Category Archives: immigration

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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july one zero and u still my hero even though, even though

Dear Readers,

Another deep and yet not deep enough day in the news. Keep reading for today’s Hip Hop based commentary on the New York Times headlines by Political Poet Naxal. That’s me. I flips the news like you never seen. Almost on the Daily. Enjoy.

July 9-10, 2007

today’s front page commentary takes an in-depth look at the major headlines of me and my lovely, complex, desi family.

its late at night, a jet black humidity hangs just outside the windows of these stuffy wood floor rooms. i just sang a bunch with my family, mother, father, mausi (in hindi that means aunti and more specifically, mother’s sister). it may not mean much to the next person, but to me its news.

shit, they’re still singing up in the front room. the one the front door opens up to. the room with the tv, the framed pictures, the white and baby blue couch set, and a party favor multicolored swing thing that reads: welcome home. my mom had put it up there the time i moved back home as an adult. i was here for two months. its two years later and its still up on the wall, cradling a garnesh statue hung above it. my mom is cool like that, ain’t too proud to recognize a good ass home decorative come-up when she sees one.

im so glad my aunti is here. one of the first of my parents combined 15 brothers and sisters to set foot on u.s. soil. goodie mausi aka shail. in indian homes everyone got their official name and their home name aka ghar ka naam aka family nickname. the home names tend to be ultra-affectionate, sweet and warm, and beautiful like birds call to say. goodie, tinki, baby, sweetu, peehu, gucchu, gooda-these are some of the home names of my relatives in india. why didn’t i get no nickname? shit, i didn’t even get a middle name. people always look suspicious when i tell them my relatively short first and last name. like, no not your americanized name, your whole name. i hate it when motherfuckers wanna de-colonize me. it makes me want to give them a thapar aka slap across their sweet cheeks. but shit, i probably do that shit too, all over eager to help urge the movement along.

it is major headline, front page news that i just had a cypha with the fam and i sang my brown heart out. first, i gotta tell you about my homeboy birjinder anant. RIP. his wide eyed, calm, slim, bearded face came up all big like on the huge screen of the auditorium hall in atlanta’s civic center. there he was, peering around some butcher paper strewn table in one of the slide shows before a plenary at the united states social forum.

birjinder and i worked together at a south bay INS location to document the names of south asian and arab men who were walking into forced registration forced resignation forced deportation and alls we could do was take down their names before they went in and hope we could check their names off after they came back out. if the men who looked like our fathers, grandfathers, big and little brothers didn’t come out, we took note and notified south asian, arab, and persian attorneys who then broke the news to the men’s anxiously awaiting families. thankfully, we didn’t have to do all that, not that day.

i liked birj, mainly cause he was a well-informed and suitably inflamed activist dude who listened more than he spoke, rode his bike a lot, was a proud sikh, and christened all with what he wrote at these poetry events for south asians he helped organize called load shedding. birjinder committed suicide shortly after returning from the wto protests in hong kong.

if you google his name, one of the first things to come up is a post called: who killed birjinder anant? i had that question too for a bit. because no one from his family wanted to talk about the truth, that birj committed suicide. so do i respect their silence? or do i respect his truth? i guess a bit of both. that’s the best i can do right now.

lately ive been telling my truth in honor of those people who have taken their own lives rather than breathe life and voice into their own stories. cause suicide is real, in the south asian community, and in all communities. shot out to the strong sister who spoke on this issue in our cultural community at a united states social forum workshop called desis rising: maps, flows, and strategy session for south asian activists in america. because she was brave enough to do what needs done: truth telling and letting go. this goes out to you too.

here’s why its news that i sang my brown heart out with my mother, father, and mausi in the room. why its news that i sang at all. this one is for all of you angels, and especially for you birj. but you already knew that.

Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Family

how the reasons birthed and learned to fly in to fill in the blanks i can barely stand to learn how it could happen, why it could happened. land mine memories glint in the sand. explode to fill in the blanks with reasons.

reasons. she’s american, talks like them, walks like them, born here and all, so its different for her. american girls like it, these girls here are always thinking sex, sex, sex. maybe look indian, but she is definitely american. listen to her talk, how she walks, doesn’t even cover up when she dresses for the outside. american girls like it. reasons, reasons fly in to fill in the blanks.

i find my father pausing when I speak to him in hindi, and I myself pause before I speak to him in hindi. because wrapping my tongue and lips around hindi feels different, sensual, and I am always aware of not wanting to do anything that could turn him on. he pauses everytime I speak hindi, utterly surprised. because it makes me more human to him he forgets every day that I speak and understand his mother tongue. his mother tongue. my mother tongue. was forked. it split in two ways. I call her ma.

my mom wasn’t told much about her culture either. maybe it was only the men in her Brahmin family that got to love learning more than the requisite songs or science that got a woman married well. caste like class varies within families. so maybe she was treated like a dalit girl by brahmin family and had to pick over her brothers leftovers. like I did. leftover stories, leftover instruments, leftover cultural cues. even though she was born and raised in india, she gets on google just like me to find the specific meaning of holi. but she does know every bhajan in the world. and as long as youre not her daughter, she’d be willing to teach you god’s songs too. but i’m almost thirty and she’s just started to teach me. to sing.

