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If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em: Ayesha Kidwai

crossing frontieres:

“It is clear that for Joseph, there is only one set of victims here — Tejpal and his family. It is he who has been “destroyed” and it is his family who has been “evicted” from their home, as his wife suffers the “indignity” of defending her husband’s “consensual” relationship”.

why is it that the complainant has not suffered in the same way: though she has had to move as well, it is only to a “new home on the outskirts of Delhi”?
why is there no mention of her mother at all?
why no mention of the fact that her father cannot be told that Tejpal raped her because of his ill-health?
and why no grieving kin or friends?
why no mention of her state of mind?

-it is not because of the assault she was subjected to, but because she is “consumed by the intense fear” that her character will soon be put on trial.

as the article says “details of her past are already in the air” i.e. she has a past that needs some worrying about!”

these reported words are severely disturbing, but completely natural in a land where it is the rapist’s family’s feeling on trial, and not the victim’s family, who suffer all sorts of losses: loss of honor in a society that predicates honor on women’s chastity and silence; loss of freedom to do one’s job [the young women raped]; loss of a life in some cases, or at any rate loss of self [for those raped].

recently, the new York times had an article about the three men sentenced to death for the rape of the Mumbai journalist. in the court, the mother of one of the rapists burst out: “My son is being hanged because he made the wrong friends. It is also the woman’s fault. Who asked her to go to an abandoned area? Why don’t you hang her, too?”

she was gang raped, and the mother is asking for her neck, too!

comments like these show the extent to which women have been socially and culturally conditioned to look at other women thru men’s eyes, thru patriarchal eyes, and not as women or sisters in need of solidarity.

but the lawyer Nikam said it well when he said:
“This offense leaves a permanent scar not only on the body of the victim but also on her mind, self-honor and chastity. We have to send out the right signal to society. It is necessary that the lives of the accused come to an end. They must die.”

Originally posted on Kafila:

AYESHA KIDWAI on FeministsIndia

Ayesha Kidwai on the need for Left-Secular people to take sexual harassment seriously when it comes home to “us”.

The burning question is why Mustafa and Joseph have done this? Are they misogynistic ‘supporters’ of Tejpal or fearless worshippers of fact and intrepid journalism? While the latter question may be good for an author’s self-image, and the former one can be dismissed as presupposing too tidy a critique, the real issue is a general failure amongst the professionals to come up with an adequate response to what the changed mood in the middle class demands. Mustafa and Joseph’s failures are just repeats of ones that we have witnessed over and over again, and each profession has plunged into a crisis when a colleague has been accused: How does a ‘senior’ professional approach the fact that some young woman has gone and complained about something that wasn’t…

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Love and death in the time of social media

recently, I came across an article in the new york times which has me questioning the way things are evolving. how could bereavement and loss occur in a very public forum without people or hugs or kind words?

according to the article, bereavement and loss have now come into a very public forum. generation Y-ers and millennials have begun projecting their own sensibilities onto rituals and discussions surrounding death. this first generation of digital natives are starting blogs, YouTube series and Instagram feeds about grief, loss and even the macabre.

modern loss in fact is a company geared to people of a younger age to address their many permutations of loss, from bereavement to miscarriage to a parent’s death. it was formed by 2 young women who didn’t have anyone of ‘their’ age to grieve the parents’ death. one of them didn’t have anyone who’d lost both parents.

when did it become necessary to have someone of the same age group to mourn or grieve a loved one? what did this same age group of yesteryear do when faced with death and mourning? have we not done it well enough that it has to be bettered?

the generation known for broadcasting internal monologues across the internet are eager to encode not just good things, but painful things, too. they get online and send condolences or share grief then ‘delete’ their mother. you’re supposed to ‘like’ a death. isn’t that verging on ‘creepiness’ as you could accumulate hundreds of likes for losing a lost one? and isn’t sharing someone’s death like killing that person over and over again? how is that decreasing the pain or loss of a loved one when you have many reminders from sharing?

the article said that one person went to see a shaman, every therapist in NYC, healer, and swears that the only thing which helped her was talking to people of her age who had also had some devastating news. the key here is she had ‘real people’ to dissipate her grief. not a post, share, tweet, image on a computer.

is the public posting of death a display instead of distress?

