Breaking Free

After years of struggling through depression and the constant idea that I will never succeed and meet my parents, or anyone’s expectations for the matter, I realized that this is not a way to live and neither should anyone else. As a South Indian Malayalee Girl and a first generation college student, I want to break free of the barriers put up around me, and yes, as along with many others- I want to become successful. I have been through a great ordeal whether it be through family or personal issues which I had to overcome. There was even a point in my life where I thought my existence was worthless, and that I was getting nowhere in life.

Then I discovered that my passion of dance, the arts, and media culture in general could be a channel for me to escape, along with create a difference in the world. It took me several years to come to this conclusion as to what I want to do in life, and finally, after a constant mental battle between what my parents want and with what I really want, I decided it was time to decide for myself.  I want to make an impact, to have my voice heard, and be an inspiration to people of a diverse background who feel they cannot make it in the world-and I felt that by utilizing the resources, tools, and voice of the media, I can.

America is known to be a blend of various cultures, hence why it is known as the melting pot. It is here where a variety of cultures from all around the world have contributed their own distinct “flavor” to the American society today. Diversity is the uniqueness, which each and every individual brings to any establishment, association, or organization. Growing up as a first generation born South Indian girl in America, it was often the case where I was put in situations from a young age to question as to whether something which I was doing or learning was going against traditions of my roots, (hence why the term ‘ABCD’ has been labeled amongst us). The fact that I am indeed living for what I am fighting for and against -cultural diversity and inclusiveness, is what drives me to step up and perhaps break boundaries in my culture to integrate the American way of life. We are living in a multicultural society, we need to find the median of the cultures, and I want to help guide the pathway to that.

This is the primary objective of me blogging again-   to emphasize the importance of encouraging those growing up with mixed backgrounds and diversities to pursue what they want to do. Rather than forcing upon your old dreams onto your child, let them find their own calling of who they want to become. This may seem that they are becoming “modernized,” but in they are not. It is just them fitting into the mainstream life of society and that to me, means they have started to identify themselves and who they are.

We need to have this concept of universality amongst all living human beings as well as the openness in discovering ourselves and what it means to be unique. If we have figures in the media who can instill this sense of hope that we of color can break barriers, then I feel the world will blossom into something more.

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My Affair With Dance

As the upbeat rhythms echo through my house, immediately, my body starts to match its steady rhythm. It seems to have a mind of its own, creating a fluid-like movement with each beat protruding through the stereo. Oddly, I feel at ease, impenetrable actually. Like nothing in the world could possibly get me down from the high I was feeling. It was love…it was the beginning of my affair.

My affair with dance began at the innocence of three years old, when I first performed on what I now consider, a home, the stage. At such a young age, to start an affair seems impossible, but that is love, unknowing, yet something which each individual seeks without our knowledge. It seems to surround us, to suffocate us, but at the same time, it is seemingly out of grasp. Love has shaped me and that one shape I seem to cherish is what dance feeds me.  The love which I have presently learned to love has a multitude of forms. It comes through passion, through lust, through beauty. Love yields a variety of forms, and it may be where when a person falls in love, that they identify it with something or someone. For me, it has been realized in dance. Dance has become my love. It has become my rhythmic escape from what life seems to throw at me.

That is what an affair gives to you, to me. It is, “…a passionate attachment of limited duration.” I know, to the world, the word “affair” is not typically seen in the most positive light, but why? Is it typically because it is associated with loving something that is wrong or not susceptible to society and its views? Is it because it coined along with the extra martial love affair? If an affair is to be a ‘passionate attachment’, to me it means that we have found something we may become ourselves with. It does not have to be for a set duration either, an affair, your interest may go on as long as one may feel. For me, my affair with dance I hope will be endless, as it has helped me evolve and realize that I may love something along with myself. In fact, that is what the term ‘affair’ should mean, a passionate attachment that helps one discover and love thyself.

Dance is my safe haven. I am able to express whatever emotions I withheld at the time, I utilize the exotic blends of the beats of the tabla, and the cultivating voice of the singer to my advantage. I would portray a story on stage, my home; to paint a still from my life or whatever I may feel in a way of dance until it would become a language of its own. It speaks a scene of beauty and grace. With the music, it brings life a new meaning, transforming an individual to a new scene, including myself. The movements which I portray as a dancer will be interpreted into a million of symbols which is art. The expressions which I use to tell my story will be equipped with how I mimic a story of another life.

Geeta Chandran, a renowned Bharatanatyam dancer has said that, “classical art changes us from within and makes us finer human beings ”  For a fellow dancer to hear this from another, to say that dance is an art and that it must come from within further proves that for a person to appreciate the skill, effort, dedication, that passionate attachment that goes into this form. The love is not only intricately expressed by the dancer, but it allows the dancer to become something more of themselves.

