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solidarity cannot be quarantined

George Floyd’s [and Ahmaud Arbery’s] death ripped the scab right off America’s blackness, leaving red, raw pain exposed. Days and weeks passed as discontent raged through American and the world’s streets. The sit-in in front of city hall started on Tuesday 23 June 2020 with about 100 people, but by the next day, it swelled with solidarity a hundred times more.

Protesters occupying City Hall have chosen not to be silent anymore, because silence, as we’ve come to know too well, can choke, like a knee in the neck. They are protesting against police brutality of blacks [and brown] people in America and questioning why the police budget increased to $6 billion per year first to frisk, then stop-and-frisk blacks or shoot and/or arrest them, brutalize peaceful protesters, drive SUVs into protesters, enforce subway fare collection, police schools, pound on doors of the mentally ill, clear homeless encampments etc.  Why so much money to fund these “essential” police duties while other essential services are pared to the bone, including education facing a $640 million reduction by de Blasio and housing including homelessness, health care and other social services, including a lack of PPE for the pandemic that disproportionately takes the life of- guess whom? Demonstrators are willing to occupy City Hall until the city’s deadline to pass next year’s fiscal budget so that some of the cop money can go into making life safer for those who don’t want to die while living black.

But, why would we even want to call the police when they we don’t even feel safe with them?

The following videos and photos portray a solidarity as has never been seen before demographically: people lending their skills, chanting mantra-like instructions from those leading in case of arrest, blockades, pepper spray, detainment etc.

upon arriving, at first, it seemed sparse.
protesters came prepared to not only sit-in but sleep in, too
I stood next to the protester drawing this while a cop looked on, amazed…
all of these are made on site, in the art station
MORE PLACARDS/art MADE ON SITE
Tamir rice was celebrated
sleeping bags, mats, sleeping protesters, others awake and chanting
Brooklyn bridge subway elevator was covered in protests
there were projections on nearby buildings aiding the cause, too
a well-lit manifesto-like note to de blasio, written on hardy canvas to last
a blue bike with speakers to echo protests
another blue bike, admonishing the shut down of the police

Moving images also depict the organized, peaceful sit-in below, including making music a part of their solidarity with drums, singing, saxing to ‘lean on’ for the sleepy; lively chatter keeping vigil ; ‘saints marching’ and protesters going to find victuals; art station where placards, posters were being made or just dabbling in paint and crayons as much-needed therapy; one protester climbing atop the Brooklyn bridge subway to hang a huge banner and when he was done taller people stepping in to help him down quickly before the police could ride up to arrest him; food for all so no one was starving, with all-night free food stands for meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, while pizza, water and trays of cake and muffins kept wading through the crowds;  goggles and other first aid also making their way through the swelling crowds in case of police pepper spraying them; people repeating mantra-like instructions including phone numbers of legal aid and pro bono lawyers in case of arrests:

 

It was so easy to see the flame of hope of the peaceful protesters burning for many nights, shedding light all the way, like a deya on Diwali, burning all night to eradicate evil. 

The mighty heart of Irrfan

The world knew him as Robert in the Puzzle. As Harry Sims in Inferno. As the nameless police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire. As the captain in a Mighty Heart and as the father in Darjeeling Limited. Two of these films won 12 Oscars – in 2008 and 2012. I have seen these western-released movies, but not all of his Hindi movies. His films make him the only actor in the world in British, American, and Hindi cinema who acted in an Ang Lee, Wes Anderson, Danny Boyle/Loveleen Tandon, Vishal Bhardwaj, Ritesh Batra, Govind Nihalani, Meghna Gulzar or Michael Winterbottom or Marc TurtleTaub film. IMDb reports Irrfan in a total of 151 roles, but this list doesn’t include his debut role as the letter writer in Mira Nair’s debut stunning Salaam Bombay, nominated for an Academy Award for the best foreign-language film in 1988. He was discovered at age 20 by Nair who went looking for a child actor at National School of Drama for Salaam. Nair chose him for “his intensity, his remarkable look, his hooded eyes” that some called a chalice, a tavern.

irrfan at 20.jpg

This Irrfan look never changed, no matter what genre or role he essayed nor on which continent he essayed it. It merely spoke words he didn’t find necessary to utter.

irrfan 3.jpg          irrfan 5.jpg       irrfan 1.jpg

irrfan 2.jpg       irrfan 4.jpg   irrfan 5.jpg

Images shouldn’t rely on words for meaning. Words sometimes limit meaning. Agnes Varda, while making Ulysse said: “l’image ne fait que de représenter, elle ne dit rien” (thé image can only reflect, it doesn’t say anything) but in Irrfan’s world, the image represented and said everything – about him.

I met him as Saajan Fernandes in the Lunchbox, the adult Pi Patel in Life of Pi, and Ashoke Ganguli in Namesake. In these three films, it is so natural as if he is not acting. In a Film Companion interview [with Anupama Chopra] he said “once you become a human being, you cannot be an actor”. But right after added, “but that’s not true”. And indeed, it wasn’t.