letters of condolences or cards are more thoughtful when hand written. but the young are itchy to connect virtually because internet and technology are ubiquitous to their existence. people are even taking selfies at funerals when they do go. one person posted on tumblr : “love my hair today. hate the reason why i’m dressed up # funeral.”

is this the modern way of mourning ?
doesn’t that kind of mourning signify that it’s NOT about the dead or those immediately affected, but the one facebooking or instagramming etc?

the idea of mourning- whether via facebook or twitter etc- is displeasing to older relatives, but it is especially disrespectful, for it lacks real communication. and real soul.

people no longer want to attend funerals, which to me spells the death of funerals. and soon, people will no longer want to attend weddings either, and will send their virtual presence instead. people will fall in love with computers more and more: spike jonze’s her isn’t the only movie to relate such a romance between an OS system [Samantha] and man. see also electric dreams, a 1984 british-american science fiction romantic comedy-drama film set in san francisco, that depicts a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a home computer. another film by andrew niccol in 2002, simone, [derived from simulation one] is the story of al pacino who’s created the 3-D simone and the world has no clue that simone is a computer generated woman. or in print, try eve future, an end of the nineteenth century novel by vilier de l’isle adam which tells the story of man so obsessed with perfection that he builds his own statue of a woman, a mechanical woman, a ‘computer’ really, fashioned after venus- before the computer or internet age, of course!- and prays that the gods imbue it with life.

how lonely does one have to be to fall in love with a statue or soulless computer? and how strange to want to mourn with a soulless computer! would the tears be fake or real? would the period of necessary mourning be forfeited in favor of…? how would that dead be mourned in a real way?

flesh-and-blood mourning is required to get over a loss. not distant posts or selfies or brief or abridged condolences.

dead or alive, celebrating, romancing and mourning require presence, in flesh-and-blood!

india’s deep rooted malaise

recently, siddharth shanghvi wrote in new york times about a party that he’d hosted in bollywood town mumbai, with the who’s who of indian society: photographers, models, artists, art collectors, designers, publishers, venture capitalists, writers et al.

discussions overheard included the recent sexual assault against a junior female colleague by a writer who’s been the poster boy for public morality – tarun tejpal – which made headlines and which tejpal tried to keep hush-hush, and jyoti singh’s rape and death in december 2012, which, if we remember, brought throngs of people manifesting on the streets everywhere in india against sexual violence towards women.

this duplicity and institutionalized fraudulence overheard at this party seems widespread in india, and the host wonders why the partygoers are so surprised and shocked by such epic scams.

scam has been an ongoing problem for india, not that other countries don’t have similar scandals and corruptions. berlusconi’s sexual politics caused his resignation as did elliot spitzer’s and others from public office. people take stances against corruption and force the corrupted to reevaluate their situation and quit office.

in the past, some indians have also taken a stance against corruption. IAC – india against corruption- came into existence to offer and manage a set of platforms and tools to empower individuals who share a common dream that someday corruption will be eliminated in India by whatever means required.

in 2011 and 2012: IAC sought – under Team Anna [anna hazare who led a hunger strike]- to mobilize masses in support of demands for a less corrupt society via the lokpal creation [the right to arrest and charge government officials accused of corruption], but internal divisions spawned and split it into AAP [Aam aadmi party with kejriwal as chief minister] and jantantra morcha [a new 'bharat' and true democracy where dalits, adivasis, landless, muslim and other marginalized communities could devote energies towards a second freedom struggle].

kejriwal promoted the right to information and the lokpal bill in the AAP, but resigned on valentine’s day this year after failing to pass the lokpal bill in the delhi assembly. then there was kiran bedi, an outstanding activist who is a woman and who holds law, masters and doctorate degrees, is a nehru fellow, a national & asian tennis champion, recipient of the asian nobel prize [ramon magsayay award], anchors radio and TV shows, is a columnist and author of several books, is head of indian police service for more than 35years, a prison reformist, outreaching to underrepresented women, children and men in many areas, and who has been in the vanguard of a nationwide india against corruption movement led by hazare. but, she also left the group in 2013, and now supports modi as prime minister for 2014.

each time someone comes forward and announces change, efforts fall and NRIs wonder if it is legit. arudhathi roy slammed hazare’s actions as ‘props’ and ‘choreography’ like the world cup victory parade by urban middle class.

