Category Archives: Multimedia Links

Half-Pakistani on the Silver Screen

I’m always on the lookout for intercultural (particularly Western-South Asian intercultural) storylines. So I was excited to check out a movie that AS and N recommended the other day.

The film is called “Shades of Ray” and features a half-Pakistani/half-white American man who is going through an identity crisis of sorts. The premise of the story is that he asked a white American woman to marry him, and as she delays in giving him an answer his Pakistani father, who is having marital troubles of his own with his white American wife, pushes an apparently Pakistani girl on his son to spare him the trials and tribulations of being in an intercultural/inter-religious marriage.

Besides the fact that “Ray” is played by a non-South Asian (not even half-South Asian) actor which distracted me a bit (I know, its post-modern, anyone can play any part if they can make it believable, but still, it would have been nice), I thought that the movie was entertaining to watch. As Ray grappled with his issues, I couldn’t help but think about Raj, P’s extended relation from “Frank Uncle and the Nepali Wedding.”

Raj was a half-Nepali/half-white American who bonded (much like Ray in the movie) with his wife over the fact that both he and she were from half-South Asian/half-American families. As Raj’s wife told me, “My father is Indian–Gujarati, but my mother wasn’t–she’s Hawaiian. My dad was Hindu and we would do a puja, and my mom was Christian and we would go to church… I was so confused as a kid! Thats how Raj and I bonded!” These types of interactions help me to think about and contextualize my own potential children’s potential identity crises when they are older, and think about the consequences various influences, or lack thereof, might have in their lives.

Also interesting in the film was the portrayal of two sets of “white American moms” in intercultural relationships. Ray’s mom wasn’t interested in assimilating to Pakistani culture, while Ray’s friend Sana’s mom was really interested in the culture. The first time you see her she is wearing a salwaar kameez during the family initiated dinner date. A surprised Ray says to Sana, “Hey, your mom’s white!” and Sana sarcastically replies, “She is?”

Anyway, if anyone is interested in watching the film, it’s short and sweet, available streaming on Netflix, and is a subject you don’t often see in movies.

Birth in Rural Nepal

P is the one who usually finds the interesting video clips on Nepal. I think he knew of this one because one of his friends back home helped with the video editing. It is a 20 minute documentary on the challenges of giving birth in rural Nepal– a production by Subina Shrestha made for an Al Jazeera program called “Witness.”

I found the program really interesting, and would recommend watching it if you can. It highlights the challenges faced by women in the rural areas who are far from hospitals and have to give birth in their homes. The streaming video can be found HERE. Or you can watch it on the YouTube link below:

Gurkhas in Afghanistan

P has a childhood friend whose family moved to the US several years ago with green cards, and to help pay his American college tutition P’s friend joined the army ROTC. Eventually he was called up for service in Afghanistan and has since already served at least one tour of duty. We met up with him randomly last summer in Nepal, and he told us a bit about his experience, and about meeting other Nepalis working there–whether they were contracted as cooks and other service workers by the US army, or Gurkhas serving with British troops.

Anyway, P found an interesting five minute video last night that I thought I would share about Gurkha troops in Afghanistan, and how many Gurkha soldiers connect with the local Afghan people. It was pretty interesting. You can watch the short video here: From Himalayas to Helmand.

Video description:

For almost two centuries, the Gurkhas have held a place among the fiercest and most loyal warriors in modern history. This group of young men, who come mostly from the rugged hills of rural Nepal, have fought for the British in almost every war since 1815. Today, members of the Royal Gurkha Rifles have a robust presence in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. They play an invaluable role in training and mentoring programs for the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army, mainly because of the cultural knowledge they bring with them.

The Gori Blogging Meetup

Prior to this weekend, I’m not sure if I have ever met someone in person that I first got to know exclusively online. Times, they are a’changin’…

A few months ago, one of the blogs I really enjoy (Gori Girl) suggested a meetup in her metro-area if people were going to be around. Unfortunately I live quite a distance away, and was unable to attend, but offered that P had a conference in that same area in April, and perhaps we could do another meetup then. April came around, and I reminded about the conference, and GG was happy to facilitate another meet up, and I took advantage of a long weekend from work to finally meet some of the people I’ve gotten to know from the blogging world in real life.

