Category Archives: back in the day

bhajans and boys: a three (3) part series

Part 1: Prashaad and Giving Up the P (Story Below)

Part 2: God’s Corner (Come back Wednesday, October 15, for Part 2)

Part 3: Souls Sung Clean (Come back Friday, October 17, for Part 3)

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Dear Readers,

Bhajan’s and Boys Intro: Somewhere between the 80’s and the late 90’s, Mira Mesa, my hometown, grew a Little India. Desi’s took over a strip mall section off Black Mountain Road, just before the Miramar Airforce Base. Now Mira Mesa, and the City of San Diego in general, has a Hindu temple, desi dinner spots, desi snack spots, a desi grocery store (we do love our food), and clothing boutiques (and we sho know how to dress).

But when I was growing up in San Diego, my family would drive two hours to Los Angeles to buy spices on Artesia Blvd. The closest thing to Little India in the whole damn city was the Hare Krishna temple in Pacific Beach. We’d go there sometimes. Me pressed back against my mother’s legs as the pale, sari and dhoti clad people danced alarmingly. They’d circle up tight, and then speed up wide, until it was almost as though they were chasing each other in a huge, raucous game of Duck Duck Goose. And then they fed anyone who walked through their doors. Their generosity was appreciated. But their quasi-desi khana was to my moms home cooking what sugar substitutes are to sugar.

Thank god for the Trekannand’s. Every Thursday night Prem Uncle, Sheila Anti, and Deepak, their son, would open up their Mira Mesa home to any and all (but mainly desi folks) for bhajan. The pooja ceremony would start at 7pm. Final aarthi plus prashaad had us leaving around 10pm. In between we sang and sang.

The Trekannand’s were like the Jackson 5 of San Diego Hindus. Prem Uncle sang and played harmonium. Sheila Anti sang a steely backup and played light precussion, mainly tambourine and manjira. Their son Deepak played and played the tabla from when he was young and learning till he was grown and fluent. Together, they led the high and low notes of our prayers.

After opening their home to San Diego for decades, the Trekannand’s moved back to Pune. San Diego is not the same without them, those cultural pioneers.

This story, “Bhajans and Boys,” is going to be told in three (3) parts. Part one (1) is called: Prashaad and Giving Up the P. It is a true coming of age story, of me, an Indian in America. Come back for Part 2 on Wednesday.

Enjoy.

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bhajans and boys: a three (3) part series

part 1: prashaad and giving up the p

by roopa singh

“prasada: in its material sense, prasada is created by a process of giving and receiving between a human devotee and the divine god.”

here’s a clue. if someone hands you a plate of prashaad, you Have To Eat It. you have to Dive in to it while they are watching. why? because it shows that you are not above honoring custom. and it proves that you love the gods and the gods love you back. or something.

clue number two. if you absolutely cannot finish your plate of prashaad, either pawn that sucker off to your dad (if he’s there) cuz lord knows he’ll eat it, or ask your mom (if she’s not busy) to hold your plate for you for ever, or, worse comes to worst, leave the offending plate on an end table by one of the Nana Ji’s when he’s not looking. whatever happens, do not get seen throwing away a plate of prashaad. total cultural suicide. an absolute no-no.  especially for an American born, hip hop dancing, lamba chora Desi girl like me.

Prem Uncle and Sheila Anti had one son, Deepak. i just knew we were gonna get married. the three of them, the Trekannand family, hosted bhajan at their suburban track home every Thursday night.

every Thursday for years, the quiet block would jam to high heaven for hours, and their doorstep would be littered with shoes.

thick strapped beige chapaals with toe loops for the Nani Ji’s. thick strapped black chapaals with no toe loops for the Nana Ji’s. black and brown loafers for the Uncles. maroon slip-on’s and glittering heeled chapaals for the Anti’s. sneakers with internal weight activated lights for the little ones. nikes, reeboks, jelly sandals, and miniature versions of Uncle and Anti shoes for the big kids.

showing up to bhajan late meant wading through the swamp of these shoes.

