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Color Me Indian

Simply put, India reified is the painter’s palette.  A palette of cultures, faiths, beliefs, values, systems, societies, and socioeconomic statuses abound engage in forms of social intercourse yet somehow artfully retain their identities.  It is breathtakingly synergistic. As I wait for my ride outside of the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur, Rajasthan I notice a peculiar color wheel, a palette, recently smeared by the summer rain. The rain, a social lubricant, enables the colors to bleed outside of their boundaries, bleed into one another. Yet, amidst this chaotic interaction, there is equilibrium. There is an unbridled energy as the paints attempt to retain their color.

Before this moment, I had never experienced art that could feel so alive, never before once felt as though I was the art I perceived. I had never completely understood up until now the intimate interaction between art and life.  The palette, in more ways than one, mirrored not only the collective, but also the individual identity. Indeed, the palette harkens back to social activist, Jane Elliott’s theory of racial integration:

“We don’t need a melting pot in this country folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables-the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers-to maintain their identity. You appreciate the differences.”

The color wheel outside of Albert Hall that day reinforced for me that attempting to meld my biracial Indian-American identity will only muddy it. Conversely, I need to appreciate the differences of both of my identities. I need to strive to maintain a sense of concord between these two complementary colors. Even still, the rangoli-designed palette captured the bedrock of Indian culture and society— that a multitude of cultures and identities exist in harmony, through varied forms of social lubrication and chaotic social intercourses, as it becomes socially permissible to draw outside of the lines.

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Make A Wish…

“Please, don’t worry so much because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky, when the stars are strung across the velvety night. When a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day, make a wish. Think of me. Make your life spectacular, I know I did.”

 

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

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Rakhi

“If we discovered that we only had five minutes left to say all that we wanted to say, every telephone booth would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they loved them.” —-Christopher Morley.

It may seem awkward or rather trite for me to be inserting a quote before sharing my most recent experience in India, yet by braiding the former and the latter together I am able to yield a product all the more remarkable. Christopher Morley propounds that:

Five minutes left + a telephone booth= people stammering to other people that they loved them.

Yet, when I entered the apartment to celebrate Rakhi with my Indian relatives this evening, Morley’s algorithm quickly crumbled. There was neither a telephone booth nor five minutes left of life and yet the outpouring of love, support, happiness saturated the room. It seemed as though the familial warmth and energy had temporally removed our environment from the passage of time. Upon entering the apartment  I was greeted by many members of my family I had never seen before. I respectfully touched their feet. They encouraged me to sit down to have a rakhi, a beaded thread which denotes a promise to always protect my sister, tied on my right hand wrist. Afterwards, they proceeded to feed me cashews and deserts by hand thus reinforcing the fluid boundary between public and private. An elder then called me over and gave me her blessing. Upon receiving her blessing, I glanced over towards the corner of the apartment and caught a glimpse of an India-past–elder’s feet were being massaged by a young boy. This performance of seva, or dutiful service to an elder out of veneration, was simply touching. It was rejuvenating to witness youth give back in a way that reestablished a certain web of bodily connections. A cup of chi and a food coma later, it was time for me to leave. I said some final goodbyes and left for home.

In short, to hear a stammered ” I love you,”  there is no need to search for a vacant telephone booth five minutes before the end of time. Search for an Indian family and you will feel it, all the time.

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Embrace Your Blessings

“Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” This proverb professed by Steve Maraboli marries my latest experience being blessed by an elder in Chennai, India. As I stepped across the threshold of the Hindu temple and into line, she came beside me. For a moment, we stood together in an shroud of connectivity amidst our socio-cultural differences. She immediately urged me in Tamil to walk up steps to worship and venerate Lord Vishnu and his family–I being hesitant followed as she led. As we ascended the steps towards god she motioned me close to her as she brought her hands together to pray. She motioned me to mirror her. When we approached the altar she bowed to Lord Vishnu and his family. I instinctively followed. I then swept my hands over a burning flame to shower myself with the warmth from the gods. As we descended the temple steps she smiled at me as a sign of reassurance and motioned me again to follow her to a setting where we would worship yet another god. As I continued to follow her choreographed routine, she began to glow with a certain warmth and excitement. It appeared as though she had just plunged into the fountain of youth–rejuvenated and revitalized by my following her every motion. Amidst worshiping the gods I too was worshiping her wisdom. Naturally, it came time to leave. She touched my head with her hand and then brought her hand close to her heart. “Bye” she shyly spoke, in rather decent english may I add, as I stepped back over the threshold. That particular day I embraced this elder’s blessings. She made that day worth remembering. It made me realize that connecting with those whom we feel most distant to oftentimes takes stepping over a certain threshold to bridge the gap. C’est la vie. 

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Touching their Feet

Finally, after all of this time I have been fortunate enough to meet my family (me, second from left). After riding in auto, taking a rickshaw, and walking, I stepped afoot into my family’s modest home couched among the alleys of Old Delhi. The layout of the home was an intimate portrayal of an India past–family oriented, absence of privacy, simple. The divisive walls and small quarters of a burgeoning urbanization were non-existent. The outpouring of love and support awash in the home was contagious as I embraced, for the first time, my Indian grandmother’s brother and sisters. I respectfully touched their feet. While the language barrier in part prohibited verbal communication, our sense of emotional communication and connection was ever more heightened. Seeing my grandmother’s sisters and brother interact was both rejuvenating and reassuring knowing that living in the U.S had not modified my grandmother’s cultural modalities. After talking for some time, all of us enjoyed a warm meal cooked by the daughters-in-law. The daughters-in-law continued to serve khana food to their elders until they were well fed. The respect towards elders was resounding. Certainly, it was interesting to see that the effects of westernization (i.e. independence not dependence) had not completely sullied their home. As I continued to inspect the home I noticed that the home had three floors giving way to an environment conducive for large families. I even observed that the white garbs donned by the elders were symbolic of a state of purity in life. After a hearty meal, I turned to embrace my family for what may be a final time. I respectfully touched their feet for a final blessing before I left.

Conflict through Coexistence

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