I’m not going to lie, even if it makes me sound like a dork, I was excited– dare I say, even a little nervous, to meet a group from the blogging community in person. The day of the meetup I felt like I was preparing for a blind date. I enjoy reading and interacting with these women online, and I couldn’t help but think, what if they meet me in person and think I’m weird? Or I am nothing like they expected, and that changes the relationship? I really value this online community, and I don’t want to do something to alienate myself from a group I’ve come to really look forward to interacting with.

I wanted P to come with me and meet some of the characters that I talk about from the blogosphere. He has been really supportive of my blogging hobby, and thinks that it is interesting that I have found a creative outlet and a way to connect with other like-minded people, but I’m sure deep down he probably also finds it all a teeny-weenie bit weird, or at least amusing. As I tried to talk him into joining me he joked, “But you don’t really know these people…” while I argued, “But I do! I have learned all sorts of personal details about their lives, sometimes I feel like I know them better than people I actually know in person!” Unfortunately the meetup was opposite a lecture by Jane Goodall at his conference, and he didn’t make it to the meetup spot until about 10 minutes after everyone left.

So after the giddy school girl excitement of the meet up anticipation, the time finally came, and I arrived at the meetup spot a few minutes after the appointed time. I was the fourth person to arrive: GG was sitting with an Indian work friend, and another blogger (who recently started writing, but whose blog is definitely worth checking out: Big Bad Blonde Bahu) was there. As we chatted more people began to arrive including GG’s husband Aditiya, and one of my favorite bloggers Gori Wife, with her Pakistani husband and young son (when she walked in I couldn’t resist the urge to jump up and give her a hug). All in all, I think about 7 or 8 people involved with the blogging community showed up, several with their husbands or partners, making the meetup group about 13.

The meetup was quite fun, as new people arrived we’d ask each other what our username was on GG’s site, if we blogged, what our blog was called,  and usually, “oh yeah, I know you, I follow your blog!” In some cases it was an opportunity to put a face to a name and story. Or to ask for details that might have been blurred out of stories for privacy reasons, or to ask for clarifications. Not personally knowing too many Gori (white girl)-Desi (South Asian) couples it was refreshing to socialize with others who can really “get” your personal back-story, and multicultural household situation.

Luckily, P will be down in the same general area for a summer research opportunity, so I’m looking forward to potentially meeting some of these great women (and their families) again.

After the meetup, I had dinner with a group of friends and I was bursting to share my “Gori social hour” experience and couldn’t help but tell my story again and again throughout the weekend when I met up with other friends. For instance, at the conference I saw an old neighbor who has since moved back to her native Canada to teach at a university and finish her research. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve mentioned you and your blogging in my class” she said, after I told her about the meetup, “I think what you are doing is great. There is a lot of criticism out there that the idea of ‘community’ is dying out, and young people today are too disconnected… but this is an example of how communities are still thriving they just look very different. You don’t necessarily have a community like this in your backyard, but you found them using technology and the internet. Just because it is virtual doesn’t make it less of a community.”

And I agree. We are a community, and I’m glad to have it. Thanks for the fun meetup… I hope we get to do something like that again.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

Over the weekend I watched the classic movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” I’d heard about it before, but never watched it, and figured I’d give it a go. It was an interesting movie that I’d recommend, particularly for those who are in intercultural/interracial relationships.

The basic story of the movie, which originally debuted in 1967, was that the daughter of a white “liberal” upper-middle class California family came home from Hawaii to announce her whirlwind romance and engagement to—gasp—a man of color! The movie takes place during an afternoon when the daughter and fiancé seek the approval for their approaching nuptials from first her parents, and then, in a twist of events when they are invited for dinner as well, the African American fiancé’s parents. I think there were moments where the drama was a little over the top… I mean, it’s hard for me to believe they fell in love in “just 20 minutes” and after 10 days of being together decided they wanted to be married (this coming from the girl who has been dating the same guy for 7 years, engaged for nearly 2, and still not married… I think I’m in a different ballgame), but the rest of the movie was really good, and would have made a great cultural studies or sociology paper back in the day. It was especially interesting watching the “liberal” family struggle with their feelings about having an African-American son-in-law. As the mother said to the father in a side discussion,

She’s 23 years old, and the way she is… is just exactly the way we brought her up to be. We answered her questions. She listened to our answers. We told her it was wrong to believe that white people were somehow essentially superior to black people… or the brown or the red or the yellow ones, for that matter [oohh a bit of a cringe at that dated comment, although the sentiment is there]. That people who thought that way were wrong to think that way, sometimes hateful, usually stupid, but always wrong. That’s what we said… and when we said it, we did not add, ‘but don’t even fall in love with a colored man.’

