kashmiri migrants find refuge in kerala, but fear the advance of nationalist rhetoric

First published on The Ground Truth Project on April 15, 2019.

In the wake of the February 14 terror attack in Kashmir—the Himalayan region caught in a decades-long border dispute between India and Pakistan—Kashmiris who live in other parts of India have become targets of persecution and violence.

Kashmiri students have been expelled from colleges, kicked out of apartments, and in some cases charged with sedition for criticizing the Indian government. In various states, shopkeepers have been attacked by right-wing mobs.

But in Kochi, a bustling port city in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Kashmiri immigrants say they’ve found a safe haven.

“They’re kicking us out everywhere else, but here, we’re at peace” said Hilal Ahmed, a handicrafts trader who moved from Srinagar to Kochi 12 years ago. “This is the most beautiful place in India after Kashmir.”

Ahmed owns one of the many Kashmiri shops in Jew Town, a neighborhood that was home to a thriving community of Paradesi (or “foreign”) Jews until the 1950s, when most of them migrated to Israel. Today, only five Jews remain in the neighborhood, which presents an unusual scene: Stars of David and signs announcing “Jew Street” dot a row of storefronts advertising pashmina shawls, Persian kilims, and traditional Islamic crafts. The shops extend all the way to the end of the street, leading to the 460-year-old Paradesi Synagogue.

Jew Street is lined with Kashmiri shops / Photo by Devika Girish
Jew Street is lined with Kashmiri shops / Photo by Devika Girish

There are 35 Kashmiri shops in Jew Town and 81 more in the surrounding Mattancherry and Fort Kochi districts, said Sajid Khatai, the president of the local Kashmiri Traders’ Association. His uncle, Gulshan Khatai, was the first-ever Kashmiri to set up shop in Kochi in 1968. He remained the only one in the city until the late 1990s, when the rising separatist insurgency and the Kargil War between India and Pakistan made tourism an unsustainable business in Kashmir.

That’s when Kashmiri traders started migrating all the way south to Kochi, which was then a burgeoning tourist destination. “We follow tourists, because that’s what our trade depends on,” said the younger Khatai, who has lived here since 1998. “Ours is a trade of peace, not war.”

Another draw was the exceptional religious diversity in Kerala, branded “God’s Own Country” by the state’s tourism department. The state is home to higher populations of Muslims (26 percent) and Christians (17 percent) than most other provinces in India—and two decades of communist rule have ensured that it remains relatively impervious to the sectarian troubles that plague much of Indian politics.

Persian carpets at a Kashmiri shop on Jew Street / Photo by Diana Kruzman
Persian carpets at a Kashmiri shop on Jew Street / Photo by Diana Kruzman

Its deep-rooted multiculturalism makes Kerala one of the safest places for Kashmiris, according to Khatai. For Malayalis, or native speakers of Kerala’s local language, the philosophy is “Malayali-first,” he said. “They leave their religion at home.”

Khatai said that this spirit of tolerance has not changed even in the last four years, which saw the rise of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India after its sweeping victory in the 2014 general elections. Kerala is one of the few states where the party has received almost no support, but in the rest of the country, the BJP has been pushing a nativist, Islamophobic agenda that has been linked to an increase in religion-based violence. The perpetrators of the recent revenge attacks on Kashmiris have been reported to be members of Hindu nationalist groups affiliated with the BJP.

Days after the terror strike in Kashmir, a mob led by the Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu organisation, took to the streets of the northern city of Dehradun with the slogan “Shoot those who betray India,” demanding that Kashmiri students be removed from town. In Patna, a group of young men attacked a bazaar of Kashmiri shopkeepers with sticks and rods.

On February 23, the Indian Supreme Court directed all states to ensure the safety of Kashmiris settled within their borders, especially students. And yet, just two weeks later, four men clad in saffron (the color of Hindu nationalism) were caught on video beating up a pair of Kashmiri street vendors in Lucknow.

No instance of assault has been reported in Kerala so far, although two students in Malappuram (100 miles north of Kochi) were recently arrested for sedition for putting up posters that read “Liberation for Kashmir.” Khatai is confident that the violence will not spread to Kerala. He said that the only response he’d received from the locals in Kochi after the terror attack in February was concern. “Friends asked if my relatives were safe, they suggested I bring them here.”

Even if the BJP retains power in the coming general elections, Khatai doesn’t think anything will change in Kerala, where the Congress-led, left-leaning coalition United Democratic Front is expected to dominate again. “I have faith in Malayali society,” Khatai said, citing the universal literacy and high rates of education in the state.