Irrfan was against formula in Bollywood, and didn’t rehearse for a role, nor do character research. He considered it premature and “folly” to be like that because that could reduce one’s possibility and uniqueness. He liked to dive into roles and convince by saying his lines: “Your whole being is your tool”. Acting shouldn’t be a job even if it was natural to ape or imitate or find confidence in resembling someone famous. No one in Bollywood was ready to give him roles because he was anti-hero, anti character and natural, unlike most commercial actors. Yet, he saw himself as an entertainer, too. But for him, art was personal, something reflective, revolving on life around him as a human being. He communicated his own POV through his stories, and if that did not happen, art wasn’t happening. For him, one becomes an artist only when one reflects. So, Irrfan sought to better himself, to understand his own perception and popularity didn’t destroy him but healed him. Popularity was a byproduct, and what was important was what he was doing: “Your job has to enrich your soul”. He was Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and actor rolled in one incredible human being. A character straight out of a Satyajit ray film! Straight out of cinema vérité!

So, I won’t remember him for leaving cinema and the world too abruptly, nor during  Ramadan, nor so soon after his mother died. I’ll rather remember him for his heartfelt, prolific contribution to India and beyond. For acting so effortlessly, for showing the beauty of life in his actions and silent expressions. His brilliance and legend will continue to live onscreen. A man of few words, but a ‘volcano of talent’ [Shatrughan Sinha]. A man of memorable lines: “if you have no one to talk to, you forget”.

I will remember him for admonishing ‘introspection’ so bravely on an Arnab Goswami panel on religion, unlike most stars, where he took on Muslim fundamentalists, including a Grand Imam, arguing against “transactional religious interaction”, for “personal religious discovery” in his soft, respectful, reverent way “to discover yourself, to find God”. It didn’t matter he faced heavy criticism and even threats of violence in proposing that sacrificing animals stop. What mattered was his courageous stance on being kind to animals and people alike. It was only natural then that Irrfan refuse the role of a terrorist in Mira Nair’s great Reluctant Fundamentalist. In an HBO show In treatment, when the role was painful and too dark for him he didn’t want to learn the lines. He announced himself only as Irrfan, dropping Khan, in his desire to stand apart from any herd.

India’s great lyricist Javed Akhtar remembers him appropriately as “a voice, not someone’s echo”. Irrfan’s words to his wife of 25 years echoed his love: “What to say about Sutapa? She is there 24/7. She has evolved in care-giving and if I get to live, I want to live for her.”

His last film – Angrezi Medium – ran for only one day before the coronavirus lockdown, but will always be remembered for the regret he expressed over the ‘unwanted guests’ in his body [cancer he was fighting]:

“Hello, brothers and sisters. I am with you and not with you. This film, Angrezi Medium, is very special to me. I truly wanted to promote this film as passionately as we made it, but there are some ‘unwanted guests’ in my body and they’re keeping me busy. I’ll keep you informed on that front. There’s a saying, ‘when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.’ It feels good to hear, but when life really hands you lemons, making lemons is really difficult.”

Homi Adajania, the director, remembers him not wanting to be a star, but “he didn’t have to be because he shone brighter than anything in the universe”. He told people to “Enjoy the trailer and be kind to each other. Watch the film. And yes. Wait for me!”

But, in the end, “the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”

I can never forget my cinematic encounters with him either. Nor Paan Singh Tomar who didn’t exist before Irrfan made him legendary.

Thank you, Irrfan, for showing the world that cinema doesn’t have to be all artifice. For making performance an art of the real you.

 

 

Masks that fashion wears

It is fascinating to see fashion covering up after such long periods of baring it all! Understandable to be different in a world gone crazy vying for attention and soliciting the most amount of likes. Like the recent Chanel cat-walker who crashed the Paris Fashion week to walk with top models and one, Gigi Hadid, intercepted her as though there was no security. As though anyone could just get a front row seat at a major fashion week [Paris] and a major brand [Chanel]! As it turned out, this front row seater was indeed someone, a french you-tuber, and a star in her own right who seemed to have gotten Chanel more ratings or attention in their tired fashion.

Then there are the others who cover up their models to be different, or to stand out, which also stands out in a fashion world where the visual is the most important stimuli for the industry and where models have become increasingly more important than brands, because they now have a ‘face’ and a huge presence.

Some of the fashion statements entering the runway of high fashion are making huge waves, covered up in morphsuits. The duo, Checking Voices, shows [or hides] their models wearing Trussardi.

