Art in the World of a Newly Independent Nation
by associate producer, Shubha Bala
Artist Sayed Haider Raza at Mission Delhi. (photo: Mayank Austen Soofi/Flickr)
“What was so revolutionary was that they insisted on being ‘Indian’ and ‘modern.’”
The Progressive Artists Group was founded in India in 1947, the year the country gained its independence from Britain, to “look at the world from an Indian way, not a British way,” according to Sayed Haider Raza, one of the two living original members of this group. The New York Times recently interviewed the artist about the continued legacy of this collective, which was disbanded just a decade after its creation.
“Our ways of looking at models and compositions reflected our education, which was British. In the ’30s and ’40s there was this shift from the British way of looking at art to an Indian way, which was not just about knowledge but also informed by the senses.”
India’s Gulabi Gang
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A hopeful story about a community of women — now 20,000 strong — who are banding together to fight for women’s rights and justice by confronting domestic violence and corruption. From Amana Fontanella-Khan’s story at The Daily Beast:
“India’s Pink Gang, the largest women’s vigilante group in the world, shames abusive husbands and corrupt politicians by going door-to-door clad in electric pink saris and wielding sticks called laathis—the same sticks used by local cops when patrolling their beat. Recently, they’ve gained political clout by winning seats in the panchayat elections—the equivalent of American municipality elections.”
Bollywood Squares: The Manganiyar Seduction at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“They have the Muslim saints and they worship Allah. And then they also have their … Hindu goddesses. And they sing to both. Like, there would not be any difference if they were to sing a Sufi Islam mystic song or if they were to sing a Hindu mystic song. It would be with the equal amount of devotion.”
—Roysten Abel, on the Manganiyar musicians
Musicians from Rajasthan, India, led by Daevo Khan, perform at the Rose Theater in New York on November 23, 2010. (photo: Lian Chang/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)
Thirty-eight Sufi musicians from the deserts of Rajasthan, India. Thirty-six, open-faced, photo booths draped in red velvet, stacked four high and nine wide. One lone box lights up. One lone khamacha drones. One lone singer begins his song. Then another box alights. Then another. Pulsating, alternating. Percussive rhythms build with dhol, dholak, and karthal. Voices of men, women, and children from India’s Manganiyar community layer one on top of the other, enmeshed with harmoniums, kamancha, sarangi, bansuri, murli, and morchang. The theater’s magic. Electric. A crescendo. Quiet.
Roysten Abel, the creative force behind this production, describes the concept as a “dazzling union between the Manganiyar’s music and the visual seduction of Amsterdam’s red light district.”
And I missed it.
Visa issues delayed the performance of The Manganiyar Seduction at the Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater by two days, so I headed back home to Minnesota. At least we have this video from the White Light Festival to give us some access to this dramatic performance.
If you’re in Washington, DC, be sure to buy tickets for their March performances. And, according to Abel’s website, he is currently working on The Manganiyar War, interpreting the Mahabharata through music. That ought to be really fascinating.
When Girls Aren’t Desired in India
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
For every 100 girls that are born in India, there are 108.4 baby boys. Whereas, as stated in this World Health Organization bulletin, the ”natural sex ratio quotient [is] 0.512 (i.e. a total of 105 boys born for every 100 girls born).” In a country of over a billion people, these missing three girls for every 100 boys quickly adds up.
In India, the systematic aborting of female fetuses is a particularly complex topic. According to the United Nations Population Fund (pdf), there are many states in India that don’t face this issue. They have an average ratio of baby girls to boys. Other regions, notably western India, have as few as 77 girls born for every 100 baby boys.
Societal and family pressures play a significant role in the desire to only have boys in India — things like more financial incentives, increased opportunity for gainful employment, and access to better education. For example, in the state of Punjab, particularly known for its low ratio of girls to boys, women who are more educated are in fact more likely to abort female fetuses.
The following MediaStorm video paints a narrative picture of the plight of women in India, including the modern phenomenon of sex-selective abortions. Despite the complexity, this video echoes Nicholas Kristof’s reminder that we globally need to focus on improving the rights of women.