In addition to this there were a few other great quotes in the movie that really spoke to me. In particular there was this one quote when John (the fiancé) gets into a “heated” discussion with his father who basically tells him, “After all I’ve done for you [working long hours as a mailman, making money to fund your education, etc], all I’ve given up for you, this is how you want to repay me? Marrying a white girl?” John responds:

You listen to me. You say you don’t want to tell me how to live my life. So what do you think you’ve been doing? You tell me what rights I’ve got or haven’t got, and what I owe to you for what you’ve done for me. Let me tell you something. I owe you nothing! If you carried that bag a million miles, you did what you’re supposed to do! Because you brought me into this world. And from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me like I will owe my son if I ever have another. (But you don’t own me! You can’t tell me when or where I’m out of line, or try to get me to live my life according to your rules. You don’t even know what I am, Dad, you don’t know who I am. You don’t know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand.) You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you’ve got to get off my back! Dad… Dad, you’re my father. I’m your son. I love you. I always have and I always will. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.

Parentheses are mine… I love these lines…I know it is a very “un-South Asian” way to think or talk to/about ones parents, it is very individualistic and not very respectful, but I think these words are really powerful and impressive. I’ve tried to say something like this to my mom before, but I don’t think it got through, its one of the major reasons we don’t understand each other…

Spoiler alert!… don’t read further if you want to watch the movie yourself… but the third best line of the movie comes from the girl’s father in the final monologue of the film, when he comes full circle:

There’ll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say “screw all those people”! Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them. But you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem, and I think that now, no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if – knowing what you two are and knowing what you two have and knowing what you two feel- you didn’t get married.

It makes me feel warm and tingly, so I figured I’d share.

For Many, December’s a Dilemma

P forwarded me this article earlier today. I found it interesting and wanted to share. To see the article in its original format click HERE.

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) — As Christmas season went into full swing this year, Glen Fullmer’s 7-year-old son came home from school with an assignment: Make a poster illustrating his family holiday traditions.

The boy wasn’t sure how to proceed because he and his family are Baha’is, not Christians, and they have no holidays during the Christmas season.

Thus, Fullmer encountered the “December Dilemma” — the term used for the quandaries and anxieties non-Christians and interfaith couples face during Christmas season.

Fullmer, a Baha’i faith spokesman who lives in Evanston, Illinois, said he saw the poster assignment as a “teachable moment” for his 4-, 7- and 10-year-old sons who associated holiday traditions with Christmas.

He reminded his boys that Baha’is have a gift-giving and charity period in February called Ayyam-i-Ha, a stretch of time not unlike the Christmas season.

And he helped his son design the poster about that holiday, which precedes a fasting period and then the Baha’i New Year in March.

“His classmates asked him questions about the holiday, and one of his friends came up to him and wants to celebrate that holiday,” Fullmer said, pleased that his son’s peers helped him reaffirm his identity.

Navigating the Christmas season can be a challenge for the millions of people who don’t celebrate the holiday. Many acknowledge and sometime embrace the season’s customs, such as gift-giving and sending out greeting cards, while at the same time they are conscious of maintaining their own religious identities.

“They strongly try to maintain their own integrity, but they really want to find bridges across holidays,” said the Rev. Dr. Paul Numrich, a professor at the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus in Ohio. “I think that’s the majority.”

L.S. Narasimhan, chairman of the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, is a Hindu and doesn’t celebrate Christmas. But he said he admires the Christian celebrations of his friends and has attended Christmas Eve services at several churches.

“Hindus are typically more open-minded and tolerant. Hinduism is very comfortable in accommodating a diversity of ideas,” he said.

“It is very common for Hindu families to have Christmas trees at their homes, purely as a fun thing to do for their children. When they visit shopping malls, Hindu parents in general are comfortable with a photo-op for their little kids with Santa.”

