I finished reading Anand Giridharadas’ “India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking” this morning and I have to say that it is one of the best books that I’ve read about the revolutionary changes sweeping through India in the past few decades. “India Calling” is narrated from the perspective of an Indian-American (Giridharadas) who moves to India to work in consulting after graduating from college. Upon moving to India, he realizes that the India he is experiencing now is very different (modern, rebellious, bold) from the India he visited as a child, and the romantic notions of India he had growing up as an Indian-American. “India Calling” is an effort to explain the difference between the two Indias and the developments that made this possible.
I will leave you to read this gem of a book yourself, but here is what I enjoyed / agreed with the most:
- Giridharadas’ points that while the current generation of Indians is rebelling against societal pressure, they don’t want to go so far as to create a rupture in society.
- Giridharadas’ analysis of how pride in cultural heritage correlates with economic power / influence. Dhirubhai Ambani’s rise transferred power from the Indian-culture-rejecting-Anglophile-Indian to the Indian-who-is-proud-of-Indian-culture, and how that made Indian culture “cooler.”
- Finally, Giridharadas’ grasp over Indian notions of marriage, mother-daughter phone conversations, and family (among many other topics) is simply outstanding. Each time, he nailed it perfectly!
I was born and raised in India until I came to the U.S. five years ago to attend college, and thus,”India Calling” was an especially interesting read. Curiously enough, I found myself being able to relate more to Giridharadas than any of the Indians he profiled. I will wait in line. I do hesitate to bribe. By Giridharadas’ test of morality, my principles are more rooted in the individualistic Judeo-Christian tradition than in the more communitarian Hindu tradition. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m surprised to say, the least. Is civility not a part of the Indian mentality, or at least, can it not gradually become one? But I digress, and that might be another blog post.
All in all, it’s an outstanding book and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in India, and wants to understand how India has changed over the past few decades.
On the Fourth of July, I went to see Kumare with two of my friends. Kumare is the story of Vikram Gandhi, an Indian-American who travels to India to study yoga, returns to the United States and pretends to be a guru. He gets a real following in Phoenix, AZ while teaching made-up mantras and yoga poses, but giving sound spiritual advice all the same. At the end of the film, he comes out as Vikram, confusing many of his “students” but hurting / angering others too. The message he tried to get across that we are the font of spiritual wisdom and we don’t need teachers to tell us how to grow spiritually.
While the message of the documentary resonated with me, I would have appreciated the documentary a great deal more had he explored gurus who were genuine teachers, not just the ones who were fake or were there for the money or sex. In spite of this, I appreciated the sincerity of Vikram’s narration. You go into the cinema hall thinking — no way, this is not possible. No way a FAKE GURU is going to build a REAL FOLLOWING. But you leave challenged. And that’s the best kind of documentary: something that challenges you to think a little differently.
All in all, a great documentary and I recommend it to anyone.
P.S. - On a related note, my friend, Chris Fici, recently wrote a blog for The Huffington Post on why one NEEDS a guru to growth spiritually. Read this here.
Now what do YOU think? Do we need gurus for spiritual growth? Share with me in the comments section (click to comment).
The call was never to chat or to say ‘I love you’ but to audit. Mothers eternally feared a daughter’s veering astray, and their questions resembled those of the jealous wife whose husband recently started buying her flowers. Where are you? Who are you with? Why did you go there? Who dropped you? How much did you spend? How come you stayed there? Why didn’t you have lunch? The conversation would continue like this for a time, with the daughter giving irritated monosyllabic replies and the mother boring ever deeper with questions. The call ended every time with the same frustrated adjournment: ‘OK, OK, OK, bye, bye, bye.’
There was never substance, humour, or emotion in the calls. There was only fact-checking and the psychic urge to tighten a weave ever in danger of unravelling. Even the way the phone was picked up — ‘haan,’ yes — evoked a discussion with no beginning and no end. A greeting would be too ceremonial: you only greet someone when you see them as their own person. But the Indian child was just an extension of the parent, and the conversation was not actually a conversation.
“India Calling” by Anand Giridhardas
This made me laugh so hard.