 

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leads Kerala’s state legislature / Photo by Diana Kruzman
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) leads Kerala’s state legislature / Photo by Diana Kruzman

Despite the lack of overt violence, however, it’s clear that fear lingers in the Kashmiri community even in Kochi. Several traders affirmed that they felt safe in the city, but asked that their names be withheld from this article. They described having to report to the local police station every six months for background verification. “Or else, they’ll think we’re terrorists.”

One trader said that although he has never encountered attacks or threats, he has been harassed by local rickshaw-drivers and workers, who sometimes charge Kashmiris extra for services and say things like “militant” and “go back to Kashmir!” if they refuse. He also said that he is careful to not say too much on the phone when he calls home, out of fear of surveillance.

“No one here can be open about the truth,” he said, “which is that we don’t feel a hundred percent safe, even here.”

This article is part of a collaboration between The GroundTruth Project and the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, made possible in part by the Henry Luce Foundation.

notes from the in-between: an indian critic in the states

First published on February 4, 2019 as part of the 2019 Berlinale Talent Press workshop. The brief was to write a short essay situating ourselves within the state of cinema and film criticism in our respective countries. 

I was born and raised in Nagpur, a small city in central India, and I moved to the United States six years ago to study film and semiotics in college. Since then, I’ve been living and writing in America as both a critic and a student.

That transatlantic move between two incredibly robust film cultures has deeply influenced my foray into criticism. Even as I grew up in a bookish, movie-averse family, I couldn’t but succumb to cinema’s magical, all-encompassing hold on Indian society; it seeped into everything around me, from religion to politics to interpersonal relationships. But it was my liberal arts education in the States – an education that emphasized critical approaches to popular culture – that awakened me to the workings of film in the cultural consciousness. Feminist film theory demonstrated to me how Bollywood’s fetishization of women both mirrors and feeds the Indian patriarchy. Third cinema showed me how the images I see on screen – and the systems that produce them – often work to ingrain colonialist ideology into their consumers. In other words, my upbringing in India convinced me of the enormous power of cinema as a mass object, while my training in the States taught me that films can be read, just like texts, and their power parsed (and often subverted) through criticism.

This in-between life has also given me an unusual perspective into the state of criticism in the US. American film criticism, like the American film industry, is large and impossible to categorize – it spans blogs and dailies that focus on more mainstream fare to alternate magazines that cover indie, experimental, and foreign cinema. What has been jarring to me, however, is that despite its broad scope, criticism in the US seems to fixate mostly on Western cinema, while films from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East constitute a blindspot in both journalism and academia. The conversation around representation and diversity, which currently dominates film discourse in the States, sometimes reinforces this exceptionalism. Movies like CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018) are disproportionately lauded for featuring Asian actors, while entire, thriving industries of films made by and about Asians are routinely ignored in film coverage. This also seems to have reinforced a tendency in Hollywood to simply recycle old, hackneyed narratives (i.e. products of the “remake/sequel-industrial-complex”) with slightly diversified casts, instead of aspiring for diversity and novelty in the types of stories told on the screen.

As an Indian film critic working in the States, I’m interested in leveraging my multicultural interests to join the chorus of voices challenging the cinematic canon in America. Whether by reclaiming lost histories or championing the under-seen indie cinema arising from different corners of the world, I’d like to contribute, in whatever way that I can, to building a truly global and democratic film culture.

 

privilege and disenfranchisement are not mutually exclusive

A few weeks ago, Junot Diaz gave a rousing and thought-provoking lecture at Brown on social activism in academia. Of the many nuggets of wisdom in his talk, one struck a chord with me:  “You’ve got to have a conversation with your privilege parallel to your conversation with your disenfranchisement.” The Pulitzer Prize winner urged the students in the audience to reflect on the advantages a college education affords them even as they fight the ways in which college institutions disempower them.

Diaz was responding to a student’s question about giving back to one’s community after making it to Brown. His statement was specifically intended as a call for students to recognize their responsibility to those who are even less privileged than they are. Yet it brought to light a larger point that the current, raging media debate against student activism fails to acknowledge: Privilege and disenfranchisement are not mutually exclusive.Continue reading “privilege and disenfranchisement are not mutually exclusive”

inday

“I want to make Indian food accessible to New Yorkers,” Basu Ratnam announced to the Manhattan Sideways team as we were savoring a meal with him at his trendy, fast-casual restaurant. Inday’s name derives from his goal: to make “India everyday.” Basu is one of the increasing number of people that our team has encountered on the side streets who have given up lucrative, fast-paced careers in finance to start small businesses close to their hearts.