Sports Illustrated, Balenciaga, Gucci, Fendi, Vetements all covered their models:

soprts illustrated cove up .jpg   morph suits fashion.jpg   Walter-Van-Beirendonck-Fall-2019-Menswear-Collection-Featured-Image.jpg  morphsuits metro 16oct.jpg

gareth pugh spr 19.jpg    london fashion wk .jpg   morspsuits uk.jpg

But this wasn’t the first time this was done. British designer Richard Quinn had similar cover ups and colorful masks in his parade in fall/winter 2017-2018

richard quinn.jpg    quinn 3.jpg    quinn trunkshow.jpg

And in the same year, Vox Lux [Brady Corbet, 2018] used it in cinema to cover Natalie Portman as did Rosalia in Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi

But Morphsuits [with a capital M] is an actual company in Scotland, established in 2009 and distributes spandex costumes to cover the entire body. They look like get-ups right out of Marvel films on superheros or power rangers like Wasp, Capt America, Spiderman, Ironman, Black Panther and so many more.

wasp.jpg  capt amca.jpg    spiderman.jpg    black panther.jpg

Small surprise that Morphsuits’ biggest seller is Halloween costumes:

halloween 1.jpg          halloween morph.jpg  darth vader .jpg

This covering up was also done by artist Leigh Bowery back in 1980s:

leigh bowery 1.jpg    leigh bowery vogue .jpg  leigh bowery 3.jpg

Luz Lancheros’ interesting Morphsuits el origen de “los enmascarados” en la moda [Metro World News 14 Oct 2019] discusses morphsuits and traces the origin back to Japanese Kabuki theatre where actors wore Kirugumi.

kigurumi panda.jpg          zentai catsuit.jpg

However, when I look at morphsuits, I can also see burqinis, created in 2005 by an Australian Muslim Aheda Zanetti after the Cronulla riots which broke out in Sydney after some middle eastern men were abused. Zanetti designed Muslim lifeguard suits for the beaches in Australia in 2007 to promote diversity and acceptance on Sydney’s beaches. Zanetti created the burqini as culturally appropriate swimwear for Muslim women that would meet modesty and physical activity, but the idea really came from watching her young niece play netball in traditional Muslim clothing and headscarf. But the burqini was banned in 2016 in France and Belgium and two years later in Germany. Interestingly, burqinis are only worn in western countries, not in Muslim majority countries, so why can’t they be seen as a fashion statement also and share space like morhpsuits? Full cover ups are only criminalized in European countries, isolating and antagonizing Muslim women who choose to cover [for whatever reasons]. Women who migrate to western countries go there for a reason: they don’t want to live in an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion and they want to make their own choices at the beach and elsewhere.

When Zanetti’s burqinis began to be sold well in her non-Muslim clientele – forty % of her costumer base was Jews, Hindus, Mormons, women with various body issues and even men – it was deemed ‘fashion’. Marks & Spencer of London sold out burqinis in Britain when the burqini was branded as a wear to protect skin against skin cancer for westerners. Full body cover -ups are not banned from fashion, because perhaps the runway is the place to cover up and not the beach?

When Zanetti created the same burqini to give non-western women freedom, it was banned even though she insisted that it wasn’t invented to take women’s limited freedom away. And instead it became a symbol of hatred before western designers followed [swim]suit and started designing burqinis: Acquagym [Brazil], Hasema [Turkey], and some American companies like Speedo, Splashgear and Nike and it was fashionable:

nike swimsuit .jpg  speedo burkini.jpg  burkini swimwear.jpg   burqini nike 1.jpg  burqini.jpg

This covering up of the body in one form or another has been done for years, and wasn’t always called morphsuits or veiling or burqini or full body cover up or whatever fashion wants to call it. The world didn’t point fingers at catholic nuns who were veiled and covered because they were Europeans, and that practice of covering up was both accepted and acceptable by the christian church and state, the same ones from whence come designers covering up their models.

If fashion is about showing, what does ‘covering up’ of the visual body and face of known models reveal or unveil about those who decide norms or proper attire? Erasing one’s face as well as one’s body becomes acceptable on runways and streets and seems to run counter to fashion’s ‘showing’ or ‘showy-ness’. Looking at the 3 images below, how is the first mask or “erasure” [western] different from the second [Muslim] form or the third [Indian]? They are all black and gloomy and cover the woman and in fact only the Muslim and Indian cover-up show eyes and face, and not the western morphsuit of the first image. If we banned it for fear of covered women carrying bombs « Algerian-independence style », couldn’t anything also lie beneath the western cover-up in our Joker-suited, white supremacist or intolerant mind of the XXI century?  Or is it that in gun-toting worlds like America no cover up is needed and plain sight works better or just as well as the 2012 Aurora Batman killer proved?

checking voices.jpg        burqa 1.jpg        black sari 1.jpg

In the western worlds of art and artistry, new cover ups unveil that serve media’s end as the new series watchmen proves and become acceptable and cool:

IMG_4367.jpg       watchmen.jpg

Like these Comic Con attendees:

IMG_4368.jpg             IMG_4365.jpg

Or dancers?  IMG_4369.jpg    or Lady Gaga?   lady gaga.jpg

Granted that Gaga’s cultural borrowing is not in ‘ominous’ black like some niqabs or burqas that are banned from public space, but it still hides the entire woman and you wouldn’t know who is inside if her name wasn’t emblazoned in the image. How is Lady Gaga’s colorful but complete cover-up any different from the women below in the same colorful hijabs?

hijab 2 or this cover-up? woman in burqini in France.jpg

What makes superheros or artists [designers, directors etc] acceptable with their covered-up models on Balenciaga or Fendi or Gucci or even Nike super[models] but not a woman in hijab or burqini? How does the same world separate covered or veiled women into acceptable and not acceptable? William Cruz Bermeo, fashion historian at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana who writes for Moda y Vestido provides an answer. He says that the cover-up we see in fashion today is attractive and disrupts fashion’s predictability. Or the ‘quoditianity’ [like Chanel’s runway you-tuber disruption] of fashion, of the image. This cover up is very visual, not an absence as is quite often heaped on women who veil or cover up. Covering up is rife with contradiction. We like camouflage, but not the real people who cover up everyday because of their culture. We accommodate women in fashion because we are constantly looking for ways to escape tedium, the common. Yet those who cover we don’t see, literally or symbolically, unless they have a designer brand on their cover.