Wow, thank you for your work Aparna. It is so important, and you inspire so many women around the world. — Jahnabi
Meet Aparna Bhola, India’s teen sex educator
“There’s nothing to giggle or be shy about; there’s no shame in it. It’s important for us to learn about these things. Be totally bindaas (carefree) and ask me questions,” says Aparna Bhola, with a wide smile.
It’s a hot Sunday afternoon, but the stifling Mumbai summer air does nothing to curb the enthusiasm of the girls surrounding her. Aparna, a spunky 16-year-old, is in the midst of giving a group of her peers a candid sex-education class, and today’s topic is pregnancy. She leads the class confidently, dispelling superstitions with funny stories and apologizing disarmingly for her chalk drawing skills.
Aparna is member of a nongovernmental organization called Kranti, meaning “revolution,” which strives to give young women rescued from prostitution access to education and new opportunities. She was teaching the class as part of a partnership with an organization called Project Crayons, which runs a shelter for girls in Mumbai’s Malad neighborhood.
The daughter of a sex worker, Aparna grew up in Kolkata. Her mother, Malti, was married when she was 9 and was beaten by her husband. When she ran away and returned to her hometown in the Sundarbans, her aunt took her to Kolkata under the pretense of sending her to school. There, Malti was sold into sex work for 10,000 rupees ($180 at current exchange rates) when she was 12 years old. When she initially refused to be a prostitute, the brothel owner stuffed chili powder in her genitals to force her into submission, says Aparna.
Growing up in red-light districts, Aparna says she was distressed by the way doctors routinely mistreated sex workers because of the stigma against their profession. Her mother, diagnosed with uterine cysts, was unable to get treatment for them because of the bias against sex workers. Aparna remembers a niece being refused treatment by a doctor who said he didn’t want to bother with such poor people.
When sex workers like Aparna’s mother would become pregnant, the “doctors would treat them so badly,” Aparna recalls. “They would yell at them, and even slap them sometimes. They would say things like ‘You go and pick up anyone’s child and come to me with your stomach swollen. When you were doing it, you enjoyed yourself and now what happened?’ ”
These encounters made Aparna want to become a gynecologist. Even when she was younger, she would share with her friends and peers whatever sexual health-related information she could find.
“I want to work with gynecology to cater to sex workers because I know the issues they faced,” says Aparna, her face set in a determined expression. “If I became a doctor, I could give whatever information the mothers need when they are pregnant. There would be someone to talk to them nicely when they are in pain.”
In the time that she has spent at Kranti, Aparna has stopped drinking, improved her English, gained confidence and branched out into a number of extracurricular activities. She just completed grade 11, and is working toward her dream of becoming a gynecologist. This year she will enter the 12th grade and is planning to take the entrance examinations for medical school.
She also represented Maharashtra state in the Youth Parliament, an advisory group to the state government, where participants recently discussed whether sex education should be introduced in Indian schools.
“I used to think that my whole world is within the four walls of my room, of the house,” says Aparna. “Now I see that there is a big, big world beyond that where many things are possible for me.”
“What I really want is that girls become powerful and aren’t scared of anyone,” says Aparna. “They should think in their minds that ‘I will go ahead and progress and no one can hold me back.”
Now THAT’S a fierce woman.
Source: The New York Times
Leave This Chanting!
Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary was celebrated all over India yesterday. Tagore’s poetry had a great impact of me as a young girl growing up in India. Here is one of my favorites, that reinforces the message that God is everywhere (not just in a temple) and we will be able to see him only if we know where to look:
Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put of thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all for ever.
Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow.
Every spring, thousands of hijras (as male-to-female transgendered people are known in India), eunuchs and cross-dressers from all over India and neighboring countries flock to the southern Indian village of Koovagam, for Hindu festival celebrating transgender people.
The two day festival at Koothandavar Temple is held in honor of the Hindu deity Aravan (also known as Iravan), who is believed to be the patron god of transgender communities.
To continue reading and to see some amazing photos, click here.
