Is everyone welcome here?

Everyone is Welcome Here posters across Berkeley, California

The tiny city of Berkeley, California saw at least 14 reported incidents of hate in the first 15 days since the election of Donald Trump. Recently, a group of South Asian Berkeley residents — three of whom have personally experienced post-election hate — hit the streets to respond to the unexpected climate of fear, armed only with hope and posters.

Here’s a piece Anisha Chemmachel, Anirvan Chatterjee, and I wrote about our (ongoing) experience. We distributed a bunch of posters this weekend too, and are expanding into our neighbouring city, Albany, through the efforts of friends and allies.

The Aerogram is an online magazine offering a variety of South Asian perspectives.

Everyone is welcome here

This past Sunday, I joined a group of South Asian Berkeley denizens, to put up posters by the artist Micah Bazant in shops across downtown, with the simple but powerful message: “everyone is welcome here”.


The reason? Despite Berkeley being a sanctuary city, we know of at least 14 incidents of hate since the elections. Some of them truly horrifying, including Asma Mohseni’s, which she describes as “the worst ethnically motivated aggression she’s ever experienced, far worse than what she faced living on the East Coast after 9/11.”

We can do better. And we can do it together. In this critical wake up call for Berkeley and the greater Bay Area, Anirvan Chatterjee describes what we know so far, and what we can do next.

For me, it was affirming to see how many local establishments immediately agreed to have us put up the posters. And interesting that people of colour were unsurprised and supportive, while white allies were shocked (by the number of reported incidents) and supportive. All of us need to stay informed, and step in as and when we can.

Please help us pass this message on.

Gems from the Ocean

20160128_192701I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered August Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright known as the American Shakespeare. But what a way to discover him and his searing explorations of what it means to be black in America: through the stunning, gut-wrenching interpretation of his play Gem of the Ocean, currently playing at the Marin Theatre Company. Go see it, Bay Area peeps; you must.

Wilson is best known for his ten play cycle on the lives of African Americans in the 20th century, one for every decade. Gem of the Ocean is the first of the cycle, written second to last in 2003 (Wilson died in 2005). And for us, there were multiple performances on theatre night: the play itself, and then the responses of the predominantly white audience (AFAICT, we were one of two families of colour attending) that stayed for a Q&A session with cast and crew after.

Amongst the conversations with no clue: ‘I don’t understand where the spirituality of the original went…’ So Wilson uses seemingly Christian symbolism underwritten by Yoruba spirituality, which hybridised form dramaturg Omi Osun Joni L. Jones pops up so powerfully in her interpretation. In other words, it’s nothing but political and spiritual, just perhaps not your politics and your spirituality, Mr. White Theatre-goer.

The interpretation also breaks with the familiar idiom of ‘naturalistic’ theatre, which is how August Wilson is often played. Instead, it offers rhythm, beat, syncopation: jazz of word and gesture. Be prepared for its power, and for its getting under your skin. I found myself squirming in my seat, hardly able to sit still (such a no-no for a polite theatre-goer!).

But the best of the evening was the well-meaning road to hell: ‘I wish young black children could watch this play’… Yes, they should. I hope they do, and the theatre is doing its best to make it happen, with multiple matinee shows. But even more so, elite white people should watch this play. And not deflect the responsibility of thinking about it. Understand, as August Wilson says in the play, what black folks, people of colour, need for full citizenship in this country: “You gonna have to fight to get that. And time you get it, you be surprised how heavy it is.” (And yes, it echoes all that my Dalit and Adivasi friends are feeling right now too).

So t20160128_192717hank you, Daniel Alexander Jones, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, and the incredible cast and crew of the Gem of the Ocean. I can’t imagine Wilson being interpreted in any other way.


Inner Laws: a performance in Delhi

Calling all Dilliwallas, and/or those in Delhi this weekend… I have to say, this is one of the funniest plays I have ever had the joy of performing in (and the fact that it is written by the Mother has almost nothing to do with it!). An unabashed delight to watch at one level, with undercurrents of a more subtle, dark humour of the kind I suffered through childhood. 🙂 Since I can’t be there, break a leg, folks. And break the bank for the Red Cross.


Tom Lehrer and National Brotherhood Week

I’m sure to get ragged by TR about my comment in my post below, saying ‘dissent and debate welcome, hatred unacceptable’. But he certainly knows I’m following a rich and illustrious tradition.

Tom Lehrer, in his introduction to National Brotherhood Week:

I’m sure we all agree that we ought to love one another and I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that.

A prayer for 2008

A poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (translated by Agha Shahid Ali), from the site Indian Muslims, via Shivam Vij.


aaiye haath uThaayeN ham bhii
ham jinheN rasm-e-du’aa yaad nahiiN
ham jinheN soz-e-muhabbat ke sivaa
ko’ii but, ko’ii Khudaa yaad nahiiN

aaiye arz guzaareN ke nigaar-e-hastii
zehr-e-imroz meN shiiriini-e-fardaa bhar de
voh jinheN taab-garaaN-baarii-e-ayyaam nahiiN
un ki palkoN pe shab-o-roz ko halkaa kar de

jin kii aaNkhoN ko rukh-e-subh ka yaaraa bhii nahiiN
un kii raatoN meN ko’ii shamaa munavvar kar de
jin ke qadmoN ko kisii rah ka sahaara bhii nahiiN
un kii nazroN pe ko’ii raah ujaagar kar de

jinkaa diiN pairavi-e-kazbo-riyaa hai un ko
himmat-e-kufr mile, jurrat-e-tehqiiq mile
jin ke sar muntazir-e-tegh-e-jafaa haiN un ko
dast-e-qaatil ko jhaTak dene ki taufiiq mile

ishq ka sarr-e-nihaaN jaan tapaaN hai jis se
aaj iqraar kareN aur tapish miT jaaye
harf-e-haq dil meiN khaTakta hai jo kaNTe kii tarah
aaj izhaar kareN or khalish miT jaaye


Come, let us join our hands in prayer.
We, who can not remember the exact ritual
We, who, except the passion and fire of Love,
do not recall any god, remember no idol.

Let us beseech, that may the Divine Sketcher
mix a sweet future in the present’s poison
For those who can’t bear the burden of time,
the rolling of days on their souls, may He lighten

Those, whose eyes don’t have in their fate, the rosy cheek of dawn
may He set for them some flame alight.
For those, whose steps know no path
may He show their eyes some way in the night.

May those whose faith is following falsehood and pomp
have the courage to deny, the boldness to discover.
May those whose heads wait for the oppressors sword
have the ability to push off the hand of the executioner.

This secret of Love, which has put the soul on fire,
may we express it today and the burning be gone.
This word of Truth that pricks in the core of the heart,
may we say it today and the itching be gone.

Faiz, 14th August 1967