The exact function and meaning of covering-up is culturally determined, by one culture or gender upon another. When masks are worn in western societies it is called art – Commedia dell’arte, Chaplin, Meliès etc – and that same culture deems it social control on another culture wishing to clothe modestly. Non-western women who cover up by choice in western countries are forced to uncover, while those living in those same cultures can cover up and no one bats an eye or runs for cover. Like a bank robber who fully covers up, or KKK or terrorists who commit fatal, racist, heinous crimes, who don’t get uncovered or banned even after committing mega atrocities. But women who just walk or cover up at the beach minding their own business, are told to uncover or disrobe because it is the law to uncover. A law made by the same institution that fashions hides behind, and that requires women to conform to its many thinly-veiled masks.

 

LACE and LACK

The difference is one letter away. Seated in the NYC subway today, it was impossible to not notice in front of me breasts and nipples of a 20 something year old girl wearing a tight white almost transparent lace tank sans bra. Her barely covered breasts were in plain view for me [ as I was seated] and I’m sure the man sitting next to me who kept looking to decipher the notes I was making in French on an article I was reading. The girl was not as hard to decipher as my notes to the eyes seated next to me.

I texted my friend whose interests range from film analysis to surrealism and Buddhism [her PhD] to word play to relate this story and ask her what she thought.  It was she in fact who suggested this marvelous play on words in my blog title. She said if I take away the “e” in ‘lace’ and substitute with ‘k’ I get ‘lack’.  Nathalie’s clever wordplay rapped on the door of my prudery. The Lace stemming from a lack… a lack of power in one’s life. And so, began my lack/lace reflection on my ten-minute walk to work.

People were in trench coats, light jackets, sweaters, jeans etc so if it wasn’t about weather, then what? It could be an age-thing – the desire to show – sometimes typical of that age group. But it could be about other things as well. I thought about Femen [incidentally lots of young women there!] and other women’s libbing movements, examples and ideas, and I thought about the constant desire to show others that one is free, whereas if freedom could just come from inside there’d be no need to prove one’s free. It would not be necessary to show others that one is free or not from one’s clothing. Others do not need to recognize or tell a woman that she is free. She owns it by her strength and fortitude, not by the clothes she wears because freedom is the domain of the personal, the inside, what we have inside that no one sees through membrane, movement or cloth.

We have been bombarded by freedom images and ideologies via ‘outside’ material things since time immemorial, but we can never find the freedom we are looking for. We haven’t found freedom yet since the 60s, or if you look at France, since the 1940s [Simone de Beauvoir published her Second Sex in what? 1949?]. How much has changed since the 1940s France or 1960s USA? And yet! Yet we do not see that these OUTSIDE things that we hold on to are replaceable, shifting and don’t stay with us. They are exchangeable, expendable, which explains why we move from one thing to the next – movements, memes etc – to prove we are free. We are constantly proving how free we are, to others, but never get free ourselves. We never become free of what society tells us what it means tone free and how it should look.

Then I got tired of thinking, and decided that it’s entirely possible that the girl in the train burnt her bra, like the women of the 60s, and couldn’t wear one on this cool day. And if history repeats itself, it’s highly likely that she won’t be free at the end of the day nor any time soon. But if it was just a fashion statement, then ‘hats off’, or rather ‘clothes off’ to her!

 

 

 

 

How can 3 letters confine or house an entire soul?

Deepu: are you gay, sir?   [very long pause]

Professor Siras : how can someone describe my feelings in three letters?

This question comes from Deepu (Rajkumar Rao], a rookie journalist to professor Siras[Manoj Bajpai ] in Hansal Mehta’s 2016 brilliant film, Aligarh.

Siras does not like the word ‘gay” and does not like how the young describe things so very carelessly. He does not answer Deepu immediately, and in fact never answers any question in the film without first a deep, long reflection. What a cinematic treat for cinephiles! And there are many such treats/pauses in the film, so needed for the quick-to-judge, but it is this same dimension that also gives the movie its deep connection to the character that Bajpai portrays in his best role yet. The Siras character has many other layers including the fact that he is a Brahmin who calls the rickshaw puller a friend – someone he should not associate with, for rickshaw-wallahs are lowly. Thus, for both reality and film, caste-ism and exclusion, high caste and low caste are explored in the poetry, long pauses and human relations.

