Category Archives: immigrants rights

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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december/remember: a week in the life/pakistan and immigrants rights

Dear Readers,

 Its December, month number 12, end of line, time to look back?  Is there time to reflect?  

There is time to reflect, if we make it, melt them clocks down till their slinking down stairs to nowhere in a desert, like salvador dali did, like how our bodies do when we making love, sliding off the ends of beds, pounding a bridge between the floor the whore the freewheeling ceiling dreaming of a new dawn, a new year, a new era for time itself. 

Do you give a fuck about labor, immigration, the lawyer’s uprising in Pakistan?  Me too.  Here goes a bit of prose based journalism for that time taking ass.

Read on, dear reader, read on.

December 6, 2007

its december/i remember/what i’ve done this week/ended the semester/don’t speak/no doubt/poignant/first university class/picture/on with/a few days in the life of a movement/december/remembered…. 

Immigration and Labor Panel at SEIU: Where Do We Go From Here?

Panel at SEIU: December 4, 2007

the day is brick, ice cold, eyes blinking under the streaming lights of times square, but even the sharpest gusts of wind aren’t getting through my trench length coat.  its nyc, 2007, december, a tuesday, two main kinds of winter coats out there for women.  the 1940’s, slim fit, wool coat.  and the who’s that eskimo lady variation on the puff coat.  i got the puff.  sometimes it feels like a down blanket with arms.  and on a day like today, that aint so bad.

open double doors wide to warm air, inside SEIU benefits headquarters, elevators, press PH, get off at the penthouse, immediately connect with a homie I met at the U.S. Social Forum.  we head to the bagels, last dregs of coffee, he reminds me, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights,  big conference, this January, Houston, TX. 

damn, i breathed, i would go, too.  but its my cousin manu’s wedding in india.  im there for all of january.  psyched.

but if i was in the states i would find some how some way to get to houston.  it’ll be one of the first movement convenings of of national scope since the Forum, and, no doubt, much urban renewal of the best kind will be happening, we are stacking momentum up like cash, can you feel it?

we both head into the crowded seminar room, is that chair taken, the greying man shakes loose his eyes from the panel and replies, only by you.  cool. 

i’m impressed.  its a star studded panel.  but im a labor movement nerd like that.

Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice-President, SEIU, Ana Avendano, Associate General Counsel and Director, Immigrant Worker Program, AFL-CIO, Cecilia Munoz, Senior Vice President, National Council of La Raza. 

Labor and Immigration Panel Stand Out Moment #1

when ana avendano was asked by steve greenhouse of the new york times, ah, yes, steve greenhouse here, new york times, id like labor to respond to my perfectly wavy silver hair and all important air, and so steve brings up the guest worker aspect of immigration reform’s stall in the senate and ana with vivacity and strength responds y’all lied! it went something like this:

steve: elaborate on the guest worker issue that so occupied labor and immigrants rights groups. 

ana:  you and the media mis-reported on our stance, the guest worker program was not our primary issue with h.r. 4437 and s.2611, but you all made it seem that way.  let me break down exactly why neither of these attempts on immigration reform floated our proverbial boat.

and then ana avendano proceeded to break it the fuck down.  till all i knew was that somewhere in between the marches, the front pages, i, and the public, had been mislead, sidetracked, distracted by the guest worker issue, left in the dark about what labor and immigrants rights groups were truly concerned about: inhumane provisions, disasterous red tape, a never ending purgatory for undocumented workers, and a host of other concerns.  why distract us with the guest worker issue, why focus on that almost exclusively? 

Labor and Immigration Panel Stand Out Moment #2

when ana and cecilia got into it, arguing between themselves, a bit of a blaming here, a pinch of shaming there, and ultimately its no ones fault that immigration reform aint what it could be, but to see these two powerful women up there, representing two sisters like two factions of the movement, kinda hurt my heart, to see us, the heart of the movement, women of color, divisive, divided, publicly.  aaargh!
 

Rebellious Lawyers, The Lawyers Movement in Pakistan and its Ramifications

Talk at Columbia Law School: December 5, 2007 

there’s more.  tell them about last nights talk on pakistan’s lawyer uprising at columbia university law school.  professer osama siddique, head of department, law and policy school, lahore university of management sciences, speaking truth.  tell them how he broke down pakistan’s lawyer uprising, where corporate lawyers and peoples advocates, together like the suits and laborers were together in the streets of argentina post-2001 economic crises, mixed class, together, lawyers put their bodies behind their beliefs, where lawyers became their own clients, pressing a greater case against general musharaff and military rule’s clench on pakistan’s throat. 

tell them about the way your hands got ice cold right before you asked him a question, ask them rhetorically why is it still such a challenge to be publicly intellectual for me, a woman of color, of confidence, of street and school credential, who is otherwise bold on dancefloor.  let them know a bit of background, how he had taken the time to remind us that lawyers have long time played a real active role in movement building in the south asian diaspora’s freedom struggles, ghandi, jinna, only a few examples of warrior lawyers who chipped in with clips loaded, who helped to win independence from british rule. 

tell the readers then, about your question, professor, thank you for sharing your on the ground information, because ever since the uprisings first broke out, technicolor pictures of lawyers in their suits, crisp collars, billy club beat and tear gas weeped, we aint heard a lick.  flavor of the day aint us no longer, so thanks for spreading news we need to know.

so, i asked, how can we take a look at the lawyer uprisings in a macro sense, you made one link to independence with reference to activist lawyers, but how can we link relative chokehold of military rule in pakistan back to independence and partition, shouldnt we examine the ingredients that were cooking this moment up even before general and prime minister musharaff started wiling out? 

and he said, that’s a complex question, but the fact is, we inherited weak political structures post-independence.  and we are still learning our way out of these inherently weak systems that were handed down to us. 

tell them how he kept trying to convey the insecurity of pakistan’s current government, that the more weak the government feels, the more law they try to write into and over the standing constitution. 

what makes a government feel insecure?  what are our best sovereingty strategies as post-colonized nations and diaspora’s? 

things that make you go: hmmmm. 

 

dear reader,

i wanna leave you with some thing that makes you go hmmmmm on a lighter note.  here goes one of my all time favorite google image finds (above).  and here goes a palindrome for the movement, provided by my girl kiran nigam (thanks for attending my desi’s rising workshop at the forum!).  remember, a palindrome is a word entity that is the same backwards and forwards.  i love this one, it speaks volumes, in its content and structure, to what we need in the movement now, integrity. of the head to toe sort.  check it, double check it, front to back, it stands the same:

are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

like it?  stay tuned for more, of “all the news that’s fit to flip,” a new kinda news, from ya girl, NaXaL.

peace,

n/rs