Wandering Bolivia. Rurrenabaque


Back in La Paz overnight for an early morning flight to Rurrenabaque. Into the Bolivian Amazon.

El Alto airport is the highest airport in the world.

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It has a micro climate of its own and prone to fog. So I waited and waited for my flight to Rurre. At least I was not vomiting from altitude sickness. I was more worried about missing my boat ride into the jungle. I had booked a two-day-three-night stay with Madidi Travels in their Serere Reserve. It being Bolivia officialdom no one wanted to give me an exact time of departure. Until we were suddenly called to board.

Then it was to a muddy, humid village that could have been along the Konkan coast in Maharasthra. Except that it was the Beni river and the women did not wear sarees/salwars.

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The lovely people at Madidi had kept my ride waiting. Just for me. Solo. A very Indian looking female came up to greet me. She asked me where I was from.

‘New Zealand’.

She said ‘I’m from New Zealand too’.

We both looked at each other thinking exactly the same thing. “But you look Indian to me”

‘What’s your name’? I asked.

‘Nalini. What’s yours’?

‘Sapna’.

We both started laughing. She moved to New Zealand from the U.K. when she was a child. I gave her a Whittaker’s L&P. She was there when I returned from the reserve. She spoke fluent Espanol, was backpacking her way across Sud America researching ecological movements, environment, economics. She was a UNESCO global youth leader. She told me it was rare to see an Indian doctor backpacking anywhere. But I am also a writer and filmmaker, a creative. How else would one travel if not intrepid?

It was a two hour trip down the Beni river. Along the shores were clear signs of extreme poverty, environmental degradation a.k.a ‘development’, and just the sad plight of where the Amazon is heading.

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I could not be snap happy on this leg. There was no electricity except at the casa grande and that was used only for daily crucial requirements. The camera is such a first world luxury. Anyway there I was on a boat with two strange men and food and water supplies for the crew in the jungle. Then a thirty minute walk into the jungle with more strange men who also carried my backpack. Not for a moment did I feel fear. I would never have done this in India. I have in the past wandered through the streets of Gangtok and hiked alone in West Sikkim but that was then. It is hard now to walk the streets of my own city Mumbai without uncouth young men staring at your breasts.

That evening our guide took us across the lake rowing his little boat. I am unable to encapsulate the diversity of the Amazon. From pink fluorescent dragonflies to noisy red bottom monkey and every bird in between. Tarantulas, beautiful and very dangerous snakes, life saving flora that the local indigenous peoples have used for centuries, knowledge about the land and connections with nature, our wairua, our whenua, our breath. Living. Life itself. Words fail me. It is incumbent upon us all to treasure, to be care-takers.

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Later, after dinner, we went back to the lake. It was pitch black, the moon danced with the clouds, softly silhouetting the trees, silver rays teasing the water as it rippled under the oars. The milky way glittered like the star party it was. We were looking for caiman. We were not allowed to talk. It was magnificent. Then we saw them. Baby caiman with glittering orange eyes.

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The mother is around, the guide said. For a moment I thought I was going to die in this lake. I imagined Mother Caiman jumping out at me from under the boat, the orange gaze of anger and death. I shivered. It was clammy. The mosquitoes were a more imminent danger. When in the Amazon, not only be fully clad but spray insect repellent on the clothes as well. Their probosces penetrate thick fabric. Next morning young Zara (Indian-Pakistani-Australian living in London) informed us about the cockroaches running riot on her bed. Now if you have lived in India you know to tuck your mosquito net right under the mattress before dusk. Prevents larger pests from encroaching as well.

But it does not stop the monkeys from jumping on the roof first thing in the morning. I was in a cage and they were making fun of me 🙂

I had interesting conversations with Rosa Maria Ruz, eco-warrior, conservationist, kaitiaki who turned the barren Serere into a lush jungle. She talked about how Evo Morales is not really doing anything for the indigenous peoples. China is allowed to plunder even while he takes aims at Western capitalists.

There are special places in this universe and while all places I travel are special, this one, the Bolivian Amazon, Madidi Travels, Serere Reserve was like going into the womb. (I know, Africa awaits.)

How can the world order be re-established to bring back the balance?

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More Wanderings. Encounters


Travelling, as always, reiterates how I can be any person and live anywhere in the world. I will always be an outsider, I will never ‘belong’ (what is belonging…), and yet I am here. Of course I indulge in such existential questions and analysis because I can afford to do it. If I was struggling on a daily basis, trying to earn a living, support other people, pay the bills, if I was a minority where I was not allowed to be live with my beliefs, my culture, if I did not have a voice at all then the idea of travelling seems distant and alien.

