Josna Rege

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

393. Flying those Flags

In Britain, India, Music, Politics, Stories, United States on December 4, 2016 at 3:25 am
Eddie Izzard's Do You Have a Flag?

Eddie Izzard’s Do You Have a Flag?

I’ll try to keep this brief, because to me it’s cut-and-dried. Hampshire College has folded, following a firestorm of protests and threats, and has re-flown the American flag on its campus. I have not followed the controversy closely, but I want to make one observation: private colleges in the United States are not required to display the national flag.

As a student of nationalism, I feel compelled to note that although pennants and flags have long been used as signals (as in semaphore) and to identify armies in battle, national flags are very recent developments in world history, only dating back to the late eighteenth century, and not becoming universal until the 19th century. Rectangular pieces of fabric bearing national insignia, they have become potent patriotic symbols that often carry strong military associations, but it is important to remember that they are just that, symbols, displayed on bits of cloth and mounted on poles—or, in one of my favorite songs, printed on plastic and plastered on cars.

Allow me, and yourself, a little levity: watch Eddie Izzard’s classic sketch, “Do You have a Flag?” performed here by the comedian himself, and here by Lego men. Now treat yourself to John Prine’s classic song from his first album, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore. Back in 1971, he was referring to the Vietnam War when he said, in the next line, “It’s already overcrowded from your dirty little war”; but unfortunately it’s all the more resonant in this brave new world of perpetual war.

I recall with sadness the great Indian philosopher poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote Jana Gana Mana, the song that has become the nation’s national anthem. (He also wrote Amar Sonar Bangla, the song that became the national anthem of Bangladesh.) I can’t hear Jana Gana Mana without getting overcome by nostalgia—love for India, the aspirations of the–then newly independent nation, and memories of singing it at the top of my ten-year-old voice every time I went to the cinema with my father (the flag billowing on the screen for 52 seconds just before the running of the birth control advertisements: do ya teen—bas!). Tagore was a great patriot with a deep love for his country. But as he grew older, and began to understand what horrors nationalism was capable of wreaking, he came to see it as a modern scourge, and spoke out strongly and insistently against it. For this he was attacked and vilified by many of his compatriots, just as those who dare to question the military adventures of the United Statestoday are attacked and vilified as anti-national. As Tagore said in 1908, “I will never allow nationalism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.” For both yesterday and today, his words warn us of the danger and the travesty of bestowing upon a state apparatus and its symbols the love best reserved for our fellow human beings, the reverence best reserved for all things sacred.

While the British once paraded their flag with overblown pomp and ceremony as a symbol of their imperial power, now their erstwhile colonial subjects, rather than turning away from such vainglorious displays of worldly power, seek to reproduce them with a vengeance.

The Indian Supreme Court has just ruled that the national flag must be displayed in all movie theaters, and the national anthem played to a standing audience before film screenings. While in my childhood innocence I sprang to my feet and sang with all my heart, now it chills me to see that ritual made mandatory by the highest court in the land.

I opened with a reminder that private colleges—and indeed, private individuals—are not required to fly the national flag. In closing, permit me another reminder: the last time I checked, the United States was a free country, whose constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech included the freedom to question such symbols of military might. To the extent that the flag stands for freedom for us all, long may it wave! But to the extent that it stands for Might over Right, I must say, like Rabindranath Tagore, that it does not stand for me.

Oh, and another song: U.S. Blues.

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391. buying up the whole store

In Family, Food, Immigration, India, parenting, United States on October 23, 2016 at 6:26 pm
Birthday haul from the Indian store

Birthday haul from the Indian store

Dad was never one to cocoon himself in the comfort of “his own people,” however one might define one’s own. In his teens he left his small hometown on the Konkan coast of India for the big city of Bombay, where he apprenticed himself to an accomplished watercolorist for a year, then took a diploma in architecture from the Sir J. J. School of Art. Soon afterwards he boarded a steamship for London, where he was to stay for 5 years, studying, working, and befriending and sharing digs with Indians and Britishers alike. He met and married an Englishwoman (soon to become my mother), withstanding and wearing down the opposition from his bewildered family. Back in India, at I.I.T. Kharagpur, my parents’ friends included Indians, some mixed couples like themselves, and a few visiting foreigners. Later, in Athens, their friends included many Greeks and a cosmopolitan crowd including Australians, Austrians, Americans, Britishers, Germans, Indians, and Pakistanis. And when Mum and Dad moved to the United States, at a time when there were still very few Indians in the country, their closest friends here in New England were both American and Indian.