But at the same time, there are pressures about the encroachment of Christianity on Hindu life.

“Television commercials, good selection of merchandise and great sale prices persuade Hindu-Americans to take advantage of the shopping spree,” Narasimhan said. “Several Hindu temples have risen up to the challenge and added some special Hindu prayers and ceremonies to engage Hindus who are on winter holidays but not on overseas vacations.”

Dr. Shefali Chheda, an Atlanta-area pediatrician, is a Jain — practicing a religion with Indian roots. Growing up in Houston, Texas, she said her parents “felt comfortable letting us celebrate Christmas,” perhaps to help fit into American society and maintain a sense of normalcy.

“The spirit and meaning of Christmas, of helping others and of giving, are nice messages. Therefore, it is hard to consciously object to it,” Chheda said.

“Jains, as a whole, are a minority in India. Many Jains celebrate Hindu holidays, so celebrating Christmas with Santa and a tree and presents is no different. Since Jains wholeheartedly believe in ‘ahimsa’ — peace toward all living beings in thought, word and action — the Christmas spirit is a very Jain-like philosophy.”

The religious aspect of Christmas — believing Jesus is the savior and that December 25 is his birthday — is not celebrated in Jainism, but the customs and symbols are interwoven into daily life, she said.

“Now that I have toddlers in the house, they come home with stories about Christmas. They sing songs about Rudolph and Santa, and Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. But it’s Santa that everyone talks about, so they talk about him as well,” Chheda said.

“I use Santa as a behavioral modification tool. ‘Santa’s watching you, so you better be good’ works infinitely better than timeout. My kids will be living in this country; they will have a hard enough time anyway with their names and food and other cultural traditions; Christmas — and the Christmas spirit — is not one tradition that I want to take away from them.”

Jesus plays a role in the theology of other religions, such as the Baha’i faith and Islam, even though those faiths don’t observe Christmas as a religious holiday.

The Christmas season presented a struggle for Haris Tarin, director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. He grew up in Los Angeles, California, area schools, where he sang the ever-present Christmas carols and made the gingerbread houses in schools but didn’t have a tree in his home.

“We definitely had a little bit of anxiety in childhood,” Tarin said. But that changed as he grew up and refined his American Muslim persona amid the American atmosphere of diversity and tolerance.

Now, where he and his family live in northern Virginia, “we don’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrate our holidays” — pointing, for example, to Eid al-Fitr after Ramadan and Eid al-Adha after the hajj pilgrimage. But he welcomes the goodwill of the season — the gift-exchanges with non-Muslim neighbors and the requests from schoolteachers to talk about Muslim holidays.

“There’s definitely going to be a level of discomfort, especially for those who aren’t used to that diverse culture that we belong to,” he said. But the unease spawns discussion, presenting a useful opportunity to help young people and newcomers, he said.

For Jews, the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah happens to fall during the Christmas season. Hanukkah is wildly popular and observed, with its special foods, gift-giving and candle lighting, and with its symbols such as the menorah — a candelabrum — and the dreidel, a toy that spins like a top.

Compared with other non-Christians, many Jews have drawn a sharper line in the sand when it comes to observing Christmas, a stance informed by historic, theological and self-preservation reasons. That attitude emerged recently during a young professionals’ get-together at an Indian restaurant outside Atlanta sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and Young Indian Professionals.

People there indicated that attending Christmas-themed holiday parties, exchanging greeting cards and wishing Christian friends “Merry Christmas” are surely not uncommon or unacceptable among Jews. But some practices are widely shunned — such as plunking one’s child on Santa’s lap at the mall, and deplored — such as assigning kids in public schools to write a letter to Santa Claus.

“It’s a beautiful season. It brings out a joy,” said Hannah Vahaba, who organized the Jewish-Indian event. “But I’m not going to celebrate it.”

Interfaith couples celebrate their diversity during the Christmas season. Jeff Silver, a certified public accountant who is Jewish, and Shweta Gupta, a dentist who is Hindu, are planning their marriage next year. They will have an interfaith household and said they hope to raise children to understand both of their traditions. At their home in Atlanta, they’ve set up a holiday tree decorated with Hindu and Jewish ornaments.