I never really took this too seriously, but as each year passes by, as each performance I portray, I realize the exponential growth from what I was, to what I am. This is what this affair has done to me. It causes grief and sorrow, pain and suffering, but it also granted me to discover my limits and strengths as a person. To be gracious and humble, to be thankful not only to my gurus such as Geetha Chandran and my master Sri. Shobha Raman, but to the floor which I am to dance upon. To treat my body and my platform with the utmost respect. This is what this affair with dance has done to me. I have grown from what was a girl trying to escape something, to a woman who wants to discover what more there is to dance.

I would say, a year or so ago when I was in India, I was permitted to grace the international stage of the World Malayalee Council- one of the most highly esteemed organizations in India. Everything from the sixteen-hour flight to India, to driving up from Kottayam to Ernakulum (about three hours of a drive), to the moment where I was shrouded in a cloud of darkness was fine. I was cool and confident- bursting with laughter just moments before, but now, standing alone amongst the murmurs of those dark figures around me seemed to get my nerves going. I looked up to get some assurance of warmth, but saw only the floating dust particles making their way down to the cold lament floors. Straight in front of me, I make out the heavy shield of the red velvet to be opened, and once it has, I will be exposed fully, with breathing souls expecting something out of me.

With only moments to spare, I hear the rustling of people getting to their assigned places. Everything has now become a blur, and before I knew it, the shield that was encompassing me on this cold platform, has been hoisted up at rapid speed. I was then graced with a warm light, and the thundering classical, Natya Indian music began.

I created slow, fluid movements with my limbs, painting a picture with each step I take, I told a story with the expressions I feed to those watching me. I was dancing, bringing out my inner self to those watching me. My affair with dance was now open to all those watching me. Rather than getting scintillating dirty looks to what a typical person would see an affair as, I was gifted with smiles, claps, and mesmerized gazes. With the dance I was portraying, I intermixed what is considered abstract movements which go in rhythm of the thundering, yet soothing sounds of the tabla, and to beautify what is the painting I am showcasing. The expressions I fed to those watching me were emotions- this being through my hand gestures, postures, and facial expressions. This is what I recall my guru educating me as to what each of the classical movements I were to portray and its purpose- to tell a story, convey a feeling, to make others feel what I feel. This art form, this story I was portraying before hundreds of people whom seem mesmerized, was all because of my affair for dance.

As I continue along this story, I feel my inner self slowly start to separate and my mind become free. I was in the character of my story- telling a tale of my sorrows and pain through each lift and elegant landing. I wanted to make the audience feel what I feel, I want them to understand what it means to go through this affair of dance. Of course, through any sorrow, there is a light at the ending, which leads to happiness. The trials and errors of choreographing my masterpieces, especially on stage, brings a sense of euphoria. I have the utmost joy through performing and once I feel the audience’s vibe also tuning in, I am overwhelmed.

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As the great Sri. Shobhana Pillai has said time over again, “dance is a challenge. No one may ever fully master it as it is ever evolving, but that is the beauty of the dance and the dancer.” I know this as I try to fuse the classical Bharatanatyam elements with contemporary themes of today. Bharatanatyam, is seen as one of the most unique dance styles of today’s times being that it falls back to ancient times, so I often times worry whether it is risky to combine my passionate affair of dance with modernized aspects of today yet, as this affair with dance grows, I grow, and I have come to the realization that the virtues of a dancer and dance is a formulation of everything you hold dearest to you .  A piece of me operates on contemporary individualistic aspects devoid of the ridiculousness of our inherited luggage, yet I realize that at some point, we have to believe that our past traditions is ingrained in us to shape us to be the individuals we are too. I am back and forth between the two cultural aspects, especially in dance, but I believe in my learning of my heritage and past experiences that my art form can and will be used to change circumstances on a broader platform.

The affair with dance then would come to a close with one swift and fluid move. I regain my sense of self and with the cheers from the audience, I feel a sense of achievement and humbleness. They were there to watch my depiction of my affair and enjoyed it. I was thrilled. I am forever grateful to the lament floor of the stage, the curtains, the crew, my guru, my family and supporters, and of course, my body, for gifting me with this beautiful art.

This affair with dance may not be what people make it out to be, it may not be what people expect out of me, but it is me. It has shaped my life and my personality to have values which I would never would have foreseen. My love only seems to grow fonder, and even more passionately for the depictions I am able to portray. This affair may not be what’s right for me according to others, but to me, it is my home. It is me. Each stage, each performance, each song, is my affair for dance. This affair, what people coin the term of affair to be, it’s only because they have found a different, unique kind of love. People do not mean for these things to happen, that is exactly why it blossoms to the beauty of what it is.

 

Loss of “Love”

June 12th, 2016, I recall my phone was buzzing with notifications from various news apps alerting me of the up to date details of what is known as a massacre of humanity.

The shock and sorrow of what has happened still lingers through the air of the nation…

I want to set one thing straight while I type this excerpt- a human life is a human life. Just because a person may love another of the same sex, does not mean we should condemn them for a life of hatred.  They walk the same earth as we do, breathe the same air, eat food,  have blood running through their veins, and a heart keeping them alive… They are people.