this veiling of problems has grand scales and repercussions. BJP and Congress blocked Kejriwal’s move to introduce the anti-corruption bill; rapes continue to occur to women and girls of all ages which take an eternity to punish, and while they keep recurring and accumulating, the world outside india hears about them. the world hears about indian women still being blamed, harassed, acid washed in some places, forced into marriage that they don’t want, about unfit politicians in power whose corruption continues to poison india at every level. when an article comes out in the nyt about the corruption and unsafe rules on drugs produced in india, it is not difficult to disbelieve.

people feel outrage at problems, and some act: gandhi, kejriwal, bedi, hazare etc. however, if little can be done, the incredible india we see on taxi ads and walls in the western world give the impression that india is an awfully pretty country from a distance, while the same lens and eye of that guest who posted and instgrammed the photo of bombay as impressionist ignores the side of bombay which is 70% slums [which makes up mumbai]. it ignores the dirty side of mumbai, just as politicians etc ignore india’s problems.

expressing moral outrage at india’s current problems takes on the scale of a ‘parallel economy’. and those talking about the problems – like tejpal -are guilty of the same dodgy brokering they revile: wheeling, dealing, fooling, fabricating which are cloaked in this new india’s urbane cool. apology parties may expose what’s on people’s minds, but it will take more than talk and even action to fix bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, largesse, police corruption, extortions, caste-ism, untouchability and equality for genders and classes that plague indian society.

there is an anti corruption party since 1924, and it keeps failing or splitting. 92 years later, in 2014, and that day hasn’t yet come: IAC is still fighting to fight corruption. an anti corruption party continues to exist because there’s corruption, because the law isn’t on the side of justice. perhaps if religion and cinema are strongholds in india, it’s time they take the lead role in modeling that corruption is not glamorous. it could be only a drop in the bucket, but eventually the several drops can fill up the bucket.

Statement by Scholars in North American Universities on Withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book

crossing frontieres:

Comments to this doniger article are very interesting. The condemnation that the book “presents a threat to the orthodox brahminical interpretations of Hinduism” jolts me into thinking about deepa mehta’s film water and jha’s film matrubhumi. In water we see that women are blamed for their husbands’ death then stripped off their Jewelry or colorful saris Then made to do penance in a human prison, like living dead, condemned to begging and praying for food and therefore their existence. These same women who are the scourge of the earth are sexually exploited by Brahmin priests to satisfy their carnal desires because they think that these women can be “less” sinful by sleeping with these Hindu priests. Is this Hindu scripture? Is it Hindu scripture also for priests to rape pre pubescent girls when they think they’re going to hit puberty? AND this literal yet scriptural rape with the child’s parents’ consent? How can rape be of god? How can being sequestered away in an ashram be god-ordained for widows, who are worshipped when married, but cursed when widowed? Is that why women continue to be raped without indemnity in India?

Someone makes an excellent comment in asking if the book was against Islam or Christianity if Hindus would feel the same. That point is a very valid one, particularly for those who criticize Islam and Christianity for their unchanging and unevolving take.

But, finally if one interpretation holds for Hindu scriptures and cannot be challenged, how will India Escape it’s third world moniker? While I don’t like the term ‘third world’ we all know what it signifies and we all should know that ALL third world countries have one thing in common: they keep women subservient and voiceless. These countries are “forever developing” and never reach ‘developed’ status, because other voices can’t be heard. The Hindu right opposes any reading. The right will have theaters burn down for a deepa Mehta film because it is an alternative reading of what Hindu scriptures say, or what people think they say, but never will it dawn on those condemning to ask why something is thought of differently. Pulling doniger’s book is only attesting to this “forever developing” status of India. Doniger may not be a subaltern woman, for she speaks, but she sure isn’t going to be heard!

Originally posted on Kafila:

This statement expresses the views of the individuals listed below and does not represent the views of the University of Chicago or any of its departments.