For Basu, it began in 2013, when he was seated next to Phil Suarez, a restaurateur and partner of celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Impressed by Basu’s pitch, Suarez signed on as an investor for Basu’s new venture, allowing him to open Inday in 2015, which he eloquently stated, “was a way of reconnecting with my past and understanding my culture through food.”

The cuisine at Inday reflects Basu’s own hybrid childhood. While he was growing up, his mother – who started living in the States after traveling here for grad school from the East Indian city of Calcutta – longed for authentic home food. Given that thirty years ago, in the 1980s, it was difficult to find exotic ingredients in supermarkets, his mother adapted to her environs, blending Indian recipes with the Californian emphasis on organic, local ingredients and cosmopolitan flavors. The result is not “authentic Indian,” but it stays true to the fundamental spirit of Indian food: healthy and nourishing, yet packed with flavor. It is a great alternative to today’s health food, which tends to be “about what’s not in your food,” according to Basu.

This East-West fusion and emphasis on healthy food is readily apparent in Inday’s seasonal menu. It offers colorful make-your-own bowls that combine a variety of meats and proteins with vegetables including cabbage, roasted corn and shaved broccoli, as well as traditional Indian items like mint and coconut chutneys, banana chips, and dal (lentils). Some of the more innovative menu options include a gluten free “dosa waffle” – a South Indian crepe – and the amazing “shredded cauliflower rice,” which is cheekily referred to as “Not Rice” on the menu. Basu told me the wonderful story behind the latter item, which is truly emblematic of the restaurant’s spirit: When his sister became “carb-conscious” as a young adult, his mother came up with “cauliflower biryani,” which substituted shredded cauliflower for rice. Basu says that they included it on the menu initially as a joke, but was pleasantly surprised to see it become their most popular item. Also worth noting is the “cardamom yoghurt” with berry compote, a heavenly amalgam of the Indian dessert “shrikhand” and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.

When asked if he was planning on expanding his business, perhaps developing a chain of restaurants, Basu responded – to my pleasant surprise – with a firm no. He is interested, instead, in engaging deeply with a particular kind of audience and forming a community around food. The Silicon Alley demographic that his NoMad location attracts is exactly the audience he wants: “culturally curious young people who are changing the world and are interested in the story behind their food.”

While we were speaking, I noticed stacks of old, dog-eared National Geographic magazines on a wooden shelf nearby; Basu pointed out that even the store’s signage is made out of pages of the magazine that he grew up reading. “I like to have it here as a reminder that there is life outside these concrete walls, and we should be sensitive to that.”

When I asked Basu if his mother is involved in the restaurant in any way, he told me that she occasionally stops by, tries everything, and gives the chefs valuable feedback. He then laughed as he remembered something Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten said about Basu’s mother: “She will forget more about Indian food than most people even know.” With Inday, Basu is trying to remember as much as he can, in his own, New-Yorker way.

First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc)

dashnor tailoring

On a street peppered with tailor shops, Dashnor Tailoring remains a hidden gem. Behind its nondescript storefront is Dashnor Begaj: a tailor with an awe-inspiring immigrant story and an impressive resume of celebrity clients. Growing up in the small Albanian town of Hekal, Dashnor was inspired by his mother, who was an uneducated but vastly skilled dressmaker. His early passion for tailoring was matched by his skill: In 1979, at the young age of sixteen, Dashnor was put in charge of the town’s tailor shop. Soon he was catering to the entire area’s clothing needs, be it for men, women or children. Despite being the only one in his high school graduating class to qualify for university, Dashnor decided to follow his heart: Instead of going to college, he accepted a spot at a prestigious tailoring institute in the city of Tirana.

Dashnor’s love for his craft became most evident when he was speaking about his time at tailoring school. He still has his notebook from those days, which he showed me excitedly; together, we flipped through pages upon pages of formulae and calculations, neatly scribbled instructions on how to cut cloth for different styles and bodies, and exhaustively labeled diagrams of sleeves, vests and dresses. Dashnor emphasized that tailoring is not merely an art, but also a very precise science. “Over there, everything was custom-made,” he said of his work as a tailor in Albania. “No alterations, like here.” People would bring him fabrics and he would design their clothes from scratch. He lamented that custom work, which was his passion, is now a dying art: “No one has the patience”.