Professor Siras is a man of words. Yet, one word – gay – would condemn him to a life of  isolation. His words and poems did not matter in the end; only his orientation that he kept hidden, in the privacy of his room. He published short stories and a poetry book in Marathi: “Paya Khalchi Hirawal” [Grass under my feet]:

“Oh dear moon,  
Fear not the dawn that separates us,
For we must meet again,
When the world sleeps.”

He wrote beautiful words in the depressing room he lived, in a depressing university surrounded by depressing judgments and court procedures. Yet, he saw beauty in everything and everyone. He describes what he feels like poetry, in between words. In the silences. In the Pauses. You fall in love with this professor because he is so real and it is so easy to deeply feel the person Bajpai essays so extraordinarily seamlessly. You feel the loneliness and anguish in the long pauses of his eyes which the two songs [by Lata Mangeshkar] encapsulate so lyrically:   “Aap ki nazaron ne samjha pyaar ke kabil mujhe” and “Betaab dil ki tamanna yahi hai” .

Siras’ words change us – the viewers – by their sheer force, but not his milieu. The more we invest in his experience the more we change our own, the way dr Louise banks changes in Arrival. She, too, is a linguist like Professor Siras, but she has to learn to communicate with aliens, not humans like Dr Siras. She decodes the ET language and begins to question her own reality, while Siras must appeal to the unpoetic, close-minded academia at AMU [Aligarh Muslim University] who condemns him for violating moral code.

Aligarh is a small movie based on an actual incident that is very difficult to watch precisely because it is not ‘just’ fiction. The central character – Dr Shrinivas Ramachandra Siras – was an esteemed professor of Marathi & head of the Classical Modern Indian Languages Faculty at AMU – Aligarh Muslim University. He was condemned to death for engaging in a homosexual act that is haram to Islam, even if it is in a country [India] where love and passion of the Kamasutra were born. In 2010 , he was set up, condemned, then expelled for “indulging in obscenity” and found dead days after a secret video of his liaison with a rickshaw driver was recorded then circulated.

In the current wake of the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Bajpai laments:

“When I played the homosexual professor Ramchandra Siras in Aligarh, I realized what true loneliness is. The man’s isolation was more of an issue to me than his sexual orientation. I feel the Supreme Court verdict is a triumph for all discriminated and persecuted people of our country; whether it is segregation on the basis of sexual orientation, or gender, or caste or economical condition… we all need the law and the Government to support the weaker sections. If the Professor in Aligarh were alive today, he wouldn’t have to die.”

This, like professor Siras’ revoked sentence, which came a day after his death, comes eight years after this gentle beautiful soul that could have lived to create more words, tolerance and acceptance. He had given decades of his life to AMU teaching languages and opening minds, and had only six months left to retirement. No one knows or wishes to know whether his death was a suicide or not, because he was gay. India – Hindu or Muslim – has consistently opposed gay sex despite having already had a bid to repeal this in 2001 and having decriminalized it in 20029, one year before Siras’s death, which should have saved him. Laws almost always play an important role in changing mindsets, but the public is slow tp catch up because of their inherent biases. a court must recognize people’s rights to love, whether it is a love between an untouchable or Brahmin, and must uphold the dignity denied to the Sirases of India.

Siras moved outside the narrow confines of gayness [as a white male construct based on sex]. His gayness was vast, poetic, ‘gay’ as a lark singing poetry. Siras’ world brought gayness and homosexuality down to sex but for Siras it had nothing to do with sex. Sex was not the central issue, and the spaces that ‘gay’ define couldn’t hold, confine or define professor Siras.

History owes Siras an apology for ostracizing and sending him to his death, and sadly no amount of throwing the British out of their country again can bring back Siras.

 

 

 

Mémoires of widowhood and parnani

I remember parnani [maternal great grandmother in India] as a little girl. Always draped in a beautiful, crisp, white, cotton sari, earrings following the curves of her ears, slender long brown hands full of bangles [gold most likely since Indians only wore gold], and a nose ring. But no husband ever accompanying her. In my child’s and adult mind that can only mean that she was a widow. Nani – her daughter and my grandmother – was a widow, too, but she remarried. I never met parnana or nana [my maternal great grandfather and maternal grandfather]. My mother said nana died before any of her seven children were born, and even before she was married off as a young girl pitching marbles on the dirt. I also never met aji [paternal grandmother], but I did meet aja [paternal grandfather], and he too was always clad in white – a white dhoti and a white cotton airy jersey – that covered his lanky, frail, pale body.  

I remember how easy it was easy to spot parnani coming down the gravel track to our house. We could see anyone coming down from the Beetham highway as we longed for parnani’s company, and also for the sweets she would bring us. Even a blind person could spot parnani, a slim white figure, dupatta over her head, against the green, lush, abundant mango trees on one side of the track, and the wayward overgrown bushes on the wrong side of the track. From our vantage point, only the mango trees-side mattered, since that’s where the taxis let her off, and where we picked up the neighbor’s Rose mangoes and chenneth that had fallen over their barbed wire. We would run up the road to greet her, take her hands and walk back skippingly to the house. Upon reaching home, she would take out a clean, white, cotton handkerchief full of paradise plum – hard pastel-colored candy, peppered with sugar dust. How we loved that! And her! 