We, the undersigned, as students of South Asia, strongly condemn the withdrawal by Penguin Press India of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History from distribution in India. We believe that this work has been attacked because it presents a threat to orthodox Brahminical interpretations of Hinduism. We believe that this attack is part of ongoing attempts by upper-caste extremist Hindu forces to stifle any alternative understandings of Hinduism. As students in the United States, we are acutely aware that North American organizations of the Hindu right initiated the protests against Wendy Doniger’s scholarship. Hindu right wing organisations in India have worked in tandem with their North American counterparts to suppress alternative voices in India and too often violently. We are deeply concerned about…

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when will freedom for men come?

we often read and hear about women’s liberation. third world women’s liberation; an arab women’s spring, blah blah blah.

everywhere, especially in the so-called developing countries we are awash with women’s inferiority and sexual violence. there’s been 3, and possibly 4 waves of feminism in the western worlds since the 60s. we continue to ask, and at times even plead for women’s emancipation whenever we read about rape in india confronted with the sexual violence meted out to women worldwide; not just in india and the arab worlds, but right here in the USA. recently the sad news of the new rape-able age has lowered to 4, a Kenyan girl, whose story hit nytimes recently.

we don’t discuss or hear too much about men’s liberation though. is it because society takes it for granted that they have no problems in the socio political arenas? is it because they’re not the ones – for now- being raped or drunkened or date drugged, raped then shamed or silenced because of shame? is it because they’re not the ones to earn less doing the same job as women? or is it because they’re not housewives or hijabed or veiled or scorned, if widowed? or stoned [literally and figuratively] to death because of infidelity whether in first or third worlds or whatever you name the different worlds to separate them?

william pollack Ph.D. (1998), a leading researcher in male behavior, believes the conditioning of acceptable male behavior begins as early as infancy. pollack describes a boy code as “a set of behaviors, rules of conduct, cultural shibboleths, and even a lexicon, that is inculcated into boys by our society—from the very beginning of a boy’s life.” michael kimmel terms it men remaining boys stuck in “guyland” in his book Guyland. boys are trained from young to suck it up, not to cry, not to feel. to feel means being judged as a wimp, a girl, a sissy or even gay in some parts of the world like Russia and Nigeria. that’s why homosxuality was an issue for men, and not women. history has shown that it was men who beat and killed homosexuals, not women. ours is a culture that has discouraged boys and men from feminizing – feeling, crying, talking things out- and it could be why men tried to beat the feminization out of gay men during the stonewall riots and other times. boys are taught to conquer everything- women, workplace, the world. all societies teach boys overtly and implicitly that sexual potency is a marker of masculinity and that empathy and emotional depth are purviews of a lesser sex.

later on in life, as a result of years of social conditioning and disconnection from their essence, men remain emotionally constipated and have very little facility or freedom when it comes to aging. young men about to marry crave one last time or wish to make that time epic before coming to terms with married life. and older men who hit their late 40s develop ‘mid life crises’ and seek our avenues to make their mid aging stop. why do men feel or have the need to stop time for a moment to last forever? where does the endlessly recycled notion of the male desire for the ‘last’ and ‘legendary’ come from? movies like Las Vegas, stand up guys, space cowboys, the oldest profession etc allow us to peek on the stage on which these men play out their crises. but why do they have to come to terms with growing older or with midlife? where’s that wisdom which should distinguish them from noobs or the have-something-to-prove types?

men adhere to masculine ideals and make rules for themselves and women to which women adhere. they make movies about themselves sexualizing, battering, raping women and they even make women see these onscreen women the same way they see women. while men are seen as whole bodies women’s bodies are shown in sexual parts for men to view, as well as women. women are one body type – sexual – and men, several. men are sexual subjects, while women the sexual objects. men care about sports, boobs, gadgets and cars.

men -and women- talk about single families and births outside of marriage and focus heavily on women, sex shaming them for not being good guardians of chastity, and some societies like france still asks a single mother in court why she chose a ‘bad’ man if she knew he had problems, but we don’t shame the men of these situations and we don’t blame them for problems. what we do instead by blaming only women is in fact inflaming the pathology of patriarchy in our culture. single mothers have a negative ring but single fathers…well “he’s a good catch”.

we force boys to adhere to a perilously narrow reading of masculinity which becomes a form of oppression all dressed up as awesomeness or manliness. we address our societal problems, but why not address this societal issue of men’s freedom? if men don’t have to adhere to the boxed in ideals of machismo, superiority, stud-liness, treating women as sexual objects or prizes, not crying to express sadness or anger etc, they’d be free…


history and identity

recently, the new mayor of new york elected stacey cumberbatch as commissioner of citywide administrative services and nytimes ran an article on it. the article mentioned about her bajan heritage linking her to benedict cumberbatch, who plays sherlock on the BBC drama sherlock. apparently, benedict’s mum told him to not use that surname to avoid lawsuits by descendants of slaves.