(image source: United Nations Population Fund)
Day 18 - Naazish Yarkhan: “Celebrating Eid in the U.S. and India”
Revealing Ramadan: 30 Days, 30 Voices [mp3, 5:31]
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Our 18th voice is Naazish Yarkhan, a writer and editor who grew up in fairly secular family in Bombay, India and now lives in suburban Chicago. She tells the story of celebrating Eids in her native country then and how much more joyous it is for her now in the United States. Immigrant communities celebrate together, she says, and brings the richness of various traditions and festivities to their adopted home.
Check back on this blog each day or on our Facebook page to hear a new voice in our “Revealing Ramadan” series. If you’re the on demand type or simply need a more automated form of listening, we’ve produced a special podcast feed that’s available now. Oh, and a special show too!
Arranged Marriage: An Expert on Choice Speaks Across Cultures
Shubha Bala, associate producer
When I was 11, I bombarded my uncle with questions while we sat on the floor going through photos and letters from Indian families seeking a marriage arrangement between him and their daughters. At some point I naively asked, “But won’t you want to meet all the women before deciding on the best one?”
Interview upon interview, Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing and a business professor at Columbia University, attributed her own curiosity around choice to her Sikh parents’ arranged marriage. But her interviewers often stopped short of asking her for more detail.
Sometimes there is an assumption that an arranged marriage represents an absence of choice; but, for many Indians, the modern arranged marriage still includes choice but with a collective framework. At least that’s my experience as a second-generation Indian who has had many personal discussions about this subject. For example, I want to choose the best husband for me, but some aunts think that I should include what is best for my parents, grandparents, and siblings.
Most Indians are touched by arranged marriages in some form or the other. So, although The New York Times and Express India articles both describe one of Sheena Iyengar’s experiments, which looks at cultural differences of choice, the Times only states the facts whereas Express India takes the story further by asking her opinion:
“Iyengar does not privilege either of these choices over the other; collective action, after all, can be as inspiring and purposeful as Gandhi’s Salt March to Dandi, while tales of inspired individualism abound as well. ‘Both extreme ends of the spectrum are problematic, but different places along the continuum have their own particular benefits,’ she says.
To some extent, even India Abroad’s feature approaches things from a collective choice lens. Their interview of Sheena Iyengar focused on her mother and family as much as on her.
Krista and I discussed this approach as I briefed her for today’s interview with Sheena Iyengar; I hope we can delve more deeply into her personal experiences while approaching the conversation from multiple cultural lenses. By the way, you can follow the interview on Twitter as we live-tweet (@softweets) the gems of the conversation at 2 p.m. Central today.
As for my uncle, he told me that after vetting the photos and letters for a handful of women to meet face-to-face, he was sure he would meet one, feel immediate love, and have no choice but to throw away the rest.
“For His Holiness the Dalai Lama”
Colleen Scheck, Producer
During Krista’s interview with this week’s guest, Adele Diamond, she told a story about meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India at a Mind and Life Institute dialogue. There, she offered him a gift — a collection of writings from rabbis including Abraham Joshua Heschel, authors Isaac Bashevis Singer and Rachel Naomi Remen, and this passage from Roman Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen’s book, The Wounded Healer:
“The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life, who can give names to his varied experiences, need no longer be a victim of himself, but he is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the spirit from entering.”
Here, Nouwen is addressing ministers, but I read his statement as a potential result of cultivating executive function, things like inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. I find hope in the thought that childhood development focused on fostering executive function and engaging the whole self — through things like dramatic play and deliberate refection — will produce adults who better understand their inner lives and live with greater emotional intelligence, and in doing so remove obstacles to human connection that our culture has built by putting IQ first.
Adele Diamond cites Rabbi Heschel as someone who has strongly influenced her perspective. I’m struck by how she relates Heschel’s practical wisdom and bold notions of faith to how we raise children with strong inner lives. In her conversation with Krista, Adele mentions the following Heschel passage from Between God and Man:
“Deeds set upon ideal goals, deeds performed not with careless ease and routine but in exertion and submission to their ends are stronger than the surprise and attack of caprice. Serving sacred goals may change mean motives. For such deeds are exacting. Whatever our motive may have been prior to the act, the act itself demands undivided attention. Thus the desire for reward is not the driving force of the poet in his creative moments, and the pursuit of pleasure or profit is not the essence of a religious or moral act.