Parnani didn’t speak a word – English or Hindi – but she visited often.  She had come in one of the 320 voyages the British made to the islands from India, starting in 1834. That trip uprooted everything for her since she had to leave behind her Indian-only, pre-partition Hindu and Muslim culture to live among much newness: new peoples [Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, British, Africans], new food, new herbs and spices so important to Indian women, new language and new behaviors. Perhaps she didn’t mix enough, for there was no television to help her assimilate, and would therefore only have spoken Hindi at home, and naturally would have had no opportunities to integrate. But surviving the long, three-month ship ride from India on the kala pani that claimed one third of Indian lives speaks volumes for her.  The British had inveigled, kidnapped and held women, including widows, and married men from all parts of India and placed them in coolie holding depots in Calcutta, Lucknow and Faizabad [Coolies: How Britain Reinvented Slavery, a BBC production]. They were then shipped to the islands of Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname, but also to Martinique, Jamaica and Guadeloupe to a lesser extent. The two-thirds of Indians who survived on the trip to the islands intended to go back, but India forgot about them and these newly-minted Indo-Caribbeans – Indians by way of Trinidad, or Trinidadians by way of India – turned their stranded-ness and dislocation into a life in the islands. And if Gandhi did not stop the British exploitation of Indians to the islands and the whole indentureship business in 1917, it would’ve continued, and Trinidad would have become another “little India” like in New York and New Jersey. 

They say my mother’s family comes from Bangalore, but history books differ and say Indians came from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. I don’t know if the books tell a true story. Truth is only a half told storyand it is the British who wrote notes about ‘their’ [the Indians’] arrival, and not the Indians themselves since they didn’t know how to write. Nor speak English even. I question British note-taking and history books not only because they didn’t take that three-month debilitating ride on the kala pani with parnani and the others, so how would ‘they’ or ‘their’ books know the Indians’ ‘truth’? But also because my aja was over six feet tall, thin, so light in complexion that his skin reflected the light, had greyish eyes…not Dalit traits normally as history books want us to believe. There is a lot I don’t know about my ancestors, but what I do know is that nothing stopped parnani from taking a taxi ‘alone’ as a female in a foreign place from Mon Plaisir Road, Campoo to come to our house in Curepe, to interact with her English-speaking, filmy and bhajan-singing-and-dancing great grandchildren. Were we her joy and connection to the lost motherland?

The picture I have of parnani refuses to leave my mind, because now as an adult delving into studies of veuvage, Vidhwa or widowhood, I discovered that women like parnani were a scorned lot in parts of India, and still are in some regions. Maybe the British took widows knowing fully well that no one would miss them and banished them to the islands since India sequestered widows in ashrams after breaking their bangles, taking away their earrings, shaving their heads. Women’s beauty was in their hair, so they were shorn, and made to wear plain white or navy-blue saris and definitely not red, the color of fertility. Their colorless life was intended to decrease their sexuality, and to not attract men since they weren’t allowed to remarry. Women in India in parnani’s time and even long after were ‘ashrammed’ to live out the rest of their lives doing penance for their husbands’ death, even if that husband drank himself to death (perhaps he was alcoholic or had syphilis!) or was poisoned by a jealous mistress! Widows lived a meager existence, not smiling, praying all day, singing bhajans to atone for their husbands’ self-caused, genetic, or ‘however’ death. Deepa Mehta’s film Water, the documentary The Invisible Women: Outcast widows in India, Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dor and Dilip Mehta’s the Forgotten Woman are just some of the movies that give us an idea of the sad, unjust, harsh treatment of widows from where parnani came. They show us that there is nothing colorful or alive from where parnani came: “everything in a place of pilgrimage is auspicious, except widows in India”, as Binodini, the widow in Anurag Basu’s Choker Bali says.

So perhaps parnani wore her white sari because she was widowed? But what of her many beautiful bangles and earrings? Why was she not separated from her bangles and earrings if she no longer had a husband? Perhaps parnani rejected to live in her Trinidadian present as an Indian vidhwa, and chose to keep some remnants of her past by wearing her bangles and earrings proudly on her ‘own’ terms, which spoke for who she was. There was no one to watch over her doing penance in Trinidad, no pundits to enforce her man-made uni-dimensional path to moksha, and no one [man or woman] to judge her as ‘inauspicious’. She lived life as she saw fit, free from the burdens heaped on women in the motherland, moving about by taxi in a new place. Perhaps India did a service to parnani in leaving her behind in Trinidad, the way Gandhi saves eight-year-old in Water – both from a wretched life of widowhood.

I would never know what parnani thought, since she came in silence and left in silence, but I am glad she refused to wear the badge of widowhood on her head and shoulders. Her widow-white attire did not define her as a vidhwa, and neither did it make her absent the way muslim women veil in white to make themselves unnoticeable or absent or like the white of a photo you can’t see.

I don’t see a veiled photo when I think of parnani. My white sari-clad parnani symbolized purity of heart and remains a strong presence in my memory, which neither time nor foreign historical accounts have managed to dim or erase after so many years. 