Non-religious Americans embrace a December “secular holiday” called HumanLight.

Patrick Colucci, vice chair of the HumanLight Committee and member of the New Jersey Humanist Network, said the holiday can uplift “atheist, humanist and nonreligious” people who feel left out and isolated during Christmas.

It was a perfect fit for him when it came along, he said, because “it corresponds with my humanity-based ethics and values, without any supernatural or theistic beliefs. My ‘holiday season’ is HumanLight and New Year’s Eve — that’s what I celebrate.”

“The only dilemma, in my experience is, if Christmas is part of the larger family tradition, and then some family members reject us for not believing in it anymore. We’re not out to take Christmas away from anyone who wants to celebrate it — there is no ‘war on Christmas,’ ” Colucci said.

How do Christians themselves see the presence and practices of non-Christians during Christmas? While many would like to see non-Christians convert to Christianity, they also recognize that the United States is a “diverse society” and that conversion “is not even on their radar screen,” said Numrich, the theology professor.

“There’s a deep American virtue in respecting religious differences,” he said.

Education Abroad

I have been working on this really boring project at work. Basically we are installing a new database program for management of international student files, and as part of the program prep I had to go through all of our students files and cross-check their addresses, then update the current system and convert their “local” address to a new special address form called “IN” and then switch their “permanent address” back to their foreign address—an ongoing battle—since other university admins have different definitions of what “permanent address” means and are forever changing it (If anyone touches my changes I will hunt them down!!!) With nearly 650 students, and working on the project by myself, as well as having to meet with students for regular appointments, it took me the better part of 3 ½ weeks to complete. Today I finished the “Z’s” and I now realize just how many students have last names that start with “L,” “M,” “S,” “W,” “Y,” and “Z” (thank you China).

OnPointAnyway to keep myself sane while working on this (besides taking occasional breaks to peek at blogs) I have been listening to a lot of NPR (I could go on and on and on and on about the love I have for NPR, especially for WBUR, the awesome Boston NPR station I listened to before I even moved to New England). In particular I’ve been listening to archived broadcasts of one of my favorite programs, “On Point with Tom Ashbrook” (and no… he’s not my favorite just because his wife is also an international student advisor who I have done visa workshops with, but because he is totally awesome.)

Anyway, as I was finishing the “Z’s” today I started listening to an archived broadcast from back in July called “Global Students” and the intro on the website that caught my attention was this:

Everybody knows the straight and narrow, up-and-out formula for American success: good grades, good scores, good college, big debt … good luck.

My guests today, Maya and Tom Frost, say forget it. There’s a better way, they say. And the path leads abroad — early.

Stay home studying for SATs and taking on college debt, and you’re guaranteed nothing in this topsy-turvy economy. Go abroad — as early as high school, especially for college, they say — and you’ll find low tuitions, big adventures, and the future.

This hour, On Point: A new American way in the world. Going global, right from the start.

I really enjoyed the program and felt that these parents reflect a lot of my own feelings about education abroad. So I wanted to make sure I shared the program with you all. Feel free to listen to the streaming podcast HERE… it’s only 45 mins long.

When I was a kid I was dying to study abroad. I found out about the Rotary Youth Exchange program in high school and contacted the local chapter. My parents “went along with it” for a little while (probably hoping I’d lose interest or chicken out) until I started filling out applications to spend a year abroad. I think they were horrified (especially since I am the oldest sibling, so perhaps the “overprotective” parent syndrome was in full effect)… “you are too young!” “we only get to spend x amount of time with you before you go off into the world, we would rather you stay home…” “it is too expensive… we can’t afford it…” basically any excuse/explanation under the sun that they could give me to dissuade me from going. I applied to the program anyway, and once accepted my parents refused to pay anything and contacted the local Rotary coordinator to tell them to stop encouraging me to do something they refused to allow. Instead, one of my best friends in high school who found out about the program through me applied and spent a year in Hungary. I was so jealous.