I wanted to tell her how offended I was as a Pakistani woman that she has hijacked the war against women and has claimed the Middle East as the chief battle ground. Then, as if to prove my entire point about the dangers of her article, I received a tweet from an Arab woman attempting to qualify my voice in this debate: “Why are you even talking about this? Are you Egyptian? Arab? I don’t see you presenting any countering facts. If so, guide me.” Perhaps we should all be congratulating Mona instead. For she has treacherously contributed to the categorisation of knowledge into meaningless, non-contextual clusters and away from an interdisciplinary globalised understanding of how our system that treats corporations as people, rewarding enterprise to the detriment of human dignity – and our commonality as subjects of a deeply corrupted capitalist system from China to the United States and everywhere in between – into an isolated “Arab Women Only” discipline. As a Pakistani woman, to have been chastised by an Arab woman when speaking on this issue, is merely the tragic outcome of seeing women’s struggles as isolated instead of interconnected and co-dependent.
With all due respect, I have to disagree with the claim that Mona Eltahawy has presented “misogyny and violent against women as an ‘Arab only’ problem.” Towards the beginning of the essay she definitely brings up the fact that misogyny is a problem around the world including the United States (even if she focuses on the MENA region only). I sympathize with you bringing up violence against women in Pakistan. As someone who was born and brought up in India, I am fully cognizant that many of the problems that Mona has highlighted as problems in specific MENA countries also exist in India (maybe not too the greatest extent).
American Pakistani blogger Ayesha Kazmi criticizes Eltahawy’s problematic, over simplified article published in Foreign Policy that has - in another frame - presented a perspective that cuts Non-Arab Muslim women from the debate, rendering their voice insignificant while simultaneously assuming all gender discrimination occurs in the Middle East-North Africa only.
So, my hats off to Mona Eltahawy. While your sensational article now receives acclaim from Dutch MEPs and you get offers from the BBC to sit on debate panels, the rest of us, who care about academic integrity and honest accurate debate, remain here – perhaps not receiving as much publicity as you, but hastily attempting to clean up the fallout from your very precarious article.
I agree with Ayesha as an American Pakistani Muslim woman myself although I haven’t been reprimanded by any Arab woman for voicing my disagreement with Eltahawy’s piece. On the contrary, various Arab men and women on Twitter have left positive messages for me as a non-Arab criticizing Eltahawy’s narrow representation of gender and Arab women agency in the MENA. The issue that Ayesha mentions is extremely relevant: When someone like Mona Eltahawy (who has a very particular kind of audience in the West) writes a critique on gender, religion and politics in the MENA like this, she creates another problem - and this time it affects non-Arab Muslim women by relegating them to one side and presenting misogyny and violence against women as an “Arab Only” problem. Which is, obviously, false.
Dasaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi: Boats calmly row up to the ghat as it nears seven o’ clock, time for the evening aarti - a wonderfully synchronized ceremony for the gods.
Will you turn off lights today at 8:30 p.m. today for Earth hour? I love the concept of solidarity around caring for the planet. What we do need to remember though is that for a number of living in South Asia and other parts of the world, “Earth Hour” is often forced on them every single day due to inadequate electricity supply. If you’re interested in learning more, Global Voices published a great post today, “South Asia: Every Day Is Earth Hour For Us” — reactions by South Asians to the concept of Earth Hour.
Happy Holi! Rang Barse!
For more on Holi, great photos and songs, please visit: http://huff.to/zIsQOX
A very happy Holi to all who are celebrating! As seasons change, may Holi be a time for renewal as we celebrate spring, the season of love and colors.
“Holi is observed with great fanfare by Hindus all over the world. Holi celebrations begin on the eve of the festival with bonfires and prayers. On the day of Holi, people throw colored powder and liquids at each other. A common greeting during this time is, ‘Happy Holi.’”
To read more and see some really cool photos, follow this link: http://huff.to/zIsQOX
Happy Maha Shivaratri to all who are observing today.
“Maha Shivaratri (also Shivratri) is celebrated on Feb. 20, 2012 by Hindus all over the world. This festival glorifies the Hindu god Shiva, lord of cosmic destruction and dance. It is celebrated on the 14th night of the new moon during the Hindu lunar month of Phalguna.”
To continue reading and for more photos, click here.