At the moment in which an artist is absorbed in playing a concerto the thought of applause, fame or remuneration is far from his mind. His complete attention, his whole being is involved in the music. Should any extraneous thought enter his mind, it would arrest his concentration and mar the purity of his playing. The reward may have been on his mind when he negotiated with his agent, but during the performance it is the music that claims his complete concentration.
Man’s situation in carrying out a religious or moral deed is similar. Left alone, the soul is subject to caprice. Yet there is power in the deed that purifies desires. It is the act, life itself, that educates the will. The good motive comes into being while doing the good.”
Adele Diamond says this is a wonderful lesson for children, to say “’Just do it. Just do it fully and do it and you’ll get something out of the doing. The act, the doing, is absolutely critical and will transform you.’” Heschel’s name has surfaced of late, both in this week’s program, and in our program “Curiosity Over Assumptions,” and you’ll have a chance to hear our program on the great rabbi again in the coming weeks.
And, rounding out Diamond’s compilations were gems from Rachel Naomi Remen’s writing on the meaning of science in My Grandfather’s Blessings. Here are a few:
“It is possible to study life for many years without knowing life at all. Often things happen that science cannot explain… Science defines life in its own way, but perhaps life is larger than science”
And, she also included this passage:
“Sometimes knowing life requires us to suspend disbelief, to recognize that all our hard-won knowledge may only be provisional and the world may be quite different than we believe it to be.”
And this one too:
“Things happen that science can’t explain, important things that cannot be measured but can be observed, witnessed, known. These things are not replicable. They are impervious to even the best-designed research. All life has in it the dimension of the Unknown; it is a thing forever unfolding. It seems important to consider the possibility that science may have defined life too small.”
Kashmir Through the Lens of Ami Vitale
by Andy Dayton, associate web producer
News broke last Thursday that mass graves were uncovered in Indian Kashmir containing 1,500 unidentified bodies. This is sad news, but it stood out to me especially because I had just finished reading an interview with photojournalist Ami Vitale in which she discusses some of her photos of Kashmir.
The interviewer mentions that Vitale had come under criticism for photos she took of the area during conflict, that they were “too pretty.” Vitale’s response:
“There are beautiful human beings caught in the middle of something much bigger than themselves. Unless we can see the humanity that exists everywhere and allow the people to touch us in some way, then there will never be resolution. We must be forced to see ourselves in the faces of war and realize that in fact, we are all no different from each other.”
(photos: Ami Vitale/Getty Images)
Dancing with Sidi Goma: The Black Sufis of Gujarat
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
I recently attended a dance workshop in Saint Paul with Sidi Goma, a troupe of African-Indian Sufis from Gujarat, India who were visiting Minnesota to perform at a local festival. I’ve explored a variety of mostly West African dance styles, but this practice was entirely new to me.
The Sidi people migrated from East Africa to India 800 years ago and it isn’t clear which modern-day African countries they originally hailed from. The Sidis express their mystical Sufi Muslim faith through an exuberant dance and musical tradition. The idea, as I understand it, is for the performers to connect with the Divine and inspire the audience to experience a kind of divine transcendence through this joyful expression.
As you’ll see in the video we’ve posted of the workshop, the dancing and rhythm picks up speed and culminates in a crescendo. I wondered whether there’s a connection here with the whirling dervish who practice the sema — a form of ecstatic worship we explored in our program on Rumi. Some of the Sidi dancers’ movements are inspired by animals — notably birds. You’ll notice how they use their eyes as much as their limbs. It actually reminded me of the popping and locking break dancers are known for.
At the end of the evening, another workshop participant fetched a cowbell from his backpack. The bell is a kind of percussive instrument sometimes attached to an African drum called doun doun. It seemed like the Sidis were unfamiliar with the cowbell, but their faces beamed with delight when it was played along with their instruments. Only one member of the group spoke English but we all danced and relished in the music together — a refreshing minder that movement and rhythm can transcend verbal language.
Special thanks to The Ordway and Paul Escalante for giving us permission to post this video clip.