Tag Archives: india

India Calling


These manhole covers are everywhere, one more thing that reminds me of India here in New York city.

Yesterday a friend wrote to me on her journey to Badrinath, and I closed my eyes and pictured her there beside the rushing waters of the Ganga. I told her how the Hudson often reminds me of this sacred river – especially in the morning, and the ‘violet hour’ that quieting dusk where the lights start to appear on the water. Sometimes, like this morning, flocks of birds screech loudly from the rooftops, and the blasting horns of the produce trucks sound like conch shells being blown. Like in India, there is an almost constant symphony of construction going on, and beggars fill the streets and subways.

Here too exists the simultaneous intensity of materialism and spirituality. Walking downtown is a total sensory overload. It’s nearly impossible not to absorb the thousands of words, colours, slogans, songs and smells that reach out and grab at every step. But from this maelstrom there seems to grow a deep desire for some greater meaning. Along with Los Angeles, New York is probably one of the most yoga mad cities in the Western world. Kirtan and bhakti are buzzwords, and even if understanding is a little shallow, the desire to understand is usually genuine. Last Sunday I played violin for a workshop with Krishna Das. To my surprise, 450 people packed the room. Most of them chanted and meditated with the kind of gusto normally reserved for a football game. The more remarkable thing was that many of them didn’t fit the image that is usually assigned to ‘yogis’ or hippies. If I stood behind them at Starbucks, I’d never guess that they could chant the Hanuman Chalisa from start to finish.

As India speeds towards Western culture – the average Mumbai mall is a surreal dive into American street fashion, New Yorkers look for a change. The Wall Street protests are ongoing, and 700 were arrested the other day for blocking the Brooklyn Bridge. I visited last week to join in with the Meditation Mob, a group that meet up to sit and meditate there every few days. Tomorrow they will set up a temple space at Liberty Plaza, where the village of protesters is growing by the day.


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Just a Shanti-Banti Soul

I shouldn’t really be blogging –  way too much work to do right now, but I had to post this picture, sent to me this morning by Anand from Chennai. He saw my photostream on flickr and sent me this message:

Its good to see your collections..
im surprised you a westerner have adapted indian culture.. its strange..
whereas in india people down here got attracted towards western.
I could smell the indian flavour throughout your wesbite..

Well, i gotta funny idea when seeing one pic.. so i tried some what
you might like..
plz do take a look


Apart from making me laugh out loud, this also made me remember how as a child, I’d sometimes wish I could wake up brown. I wanted to be Indian so that my spiritual and cultural life wouldn’t be so commentworthy for people – particularly at school. I suppose for a shy girl, all I wanted to do was not stand out. Having red hair and white skin and belonging to a community that wears traditional Vedic clothes and all the rest, is a pretty good way of attracting attention.

As I grew up, and grew into my own skin and identity, I became more comfortable with it. I even began to enjoy shocking people that hadn’t previously guessed my background, with my knowledge of something Indian. I could laugh off stares and comments ranging from the amusing, to the downright rude. Once I got interrogated by an old lady in a supermarket while I was dressed in a sari – ‘Do you know what you’re wearing? Do you know where it comes from?’ She seemed amazed that I did.

Of course sometimes it was still an issue. Particularly when performing in Indian classical music and dance performances, a white face means standing out in a much more obvious way than in everyday life.

Now, I’ve gradually come to see it as a blessing. People noticing and asking questions gives me the opportunity to examine my deep philosophical beliefs that I learnt as a young child, but didn’t always consider growing up. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna talks about the body as being no more than the discardable covering for the soul, which is eternal. With this knowledge, I can understand that my external is irrelevant. I can’t imagine how confused I might be without knowing that I am not really any of the labels that society chooses to give me, whether it be wannabe-desi, white girl or HinJew. In Israel I got ‘shanti banti’- what young Israelis call white people that get into Eastern culture. It’s all fine. I am an eternal soul, and even if sometimes I think a suntan might be nice (!), I no longer wish to become any different on the outside.

In the words of the singer India Arie:

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations no no,

I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.


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