Posts filed under ‘NRI World’

Celebrating Aug 15 with an hyphenated-identity

Aug 15 holds a special meaning for all of the Indian diaspora – the Non Resident Indians (NRIs) regardless of their country of citizenship.

indian tricolor

My memories of Aug 15 go back to the 1960s where I remember fashioning a flag out of a ripped calendar page (July 1969), crayoning the tricolor on it and sketching a blue chakra with as many spokes as a seven year old could draw and parading out to the terrace and glueing the paper flag onto a nondescript pole.

1972 wRipon_Building_Chennaias special as well – with the entire city of Madras being lit up in observation of the 25th anniversary of Indian independence from the British with special programs at school throughout the week. I remember my father taking me and my little brother on a taxi ride to Ripon Building where the white building glowed in the light of numerous light bulbs on the night of the 15th of August.

Fast forward to 1997 when I was in a different land – a different hemisphere – celebrating the golden jubilee of Indian independence from the British by joining a parade in downtown Cincinnati hearing Mayor Roxanne Quals clad in saree deliver a namaste and a speech to a doting audience assembled at the city’s principal landmark – Fountain Square. 1997 was topped with the anticipation of a new vande-mataram album from none other than the then new musical hero AR Rahman.

I look back at the past decade and reminisce the numerous July 4ths and the Aug 15ths that I have celebrated as an Indian-American with fellow Indian American adults and their children.

As the years pass – I realize that Aug 15th is a point to reflect on who we are as global citizens and on how we can contribute to our karmabhumi (the land where we live and work) and to our janmabhumi (the land that gave birth to us).

Aug 15th is a coordinate in time. It marks the remembrance of the point in time where India ceased to be a British colony. A point in time 68 years ago where India – became a new political identity.

Stepping back however, we realize that India is much older than these 68 years. India is an ancient culture that advocated reason and freedom of thought and placed knowledge as the ultimate goal of human existence.

It is this freedom of thought and the insatiable pursuit of knowledge that enables people of Indian origin (PIOs) to excel in their chosen fields and contribute to their land of citizenship and to celebrate July 4th and August 15th in the USA with the same sense of ownership and pride.

Three headlines that dominated the NRI social networks during the last month standout in this context.

Shashi Tharoor from Kerala, a renowned ex-NRI and now a member of the Indian Parliament argued forcefully in favor of symbolic reparations toward India from the former colonizer Great Britain. While this news been dismissed off as a set of jingoistic rumblings – what has come to the fore is an awareness of the detrimental impact of the British on the Indian economy then. Per Tharoor’s argument, the British damage to India was to the extent of rshashi tharooreducing India’s 23% share of the world economy to 4%. The argument, the numbers and the storytelling have certainly caught the fancy of Indians worldwide. While reparations are perhaps moot, the entire debate raises an interesting question.

If the Indian economy constituted a lion’s share of the world’s GDP two hundred years ago -isn’t there a potential to reach such a staggering number in the service and knowledge based economic paradigm of today?

Just a glimpse of this possibility can fill us with nothing but inspiration.

The second headline is the rags to Rashtrapati Bhavan story of President Abdul Kalam whose life is clearly indicative of the heights to one can rise despite adverse childhood circumstances. President Kalam was dear to all NRIs. There is hardly an NRI who doesn’t personally know someone who has taken a photograph with the former President.

kalam flagWhat stands out in Kalam’s work is his advice to the NRIs. “Contribute to your country of citizenship and be an exemplary citizen. This is the greatest service that you can offer India”. The story of Abdul Kalam’s rise from ultra humble beginnings to the leadership of the Indian Republic is a constant reminder that despite the scenes of squalor and social injustice so commonly depicted in media portrayals of India and otherwise, there is an innate sense of goodness – a spirit that creates success stories such as the former President’s.

The third story that has been doing its rounds in the last month is that of Fellow IITan Sundar Pichai. Each of us NRIs from Chennai can relate to the various Chennai landmarks such as Vana Vani school on campus at IIT, the Ashok Nagar environs and even mentally picture a two room flat described vividly in the gushing stories that have flooded the media. There is a visceral excitement to see someone you can relate to lead a global organization that anyone would want to work for – Google. Sundararajan’s story is modern Amar Chitra Katha material right away. The take away from thisgoogle_sundar-pichai story is again a burst of inspiration upon a realization of the availability of unlimited opportunities in the karmabhumi and its personification in the form of a fellow NRI having achieved it – making the whole journey look simple and effortless.

Aug 15 is a landmark that gives us an opportunity for introspection. To look at ourselves as representatives of a land that placed freedom of thought and the pursuit of knowledge above anything else. It is a a time to be grateful for who we are as the Indian diaspora – for the freedom that was available to us when we were in India – and for the opportunities that came our way in our karma bhumi and the freedom in our chosen worlds that enabled us to achieve and blaze trails in our chosen fields.

It is a time to reflect on the countless sacrifices made by the freedom fighters that stood for an ideal; on the great Indian generation (our parents and grandparents) that educated a whole generation of emigrants – who have created  a strong hyphenated global-Indian identity all over the globe.

After all, the sun always rises on the Indian diaspora.

Here is a musical reflection on some of India’s core ideals that have given the Indian diaspora its unique identity.
Swadesho bhuvanatrayam – the entire world is my motherland
nahi jnanena sadrsam pavitram vidyate – there is nothing equivalent to the knowledge (of the self)
vasudhaiva kutumbakam – the entire universe is my family


Happy August 15th to one and all.

August 16, 2015 at 9:33 am 1 comment

Cincinnati Opera and the Indian Connection

The stage is set for a grand performance of ‘A Flowering Tree’ tonight at the Cincinnati Opera.

Yet, this is a night like no other opening night. Why?

It is a special connection with India, particularly South India that makes this opening so special.

The generic title ‘Flowering Tree’ belies its Indian origins. Yet, India is the space where this story is set, in John Adams’ opera that premiered in Vienna in November 2006.

I am eager to see an operatic presentation of a story that I worked with back in 1993 in Cincinnati where we had a group of amateur musicians and actors perform a collection of folk tales tightly knit together in a collaboratively created production.

I heard the fascinating  story of the flowering tree from by two young students at UC, whose family had immigrated to the United States from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh; these two sisters enacted this story  as the center piece of this production ‘Kathanjali’ with musical accompaniment played on the veena, folk drums, conches, folk oboes and more.

As with all folk tales there are several variations on the Flowering tree as well. Adams’ work is based on veteran writer A.K. Ramanujam’s narrative of this tale.

The Flowering tree is all about magic, innocence, the triumph of goodness, the ability of the human spirit to face travails and all the good things that the eternal child in us always likes to hear.

Stories are an integral part of Indian culture. References to characters from the timeless classics as well as from regional folk traditions abound in conversations ranging all the way from political rhetoric to local gossip. Stories are passed down to grandchildren by grandmothers as they hand feed delicacies; stories are told through music,through street theater, through mime, dance, puppetry and through every possible medium.

My kids and I  have heard the music of The flowering tree; have seen still photographs; have pondered over the differences between this version and the version that we are familiar with.

And I cannot wait to see this production tonight.

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