Even my minimalist backpacking is a privilege because I can afford to do it. I have the choice to do it. As an academic friend who studies multiculturalism and international students pointed out to me, such kind of travelling is an upper middle class indulgence. It is not just me trying to make do without certain travel luxuries because they are beyond my budget (well, some are) or in a non-consumerist manner; it is because I have the freedom to do so.

That said, travelling is a very humbling experience for me. I don’t see myself living in hotels and seeing places with travel groups. Intrepid is my word, my thing. Simply because in this space I meet the locals, I get to have conversations with fellow travellers on a similar journey, I see my place in this world. A nothingness, an inconsiderable speck, a spectre of self-centredness in her daily existence.

As I waited in the lounge to board my flight to La Paz I saw this tall, dark man, very distinctly Indian. I strained to look again. I had seen many ‘Indian’ looking (not indigenous) people in Santiago. I am one of them but I rarely get recognised as Indian. I am from everywhere but there. Except other Indians who stare at me suspiciously. Is she? Isn’t she? But she has no designer gear on her, she is in rags…and she is alone…Indians don’t travel by themselves, not women…I can see the emotions flicker across their faces…so I fit among the locals in Santiago. Never mind that me no hablo Español, hablo only poquito.

This man was definitely Indian. I placed him as either from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh or interiors of Maharashtra. He had a moustache, a red thread on right wrist and a gold chain around his neck. All external markers of a Hindu male from India. Then I noticed the Indian passport. Bazinga! He looked at me suspiciously as I seated myself opposite him trying to eavesdrop. 😉 It was a group of four with the other three very possibly Chilean. I am pleased to report our man spoke impeccable Español. Rarely on my travels have I encountered an Indian speaking the local language or being so comfortable. It was quite cool.

On the flight sat next to me a man who kept peering at my book. He was, he seemed Chilean. Is that Arabic, he eventually asked me. No it is Marathi, my mother tongue.

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The Mahabharata

Where is that from? So we got talking. He was going to La Paz on business and offered to help me find a taxi to go to the hotel because the Bolivians might swindle me. Does not cost about seventy Bolivianos? I had done all my research. Nah, he said, they might charge more. He said he had been to La Paz a couple of times on business. He had a factory in Santiago and made industrial chemicals. He was, he finally told me, third generation Chilean-Lebanese. His grandfather had moved to Santiago from Lebanon. He could not speak or read Arabic except for a few words. Habibi, I said. He laughed. Yalla! He laughed more. Do you eat fatoosh, hummus, falafel? How do you know, he asked. I don’t, I said. I assume you do. Food is the great memory from and of your ancestors. Fifth generation New Zealand Chinese still have Chinese food at home. Curries and mango pickle, Yorkshire pudding, pho, sushi/kimbap; different flavours, same desires and yearning. Putting down roots does not mean belonging. Putting down roots does not mean permanence.

So I travel. Seeking home. It can be India, somewhere in East/South-East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and now South America. Wandering, encountering, believing in the oneness and diversity of humanity.

 

Brave New World of Yoga


Source: Brave New World of Yoga

Here is an inspiring post from a yogi. I often laugh off skinny white women in their Lululemon Athletica and spray tanned skin talking about ‘yoga’ because I believe that the truth cannot be appropriated, that for every such instant-nirvana seeker there are yogis who, with their truth, will carry on and that stream is ever flowing. (I don’t mean the angry Baba Ramdev types who propagate Hindu extremism through their teachings, that is equally corrupt.)

Maybe I should defend yoga more often when the next skinny white woman rubs it into my face?

Always About Identity.


This is from one of the blogs I love to read. I have shared posts from here before because I believe in disseminating interesting ideas and stories that generate discourse. The eternal search for identity, not based on the singular concept of a nation and yet many times tied to it fascinates me endlessly. That it is not a fixed constant, anywhere in the world, contradicts concepts fed to us by politicians and media.

In this post about the documentary Beats Of The Antonov, which won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at tje Toronto International Film Festival, Dylan Valley writes:

“The Antonov of the title comes from the Russian planes that are used by Omar Al-Bashir’s regime to bomb villages in Sudan. Instead of a dry journalistic account of the ongoing Sudanese conflict however, the film is a deep exploration of a nation in an identity crisis, with its ruling elite pushing an Arab nationalist identity onto a diverse African citizenry. The title of the film makes a correlation between the bombs of oppression and the resilience of culture, the music of a people and the suffering they endure.”