But despite his diverse circle of friends and acquaintances, in the last few years of his life Dad admitted, almost guiltily, that he pined for Indian faces. He looked forward eagerly to the local Indian association’s annual Diwali event, when they laid on a catered Indian feast and everyone took out their gold ornaments and dressed up in the silks that lay folded in boxes all year. Dad would put on his best Indian woolen jacket and Irish tweed hat and pace the front hall for hours in advance, while I fussed anxiously over the draping of my sari. Funnily enough, though, once he was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a lively, multigenerational, multilingual Indian crowd, he wasn’t much interested in interacting with anyone; he was content to eat, take pleasure in the sights and sounds, bask in the warmth of the organized chaos, and just be.

We don’t live in an area with a high concentration of Indian Americans, so the nearest Indian grocery store is in Springfield, about twenty miles away, and we usually managed to get there only a couple of times a year, when Dad had an eye doctor’s appointment. Last year we paid them a special visit on his birthday and came away with a highly satisfying haul that would last us until the next time. Just looking at all the choices made us ravenously hungry, so we always bought a fresh samosa each and ate it in the car on the way home, with Dad pronouncing it “Delicious.”

Our last visit to the Indian store, back in late May or June, had been delayed due to Dad’s second hospitalization of the year. He was now having to be on supplemental oxygen day and night, trundling a small oxygen tank in front of him in a little three-wheeled walker wherever he went.  On this visit, he put the oxygen tank in a shopping cart and pushed that around the store instead. We oohed and aahed at everything we saw: packets of savory snacks of every description (“munchies”, Dad called them); tins of pure ghee; frozen chapatis from Malaysia that tasted almost as good as home-made; heaps of fresh curry leaves, dhaniya-patta (cilantro), and green chillies; sweets of all kinds by the pound, driven up from New York; several varieties of  mangoes, sold by the box; blocks of jaggery made in Kohlapur, right near Dad’s hometown of Ratnagiri; cans of mango pulp made in Ratnagiri itself; and, of course, a myriad varieties of rice, tea, and spices.

As the clerk rang up our order and we began to maneuver our cart out to the car, Dad said wistfully, “one feels like buying up the whole store.”

The next month, the day after his 92nd birthday, we had to call an ambulance for what turned out to be Dad’s final hospitalization. Most of the Kohlapuri jaggery and the pure ghee still sits here at home, looking as lonely and bereft as we feel. Diwali approaches again, but this year it will be a quiet one. We will simply be content to attend the function and to be surrounded by Indians for a while.

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389. Exposing Whose Perversity?

In 1960s, 2010s, Britain, clothing, India, Inter/Transnational, Politics, Stories, women & gender on August 29, 2016 at 12:37 am

3d57c1d7d0a94e46a4d6a300c1dbaf4dYoung people are bound to set and follow fashions as they shape and explore an identity that distinguishes them from their elders. Back in the mid-Sixties when I was at boarding school in India, the Thai boys, who were always ahead of us in India when it came to fashion, arrived for the new school year sporting bell-bottomed trousers, or flares. But bell-bottoms weren’t regulation, and their flares were duly measured to determine whether they were in excess of some official width (that I suspect was invented on the spot). Our Thai guys’ wings were clipped as they were returned to the population. But though their style was cramped and trousers narrowed, they were always and forever our fearless fashion vanguard.

Ironic, isn’t it, that less than a decade earlier the cool guys had been sporting drainpipes. No doubt their trouser legs were also measured and found wanting—too narrow by half. The truth is, clothing is a marker of identity, and therefore must be controlled by those who are in the business of social control. And as long as the authorities seek that control, there will be acts of rebellion to wrest it away from them, whether out in the open or undercover.

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As teenage girls in late-Sixties England, our mild act of suburban rebellion was to surreptitiously fold over the waistbands of our sensible school-uniform skirts as we left home in the morning, instantly shortening them by a couple of inches and giving us that critical edge that our mothers just couldn’t understand. Of course, the authorities had to intervene; but the way they chose to do so backfired hilariously.