“big brown hiking boots?”

must be that tall white man came again. sitting in the back, nodding and singing loud, even not knowing the words.

you add your shoes to the swamp. push wide the unlocked door to enter the tall ceiling room.

inside it looked just like zoya’s house. which looked just like sahil’s house.

suburbia.

zoya was my persian best friend. her dad was a taxi driver and back then they had this same two story house. back before his gambling lost them the house and all his medallions. back then we would watch MTV and BET for days in the same back room that the Trekannand’s had converted into a temple. back then zoya was always always in hip hop chat rooms on this new thing called aol, tearing up heads all over the country with her lyrical skillz. and I’d be writing on the sly, in my journal, or half practicing new step moves to show the team. when we weren’t watching tv.

back then, zoya was always on the brink of rage, punching holes in walls, screaming her guts out. they had fled what had been a good life in Iran. and sometimes her whole shell shocked family would duck every time the door bell rang.

i’d look around at them, bone still behind the sofa, and be like, “um, I think it’s the mail man…do you want Me to get the door?”

yo mtv raps, duran duran, blind melon, bone thugs, b-e-t’s the quiet storm. tv keeping us calm for hours. sometimes i’d get lucky and zoya’s mom would practice doing nails on me while we watched, layering my fingers thick with acrylic for hours until they were done and I had ghetto fabulousness all across my wing span.

inevitably the nails would fall off the next day, too thick. eventually, zoya’s pearly and lacy and tight mouthed mother would give up the salon track and work fast food, jack in the box and later, mcdonalds, bringing home american treats for her family before the daughters, zoya and soraya, fled the tense nest.

there were 5 models of homes in our southern cali neighborhood. a military town, so nothing too extravagant, but the Trekannand’s house had one key difference. the Trekannands had added on a room in the back, just to hold all the people who flocked to them for Thursday night bhajans.

we drove there dutifully, part of the flock. my mom and i. me reluctant at first. reverential at last.

we always passed jeanette’s house on the drive to bhajan. jeanette was my best black friend. she lived right around the corner from the trekannands.

jeanette had finally done it with larry, her man. she told me so in my backyard, arms stretched up, hanging onto the sliding glass door frame like otherwise she might blow away with the force of it.

“you did?” I couldn’t believe it. before me?

I quickly found me a man too. montrel. we met over the phone through friends of friends, phones and pagers. then, days later, we met at a gas station on the corners, aka the four corners, aka the four corners of death. that was back when southeast san diego was gangland and the intersection of imperial blvd and federal blvd was known for being lethal, an asphalt and concrete burial ground. bodies and dilapidated taco shops.

we met at the pay phones by where cars pulled up for air that cost a quarter. he looked good but vacant. just like i’d thought.  lips like soft like sun rays. eyes half closed to life. i just wanted to get this virginity thing over with. he would do just fine.

zoya and her sister had drove me up to southeast. on our way to the gas station we passed 47th street. i talked and talked of the 3 men i had in the palm of my hand on that one street, 47th street was my Shit.  i crowed, hadn’t given up the P to nary a one of ’em, and still had them risking to be with me.

there was michael, who i met at burger king, which he called “burger bing” cuz he was a hardcore blood like that (not) and thus would not pronounce the “see” or “kay” sound for nothing. michael was the first dude i let eat me out. he had “whoomp there it is,” by tag team on repeat the whole time. i preferred 95 south’s “whoot there it is,” it was way better to step to. but we managed to hit that third base, sweet and sticky contortionists in his white girl’s red sports car. the cop who eventually knocked on the steamy window wasn’t an asshole, but i was pretty mortified nonetheless.

then there was tony. a grave and gentle young man, who i had met in the living room of my homegirl nzingha’s house. nzingha’s mom was always home but never outside her bedroom, so it was like nzingha’s own place. her little brother pooty could spin some mean cartwheels on the front lawn. tony, who stayed on the phone with me all night long when that’s all i needed in the world. a lifeline. tony, who watched me seriously and kindly while he pushed two fingers inside of me and slowly, pumped.

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Stay tuned for more on Bhajans and Boys from ya fav political poet, roopa singh.

Part 2: God’s Corner, coming at you this Wednesday. See you then!

Peace,

roopa singh/N

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on tax, my desi family, and class

Dear Readers,

I don’t watch much tv now, but I used to be on it 8 hours a day, from 3pm, when I got home from school, to 12am, SNL, Jay Leno, David Lettermen time, with Ricki, Maury, Donahue, Jerry, and Oprah keeping me company while the day turned to grey. After I left home for college, I stopped the tv habit. Life had more in store.

But I still have some ways and means leftover from back then. 4 the past few days, I’ve been opening up the New York Times like, “there’s nothing good on.” Iraq, economy, no one taking responsibility, presidential primaries, a distant people tryna get free, sports leagues, elite gadgetry, institutions and people guilty and not guilty. I’m not feelin it. None of it. Fuck the whole thing.