What’s even worse is that certain INFAMOUS individuals are calling out minority groups claiming that they are the reasoning of this tragic event. The fact of the matter is that this could have happened anywhere in the country, at any place, but it happened at a club frequented by the LGBT community. I will mention this again that they too are people just like any of us. Rather than point fingers at certain groups, we must remember that regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, we are all human beings and instead of pushing people to be outliers, we should be protecting each other and coming together especially in times such as this.

People of color are going through a loss of “love”- for each other, and from those who are considered white supremacists. I know we may feel alone and looked down upon, but that should not stop us from pushing back on the bigotry and hatred that is growing.

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To Be A “Color” in the “Land Of The Free”

Being a brown skinned girl, life is not as simple as many people of lighter descent make it out to be. Especially if you happen to be intermixed with another culture (which I am, and quite proud of), then life just becomes a few more stages of difficult.

“You’re so exotic!” “You’re culture is just so colorful!”

Yes, we do have a variety of traditions that people on the outside will find enticing, but there are some others who find this as a threat because it is not assimilated into the standard norm of what it means to be an “American.”

I speak as a South Asian and from the experiences of my own, along with my fellow comrades. I love my culture and what it has to offer, I love the color of my ivory skin, and the deep blacks of my hair and eyes, I love the various traditions of my culture such as Onam and eating a proper sadhya off of a banana leaf. These are cultural necessities, and thus, sets me apart from the typical “American.”

The flip side to all of this means that I am forced to participate and consume an economy that bastardizes the most sacred parts of my cultural existence. I am used to both the fetishzation and debasement of my religious heritage (this shall be a later post). The history of my culture simply remains an “elective” in schools, never the main subject of an academic conversation, and if so- it will be spoken in the most derogatory of ways.

The best example of this is when I walk through the airport; I dread what’s to come next. The required, but tedious security check. Do not get me wrong, I understand that this is a must needed process for our national security, but for people of a different nationality, like myself, this could be another reason for those in power to judge us, and that’s solely based on our appearance. If those who do not fit the typical “American stereotype” pass through the TSA’s security gates, they may probably be gifted with the extra “security measures” for they believe to, “protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”  Yes, this in indeed a frustrating process, especially those of us who seem to have a different demographic (particularly those of brown skin, or to be more specific- look like they have a resemblance to terrorist culture of some sort).

Surveillance on minorities is a topic that does not seemed to be brought into the light enough, if at all for the matter. As of late however, it seems that those whom are considered to be the “minority” are a hot topic in the political debates, primarily because of the irrational fear that is spread amongst those who are not “minority.” Not only that, it seems those of color that have settled in the “Land of the Free,” have grown accustomed to this scrutiny. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, I recall my parents would try to shelter me from places and people who may look at us with judgement. My mother and myself would get the better ends of the spectrum of this scrutiny as we are of lighter skin, but unfortunately for my father and brother; there are times where whenever we go to a place with security that they would be watched more closely, merely because they happen to be a few shades darker.

We see this happen around us on a constant basis, but because it’s so common, society and its people tend to overlook these measures and just take it as another thing in life we have to go through. But, do those of lighter skin descent- Caucasian descent get this same treatment? I think not. When I look to our present leaders, particularly those in the National Security Administration, not a single individual, (at least on the front face of the administration), is of color. Perhaps this could be a reason why this topic has been brought up as a current issue. The question(s) then arose to had there been a person of color, would our security measures for those considered in the minority groups be different? How are those who are not considered or classified as the stereotypical American affected by the current security measures in the United States?

Looking back to our present day leaders in the United States, it is seen that people of color are very underrepresented as leaders of government appointed positions, (especially those in the national security administration department). According to the Democracy Unrealized: The Underrepresentation of People of Color as Appointed Policy Leaders in State Governments, report, it shown that women and men of color constitute nearly 32% of the population, yet, they only hold 16% of the top-ranking positions appointed by the nations governors. Think about that for a second, reflect on your own state and who is representing it. Are they a person of color? Probably not. In that very study, it was shown that 11 out of the 29 states that they have surveilled, held a position of color (A person of color is to be considered African Americans, Latino, Asia American, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Native). Judith Saidel, the executive director who conducted the study stated, “Whether we look at how many people of color currently hold top leadership appointee positions, or the trends over time in gubernatorial appointments, there are still significant gaps in the representativeness of executive branch leadership in state governments” Even though this study was conducted several years back, it still pertains to our present day. Only, the major difference we may proudly point out is that after 227 years, the United States inducted its first black President, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama. This was a sign for hope amongst those considered the “minority” as if a person of color is to make it as far as to becoming the nation’s greatest leader, then perhaps we may have a voice after all.

So what does all this mean? In mine, as well as the many folks who may be reading this, to be a South-Asian American, Indian, Latino/Latina, African American, Egyptian, Muslim, Arabian, etc. in America is to be two immeasurable nebulous forces coming together. It is here, in the United States, that it is remotely possible where this ambiguous idea can meet and become the entity to which we shall have labeled as our identity.

What can you do? Speak up, spread the word, utilize your voice and the amenities around you rather than wait for someone else to do it for you. We constantly complain about amongst our peers anyhow, why not make that proclamation of rightful change?

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