We got to school one day to find the prefects awaiting us officiously, armed with tape measures and unable to control their smirks. Apparently acting under orders from the very top, they ordered us girls to kneel in turn, while they measured the length of our skirts from the ground up. For those of us under 5’ 2’, that distance could not exceed six inches, while I think the taller girls were held to seven.

They reckoned without the press: the spectacle was a bonanza for them. The next day, photos of school-uniformed girls on their knees and tape-measure-wielding male prefects (curiously, they were all male that day) bending over them gleefully made several national papers as well as the local ones. How I wish I still had one of those cuttings!

In our case, the prefects were senior boys.

  (In our case, the prefects caught in the act were Senior boys.)

But while purporting to safeguard female modesty, the school authorities only exposed their own perversity with those lascivious images. Their ridiculous efforts to nip our wayward tendencies in the bud only redoubled our rebelliousness, while revealing that the indecency lay, not in our innocent hearts, but in their male gaze.

photo: Vantage

photo: Vantage

A similar fiasco is unfolding in France today with the ill-conceived burkini ban. While purportedly upholding France’s hallowed tradition of secularism, armed police were snapped standing over a woman on a Nice beach in the act of making her strip off her clothing. Far from challenging the control of religious extremists and modeling French social permissiveness, they only exposed their own need for social control. And as we schoolgirls did back in the Sixties, women are resisting. It’s a sales bonanza for burkinis and a warning to any authorities who seek to regulate what people choose to wear: banning will backfire on you.

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382. What’s Wrong with “Oriental”?

In history, Immigration, India, Inter/Transnational, Media, Politics, postcolonial, Stories, United States, Words & phrases on June 5, 2016 at 12:31 pm

[from megangillman.wordpress.com]

“Perpetuating Oriental Stereotypes” (megangillman.wordpress.com)

On May 20th, 2016, during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, President Obama signed a bill that will eliminate all references to the words “Oriental” and “Negro” in U.S. law, and replace them with “Asian American” and “African American.” U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens, NY), the chief sponsor of  bipartisan bill H.R. 2438, said, “The term ‘Oriental’ has no place in federal law and at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good.”

On hearing the news I breathed a sigh of relief: something that had troubled me on an almost daily basis had now been recognized as derogatory at the highest level of government. This is critically important, because many people, even some Asian Americans themselves, don’t realize it. Just minutes before I read the news of H.R. 2438, I received an emailed reading response from a student on a short story by a Malaysian writer, in which my student used the term “Oriental” to make a sweeping generalization about life in ‘that part of the world’. Clearly the bill has not gone far enough, and neither has its coverage in the media, because they don’t explain why the term is derogatory. It’s not enough to be told, as H.R. 2438 does, that many Asian Americans find it offensive, since this can be dismissed as their problem, their hypersensitivity. Isn’t it just a descriptive term, its apologists ask, like “Westerner”?

CHOP SUEY SPECS

No, “Oriental” is not merely descriptive (and neither, for that matter, is “Westerner”–or, to use parallel terminology, “Occidental”, which, tellingly, is rarely used). It is a term designed to categorize, generalize, dehumanize, and dominate. Let me explain, as briefly as I know how.

3First “Oriental” is an outdated term, based upon a 19th-century colonial concept of race that divided humankind into a hierarchy of racial types, with the Western European (man)–born to rule–at the top: Caucasoid, Negroid, Australoid, and Mongoloid, or Oriental, as it came to be known a little later. These terms have come to be associated with skin color and physical appearance, but also with stereotyped character traits, temperaments, and predelictions (again, with the Caucasian on top). All this has been debunked by scholars across the disciplines as a lot of baloney, and it is now generally accepted that this scientific racism was an ideology conveniently constructed to justify colonization of the “lesser breeds” by the naturally superior ones. In sum, “Oriental” was invented by Europeans for Europeans.