benedict cumberbatch is among those people whose history is traceable, but who don’t know necessarily their history, either by choice or ignorance and/or shame or imperialism/colonialism etc.
but for people like the stacey cumberbatch, history has become lost history, and that’s not due to historical illiteracy. the history of her people is not available to trace, is not google-able. history permitted benedict’s ancestors to trace their genealogy to find out that his ancestors owned slaves in barbados.

internet is great for recording or tracing something that has actually happened or been written about. but what about matter not recorded or written about? like oral cultures as stacey cumberbatch’s? or those cultures or peoples whose histories were forgotten or erased because they were too young and without family to propagate their culture or identity? or those who were too young and enslaved to document their history? internet is not to be blamed for this societal amnesia. if someone’s history is destroyed they simply never existed. how can internet keep a record of something which does not exist in print?

who are the translators of or to the past of those with forgotten histories?

the history of a people is their identity. our country’s history is our traditional history. for a long time, we’ve reproached the ‘africans’ for not knowing where they come from. for years we’ve blamed them for having a ‘chip on their shoulder’ and did not dig up history to comprehend from where that ‘chip’ or ‘lack’ originated. we did not seek ways to curb or stop it for years and now today, we are seeing movies which try to explain that missing history. but 12 years a slave, the butler, Amistad, django unchained, mandingo, the help, enslavement: the true story of fanny kemble, rrots, sankofa or uncle tom’s cabin cannot fill in the many blanks that history left out. monuments men is not a film about slavery, but it tries to give back great works of art to their rightful owners, but who who will “give back” to those whose history has been erased or forgotten or swallowed up in imperialism or colonialism? can such great movies tell you enough to reconstruct a whole history or past, down to the small details which make big ripples in comprehension? will they tell you about the difference between the indian diaspora and blacks in the caribbean islands where indians were brought with their families, birth certificates, religions and cultures intact, but the african peoples were ripped from their mothers’ breasts and put on ships for the long haul during the atlantic slave trade? will they tell you that some africans – out of sheer desperation and alone-ness – committed sucide on the salve ships by swallowing their tongues, which is impossible to do if you think about it ?

the indians – both muslim and hindus- knew/know where they come from, and what religion to practice -whether huinduism or islam- once they reached the islands, and that held them together. their identity followed them and they reconstructed india in their new homelands: temples, mandirs, mosques adorn some islands [in Guyana, Trinidad, suriname, Jamaica to a lesser extent, Mauritius, Pondicherry etc]. the knowledge of their past enabled them to soar in many ways as a group, as a culture, as an ethnicity, as a people. but what were the african populace in those countries? anglicans? presbyterians? catholics? baptists? protestants? whose identity were those? we know that slaves took their masters’ surnames – like di blasio’s commissioner stacey cumberbatch and platt [in 12 years a slave]- but did we know that slave owners ‘gave’ them religion too, if we didn’t see 12 years a slave? religion and name tell who you are, both of which DID not belong to the africans. their identity came from their masters’ religions and surnames which were imposed on them in the new land. but what was their past identity? how does a young child ‘know’ who he is without parents or birth certificate? could he have traced back his ancestry if he wanted to not knowing where to start when the african continent is so huge?

the history of the african peoples is lost in the annals of time and silence because they were forced to go it alone to the islands or america etc as slaves. today, americans, french, indians, greeks, chinese etc are proud of their history. without history there would be no wonderful greek or indian mythology to have or study. what history do those of african descent have to call their own? do we seek to know, at a deeper level, why in this post racial age they are still writing themselves into history? and screening themselves into cinematic history as films on slavery attest?

the african past [and other forgotten histories], has fallen within the abyss of a collective amnesia because of a lack of a past or history.

if you don’t know who you are, how can you know where you are going? without an identity and not just adopting someone’s name or religion, who are you? can you really “know” who you are with so many missing links to your past? can flashbacks alone – in cinema or real life- reconstruct someone’s history?

hinju america

“i am kind of a vanilla milkshake with one pump of chocolate syrup-compared to white people i look brown, and to brown people i look white. even my hair color is somewhere halfway between daddy’s sandy brown and mum’s chestnut. but it’s neither one nor the other, just a nondescript shade in the middle. a color so boring, there’s not even a crayon for it. not even in the sixty-four pack!”
and neither is there a food pyramid for vegetarians or vegans! does that mean they don’t exist?

