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USE ME

Kindly be prepared. This post shall deviate from the norm.  It will be infused and injected with others’ thoughts, not my own. While in India, I have been afforded the unique opportunity to divulge my thoughts and feelings about my authentic experiences using the space below. Yet, I believe this space can be USED more appropriately for this particular post, pregnant by way of insightful commentaries and honest opinions about a “trash bin” in Lodhi Gardens…

  • “I feel like the art on the bin is mocking the Indian society which is patriarchal to the core and treats women as an object…solely to be used by men.”
  • “Being a citizen of India, this actually brings pride to me. It is a way of displaying art, a way of attracting people’s attention and is thus quite innovative, novel, and beautiful. But it can seem to have two effects:One, that by attracting more attention, people may look towards a cleaner Delhi by using the trash can which is quite evidently present. But, the second effect could be that people might not use it, spoil the beauty and spoil the art. In my opinion, a normal trash could be added right beside it to ensure best effects.”
  • “The painting is without any doubt beautiful and colourful. This might be a negative point of view but I think somewhere, this symbolises the Indian woman and how she is constantly looked down upon as something that is to be used and not respected.”
  • “[It is] an attempt to beautify the mundane, most typical of human mentality. Or perhaps an effort to leave an indelible mark on the scores of passers by who will, in all probability, stop to admire a work of art painted on a canvas quite out of the ordinary. A mythical creature whose mystic prowess will create an alluring aura around the trash can, compelling ignorant fools to put refuse where it belongs. According to me, the most common [interpretation] would be a strong reaction of the omnipresent pseudo feminist community against the superimposition of the words ‘use me’ on the portrait of a lady which they would say reinforces the prevalent stereotype.”
  • “First when I looked at it I felt extremely sad seeing this. People are publicly depicting degradation of woman. It surprises me that they find it OK to objectify women like that. But, on second thought, its a form of art. Art is supposed to make you feel unsettling. And that is exactly what this image is doing. So, it depends on the perspective of the artist who drew this. If he/she wanted to portray it as a satire, it is very much apt.”

Thank you to the students from Kamala Nehru College for their thought-provoking commentaries.

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Into the Void

I first wish to introduce a quote from Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element to preface my entry:

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

This particular axiom by Sir Ken Robinson intimately marries my thoughts every time I pass through the corridors of my Delhi University college. Educational pedagogies should not be derived from fast-food models of management, but should be organic in nature. Education should reach into the depths of our souls and soothingly awaken our inner artistic selves, uncover our true beings. My intent now is not to be flippant, but to be honest with you. I have been attending classes for a couple of months now and still feel the same “sturm und drang” of fellow students as when I had entered the school for my first lecture. I am beyond frustrated for them.

While I recognize that the latter statement was injected with a sense of privilege, it is justified by my now greater sense of appreciation for my home institution. My initial feelings were reinforced when I was able to share an intimate conversation with a fellow student on her thoughts about the course of her overall college experience– “There is no room for divergent thinking here. We are not taught to think differently.” This same student even disclosed to me that she feels unmotivated to do her work insofar that she sits herself down at night to begin her assignments and asks “what is the point?” Another student who harbors a passion for psychological research told me that she plans to actively avoid taking a research seminar next semester. She has been trying to get her own research published but the faculty has been unresponsive, numb towards her interests. Thus, she sees taking the course as ultimately a poor return on her investment. While I am by no means speaking for every student, I recognize the voices of those students who are effected by the dysfunction of their education. It is unfortunate for me to be saying this, but after being in their school for two months now I am glad that the end is in sight, for me. I cannot take another day of rote memorization and superficial assignments that require me to simply read and regurgitate information from a book in class the next day. In earnest, I told a fellow student who was expressing angst towards their educational system that the best way to transcend the system is to work with the system. After you graduate, find your passions, make a difference, and without hesitation leap into the void…

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Bhai

It is a universal term in India that undergirds most relationships. It forges a sense of intimacy with the unfamiliar. It is a term that transcends race, gender, class, and creed. Yet, it remains a social footprint of patriarchal institutions. Brother, friend, bhai is used in address as an expression of friendship. It is a word not reserved for the”high brow,” but as a word for all to savor. It cleanses the palate. I tasted the flavor of this singular word when I used it explicitly with two youths I had met while at Qutub Minar. They were waiting for us, and we, for them. They kindly sauntered over to me and my friend while we were amidst capturing one of Delhi’s most iconic landmarks. Unexpectedly, I let my premonitions get the best of me. I quickly looked away, hesitant, to let them capture my attention. I denied and I rejected bhai in that moment, yet, something inside told me not to be so hasty to beat them back. What was it inside me and what did it want? Was it an unconscious yearning that surfaced to identify with the familiar, with my people? I caved in. They merely asked if they could see me take a picture with my camera of Qutub Minar. I delivered, but to no avail. They directed me to adjust my zoom, to focus in, and to lift up to get a better shot. In that moment they became the sages and I the seeker! As soon as I started to feel comfortable enough to wade in my Indianness, they were gone…. As I ascended the hill to get one last glimpse of Qutub Minar before I left for the day, I saw them. I saw bhai. They had their backs turned toward me embracing one another in exultation. But without hesitation I captured them this time. I dare not beat them back and I dare not disrespect my sages.

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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)

Conflict through Coexistence

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