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Illuminating Identity

“As when the golden sun salutes the morn, and, having gilt the ocean with his beams,” India too was set ablaze. 23rd October was Diwali, the festival of lights. Celebrated annually, it is an ancient Hindu holiday that spiritually signifies the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair. Up until the day of Diwali and thereafter, the nighttime sky is illuminated by  pomp and circumstance-firecrackers are blasted, dias are lit,  and peoples hopes and aspirations for an auspicious and prosperous new year are irradiated. Thus, in tandem with an autumn harvest, Diwali is a time when peoples in India reap what they sow. They thoroughly clean their homes, discard of the old, and purchase the new so as to start afresh. I wanted a fresh start this time around. So, I made a conscious decision to travel to Bangalore in South India to celebrate Diwali. I wanted to embrace the opportunity to spend this auspicious holiday with  family I had never met before.  I left with bag in hand and with an intention to unearth my roots.

The morning of Diwali I flew from New Delhi to Bangalore and was received by my uncle and cousin at the airport there. We drove back to their bungalow where I met my aunt for the first time. There was never an ounce of hesitation or a pinch of awkwardness. It was a seamless transition as if we had known each other our entire lives. After this incredible homecoming, the whole family planned to remain indoors the entire day in order to prepare for the evening’s festivities.  We pruned and washed mango leaves from the tree as an offering to the gods before the sweet Bangalore rains arrived. We prepared a feast with loads of fruits, biscuits, and sweets using the best china in the house. We found time to flip through old memorabilia- photos of my father and his parents back when he was in college. In the evening, when it was time to perform Diwali puja, we all donned our best Indian garb. We recited chants, performed aarti, placed candles throughout the home, and offered the prepared food to the gods that would be our breakfast in the morning. Afterwards, before the golden sun saluted the morn, my cousin and I blasted firecrackers from the terrace. We set the sky ablaze. Spending time with my family during this wholesome Diwali illuminated and elucidated my identity. It encouraged me to accept and appreciate with wild abandon that “your own is your own.”

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A Visit To Aashirwad

It took only one visit to realize that those who have the most life experience have lived life the longest. On Thursday I visited an old age home in the east of Delhi. My inchoate curiosity and passion to study an age demographic that has recently been slated by the influx of modernity and urbanization provoked me to step out of my shoes and into their chappals for once. Upon arriving, I was heartily welcomed by the organization’s manager who sat with me for some time to discuss the elderly home’s organizational structure and culture. We were eventually joined by one of the guests living in the elderly home. He was only eighty-six years young and was leaving to visit his daughter who lived twenty minutes away. He assured me that he did not want to leave because doing so would mean that he would be gone for some time. I sensed that his web of attachments had become very proximal. Although it would mean he would be seeing his own daughter, the old age home was his home, a place where he felt comfortable to live out the remaining years of his life. I then went upstairs to visit an elderly woman. She had become bedridden after taking a nasty fall in the bathroom only ten days prior. She was in severe pain but wanted me to sit down next to her to talk.  In Hindi, she told me she didn’t understand the youth nowadays. Families only get together during the holidays and then leave one another. There is no respect for the elderly. I, not taking this personally of course, reassured her that I was here for her now. While I recognize that Indian society is witnessing the dissolution of the joint family, where one’s attachments to others are being severed as a result of an incipient globalization, I believe that intergenerational contact can indeed be a fountain of youth for both age demographics. It is when two polar age groups come together that we realize “you can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”

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Love Hath No Color

I sat on feelings of vulnerability, anxiousness, and bliss on the 3:oo pm train bound for Kanpur, Uttarpradesh last weekend. It would be a five hour train ride until I would be able to find my roots.  During those five hours I was encapsulated in a vessel of liminality performing breast strokes through the Du Boisian double-consciousness. I knew in my mind that this three day trip would indeed be life changing. I was, as put forth by a fellow pilgrim, “coming to terms with an ethnicity amidst globalization where the world’s cultures dissolve into homogeny, and one’s roots are often tangled and disregarded.” At one point during the journey a young Indian girl moved beside me.  We cleared any formalities between us and held an intimate conversation. I disclosed to her that I myself was Indian. She was distraught.  She asked me for my last name.  I told her my last name, Chandra, means moon. I then gazed out the train window and told her that I could not see the moon. It was so dark outside.  ”No, of course you can’t find it because it is sitting right next to me” she lovingly replied in a tone where love hath no color. After five hours I had arrived. He was there waiting for me on platform number 4 as promised. My great uncle, whom I had never met before, welcomed me with open arms. He exclaimed that it was time to finally come home where love hath no color. The next day I visited the hospital where my father was born, the bungalow where my grandmother had lived. I walked across her property with tears in my eyes—her presence was with me. I located the primary school my grandmother attended and traveled the route she took to and from school during her lunch breaks. I then visited the five other bungalows her father and his brothers had built. The next day, my great uncle took me on his scooter to a roadside mandir venerating Hanumanji and then to a roadside stall selling famous Kanpur mango foam, a recipe I would later discover was invented by my great grandmother. That evening I returned back to my great uncle’s apartment not wanting to go back to Delhi. I had found a home, I had found a family, and I had found identity in a place where love hath no color.

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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…

Conflict through Coexistence

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