the description above comes from paula freedman’s basmati bat mitzvah. it tells the story of tara feinstein, whose mother is hindu and father, jewish. she is about to celebrate her bat mitzvah but doesn’t feel she is jewish and poses loads of questions to the rabbi because she feels like a “goyim”, but not a “shiksa”. she wants to “indify” or “desi up” her bat mitzvah against her mother’s wish. her mother tells her to wipe the shmutz off her face when she says it’s just clothes. she’s a girl with lots of chutzpah, with a yenta for a paternal grandmother. she likes to dance to bollywood songs, with teeka ‘shmeared’ on her forehead; she sees lots of bollywood movies; she puts mango pickle on her burger; she has a ganesha in her bedroom whose belly she and her jewish friends rub for good luck; and she goes to hebrew classes to prepare her haftarah for her upcoming “bas mitzvah” and “bazmatzah”, as cousin vijay says, the same boy on whose wrist she ties a raki for raksha bandhan.

one day, sheila rosenberg tells her she’s not jewish because her mother is not jewish, and she suddenly becomes aware of who she is. identity issues begin to distress her, and the rabbi notices it, and asks if she thinks she is jewish instead of answering her. jews answer questions with questions and she discovers at that juncture that jewishness is in the heart, not in what others say.

she wants to be different in a good way. she wants her mother to understand that she wants to be herself on her own terms, without having to be weird; without having to stand out, or fit in. she wants to be a normal jewish kid, with a healthy sprinkling of masala on top.

tara’s mother is punjabi hindu, who traded her indian-ness for jewishness. she wouldn’t be caught dead in a salwar kameez which tara’s aunt -meena- wears every day except when she has to defend a client. she is a hindu lawyer in multicultural america! the mother says that the lawyer aunt turned america into her own little india instead of assimilating, but it is the mother who foregoes her identity to adopt another. the aunt’s response to this is : where else but in america could you have the freedom to do that? and this same auntie’s husband longs to go back to india, but she refuses to go back to his ‘precious india’- paradise ‘full of dysentery, and third world plumbing’.

tara is very different from her friends. her role model is not the jewish god, like her jewish friend’s, but kalpana chawla, the first indian american woman astronaut. when she is given her parashah, she dares to ask many questions and doesn’t agree with lots in the torah. she criticizes the role jacob played because she didn’t find him a good role model since he cheated his brother out of his birthright. she asks why the jews had slaves/ishmaelites, because that is hypocritical when the entire religion teaches being freed from slavery. and in order to understand these dialectics which exist in judaism about jacob and the coat given to joseph [jacob's son] by his father jacob, she turns to familiar ground, hinduism. she finds that joseph’s coat and her grandmother’s sari – which she intends to wear to her bat mitzvah – are both abundantly colorful and sacred.

tara is also very different from her mother. her mother, who tries to shut out Hinduism, tells her the story of partition by asking her to imagine a place where you are born being two different countries, separated by majority language, ethnicity, and religion. suddenly in the house you grew up in, in the city you were born, you were an outcast – a minority. that’s pretty much what happened to a lot of people in india and pakistan during partition in 1947. millions of people fled in both directions- hindus and sikhs to india, and muslims to pakistan. her batmitzvah sari had survived this war and partition, and to her that made it as important as joseph’s coat.

one of tara’s friends asks her one day once if indians are muslims. she thinks it’s a stupid question. asking if indians were muslims was like asking if americans are jews. some are and some aren’t. then the same student blurts out “my grandpa thinks all muslims are terrorists” and goes futher to say that maybe tara was scared of everyone finding out she was a secret muslim and a terrorist. she knocks the tray of lentils on his face at the cafeteria.she finds it unfortunate because she would never stand for anyone saying all jews are terrorists or all Indians.

tara decsribes sheila rosenberg’s family as a clone colony; they all wear some form of purple at her ‘bazmatvah’. her own family is special: a kind of “third species where she’s not related to either one of them”. the indian side of her family adds –jie to the jewish side of her family [so ruthie-jie instead of just ruth] and the jewish/yiddish side adds -la to the indian names [ so meen- a- la instead of just meena].