Second, “Oriental” is a blanket term covering huge swaths of the world. It has been used to refer to the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia,  and given the tremendous differences among all these regions, is on the one hand  almost completely meaningless and on the other, extremely harmful in encouraging people to lump them all together in their minds. For example, the student I mentioned above who wrote on the short story, Leng Lui Is for Pretty Lady, failed to notice that it was set in Hong Kong, its protagonist was from the Philippines, and its author Elaine Chiew, is of Malaysian origin and has lived in Hong Kong and the United States, but now lives in London. To tell the truth, I myself failed to tease out these specificities while teaching the story, which is about the predicament of women who must leave their families and go abroad to work as maids in the global economy. My failure, and the term Oriental, allowed the student to conclude that this was “what it is like to be a woman living in servitude in an oriental country,” as my student put it. First, it generalized about the condition of all women in “the Orient”, and second, in allowing him to disregard the fact that there are women working as maids in exploitative conditions all over the world, including Europe and the United States, it performed the work for which, according to the late Edward Said, Orientalism was designed: to create an inferior Other which is the polar opposite of the so-called West, upon which the “West” projected all that it did not want to accept in itself.

Third, with regard to the term “Orient”, better known as “the East”, I ask the question, East of what? The answer, of course, is East of Greenwich, England, which Britain at the height of its empire declared the central reference point for measurements of longitude, for which Greenwich is the arbitrarily designated Prime Meridian. Everything East of Greenwich is East and everything West of it, West. But we are now a world with many centers, and it is time we changed our language to reflect this new reality. Now that Britain is just a small island again, with little power if it does not attach itself to the new global superpower, what sense does it make for people in its former colonies to continue to see it as the global Center and  themselves as marginal, always obliged to look Westward for success and self-affirmation?

yellow-face.com

[yellow-face.com]

imgresFourth, “Oriental” is used to demean, divide, and exclude. It is natural for people to see themselves as the central reference points of their lives, and it is understandable, if not desirable, for people to want to identify themselves with power. Perhaps that is why one still finds Asian Indians in the United States internalizing Orientalist stereotypes and identifying themselves with  the “Caucasian” rather than “Oriental.” More than once I have heard  Indian students of mine declaring that they are not Orientals, which prevents them  from making common cause with other people of Asian origin under the useful umbrella of Asian American. And yet U.S. vs. Bhagat Singh Thind, the Supreme Court ruling of 1923, made it clear why it is in their interest to do—and in fact, to extend themselves still further to identify with all people of color. This was during the long period of first Chinese and Asian Indian, then Oriental Exclusion, when no one of Asian origin was allowed to immigrate to the U.S. or gain U.S. citizenship. The complainant in the Supreme Court case, an Asian Indian, had claimed that he should be granted citizenship because Indians are Caucasians, not Orientals. The judgment acknowledged, that Yes, he was Caucasian, but No, he could not be granted citizenship because he was not white, revealing the true purpose of these racial categories.

46912a66e79e4982da5469f3484b4341Calling someone an Oriental, even if their families have lived, worked, paid taxes, and died in the United States for generations, excludes them from full Americanness by relegating them firmly to the status of permanent outsider, unassimilable alien, regardless of their American citizenship. It designates them as Other, not one of Us, not from here, and in the end neither equal nor fully human. Just a glance at the stereotypical images of “Orientals” that are rife in the visual media makes this abundantly clear. These stereotypes also ought to make it obvious why the term is so hurtful.

My final point—and forgive me, I am an English teacher—is about the politics of grammar. “Oriental” is an adjective, not a noun. So to call a person “an Oriental” is to define him or her based on physical appearance and an imaginary repertoire of pre-ordained traits seen as belonging to that racial category. It is derogatory, dehumanizing, and high time for it to be defunct.

I hope it is now clear to you what’s wrong with “Oriental.” Hooray for the passage of H.R. 2438, and Thank You, Congresswoman Grace Meng!

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380. Zoe

In blogs and blogging, India, Inter/Transnational, reflections, Stories, Words & phrases on April 30, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy


ZZoe
is a Greek name meaning Life. (Think of zoology, protozoa, zoetrope (or zootrope).) Zed is the last letter of the English alphabet, but Zeta is not last in the Greek. Perhaps the Greeks knew that the goal is not to be found at the end.

