identity

The South-Asian identity of the Indian diaspora is inherently biased and it is fraught with inaccuracies. It also constitutes part of a deliberate attempt by leftist groups to deny and subsequently erase from the consciousness the memory of a glorious non-Western indigenous pagan civilization.

The question of identity and how we, both as an individual and a group, relate to the rest of the world has been explored by social scientists, anthropologists, and spiritual scholars alike. Most consider identity as linkages of social structure and/or an internal process of self-verification. Whether in affirming group identity or in resisting assimilation and digestion, this notion forms the core of identity politics. 

Bharatvarsha – as the indigenous inhabitants called their subcontinental sacred land – is a land of major rivers (the Sapta-Sindhu), high mountains (the Himalayas), vast forests (the Vindhyas), and unfathomable seas (Samudra). It has a recorded history spanning well over 5,000 years. This land “bears traces of the gods and the footprints of the heroes. Every place has its own story, and conversely, every story in the vast storehouse of myth and legend has its place.” (Diana Eck, A Sacred Geography). 

Foreigners – travelers, and invaders alike – later called this land as India and Hindustan (the land of the Hindus). When Columbus sailed to explore the ‘new world’, the land of big fortunes, he was going to India, not South Asia. The European colonizers named their trading companies East India Company, not South Asia Company.

In fact, South Asia did not enter the Western lexicon until the 1940s. It became an identity marker for immigrants in North America from the Indian subcontinent, including Myanmar and Tibet in some cases. In its simplest form, this marker represents a certain cultural and historical background of US immigrants from the Subcontinent in general and India in particular. Post-1947, ‘South Asianism’ in the US emerged as a form of political activism. This notion of belonging to a borderless larger geographical entity was promoted primarily by the leftist intellectuals and activists.i

In the graph below, you will see the term South Asia unused until the 1940s.

Source: Google Ngram Search

The ‘South Asian” label itself, however, was first used by American politicians and academics, not the immigrants themselves. In 1948 the first department of South Asian Regional Studies became functional in the US at the University of Pennsylvania that offered courses in geography, linguistics, Hindustani, sociology, etc. The emergence of such departments in US universities, however, owes primarily to the political and strategic objectives of the US government during and after World War II. Many South Asia departments were funded, among others, by the US intelligence apparatuses, and many of the South Asian ‘scholars’ were actually spies of the US government. Prominent among them include Olive Irine Reddick and Maureen L. P. Patterson. Reddick was an analyst in the Office of Strategic Services and worked as an undercover operative in India during the war (1942-1946). Later she ran the Fulbright Scholarship program for 14 years. Patterson, who worked in the US Government’s War Department, is credited with developing the world-famous collection at the University of Chicago South Asian Library. 

Picture credit: The University of Chicago Library

The other purpose served by these South Asia departments was to train the missionaries about to go off to do “church work” in India. Combined, the legacy of these South Asia departments still haunts every aspect of the study of India in the US and beyond.

The South Asian identity is highly contested and has never been universally accepted. Many consider South Asia as a representation of India’s cultural, geographical, and economic hegemony. Leftist groups, academicians, and politicians opposed to the identity of the Hindus and people belonging to other indigenous faiths of the Indian subcontinent have used the South Asian label to delegitimize the genuine concerns of these religious minorities in the US.  The same group has also worked hard to remove most references of India and Hindu from the California high school textbooks

The socio-political goals of the Indian-subcontinental diaspora in the US are diverse and varied. India is the second-most populous country as well as the fifth-largest economy in the world. While Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are constitutional Islamic theocracy, India is a Hindu-majority secular state. Indians are among the most educated and their average household income is among the highest of any ethnic/national group in the US. 

It is time for Indian-Americans to carve out a separate non-South Asian identity for themselves to advance their social, political, and cultural agenda in the US.

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.