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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Trinis at Patel's

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see my colleague from Brown University in the Patel's store. Since the opening last year we have been regular customers but never imagined meeting anybody I know professionally.

She had three big bags of dried hibiscus flowers. I have never seen dried hibiscus as food ingredient in Indian stores in USA or consumed dried hibiscus except once as part of some exautic tea. My colleague told me that Trinis make a tea with the hibiscus flowers and some spices for Christmas. I wonder if availability at Patel's is because a lot of Trinis and Caribean customers frequent the place.

Monday, September 19, 2016

India via Brazil

Hair color product for women, as seen on Wholefoods shelf 

A google search shows that Surya Brasil is a company from Brazil. It was baffling at first, this journey of henna and the mythological imagery (invoking possibly Vishwamitra and Menaka) ending in US via Brazil. A little digging led me to this:

I was born and raised in Brazil but my heritage is equal parts Italian and Indian and it was my family who showed me how to take care of myself and use the best of what nature provides,” - Wanda Malhotra, one of the founders of Surya Brasil. 

There is of course the usual calling on the Ayurveda.  I am really tired of people name dropping for anything and everything. Ayurveda is a nuanced and well developed medicinal system with its own pharmacopeia. Your grandma's home remedy is not Ayurved. Just like your knowledge of how to use aspirin does not make you a doctor. 

Coming back to the visual itself. I see the sage Vishwamitra and Menaka in the image. Although a lot of hair on the sage, the product is meant for women. (The website has a different product line for men.) May be women who want to seduce unavailable or difficult to get men?

The image reminds me of Raja Ravi Varma's paintings of mythological figures in Marathi or south Indian garb made popular by the lithographic prints to the point where you can find these styles of images on calendars in tea shops and sugarcane juice stalls in Maharashtra. 

I wonder what was the motivation of the company when they used the image and what non-Indians seeing this on the shelf in Whole Foods think of it. Probably invoking the natural, the ancient, and the exotic? 

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.