In 1990, when the Soviet system collapsed, Dashnor left Hekal for the bigger city of Fier and opened his own tailor shop. While he thrived, his country was in political turmoil, and by 1997, Albania was on the brink of civil war. Like many others, Dashnor fled to Milan, Italy. “I was an immigrant, with family,” he shared, “so I had to work two jobs.”

When Dashnor was finally able to move to the U.S. in 1998, he was immediately welcomed into the high-end New York fashion world: He started out as a tailor at Brooks Brothers and then transitioned to Giorgio Armani, where he worked for eight years. Just as Dashnor was getting ready to open his own business, Tom Ford convinced him to head the tailoring division of his new boutique. Through Armani and Tom Ford, Dashnor had the opportunity to work personally with a variety of celebrities.

Of his decision, in 2009, to open his own tailoring business, Dashnor explained, “I spent two and a half years there, and then I said, ‘Tom, Ciao, because now I’m going to do my own thing.’” Though he continues to maintain a close friendship and professional relationship with Armani and Tom Ford and still services the high-profile clients with whom he has been working for years, he now pours his heart and soul into his cozy little tailoring shop on the Upper East Side. When I asked him why he decided to give up such an illustrious career, working with some of the biggest names in fashion, to go solo, he responded, “I’ve been successful since I was sixteen. Even when my country was in a huge crisis, I was doing great. So why should I be afraid here? I came to this country with the idea that I’m not going to work for somebody else.” More than his celebrity clientele, it is Dashnor’s unerring dedication, his humble pride in his immigrant journey, and his infinite love for his profession, that make him a world-class tailor.

First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc)

wisefish poke

Drew Crane tried poké for the first time during a family vacation in Hawaii, and he immediately fell in love with it. “My initial reaction was: why haven’t I heard of this before?” he said.

When I told him that I am one of the uninitiated, he informed me that poké originated many years ago with fishermen mixing leftover scraps of fish with sea salt and seaweed. Over time, it evolved into its current form: sushi-grade fish diced into cubes, tossed with veggies and sauce, and served over a base of rice or salad. He found that the dish was ubiquitous in Hawaii – in restaurants, grocery shops, poké shacks, liquor stores – and an intrinsic part of the food culture there. However, when he returned to New York, to his surprise, he could not find any poké restaurants.

Drew started making poké at home for his friends, who all responded the same way he had: “This is amazing, why haven’t I had or heard of poké before?” That is when he got the idea, he said, of “bringing poké to New York City.” He left his job at Goldman Sachs in March of 2014 to pursue this dream, and in January 2016, he and his partner Bryan Cowan opened Wisefish Poké in Chelsea.

It is a cozy little restaurant, with just one long wooden table for seating, but that does not stop the eager customers queueing up every time I have stopped by, drawn to the irresistible smell of fresh seafood wafting from the doorway.

Drew told me that the enthusiastic response has been a pleasant surprise, given that they do not do any PR or advertising. It is a testament to the quality of the food, which is paramount to Drew. Frozen fish is an absolute no-go at Wisefish Poké. “We are completely transparent about where our tuna comes from. I could tell you who caught it, where they caught it and when.” He considers it essential to pay homage to the Hawaiian tradition of poké, which is made with freshly-caught fish and simple, but high-quality ingredients.

I asked Drew if quitting his finance job to start the restaurant was a hard decision. He responded with an immediate, confident “no.” He explained, “I had a true passion for this, so the decision was easy. I didn’t even spend any time agonizing over it.” Drew shared with me that he has always been entrepreneurial and passionate about food; he spent ten years of his childhood in Hong Kong and was exposed to a lot of different kinds of cuisine while growing up. “It ignited an excitement and curiosity in me for food.” And with Wisefish Poké, Drew is loving the opportunity to share some of that enthusiasm with New York.

First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc)

smith & brit

The intimate interior of this homey space, complete with colorfully stocked shelves, wall paintings, and cozy furniture, evokes a living room vibe. Upon entering, however, one will be pleasantly surprised to discover that Smith & Brit is a beauty boutique and spa whose owners, Claire Beevers and Kristyn Smith, aim to provide high-quality makeup and skincare in a space that feels relaxed, welcoming, and personal.