Damn, that sounds so American.

But Indian-American is what I be. Educated and in my body. Questioning underneath the answers fed to me. Searching for something uncomfortable in the addictive comforts tv/i.v. fed to me.

https://i0.wp.com/news.bbc.co.uk/media/images/42640000/jpg/_42640957_holi_paint2_afp.jpg

Top Question Area Today: IRS Rebate Checks aka Economic Stimulus Payment aka Blood Money?

I can’t even lie. I will be using my lil rebate real pretty. Have you heard about it? At least $300 back to you clean, so long as you file your 1040/ez and you as an individual made above $3,000 and under $75, 000. Now I know you know about it.

But, what I wonder is, have you wondered about it?

Class Truths and Lies: All in the (Desi) Family

I grew up in a pukka Desi family. Class was at once a rigid and fluid thing. My mom is Brahmin, father Rajput. Their marriage was like an interracial marriage in America circa 1955. The rigidity of class seeped out of their renegade wedding pictures, no family in the room around the fire, thick frames on beehived faces, only fellow students from their graduate program their to bear witness to that seven times around the earth, wind, and fire, supreme ceremonial rites of passage.

The fluidity of class flew in a spray of salty wave as my parents went from stand clear, head first and only ones in their generation to immigrate, to graduate student housing and government cheese, to their first home and garden in their early 30’s, to three cars, to dissolve scene, atrophy dream, coping mechanisms broke and overused like fossil fuel.

It’s like they used all their life energy just to get here, and the momentum lasted them from 30 to 50, but now that their 60 its like their 80, and I wonder if they’ll be here when I have my first baby. Physically here, I mean. Mentally they are already heaven meet hell, free.

As the only girl child, I was brought up to think that we were struggling for money. But somehow, my older brother always had the impression that we were rich. At least that’s what it seemed like as he asked for and received a mahogany baby grand, a BMW motorcycle, expensive music schools and lessons, a truck. I took that truck though. Drove the shit out of it too.

Many people, and I, at the very least, have experienced class as a multi-layered affair. Changing in the aging of our families. Hierarchical internally, resulting in various economic class positions within the home itself. Education added in as a floating variable, we go working class to rich in small talk rooms when they ask you where you went to school. Class is always an intersection.

This Tax Rebate Feels Kinda Half-Baked

The Tax Rebate aka Economic Stimulus Payment reminds me of that feeling I used to feel in my dope house on 8324 Teresa Drive, back in the day when I was young I’m not a kid anymore, but sometimes, I sit and wish I was a kid again, feeling like we were always broke, but yet and still, watching money steady coming from some source to fund the war to keep my brother happy, despite and because of it all.

No money, the country is broke, but as the sun sets one of our most blatant dynasties, there is a prize, a lottery win without the red tape debt addiction ties, at least 300 bones, a night at the bar if you buy drinks for your friends. A pair of shoes. Three months of subway rides. 45 days in a beautiful hotel in McLeod Ganj, set against the Himalayas, a type writer tapping in the distance, mist over monkeys you watch because they watch you, it is too, blood money.

And I know we deserve it, I’m not hating, thought you knew.

I’m just telling, giving free what’s true.

Back in the day people from India to America used to protest by not paying taxes unfairly laid on them by oppressive governments. Which makes sense, cause it’s not always we have and hold something they want.

Was it all a dream? See, cuz the last story I read about American’s withholding taxes in protest of the war said something about 50 cents a month folks wasn’t payin off their phone bills. To be fair, the amount probably adds up, eventually.

What is there to protest? How about the awkward reality that we pay taxes in an every man for himself system. Forget a flat tax, or a proportional tax, here, now, poor generally pay proportionally more than rich. Just because rich can hire an advocate, a genie in a bottle, a fourth wish. It’s just like the criminal justice system. In the modern day, American form of capitalism, these basic state functions become unnecessarily abrasive to the working class.

Why should these basic state functions lubricate the stability of the wealthy and drag fingers on chalkboard down the spines of the poor and working people?

Why is justice tied to money?

Why are tax burdens less burdensome for the wealthy?

When did capitalism equal democracy?

When life could be so sweet, spring buds on trees?

White swan looks my way through the breeze?

West Indian food steeped in Flatbush Avenue grease?

Water necklace on a Oshun throat of honey?

Why is justice tied to money?

What aint the news teaching me?

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Stay tuned for more and more, from your favorite political poet with All the News That’s Fit to Flip, NaXaL.

Peace,

rs/N