What is the end—the goal, the purpose—of life? Life itself. Life and its secret meaning, toward which so many seekers strive, only to find, in the end, that they had had it all along, if only they had stopped to notice. What do the Upanishads say? It is Sat-Chit-Ananda: Sat (existence), Chit (consciousness), and Ananda (Bliss).

Life brings me joy.

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376. Verandas

In blogs and blogging, India, Inter/Transnational, places, Stories, United States, Words & phrases on April 27, 2016 at 7:22 am

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V-1In the United States they’re more commonly called porches. In India, though, and around much of the world, they are veranda(h)s—roofed, sometimes partly enclosed porches that extend from a house at the ground-floor level.

The word’s origin is disputed, but it comes to English from the Hindi varanda and other Indian languages and is also found in Portuguese and Spanish, so it is one of the many that entered the English language during the colonial era.

We have a hundred-year old New-England farmhouse with porches in front and back, but I prefer to call the front extension a veranda, because as soon as I set foot in it I breathe different air and seem to enter a different world altogether.

Situated on the north side of the house, it is a cool, peaceful place. A small sign reminds visitors to remove their shoes. Cane chairs and a comfy couch present themselves, evoking a slower past. Stress and striving fall away. The whir of ceiling fans shuts out the hum of traffic on the road outside and the workaday world recedes. A green shade; a homecoming.

Verandas of my youth were shady, protected spaces neither in nor out. Drinking water sat cooling in earthenware jugs on our back veranda, which looked out on an old hammock slung between two jamun trees.

While the veranda beckons, the workday ahead of me demands attention. I reluctantly bid it farewell, for now. But life is as it should be on the veranda. I intend to sit quietly there, alone or with friends, fans swishing slowly, through many a long, hot summer evening; the definition of happiness.

Not long now.

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370. Pre-dawn Raga

In 1970s, blogs and blogging, India, Music, Stories, writing on April 20, 2016 at 3:17 am

p10a

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PI have never been what they call “a morning person.” At least an hour and a half must elapse between when I wake up and when I start my working day, and it’s not until I’m on my second cup of tea in the morning that I can safely engage with another person without the risk of biting their head off. On one particular occasion, though, my behavior was quite out of character, thanks to the power of a pre-dawn raga.

For a time during our twenties, when we were living in the cabin on White Pond in Concord, Andrew had a job driving a truck for NEFCO, our regional food co-op federation. As I recall, he had to drive in to the wholesale market in Chelsea, pick up the week’s supply of cheese, and deliver it to the co-op warehouse in North Cambridge. He had to leave the house early in order to complete the circuit on time, but that was not a problem, since, unlike me, Andrew is a morning person.

On this morning, Andrew happened to over-sleep, and by the time he woke up, it was already past the time he normally left the house. I awoke, bleary-eyed, to find him in a state of high anxiety and near-despair, feeling that he had made an irreparable mistake and that it was too late for him to fix it. When he gets into that mood, he tends to get stuck in it for some time, shutting himself down and others out. But somehow, that morning, I mobilized in record time and managed to turn his self-defeating mood around.

I love Indian classical music, although I have never studied it formally. (Our local public radio station irritates me to no end when it uses the term “classical music” to refer to European classical music, as if that is all there is.) I love the way it starts quietly, just establishing the mood, and then builds gradually, taking a long time to warm up. A raga, or raag, is a basic melody form (here’s Anoushka Shankar explaining) and there are ragas for every time of day, even the time when I am not at my best.

Ali Akbar Khan (US., c. 1970) Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Ali Akbar Khan (US., c. 1970) Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It just so happened that we had picked up an album by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the virtuoso sarod player, called Pre-dawn to Sunrise Ragas (1967). Although we had gone to see Ali Akbar Khan in concert at least twice by then, I had never properly listened to this album, and certainly not at the proper time of day, but as I threw on my clothes and scrambled to prepare breakfast, I had the bright idea of putting it on. As soon as the needle settled into the grooves of the disc and the first benign tones of raag bairagi began to pervade the atmosphere, something shifted into an open, expectant mode. By the time the raga was over, we were getting ready to jump into the truck and make for Chelsea; but in that short twenty minutes, Andrew’s mood had neutralized and the dark cloud had begun to lift. The sun rose, the pick-up and delivery went smoothly, and all was well with the world again.