Then I found out about the amazing school program called the “United World Colleges.” I was encouraged to apply through a leadership program I was involved in, and I was ecstatic. This was the very type of educational program I was interested in… I sent off my application (are you noticing a pattern?) and again my parents refused. They wouldn’t allow me to go to the required interview and thus I was automatically disqualified. It didn’t matter that I could get a full scholarship to go to the school, or what educational opportunities might have come out of it. As a university student I ran into other “UWC” students and I couldn’t help but wonder what high school would have been like if I was encouraged rather than discouraged to do these sorts of programs.

me_and_Maasai_woman

Yes, I am a total study abroad geek. This is me and my Maasai homestay "mother" in rural southern Kenya. I was living with the community (staying in the mud and cow dung huts behind) and dressed in traditional Maasai clothing for an age-set graduating ceremony. I was also thoroughly burnt to a crisp at the end of the day.

When I had my first chance, and my parents didn’t have too much control over my choices, I signed up right away to study abroad… second semester freshman year I was off to France (and Senegal in West Africa). Ever since then I have been eager to jump at any international opportunities I can find. I love everything about traveling… the planning, the prep work, the plane ride (even the plane food, believe it or not), the new experiences, the language, the food, the culture, the eye opening exchanges… everything!! (need I go on?) I’ve made international education a career… and I am even completing a master’s degree in the field.

Anyway, I guess I can kind of understand my parents concerns… here was this wacky high school kid, full of enthusiasm to travel to some unknown possibly scary or dangerous place. I grew up in a sheltered little town, what did I know about the world? They must have thought I was crazy.

But regardless, I have connected with the world in my own way… through travel, through my work with international students, through my intercultural relationship, through my interest in reading world literature and armchair travel books, the list goes on… I hope to continue feeling this passion for “global knowledge” and I hope to be the kind of parent interviewed in the On Point broadcast. I just hope I don’t wind up with kids who hate to travel… then what will I do?

So check it out if you have the time… or if you are working on a boring project and need a distraction… or if you are making dinner, or whatever your reasons might be.

“Namaste: One Teen’s Look at Nepal”

Due to some recent events in Nepal,  I really wanted to write something about the political situation in the country. As part of my blogging prep I wanted to interview my “political” friend N for a quick overview of the (unfortunately) ongoing conflicts. Instead a giant momo party was organized (literally… there were between 40-50 people there… we made and ate at least 550 momo… if not more!) and our friends R and S came for the weekend to attend the party. I know–excuses excuses–but my plan is to write about Nepal’s conflicts a bit later in the week.

One reason I want to write about the situation in Nepal is because most people don’t realize there has been (essentially) a civil war going on there for nearly a decade. Around April of 2006 the king of Nepal was overthrown, and more recently the Maoists were elected into power. Since then, several things have happened which have caused high-ranking Maoists leaders to quit the government, and within the past two weeks large demonstrations have taken place, and the Maoists guerrillas are starting to train again.

As I’ve noted before, many people don’t even really know where Nepal is, let alone that there is so much strife in the region. To give a silly example, I remember in the Disney/Pixar movie “Monster’s, Inc.” the two main character monsters were banished to the Himalayas to live with the Yeti (who in the movie was portrayed as a jolly white hairy snow-cone making beast). At one point one monster was giving a pep talk to another monster who said, “I picked out an easy door for you in nice… quiet Nepal…” as if nothing ever happens there (earlier there was mention of “wait until you see the village… its just the cutest little village… and I haven’t even started telling you about the free yak’s milk!”) Not that Disney and Pixar are known for astute political representations of things, but I remember at the time I thought it was a bit ironic.

Anyway, my goal this week is to write more in depth on this subject, but in the meantime a friend recently posted a link on facebook that was pretty interesting. In 2008 an American teenager from California was awarded a grant from the Asia Society and the Goldman Sachs Foundation to make a mini film about her experiences in Nepal. Her project is called, “Namaste: One Teen’s Look at Nepal.” It is only 6 minutes long and definitely worth a view. She did a wonderful job juxtaposing life in the US to life in Nepal, as well as giving a brief insight into some of the issues large portions of the Nepali population face everyday.

“Identity” by Bhuwan Dhungana

I was reading some short Nepali stories this evening and came across one that related to one of my earlier postings (Can You See Everest From Your House?) so I thought I might re-tell the story here. The story was actually written by the mother of one of my friends, so it made me even more interested to share with you. The story is called “Identity” by Bhuwan Dhungana.

