Many, many years ago, to catch a reflection of India in America was to be over the moon: a saree on the streets of New York, an Indian name in the phone book, a snatch of Indian music in a mainstream performance. Now of course India has become woven into the fabric of America, so it was no surprise to see the JFK Express – the train which takes you from the city to the airport – immersed in the images of Incredible India!
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One favorite ritual is a visit to the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan where some truths I learned in Kindergarten are finally getting a hammering. Carrots are orange. Well not true always – carrots are now also yellow and purple – and rainbow colored! Eggplant is purple – but now it can also be silvery white! Tomatoes aren’t always red – they can be brown and yellow and all shades in-between, thanks to the many innovations in horticulture. As for peppers, the market has so many flavors, colors and varieties that even the Devil’s ears would fume with the heat!
Hundreds had gathered near New York harbour to watch the Erasing Borders Outdoor Dance Festival but there was an Audience of One who must have truly appreciated the lively tableaux that passed before her eyes – Lady Liberty.
Indeed, the Statue of Liberty has seen it all, the abandoned, the political refugees, the dreamers, the wanna-bes, the huddled masses – but here was a joyous rainbow of colors, of bright-eyed dancers celebrating their ancient culture, their aspirations and the diversity of America.
If you missed this festival, check out the upcoming indoor festival of dance!
One of the most anticipated festivals in the Hindu calendar is Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan, the Festival of Threads. This is the day when brothers and sisters renew their bonds and sisters receive money and gifts from their brothers. Now which little girl can argue with that? Lucky are the sisters who have several brothers!
Indeed, if you are Hindu and have a brother, no matter where you are, you will try to meet up with him on Raksha Bandhan which falls this year on August 29. This is an ancient Hindu festival which occurs in the month of shravan on the full moon. Sisters pray for their brothers health and well-being, tying the sacred Rakhi thread on their wrists, and brothers pledge to protect their sisters.
You probably will never meet two more unmatched people than the lead pair in ‘Learning to Drive’: Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), a frenetic Manhattan book critic whose relationships are falling apart and Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a gentle Sikh taxi driver and part-time driving instructor.
Both are from New York City but inhabit worlds apart.
Their lives intersect when Wendy, devastated by the fact that her husband Ted (Jake Weber) has left her for a younger woman, decides to take driving lessons to regain her independence. Darwan, who is about to be entering into an arranged marriage, sight unseen with Jasleen ( Sarita Choudhury) a woman from his village in India, has his own immigrant upheavals in a new world.
You can call it eating your gulab jamun and having it too! For Indians in America there is a special thrill in seeing small remembrances of India’s independence day in so many varied ways.
One of the most delightful is seeing the New York landmark of the Empire State Building lit up in the colors of the Indian flag. As the Facebook page of the big tourist attraction noted, “To our friends from India, the Empire State Building wishes you a happy Independence Day! Our lights will glow saffron, white & green tonight to celebrate the occasion and NYC’s 35th India Day Parade.”
Imagine blindfolding yourself and trying to do your daily chores in a dark world. Now imagine blindfolding yourself and managing to get a perfect SAT score, going on to Harvard and Stanford to get an MA, JD and a Ph D, becoming a lawyer in a topnotch law firm, a business professor in an Ivy League school, traveling all over the world, becoming an accomplished researcher and writing a critically acclaimed book.
All while blindfolded.
Impossible, you say? Well, between the two of them, Sheena and Jasmin Sethi have accomplished all this in spite of their blindness. Both of the sisters suffer from Retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disease, but have not let that stop them from creating vibrant, successful lives and conquering the sighted world.
Recently US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard got married in a Vedic ceremony in Hawaii. A Hindu, she has even taken her congressional oath on the Bhagavad Gita. Her name Tulsi means the Holy Basil which is so central to Hindu belief. Her mother Carol Gabbard was brought up in the Brahma Madhwa Gaudiya tradition and named her five children Bhakti (worship), Jai (a Hindu salutation), Aryan ( noble one), Tulsi (sacred plant) and Vrindavan ( Lord Krishna’s abode).
It got me thinking – what’s in a name and how can one use such a simple device to enhance the spiritual lives of one’s children? It certainly has deeper connotations than naming a child after candy or a jewelry store!
Why have Indian-Americans lost the art of eating with their hands? Eating with your hands is a no-no, a taboo in polite ‘civilized’ western society yet hands are the utensils of choice in some parts of the world including South Asia. However, when it comes to eating out, even Indians who happily eat with their hands at home seem to lose the desire.
Why do so many Indians hide this guilty secret? Why is there shame attached to this natural act? Is it perhaps a lasting legacy of the British Raj – a side-order of racism, of inferiority? What does it say about accepting our cultural ethos? Are we the kind of Indians abroad who would eat even a roti with fork and knife in the ‘civilized’ world, just to fit in
At times you’re not even sure you’re watching a movie – it seems like a very extended, very elaborate dance contest on TV and goes on and on. If you’re with a group of teenybopper friends and love hip-hop dance moves, have access to a large size Coke and a huge tub of popcorn, you’ll have a pretty good time.