tara fits into this third space of identity, that is neither jewish nor hindu. she discovers that her doubts about being jewish are okay, and that doubts are questions, and only the weak are absolutely sure of everything. she celebrates her new identity by having a menu of samosas, bhel puri, knishes, golgappas at her bat mitzvah where everyone throws basmati rice at the bimah instead of candy which is typical of bar/bat mitzvahs. she has an “idol” [ganesha] despite the jewish ten commandments which tell her ‘thou shalt have no other god except me.” she doesn’t consider ganesha a false god. for tara, rubbing ganesha’s belly is a ritual, like kissing a mezuzah or pouring an extra glass of wine for the prophet elijah to drink on passover. it is NOT idolatry.

tara’s space consists also of celebrating diwalikkah- diwali and Hanukkah- because both holy festivals fall around the same time. Her family serves potato latkes with mango chutney in their punjabi-bengali-american-hindu-muslim-jewish potluck. she sees the similarity in diwali and hanukkah as both are festivals of light. when the jews reclaimed the holy tepee in jerusalem – after the macabees drove out the greeks- they thought they had only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, but the oil miraculously lasted eight days. at diwali, the light welcomes goddess lakshmi into your homes. for tara it is opening the door for elijah on passover but with a cash incentive. In hindusim you pray to ganesha- the remover of obstacles to make your path to prosperity and well-being clear. when she brings the similarity of diwali and hannukah to the rabbi’s attention, she discovers that comparative studies of religions was encouraged. however, hinduism doesn’t have any equivalent to bat mitzvah. i suppose christening could be compared in a narrow sense to bat/bar mitzvah, but the huge difference is that it’s done way before one becomes 13.

tara’s doesn’t have her mum’s fear of being different when she dresses up like a bollywood heroine. her mother wants her to get a dress from bloomingdale’s or macy’s for her bat mitzvah, not a bollywood look-alike sari. but tara goes with what she feels and at her batmitzvah, she embraces both heritages. she says:
“i’m really happy you could all be here to share my spiritual journey. for a long time, i wasn’t sure if i was going to go through with it…i had some hard choices to make along the way, but i think it was worth it…i come from a mixed heritage. my father’s family have been new york jews for as long as anyone can remember. my mother’s people are hindus, from india, but she feels it’s important that i point out that she converted to judaism a long time ago, in case you thought she wasn’t jewish, and that i wasn’t either.”

preparing for the batmitzhav makes her think about things she never thought about before and didn’t want to. she has to ask herself what it means to be jewish, but especially what it means to HER to be jewish. she talks about her grandparents in india and the special relationship she had with them when they were alive and feels that in having a batmitvaz she might be forgetting them, but her multi-cultural experiences makes her stronger and more accepting of different points of view which is important. she thinks her nanaji would have liked her bat mitzvah because he was a very spiritual person with an open heart, and that’s it’s okay to have doubts, so as long as you remain open-minded.

she relates her parashah about joseph in context to the sari she’s wearing at her batmitzvah, and talks about the burn which happened from incense falling on it while she was dancing to a bollywood number. making a dress out of this partially burnt sari from the partition was her jewish gran’s idea. she says that she was lacking imagination like the twelve tribes of Israel, who failed to think they could cooperate instead of competing, and that it was her gran who showed her the possibility of turning something sacred from nanijie [hindu maternal grandmother] into a coat she could wear, like joseph’s coat. she learns that when life gives you shmatta [rag], or a sari with a big hole in it, you make a new dress out of it. it’s the same making-lemonade-out of-lemons-story that life hands you – but in yiddish.

at the end of her speech, everyone dances to deejay vijay’s hora and bhangra/hip hop mix, while aravind uncle chews on paan outside. when the desi mishpacha [traditional and spicy at the same time] scatters, tara puts on her star of david [tara means star in hindi incidentally], and admires most her card of ganesha wearing a tallit- prayer shawl- holding a jewish prayer-book, saying: “have a very basmati bazmitzvah!!!

ganesha 2

tara weaves herself into a new space of existence, which homi bhabha talks about in his location of culture: the space in which cultures meet, a space in which any monotheistic entity is challenged and hybrid identities created, a space where, when confronted with the dialectics in her parashah, she invents a kind of mix to understand it.

tara doesn’t have to choose between being jewish or hindu. she can honor both. by being a hinju.


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