Here is the trailer

Read on for more and listen to the music. 🙂

http://africasacountry.com/new-film-beats-of-the-antonov-unlike-anything-i-have-ever-seen/

 

 

 

New Wanderings. Part 2, Amazing Things That Happen


Amazing things that happen when you travel. A golden sunset over the French countryside turns it into a dreamlike landscape. The green of the trees and the grass reflecting multiple hues of this universe. Seems unreal.

Two days ago, back in Strasbourg, I had to pass some time as I waited for my ride back to Gerstheim. I had noticed an art house theatre near Homme De Fer, the big tram station, whenever I was in that part of Strasbourg and since that day too I was browsing through the shops around I thought it might be a good idea to watch a movie. I inquired at the box office, are you showing any movies with English subtitles. Non, she said, but we have a movie in L’Anglais. (Or so I deduced from her French.) Well then, may I have a ticket please.

I had no idea what the title meant. It was time to be surprised. And that I was. I spent one of the most magical one hour and fifty minutes watching a classic in one of the most beautiful art house cinemas I have ever seen.

Cinema L’Odyssée was built in 1914. It is owned by the city of Strasbourg who outsources the operations to private enterprise. It must have been grand in the old days and still has that air about it. Red velvet seats, carvings on the wall, an old projector, old film posters hung nonchalantly, and art house films. A real hang out place for snooty French cinema geeks discussing auteur cinema. There is an underground library dedicated to cinema and you can buy film posters. To me this was paradise, one version of it anyway.

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And then the film I watched, that I came upon by chance. Who knew. Grand Prix Special du Jury and FIPRESCI Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Johnny Got His Gun is a brilliant watch. Donald Sutherland plays Jesus Christ and is so cool 🙂

But another amazing experience awaited me. Reiterating the vast and myriad connections of humanity and culture.

As I entered the gates to the grounds of the Strasbourg mosque (see my photos here), two men and a young woman stepped out. My friend asked in French if we could go in and they welcomed us. Somehow the conversation continued in English, they asked me where I am from. I always say New Zealand but this time, I think it was their brown skin that made me do it, I said I am originally from India. One man started talking to me in Hindi. Namaste, kaise ho? The other said, ah Shammi Kapoor. I said, yeah. He died last year. The man replied that he was visiting London that time when he came to know. Then he broke into a song. Dil deke dekho, dil deke dekho, dil deke dekho jiyu to humne lakh haseen dekhe hai, (I joined in here) tumsa nahi dekha, ho tumsa nahi dekha. We all laughed, hi-fived and went our way. Strange how human beings connect. Not strange that commercial Hindi cinema, before it was exoticised by the Western world and became Bollywood, had a massive audience from North Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, even old Soviet Russia. This man was from Morocco. The young girl with them was amazed at the conversation. My young friend Laura, a local and Alsace, was amused. Just before that I had been telling her that she should persuade her teachers at Strasbourg University where she is doing film studies, to include Indian cinema in the course. 🙂

 

 

Be The Change


Recently I had a bit of a harangue on a closed forum on Facebook about facing racist attitudes everyday, all the time and how identifying someone with their religion or ethnicity as a lead in to a story reduces the person to a singular thing. Yet. I know, as any other diasporic non-white ethnic, that stereotypes can be positive too. It is how we negotiate that within ourselves and project it to the rest of the world that matters. I have pointed out many times how government created agencies that work to supposedly perpetuate and empower ethnic communities only maintain the hierarchy via food, dance, exotica, otherness and getting white people to tell us what we are. Or do research that does not mean anything to us. One moment Asians are well perceived by mainstream and the next moment not. This ‘they-love-Asians’ report and this ‘they-actually-know-very-little-about-Asians’ very clearly show what a waste time the Diwali and Lantern Festivals have been. But this is not another rant about Asia:NZ Foundation. 😉 Done plenty of those here, here and here. On the other hand I keep looking for whether and how this daily negotiation is expressed to the world. That fine balance between being a tax paying model minority and cheap labourers who are bad drivers. How the world perceives the Asian diaspora is up to us, how we project ourselves. The answer is within the community. So when a group of young professionals like Future Dragonz decide to have an event  it is, like, hallelujah.

 

 

Young Chinese professionals, on the face of it, would be the classic model minority stereotype. Highly qualified lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs…I know ‘coz I’ve hung out with them, I was at the launch in 2010.   Then why would they bother to challenge that? It is good to be a highly qualified professional. Because it does not mean the stereotype of the bad driver will go away! Because it does not mean jobs will be be easy to find! Because it does not mean the artists and the creatives will be recognised! 

This particular event was inspired by a discussion at the Museum Of Chinese in America The Yin And Yang Of Contemporary Asian American Culture. While this discussion was on a larger scale because America is larger than New Zealand, the topic has global resonance. I don’t really want to go on and on about it.

