Why "India Outside India"?

Since I came to NY I have been trying to capture for the benefit of my international friends what is ‘India’ or ‘Indianness’. We have discussed various facets of Indian people, culture, ways of meaning making and what it means to live as an Indian. It was also interesting when my international friends shared what they thought being Indian was/must be like for me. I have been capturing visuals that I thought express non-Indians’ perceptions about India and also the expressions/visuals shared by the Indian community in US that must be shaping this perception. After a year of gathering images and talking in my head about it I thought why not put it all down in a blog.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Indian Elections

Facebook has been going crazy for a while building up to the Indian elections. I have never seen strong views for and against and emotions running so high with respect to the political parties. I am happy that my Facebook feed showed views from all sides. That means I don't live in a news bubble.

I was surprised when a friend mentioned that many people from NJ were going home to cast a vote. I was somewhat ambivalent. Mostly being geographically and thus emotionally feeling distant and not able to sift through all that was being said in the media.

The greatest shocker though was the gathering in Times Square to watch Indian election news as the counting began May 16 morning IST and May 15 night eastern time.

I am not still sure of how I feel about the landslide win for BJP with a record break 68+% voter turnout. Mostly because I cannot figure out if the people's mandate was based on their understanding of who will put the country on track or with the understanding of who the country and putting on track is for.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Was surprised to see Maratha looking figureheads in the Mystic Seaport museum among mostly European Ladies some more dramatic, some realistic. 

This one did not have a name or origin except the sparse description of it being 'exotic'. To me it looks very much like a Marathi/Maratha saint. The beads he is wearing reminds me of Varakari tradition and the scroll in his hand says that he is mostly not a warrior. 

This figurehead is identified as 'Asia'. It was carved by an Indian artisan for H.M.S. India, launched in Bombay in 1824. The description below say "The turbaned figure is an impressive symbol of India's economic and social importance in the British Empire."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Indian subcontinent as seen through an American merchant's eyes

I was surprised and elated to see a map of India when visiting the John Brown House Museum in Providence. The map is actually of Asia next to another framed map of America with western part uncharted.

John Brown was a merchant and ship builder. He was active in China trade during 1760s -80s. The map looked like it was well used. You can see the paper worn out and with creases in spite of it being displayed flat in a glass frame at present.
 I was quite excited to see the old names/spellings of the familiar land masses of the Indian subcontinent. If you see the larger version of the above map you can clearly see the northern part named as 'The Empire of the Great Mogul'. On the west of that is Empire of Persia and to the east is Empire of china. There are many kingdoms marked so are ports, major inland cities, rivers, and mountains.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The tale of two Indias

I saw this PBS documentary today. On the website the description is as follows:
'The World Before Her' is a tale of two Indias: In one, a small-town girl competes in the Miss India pageant. In the other, a militant woman leads a fundamentalist Hindu camp for girls.

Lot to digest, for example - Choosing two girls from these specific circumstances and not others to contrast, especially since the struggle between tradition and modernity was a thread throughout. The visual of the girl sitting at the beach facing the Mumbai skyline juxtaposed with silhouettes of mountains and temple spires on the left shows this thread of presentation to come. As the documentary progressed, it was very interesting to see assumptions made about what is 'modern' when it comes to women in India. What is considered freeing, enabling and how it is shown as one or the other rather than a complex mix in both the paths these girls chose. 

I want to go back and watch it again to see how certain views, values, visuals were highlighted or played down. 

A lot there to process and comment but before I write a coherent review I just wanted to share the documentary itself. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Collecting Deities

Yesterday we stumbled on flee market outside YMCA on Hope street. There was such a wide collection of household items, vases, planters, clothes, decorative items and what not. Some of it Indian - beautiful dupattas (scarves), cloth pieces used as table mats, beads. The most exciting however was this idol of Shiva. I have seen Ganesha, Buddha, and sometimes Krishna but this Shiva was the first one I saw in US outside of an Indian home or Indian reference. 

The idol in abhay mudra is well made with eyes painted beautifully expressing benevolence. Nandi on one side, Shivalinga on the other, damaru on the trident. 

The lady manning the booth had various Ganesha idols, a bull that looked more like Nandi than the bull outside New York stock exchange. It seems her friend collected deities and these were some of her finds on a trip to India. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Siddis on the Indian Subcontinent

I found on Facebook the link for the online exhibition named African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World on the New York Public Library's (NYPL) website. The exhibition is curated and hosted by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black History.

I have talked once in a while with my friends from South Africa about the people of African origin on the Indian subcontinent. I knew of them as Habashis who lived in Gujarat. I know that they came to India first as traders and seamen. However, I did not know anything about them beyond their existence. Habashis or the Abyssinians came to India from Ethiopia (Abyssinia). The exhibit mentions the port of Barygasa (modern day Bharuch, Gujarat) that was considered to be an Ethiopian town because of the east African traders who had settled there. So that is where my story of Africans in Gujarat came from I guess. I also knew of Siddis of Janjira but had not really thought of them as people from Africa.

The online exhibit put a lot of people and events I knew in perspective of the flow of people between different continents. This experience was similar to how things I already knew clicked in place when I was reading the book Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. I knew of the opium wars in China, the famines in Bengal, the British in Calcutta, history of Parsis in Bombay and so on but all of it clicked together in terms of actual people who moved between different places at that time and how happenings in one affected people in other far away places.

I could identify some of the historical happenings and names but did not know their African origin. For example, Ibn Batutta is a well known name for the record of his travels during 1300 A.D. in India, but I had not thought of his origins. He was a Moroccan. Malik Ambar, the formidable general during the Nizamshahi rule in the Deccan. I know of him but now I can place him in the overall migration, and movement of people from Ethiopia, to Arabia, to India as slaves, seamen, ivory traders. See the map of movement of people here.

The most surprising find was of the group of Habashi slaves from Goa when it was under Portuguese rule who ran away to Karanataka in free India. I had no awareness of these events. When we were growing up I heard stories of how my grandfather sneaked in and out of Goa during the Portuguese rule to see his relatives and friends and visit the temple of the family goddess. I never heard the story of the Habashis though. Now it is too late to ask.

The online exhibition has a lot of images, paintings and photos - past and present that make this discovery interesting and more human than just reading the text.

The Schomburg Center also has an ongoing exhibition of images and artifacts open till July 6, 2013. Here is the information about it in case you are in NYC and are interested.

PS: Africa felt like a far away land when I was in India. I think I understand Africa (especially east Africa) differently now after coming to US in terms of where it is geographically in relation to the Indian subcontinent and how it is connected from land and sea.  Conncections that I did not clearly see before. I wonder if physically being on another continent changes the way you look at the world geographically. Or does the awareness come from the multi-national crowd and subjects I am exposed to in New York City and in Teachers College.