 

 

 

 

The female dehumanizing ‘Jungle’ that is Yarl’s Wood

Yarl’s Wood – a short film by Lynne Parks – is long on significance and impact on the criminalization of female migrants.  Gateshakers, protesters and interviews – both male and female – form the line-up of voices for this mostly female-centered vivid film.

Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre is a detention center in Bedfordshire for foreign nationals prior to their deportation from the United Kingdom. It is only one of 13 such centers currently in the UK, and it is overwhelmingly female.  Sadly.

Young Amina Rafique, who looks barely 16 in the film, was trafficked into the UK from Pakistan as a domestic slave by her father after he killed her mother.  She is one of the females now on the outside rooting for insiders. She encourages them to ‘not give up hope’ by telling them about her own experience in the Yarl’s Wood Detention Center.

Amina is grateful for having been on the inside. Grateful to have collected evidence to expose it in order to fight for asylum seekers still inside Yarl’s Wood prison. It is both impressive and miraculous that she can look at her imprisonment in such a positive light in that dehumanizing center. It is also heartbreaking.  For those who challenge the system and speak up, they become targets of systemic violence and more silencing (V. Canning at https://www.academia.edu/11937701/Women_Asylum_and_the_Harms_of_Detention ). How was Amina able to look away from the rapes and abuse, and the silenced survivors of, and witnesses to, sexual abuse, the deaths of both children and adults, and the hunger strikes for the time she was there in 2012 and 2013?
Once you have seen the film, the words of young Amina’s advice to her refugee sisters still locked inside that English “First World” prison echo and stay with you:
            “We are not criminals, and seeking asylum is not a crime”.

 

The whole truth on climate change in one image

No caption or text required. 

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Bravo Davide Bonazzi.

The twitterate attacks of London

Only days after the Manchester blast claimed the lives of 22 comes another attack, leaving 7 dead, and 48 injured in London, and the leader of the free world, also the president of the united states of America, has these words to offer:  

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As usual, trump’s info is wrong, misconstrued, and taken out of context:

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Notwithstanding, trump continues his rant on twitter, exercising “his” freedom of speech, as though he lives in a world far removed from everyone and everything occurring:

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At a time like this when the country are in mourning for those lost and injured and it’s also the month of Ramadan people are  finding themselves having to lash out against trump instead:

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Trump criticizes the attacks especially because the mayor is Muslim, which he confuses with terrorist because… covfefe:

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And as if it is not bad enough, to make matters worse :

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How concerned people/civilians reacted to this recent terror and loss of lives:

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How other leaders and presidents reacted to the bombings:

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Why so many tweets? “BECAUSE, president trump,  it is not a Muslim ‘thing’ just as 9/11 wasn’t”:

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But, one of the biggest realities emerging out of the many tweets from trump comments posted carelessly, haphazardly and heartlessly reveal a far deadlier matter:

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Grooming & sex trafficking in Trinidad

What do we look for when we search for a ‘trafficked’ girl?

Or a “victim” as most people – in and out of law – like to call them?

Or “persons” as some, like minister Gary Griffith [Minister of National Security [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JCaXetVsBA&sns=em] calls them?

That varies according to location, culture, and country.  But the ones who traffic girls almost always seem to have the same profile.  Most of us – especially in law and order – will agree that a trafficker is a universal looking perpetrator. But that also depends on country, culture and location.

Why are girls so often trafficked without stop when we know sometimes the place from which they are trafficked? One girl who was trafficked, Storm Catalleya from Ohio, has an answer that few law and order authorities think about.  Yet, many serious and interesting TV shows, movies and even documentaries on “truth” still mainly concentrate on the perps rather than the girls kidnapped, and hardly explore why the girls are easy prey. But, Cattaleya singles out the major cause for human trafficking as grooming. While the word ‘grooming’ may conjure up all sorts of nice connotations for dogs, cats, lawns or people, grooming in the human traffic domain has zero to do with anything positive!

Cattaleya was not kidnapped like a lot of trafficked girls; she was groomed [https://youtu.be/hSum6Xe64C4]. Groomed from her church pastor whom she and parents trusted. In fact, she was groomed all her life from childhood right up to college where the abuse continued. Because of grooming. She did not realize what was happening, and did not recognize it as grooming until almost too late.

In Trinidad, girls from 12 to 18 years of age are disappearing everywhere in school uniforms and plain clothes. In broad daylight! Latina girls are brought into the country at the same time these Trinidadian girls are missing. The rate at which these missing Trinidadians and arriving Latinas are occurring is beginning to look like some sinister, horrid exchange program! And at the same time guns and narcs are entering Trinidad and this question begs : are these three issues connected because in all three cases the authorities cannot legally sign documents to hire sex traffickers, bring in narcs and guns?

Traffickers are paid between $5,000 TT to $50,000 TT per girl. And what makes it worse – and girls more traffickable – is the trafficking movement from the streets to the web. Men can now lure under-aged girls from 13 or younger on the web, without being found, especially as not much effort is put into searching for them on the streets. Adrian Alexander [president of CURB [Caribbean Umbrella Body for Restorative Behavior] reports that on the streets of Trinidad girls are picked out like a piece of meat in Port of Spain on Ariapita Avenue.