Contemporary diasporic existence, whether they are fourth-fifth generation Asian or recently migrated in global, transnational times, is different from those gold miners, rail gang, fruit shop, potato farmer images that the Western world still harbours. Or even the pictures from the native country. Diasporic lives encompass multiple identities that move and switch easily from one to another, being Asian, being Kiwi and all in between. We can play on being the other and yet not. Very easy to do so but we also need to and should have critical discourse that we drive. That is the only way because we know that we are the change! It is of interest to me, never mind I am Indian. One of my identities is a global, transnational, diasporic citizen.

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Mindy Kaling isn’t Responsible for Being Your Diversity Councillor

This discussion does not apply if you have not seen The Mindy Project. The discomfort that I felt therein but convinced myself that at least it is helmed by Mindy Kaling, smart as woman.

The same sort of discussion one can have about the character of Rajesh Kuthrapalli in The Big Bang Theory. Does it make me uncomfortable that his Indianness can be the butt of jokes or that every character is given equal treatment in that sense. So if Sheldon’s social inadequacies are the source of much amusement, why not Raj’s inability to pick up women?

I know that it is a hard balancing act. Getting gigs to write, to produce, commercial considerations and being a person of colour who has fought and fought to even to be there. Diversity? Representation? Or keeping the job and getting more?

When I produced for Radio New Zealand I had to be very mindful of not making all my work about ‘ethnics’ but all New Zealanders. That I am Indian and speak in a strange Indo-Kiwi-down-with-the-bros accent was enough ‘representation’. That I could do mainstream stories without anyone questioning their legitimacy AND could then go on to tell a story about Muslim women, which no one dare question. I was lucky.

But when it came to producing an independent gig it had to be about Asians. I mean, I could not do the blokey New Zealand humour and get funding could I? The trick then was to bring a huge dose of irreverence. (Hail Jon Stewart!) The Asian Radio Show was on air from 2008-2012. I was lucky.

So I feel for Mindy yet I know what the ladies are talking about in this post from Neelika Jayawardane. The thing for Mindy Lahiri now is to have a East Asian nerdy boyfriend and for him to dump her because she is too frivolous. Yeah even if she and Danny have kissed as we knew they would from the first episode.

Dreams Don’t Have Labels Of Caste And Religion – Nagraj Manjule reminsces about his life and ‘Fandry’


The resurgence of Marathi cinema makes me immensely proud in a way that I cannot explain. I am the last person in the world, I would like to think, who believes in ideas such as patriotism and nationalism thus by default, parochialism. Growing up in Girgaum, Bombay, watching Marathi theatre ranging from sangeet natak (musicals) to Vijay Tendulkar‘s masterpieces, old arthouse cinema (Jabbar Patel in particular) as well as the madness of Dada Kondke, knowing inherently that a Maharashtrian audience receives and consumes visual performing arts in a different way, I could not understand why it was limited in its outreach. Or why it faded away.

Now I do and so I feel happy to see the renaissance. From the inane commercial to global cinema it is an amazing spectrum. Then we have artists like Nagraj Manjule whose life experience will always make for brilliant storytelling. I watched this trailer of Fandry and wanted to see the film, I wanted to cry, to feel angry, frustrated, come out of the theatre pumped up to change the world. This film will never release in New Zealand but I imagine myself doing all the above anyway. Nagraj has nothing new to say yet it needs to be told over and over to sensitize us. So thank you Nagraj. Here is to more path breaking stories via Marathi cinema.

F.i.g.h.t C.l.u.b

Since the time we saw Nagraj Manjule’s debut feature ‘Fandry’, we have been shouting out from rooftop that it’s a terrific debut and a must watch. Click here to read our recco post. This week, Fandry is releasing outside Maharashtra, and with English subtites.

The show details – Date: February 28 to March 6

Delhi NCR
PVR MGF Mall 9:10 PM
DT Cinemas Vasant Kunj: 3: 30 PM

Indore
PVR Indore 5:00 PM

After the film’s release and the acclaim it got all over, Nagraj wrote a piece for Maharashtra Times. Much thanks to @GoanSufi who came up with the idea to translate it in English for wider reach, took the permission, and did it for us. Do watch the film if you haven’t seen it yet. And then read it.

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Remembering   Fandry

Now that Fandry has released, I’m reminiscing about all those incidents that are linked with it. These…

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On The Intentional Circus Of The Mistress.


I tried not to say anything about the Bevan Chuang circus for a long time. People have affairs, even politicians and wannabes; affairs are made public and opponents make political gain, or not. Life goes on.