The catchy name, “Smith & Brit”, is a play on Kristyn’s last name and the fact that Claire and Ali are both British (they are both from the same “tiny, tiny” English town, but strangely enough, they met for the first time in New York). The trio met while working in an apothecary in SoHo and were drawn together by a “shared love and passion for beauty.” Between the three of them, they cover a range of specializations: Claire is an accomplished aesthetician in the UK best known for her makeup in the US; Krystin is an aesthetician and makeup artist specializing in medical facial treatments for healthy skin; and Ali is an experienced reflexologist and holistic therapist. Interestingly, the three are separated by age gaps of exactly a decade – Claire is ten years older than Kristyn and twenty years older than Ali – and their combined experience allows Smith & Brit to cater to a variety of age groups, styles, and skin types.

When the three ladies decided to open Smith & Brit in 2015 and foray into the competitive New York beauty industry, their goal was twofold: to provide innovative and effective products that are “natural as well as scientific” and to make beauty feel personalized and non-intimidating. While the former is evident from the hard-to-find, all-natural brands (like Haeckels, Margaret Dabbs and Cloud 9) that line their shelves, the latter is really what makes Smith & Brit distinctive. Instead of the sterile, shiny counter-tops and rows of chairs and mirrors that one usually finds in beauty salons, Claire, Ali, and Kristyn have opted for a small, comfortable and well-designed space with just one station, which ensures that each client gets the full attention he or she deserves. Their treatments are bespoke – tailored carefully for the needs of each client – and they use their exuberant passion and vast knowledge to help their customers “enjoy the entire process, from selection to application.”

First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc)

foragers

In 2005, when Anna Castellani realized that there was no place to purchase food in her DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, she decided to do something about it. “It was very simple. There was no business plan. It was pure desperation,​” she told me.

As we chatted in the intimate, dark steel and wood-lined restaurant space in her newer location in Chelsea, Anna elaborated on her philosophy about food. Forager’s has now expanded beyond being ​just a grocery store. The location in Chelsea perfectly combines a small, sustainable produce market, a buffet of high quality takeout items, artisanal cooked and baked goods, an espresso station, and a restaurant serving local, organic salads, roasted and grilled meats, and desserts.

“Local” and “organic” we​re the operative words behind​ Anna’s decision-making process for the quality​ of food that ​she wanted Forager’s to carry. ​“I thought if I wanted to eat this kind of food, maybe others did, too.”

In 2005, during the inception of the store, she was thinking mainly about “perimeter products” – industry lingo for perishables, such as meat, dairy and cheeses, which in the food world are ​no​t always very clean. She decided to source meat and dairy from local farms in the Hudson Valley. Until recently, there was no infrastructure to get produce into the city, and farmers did not grow organically for stores. Anna’s solution? To have her​ own egg and vegetable farm upstate and run their Forager’s food delivery truck back and forth to the city​.
​ ​
Anna proudly told me that she started her own farm “out of need, more than anything else.” She went on to say, “We picked up dairy from co-ops upstate, which have been instrumental in saving farmland and keeping people in the dairy business.” While organic is all the rage these days, Anna believes that labels can be very misleading – people will buy anything that is labeled organic, and they often are not aware of the hidden ingredients in their food. “It goes down to the sugar in cookies: it’s bleached, it has bone meal in it,” Anna informed me. Forager’s is committed to food that is “clean,” above all else – the produce may not all be ‘certified’ organic, but it is grown using the most organic and healthy methods. “What I like about this business is that you get to learn what the industry sneaks into the food system, and I find it fun to try and work around that.”

Anna’s goal is to provide these products at an affordable price, but the efforts that go into sourcing locally and ensuring high quality are not cheap. She acknowledged that Forager’s is known as an expensive store, but she dislikes labels such as “bougie,​” explaining, “Yes, it’s more expensive to have pasture-raised meat than industrial, b​ut I think we should fight to eat better, because it keeps you healthy and living longer. It’s important.”

First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc)

book nook

When I walked into Book Nook, I thought I had​ stepped inside a children’s novel. Intrigued, I began to look around at the leafy, artificial vines hanging from the low ceiling like verdant Christmas lights, complementing the trees and birds painted on the walls. I walked by the fireplace in the corner, surrounded by stacks and stacks of colorful books, noticing the​ paintings, toys, and tiny, pastel-colored models of houses and bicycles adorning​ the shelves​. I ​asked Rina Patel-Collins, the effervescent young founder, to tell me the story behind Book Nook.

​To begin with, Rina told me that she believes that designing the space where children learn is as important as what they learn. She carefully created Book Nook’s beautiful interior in order to make sure that “from the moment they walk in, children want to be here.” I think that she has succeeded: There was something immensely calming about the space that made me want to curl up with a book.