Ministers and organizations are knowledgeable about the problem of missing girls – everyone else on the web is! – but are doing too little. If that is the case, what can others do? Local institutions, citizens, school programs, and parents to help eradicate the problem if governmental authorities are prioritizing finding our girls? We cannot rely anymore on the-wait-and-see approach of the government in Trinidad and Tobago which allows perps to traffic girls by turning a blind eye. We must adopt a hands-on approach. We must talk about trafficking and make girls see how to avoid it because without making them aware and talking about it, trafficking is NOT going to change its dirty hands.

What makes matters worse is the silence that this macho society perpetuates by the language and attitude used about and after girls are trafficked. Some feel that the girls kidnapped are not worth finding because “they looking for man’ but they fail to see how they themselves groom their daughters to put up with patriarchal slavery. These parents are perpetuating girls’ vulnerability by their religious subservience, flawed gendered tradition, macho attitude and patriarchal behavior of shaming girls and name-calling them into more subservience, which is all also part of the grooming process. We must therefore change our language and attitude towards these missing girls who are being trafficked out of the country while bring others into the country. Whether Latina or Trinidadian we must stop calling these girls names and blaming them for ‘looking for it’. We must stop calling them ‘victims’. They are not victims! They are survivors when they are found, and must not to be shamed into silence or other forms of bondage by marrying them off, or not airing their cases for other girls to hear about, and instead further silence them. The ensuing result is more girls kidnapped without a trace.

The late activist William Latchman of CURB believed that the trade could stop with good men – and women and girls of course – but that Trinidad and Tobago is a “coward society” and turns a blind eye.

Some of the girls missing include: Angel Ash, 15 since 6 July 2017

'**** STILL MISSING **** ANGEL ASH, age 15 missing since 7:30am 6th July 2017. Last seen on her way to school (Sangre Grande Secondary). If you have any information please contact 800-TIPS, 555 or 999. ***** PLEASE LIKE AND SHARE*****'

  • MERLENA JAMES, the 13yr old Form 2 pupil of Holy Name Convent Pt Fortin was last seen on Saturday 8th July 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

  • JANIKA HARRIS, age 16 of Cumuto, last seen on 27th June 2017
  • Jordan Bazzey 16 last seen 28 June 2017

'****MISSING **** JORDAN BAZZEY, age 16 , last seen on 28th June 2017. Please call 555, 999, 669-1020 (Piarco Police Station) or 800-TIPS with any information. ***** PLEASE LIKE AND SHARE *****'

  • Angel and Niana Farrel, 16 and 15; Parbatie Ragbir , 15 and Sumitra Jaikaran, 16 – who all disappeared on 17 may 2017 and were found on 22 may 2017

  • 12 year old Alisha Francis and 15 year old Arianne Sylvester went missing in may 2017
  • Shania Ali, 16, Semoy Ramdhanie, 13, ArielCharles, 15, and Shaniyah McDonald, 15 who were taken from a children’s home in april 2017
  • Melissa Samlal 15 last seen on 30 Jan 2017Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

  • Anessa Scipio, Age 15. Reported missing on April 19th, 2016
Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

  • 19 yr old Shizelle Hernandez was kidnapped 2011
  • there are videos gone viral circulating freely on some girls kidnapped and forced into porn

Some of these girls who were found by a few good women and men: Ajeda Daimond Patrick 15, sapphire Charles 15, Makayla Bobcombe 16 and Tamika Ramgoolam 16, Shania Lai 16, Semoy Ramdhanie, 13.

We might also learn from other countries to stop this crime through schools. In the US, many years ago, the school board decided to make sex education available to students as young as 11 in public schools, to make them aware not only of the dangers or early pregnancy or STDs, but more importantly to make girls and boys aware of their bodies and unwanted touching etc. Girls are made aware and taught to say ‘no’ to inappropriate behavior and to report things to school administration if something inappropriate happens that makes them uncomfortable. This is the reverse of grooming.

If the girls kidnapped were empowered with this form of anti-grooming education what possibilities they could have had! What if they had known what to expect, or what to do from early on? What possibilities would they have had they been groomed by parents to avoid pitfalls by understanding the manipulative tactics that men use on streets, in churches, in homes of family members and in temples and online to lure them?

Girls can become powerful collaborators instead of victims with education, because KNOWLEDGE MAKES A GIRL UNFIT TO BE A SLAVE [Frederick Douglas]. Or teach them karate, ju jitsu etc! But Grooming of girls, consciously or unconsciously, remains a strong force in Trinidad and produces a slave out of her, and an easy prey to sex traffic. Structural upbringing is a force that stays with us.

Please join crime stoppers to stop our girls from being kidnapped and/or peddled into sex trafficking and call 800-TIPS, 800 8477 anonymously, or contact the police at 555, 999, 911 or any police station. And please use your social media consciously to expose sexual predators.