But not when the wannabe is Bevan Chuang. Every time she has opened her mouth after she first revealed all on Whale Oil, she has dumped a load of excreta on the public. First it was pictures without makeup, looking sad, saying things to Lincoln Tan, appealing to his lazy journalism (more on that later), then this interview for Metro, being the Asian princess-concubine, another interview for Radio Live declaring her intentions to save us ethnics from our political apathy. I ignored it all. Why give more publicity when middle aged white men (and a Singaporean) are working for the cause?

The final straw on my ‘apathetic ethnic back’ was Bevan’s intention to re-apply for Auckland Council’s ethnic advisory panel. I am Asian, a woman and very engaged with democracy and politics. Do I need a Bevan Chuang to represent me? Even though I do not live in Auckland any more, the idea of her being on the panel and using it to get on a national platform, with drooling white men pandering, desiring, their pants about to burst yet they dare not, is repulsive.

There is nothing wrong in being ambitious, there is nothing wrong in being sexual but when that becomes the only tool for social/political climbing, making claims to represent ethnic communities, then it is time to say enough.

Did she do anything for the ethnic communities while she was on the panel? Nothing. I challenge Camille Nakhid and Bevan herself to show concrete proof of the work she did. Apart from posting on Facebook, tweeting, sending out group emails, helping organise a few events and floating around flirtatiously there is zilch to show. I once questioned Bevan for attending a conference organised by Hindu fundamentalists and she had no clue what that was. How can anyone claiming to represent migrants show such ignorance? Would one not do due diligence about the event, who these people are, what the community is up to etc? How is she going to lobby for the ethnic communities on a local level and what is she going to say? L’affaire Brown might have proved her political naivety and lack of nous to the mainstream but us ethnics have known that for a long time. We just don’t say it. Only Renee Liang wrote about the story but she extrapolated it to an imagined experience rather than discuss ethnic representation which was/is the main issue. If Bevan was not on the ethnic advisory board and still had this affair, no one would care.

Auckland Council has called for applications from potential panellists. These panels have a two-point vague agenda about advising the council. Applicants need to have governance experience but is there a constitution for these panels? An outline? What happens if the council has to get rid of a panellist? What if someone passes or has to leave? Is there a strategy for such exits and reappointments? Will the minutes of these meetings be published for the communities to know what their representative panel is up to? It is time to make the process transparent. Let us know who applied, put up their resumes online, who is on the selection panel, and how the panellists fulfil the selection criteria. Surely that is an appropriate demand from an ignorant ethnic? And it will cost less than $250,000 ja?

Bevan would fail the criteria. Broad perspective, critical and strategic thinking, judgement, politics… Yet, she wants to apply. She is scared Len will reject her but she not scared of what the ethnic communities think of her ability to represent! It is not just the conservative elements that question this.

Lazy journalist that Lincoln Tan is, his ‘news’ article in the Herald subtly pushes Bevan to the public and has Camille Nakhid endorsing her. Did he ask the other panellists what they think? Asoka Basnayake was their media spokesperson, did he get a statement from her? When did he last do a balanced piece, especially related to Bevan? From the story about the dragon baby to trying to generate sympathy for a makeup less Bevan, this is a mutually useful relationship that does disservice to the ethnic communities. Not that the ethnics trust him you know, with so many stories bordering on sensationalism and always quoting either Paul Spoonley or Bevan Chuang. (Go do a general analysis of his work.)

It is time for the ethnic communities to speak up. It is time for the Chinese community to say whether they really want Bevan representing them (because who else can she purport to represent?). There are other young, worthy Chinese Aucklanders who will actually do the job and do it very well.

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Yoga? Heavyset and Black Women Need Not Apply

Yoga and the Western world. Yoga in the Western world. Yoga for the Western world. Yoga comes from the Western world. Know what I mean? These last two weeks there are has been an online storm about yoga and appropriation, especially by skinny white women. This post ‘It Happened To Me’ brings to the fore how removed yoga is from its Indian roots except for the use of Sanskrit words and concepts of mindfulness that suit the ideas of existence within these parameters only. Attend a yoga session with someone who cannot pronounce the Sanskrit words, who talks of being in the moment and does it all slowly and deliberately, and then you will know. It cracked me up. I really don’t need white people telling me about my culture and practices the same way I don’t need bearded patriarchal self-styled gurus turning yoga into a mystical art. To me, yoga is about self awareness and practicing it as a way of life. But when someone from a privileged existence turns it into a race issue and body issue, and hence political, that becomes a matter for discourse.

Neelika Jayawardane analyses it well in her post linked at the top of the page.

Now for an academic analysis.