​Rina​ led me through the hallway and into​ a similar room that had bright colors, vibrant and child-friendly décor, paintings, and, of course, rows upon rows of books. It was in here that I found ​children sitting around small, circular tables, engaged in lively conversation as an instructor shared a picture book with them.

Armed with degrees in elementary and early child education, a Master’s in teaching literacy, and a certificate in handwriting education, Rina taught at public schools in New Jersey for many years before she moved to Manhattan and became the director of a pre-school. While she taught pre-k, kindergarten and first grade, she started to zero in on “the gap between each grade.” She recognized that children have different needs and various styles of learning. “I’ve learned throughout the years that all children are at different levels, even if they are at the same age,​” she said.

Even though the idea for Book Nook started brewing during her four years as a pre-school director, the seed for the project was officially planted when Rina began tutoring privately in homes – she realized how beneficial it was that children were learning one-on-one in a home setting. She also noticed that there was a void in the market for an enrichment program that was based in academics, rather than solely in the arts. “Reading is an enrichment, too, and we have to teach children that early on: That it’s not something you do just to learn things, you have to innately love it,​” she passionately ​explained to me.

​And so began Book Nook: a one-day-a-week, holistic enrichment program for children from the age of eighteen months to seven years. Rina begins by concentrating on skills such as fine motor development, separation, confidence, and teaching children how to sit at a table and remain focused. By the time they leave the program, they are confident enough to read with proper reading comprehension and write (in both uppercase and lowercase) on their own.

Every​ aspect of the Book Nook program draws​ from Rina’s in-depth experience teaching young children. There are only five children at a time, and the youngest and oldest members of a group are within six months of each other, in the hopes that they are hitting the same milestones in a similar time-frame​.​ Rina feels that this helps facilitate peer learning.

Interestingly, Book Nook has no toys; instead, Rina likes the “wall-to-wall books” ambience​, ​so that children are visually surrounded by a variety of books. “First, children learn to read through pictures, and then they move onto decoding familiar words, ultimately becoming able to read independently,” Rina said succinctly. “The key is to bridge the gap between the three by providing students with books they’re interested in.​” ​To this end, Rina provides each parent with carefully handpicked booklists with a combination of new books and classics.

When Rina told me that she had made many of the lovely, eclectic little pieces that adorn the walls and shelves of Book Nook, I was amazed. Just when I thought she could not have any more feathers in her cap, it turned out that ​she was an artist, too! She pointed to one of the walls, which was covered with a grid of small, square paintings, each bearing a letter of the alphabet and a portrait of a corresponding animal: Rina made each painting herself. In front of her office is a large wooden scale, with notches to measure kids’ heights. It was exquisite. I thought for sure that this was store-bought, but Rina assured me with a cheerful shrug, “I didn’t want to spend a $100 on it… so I made it myself!”

As of the Summer of 2016, Rina is looking forward to opening​ a second location in Tribeca. I asked​ her how she has the energy to do everything herself, from designing her curriculum and her space to working with the children, and she joked: “I don’t sleep.” Then she laughed and said that she is​ so passionate about her job that it never feels like work. “I told myself that whenever I start my own school or business, I’d make it so I’d want to be here all the time, and if I want to be here all the time, then the kids will want to be here all the time.” Looking around Book Nook, I can confirm that she ha​s achieved her dream.

First published on Manhattan Sideways (sideways.nyc). 

tongue-tied

My last final of the semester, an oral presentation for my Modern Culture and Media class, was minutes away. I stood in a corner of the room with my group, re-reading for the tenth time the sweat-stained paper I clutched in my hands.

“In conclusion,” I whispered under my breath, “the ideological apparatus—” I stopped.

“Appa-RA-tus!” I berated myself. “Say appa-RA-tus, not ap-PA-rrratus!”

“Appa-RA-tus. Appa-RA-tus…” I chanted, praying that in the couple of minutes that remained before I had to speak before the class, I would somehow eliminate the oddities of pronunciation that were characteristic of my thoroughly “Indian” English. I had spent the morning reading my monologue aloud to my friend, Will, requesting that he correct me wherever my pronunciation sounded wrong or unfamiliar, or my accent made a word unintelligible to American ears. As it turned out, there were quite a few such instances, and red notes were scribbled all over my neatly typed out speech. Pa-RA-meter, not PA-ra-ME-ter. RE-sources, not re-SOUR-ces. IN-jure, not in-JYOR, like I said it, emphasizing the ‘r’ at the end.Continue reading “tongue-tied”