Don’t take my word for it; try it yourself, the next time you’re up early and a bit out of sorts. Begin the day with joy.

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366. Lemons and Limes

In blogs and blogging, Food, India, Stories, United States, Words & phrases on April 15, 2016 at 9:48 am
my Meyer lemon

my Meyer lemon

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LComing home from work late, tired and hungry, I opened the fridge to see what I could see. Two slices of leftover eggplant pizza—not bad. But pizza, at this time of night? Then my eyes alighted upon a little tub of cut-up lemon wedges and I perked right up. Forget pizza—this was just what the doctor ordered.

I always keep a bag of organic lemons or limes in the fridge. Just knowing they’re there makes me happy. On a swelteringly hot day, a tall glass of nimbu-pani, just water with lemon juice squeezed into it, is the best thirst-quencher there is. We squeeze lemon juice on everything, though: on fish, of course, and on salad, a simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil beats just about any other.

When I came to the United States I couldn’t understand why lemons seemed to have such a bad rap. When a newly-bought car is defective, it’s called a lemon; when life gives you lemons, I was instructed, make lemonade. Well of course, I thought; until I understood that it meant one should make the best of a bad situation.

It is understood, in the U.S., that the lemonade one makes from life’s lemons must be sweet; sickly-sweet, in my book. Somehow, among Indians, who certainly can’t be accused of not having a sweet tooth, there is a greater fondness for savory, sour and bitter-tasting foods. This seems to be particularly the case for women, and even more so for pre-teen girls, who crave green mango sprinkled with chili, salt, and lime juice.

The lemons in the fridge at the moment are delicious Meyer lemons—my dear mother-in-law Anna’s favorite. Back when they lived in San Diego, one of her friends had a Meyer lemon tree whose fruit just ripened and fell to the ground unused. Anna couldn’t bear to see that, of course, so she asked her friend if she could pick them. One day we received a large parcel from California. In it were dates, figs, and a big bag of Meyer lemons; what a treat!

Standing in the kitchen I ate the lemon right down to the skin. Remembering how, as kids, we used to make orange-wedge smiles, I noticed that at ten in the evening, after a long workday, there was a broad grin on my face. Lemons and limes bring me joy.

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By the way, I did go right on to eat the leftover pizza as well.

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365. Kindred

In blogs and blogging, Books, Britain, Family, India, Inter/Transnational, Stories, Words & phrases on April 14, 2016 at 8:35 pm

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K

 

There are those conversations with cousins and aunts during which you realize that not just your features, but your quirks, as well as those of your parents, are theirs too. My Auntie Angy, married to my maternal Uncle Len, used to joke with my husband and my cousins’ spouses, that they were the A-Team—united by a crime they didn’t commit and forced to live with members of the Sharp family. Thank goodness for the long-suffering A-team in every family that tempers and balances the eccentricities of the other side!

UnknownSharp by name and sharp by nature: that’s my mother’s family. They have a way with words, both spoken and written, do everything quickly (quick-witted, quick-tempered, quick to take offense), but are fiercely loyal to those they love. They are also just plain fierce. It can be infuriating to encounter this fierceness on your own; but when, commiserating with siblings and cousins you realize that, a) you have the same traits yourself and b) you’re all in it together, you gain a new understanding and tolerance for the behavior, and it even becomes endearing—well, sometimes and to some extent. You are all kindred, and that is so comforting.

Now, Reges, my father’s family, are another kettle of fish (Pomfret/pamflet, if you want to get specific). They are contradictory characters, artistic and free-thinking, yet set in their ways; gregarious and hospitable, yet solitary, even shy; high-performing but wracked by self-doubt; stoic on the outside, but nursing anxieties and worries to which they will never admit (or is that myself I’m thinking of?). Getting together with Rege cousins to share stories about our respective parents allows us to see how many of the traits that baffle us about our beloved seniors are shared among all their siblings. On a recent, rare visit from India, my cousin Vidya instructed my father—lovingly, but in no uncertain terms—to listen to his elder daughter. She knows: she too is an elder daughter, and her father is just two years my father’s junior. I can’t tell you how supported she made me feel.