_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_

Bhuwan Dhungana

Bhuwan Dhungana

He had tried to introduce himself many times. His name was difficult even to pronounce. It was not possible at the time to find another name easier to pronounce because his identity card bore the name which he had brought with him from his country. To be sure, he looked younger on the photograph attached to it. Whoever looked at him and the photograph simultaneously would ask, glancing at him, “Are you the same person?” He would shrink back, tug at his wrinkled cheeks and reply with a smile, “Yes, of course.”

This had repeated itself many times. He had to forget everything he was supposed to say when it came time to pronounce his name. Often he felt as if his name had no existence at all. He wanted to replace the name with an easier one. But he was compelled to write the same name he had borne since birth, brought all the way from his own to this unfamiliar city. How precious that name was for him! His own name! How easily he could pronounce his precious name as many times as required! His whole family would be linked to his name, his city and his country. He never liked to conceal his name in his city. It was not his country but his name that came first.

But in this city… He had to make his country stand out tall against his name. And in that country he had to search out the snowy peaks, find their height, and move his head back and forth in lively descriptions of their natural beauty, although he himself had not climbed them. In fact he was compelled in this unfamiliar city to be Tenzing* to every stranger he met, to be the Himalayas for them. At such times his name ceased to exist.

Just now something similar had occurred. After he had introduced himself, the stranger shook his hand and said with a smile, “I know Mount Everest; you belong to it.” He suddenly became listless. How meaningless was his name! He thought of stealing the name of an unfamiliar city; he wanted to change his name. But this was both impossible and impracticable. In this large city he possessed nothing apart from his identity card to protect his existence. He was absolutely alone and helpless.

He could name each and every part of the capital of his country. He could get many things done by using his name in his city. But in this unfamiliar city he could not find anyone who could even pronounce his name correctly.

Mt. Everest

Mt. Everest

Something similar had occurred the day before too. As soon as he entered the office, he offered his hand to a man seated on a chair and told him his name. But the man kept on gazing at him with wonder. He pronounced his name more clearly. The stranger laid out a map of the world in front of him. He looked for the outline of his country on it. He felt a thrill upon reading the name Himalaya. He felt excited. Shaking hands with him, the stranger said, “You belong to Mount Everest.” This time again his name did not surface. He was introduced by way of Mount Everest. This kept occurring to him the whole day. He kept shivering from the icy cold of Mount Everest. At dinner that evening he could not feel proud of his name; he could not roar with laughter at the party. He lay sleepless for a long time that night. he kept thinking: What should a country be like if its name is to evoke instant recognition? What kind of name should a person have? He could not find an easy means by which he could introduce himself. The sentence “You belong to Mount Everest” kept reverberating in his ears. He felt himself to be a mound of snow. The whole night he felt cold. He clung to the snowy peaks in search of the existence of his name.

He was sitting eating in a restaurant. A boy eating by his side showed a map to him. It was a map of Machhapuchhre. It was very beautiful. “Have you been to this place?”

Machhapuchhre

Machhapuchhre

He vacillated for some time. He was forced to publicly proclaim the fact that he had neither seen the mountain directly nor climbed it up. He felt as if he were an announcer announcing Machhapuchhre standing beneath the Himalaya and reducing the whole country into an enclosed area.

The big city was larger than his country. There were people from different countries. He was invited to a feast. He had his identity card in his pocket.

He too looked busy among the crowd of people. He was lost in a new civilization of a new country. He wished to present his identity distinctly; he wanted to introduce himself by his name but failed to do so again and again. He shrank back during introductions. Before him were tall people. He was forced to stand next to them and to shoulder the existence of the high Himalayas. They were like flames of fire; he, like a melting peak, was turning colder. Every time he became a mountain he turned colder.

Every time he was invited to such get-togethers or parties, he found his identity card to be meaningless. He wished to display a large photo of the mountain on his chest before leaving his room- a nice photo, an attractive photo. In a foreign land, he had no better way than this to introduce himself.

Taken from Selected Stories from Nepal edited by Sajha Prakashan.

*Tenzing Norgay, along with Edmund Hillary, were the first people to sumit Everest. Due to this Tenzing is one of the most famous Nepalis for people from abroad (although sometimes he is considered Indian because he spent a considerable amount of time there).