It is a truism that you can’t choose your family. This is another wonderful thing about kindred. This lack of choice means that your family contains all sorts, including people whom you might never have got to know, or even meet, unless you were related. This is good for your soul.

Then there are the kindred spirits. You’re not related at all—not by blood. But as soon as you meet you find yourself completely at ease. There is no need to explain; everything you do, everything you say, is understood and accepted immediately. And you can trust them to the ends of the earth.

Kindred-octavia-e-butler-124291_408_600 The late Octavia Butler wrote a novel called Kindred. If you haven’t read it yet you’re in for a treat. Her protagonist Dana (interestingly close to DNA) has kindred of both kinds: those whom she wouldn’t go anywhere near if she weren’t related to them, but for whom she must risk her life because she is. (Sorry, that’s a convoluted sentence, but as they say about fraught relationships on Facebook, it’s complicated.) These kindred force her to recognize that she has to know them to know herself, however difficult that is for her. To her dismay she finds that, even as she hates the things they do, she continues to care for them. Thankfully, Dana has the other kind of kindred in her life as well: the kindred spirit whose love and integrity she finds that she need never have doubted.

I am lucky to have both kinds of kindred in my life. All of them, but all of them, bring me joy.

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364. Jai Jagat!

In blogs and blogging, Family, history, India, Inter/Transnational, Politics, postcolonial, Stories, Words & phrases on April 13, 2016 at 5:29 am

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  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

JMai-Atya, my Aunt Kumud, now 93, was a Gandhian social worker and educator all her working life. She took a vow of simplicity as a student in 1942, during the Quit India Movement, and has worn only khadi, homespun cotton, ever since. She has worked tirelessly for Dalits,  women, children, anyone in trouble—with their families, society, the law—her vision one of freedom, justice, and a sustainable life for all the people of India.

Mai-Atya was our family chronicler. She wrote to my father regularly, wasting not a centimeter of space on the blue aerogramme, telling him who had got married and when, who had had a baby and its date of birth, who had passed their exams, who had shifted their job or their place of residence. She ended her letters with the stirring slogan, Jai Hind!  —Victory to India!imgaerogram

I would try to read her cursive Marathi and ask my father to translate what I could not. One letter, she signed off with a new slogan: Jai Jagat!—Victory to the World!

Victory to the World—what a concept! Trust my dear Aunt Kumud to be several steps ahead of the rest of us. While most of the rest of us were wallowing in feel-good nationalism—all-too dangerous, though we didn’t realize it then—she had decided to broaden her vision to include the well-being of everyone on the planet.

I looked up Jai Jagat on the Internet, and found the website of Ekta Parishad (unity council), a “peoples movement dedicated to the principles of non-violent action, aiming at social and land reform.” Their vision is of an India in which:

Each one could benefit from equal and guaranteed access to land, forest, and water, and the whole population—regardless of origin or caste—could live with dignity.

Jai Jagat 2020 is a campaign launched by Ekta Parishad, in which they too make their vision global.

Ekta_Parishad_logoIn the 2020 campaign we are broadening to Jagat, meaning all people in the world. This does not mean that the work of Ekta Parishad alters its direction from changing its focus away from the lives of poor people. We continue to organize marginalized communities for their control over land and natural resources, as a way to fight poverty. At the same time we realize that this problem is not limited to India alone and that people from almost every country across the world are experiencing similar challenges. Market driven globalization is depriving millions of people from their land and accessing resources. People are being dispossessed and forced into cities and slums.  This means that we need to work at a global as well as at the grassroots level to bring about real change.

 Jai Jagat actually means VICTORY OF THE WORLD. That is very close to the concept of  Sarvodaya (‘well being of all’) that was given by Mahatma Gandhi. The underlying principle is that, if there is a victory then it should be the victory of our common humanity not the victory of one nation over another. The victory should also be based on the victory of living commodiously together, and of people coexisting with nature. If the victory is for everyone and for everything, then this is the best. A modern world needs to imbibe these new values, the values of Jai Jagat and Gandhi’s notion of Sarvodaya.

Dear Mai-Atya, who signed off, Jai Jagat, some 35 years ago; ahead of her time, as always. Let’s hope that the rest of us can catch up in time to save this struggling world. That is a vision that brings me joy.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

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