i loved to sing ever since i could remember. had a solo in my school choir in the seventh grade. but then things changed, and in the front of the television i found the depths and breadth of hiding places available to a young, bright, creative, abused, thick, third world teenager in a suburban u.s. armed forces base town. i stopped singing. shit, i pretty much stopped moving. i’ve started singing again, now, 15 years later. but for a while, you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to sing one goddamn note.

if I sang it woulda start a turf war in my family. singing was my moms turf. like fucking my father was supposed to be her turf. and when he began raping and molesting me, it must have seemed to my mother that I had started a turf war. that I was trying to get her man. some mind mangled way to help her understand the logic-less generations under colonization fucked off plan. reasons. reasons fly to fill in the blanks.

my mom has been jealous of me in an unnatural way. palpable sometimes so thick in the air its nauseous, cut myself gross. my dad loves it when she sings. and singing is her turf. so I was keeping my singing under wraps. and at least in that way, I was being a good daughter. but today i sang my brown heart out, closed my eyes to his at times too obvious stare and tried and tried to focus instead on the strong feminine glare of the women and the inner child of him around me. my mom ain’t been jealous in that gross way in a minute. now it seems to take all her energy just to stay awake. these days, even at friends houses, she nods off to sleep. i wanna shake her. tell her to wake up. start fresh. start over, its not too late. but don’t sleep like this, body so close, but soul so far away. didn’t she hear when i was bumpin mob deep and they were talking about: don’t sleep cause sleep is the cousin of death. i wish my mom woulda paid more attention. cause maybe then she’d still be awake.

lesson from the mahabarath: white horses thunder a steady gallop. the great beasts shoulder a golden chariot, running it across the epic tale of a land planted with rows and rows of soldiers. wind whips time through the tendrils of their manes. two sides, imminent battle. brother versus brother. the catalyst, a warrior amongst warriors named arjun. arjun on the chariot turns towards krishna, chin trembling, eyes bouncing in time to the beat of the horses.

hey krishna. do you understand? either way, I face unbearable lose. either way. no matter who wins, we all lose.

krishn was beautific in his compassionate state eyes lay low lashes curled out to meet the blue sky, lips turn dark with truth’s passion.

hey Arjun. I understand. and, no, there is no understanding. all you can do is do what you must. proceed in battle and don’t give up on life.

THE END.

that’s why its news that I sang with my family tonight, had a cypha going like what, on the vocals, the tablas, the harmonium and we was all jammin. looking my father, mother, mausi in the eyes and singing with all my brown heart. even though, even though. and that, my friends, is news. its not only possible to heal, its super duper dopalicious possible. i know of what i speak… its happened to me.

Stay tuned for more of All The News That’s Fit to Flip by political poet, NaXaL.

Peace,

N

july 5, 2007: the word for the day is safe

Dear Readers,

Another deep and yet not deep enough day in the news. Keep reading for today’s Hip Hop based commentary on the New York Times headlines by Political Poet Naxal. That’s me. I flips the news like you never seen. Almost on the Daily. Enjoy.

July 6, 2007

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Table of Contents for NaXaL’s entry entitled: “The Word For Today Is Safe.”

I. freestyle rhyme: the Manhattan Four, writing, and staying positive.

II. resting

III. the united states social forum: the comfort of unwritten codes and race

IV. NaXaL takes on the word “naturalized” in truly DIY etymological fashion: media justice based analysis of the recent front page picture on the new york times (07.04.07) showing us hundreds in impromptu clear plastic rain gear getting “naturalized,” showing us hundreds more in u.s. armed forces uniforms getting “naturalized.”

V. political poetry: more on the Manhattan Four and all the Unheard Women around the world who be persecuted for sticking up for ourselves

$

The Word For Today Is Safe.


I. freestyle rhyme on the manhattan four, writing, and staying positive.

feel the base the base feel base

now here’s a lil story-i’d like to tell-about four young sisters lesbians of color, african-american, were in manhattan, are in prison, and the media’s dehumanizing coverage of these four sisters is like a tidal wave slap, and i feel so much, i feel so crushed, i gotta sit with this one for a second, keep reading for more on the FREE THE MANHATTAN FOUR-i’d like to tell-it started way back-in history-with love and hate and blind and see-yeah-one lonely writer i be-all by myself with this blog o-g/is what i am perfection in this land/of mystery/magical like the fissure be healed when elliptical delusions of painful grandeur swirled all around like maxed out credit cards in the eyes of bruised thin models selling us the idea/like i would ever buy the idea/that sadness is whats sexy/when sadness was so much of what there was for me/until now/and like the billboard in oakland, ca says/lips up stress down/so ladies lets stand tall and remember to smile/just a lil bit/all im really sayin is a lil bit/cause i be tired like you/of every dude who tells me to “hey, smile”/like i asked you/cuz sometimes its a good reminder/but mainly you remind me of my father/to play nice for the public/when the inside storm/motherfucking poetry/you gotta love it.

II. resting

damn.

just taking a minute.

whew!

durga MA.

hari om, hari OM.

inhale.

exhale.

soften the gaze.

smile a lil bit.

yes.

🙂

III. the united states social forum: the comfort of unwritten codes and race

i recently attended the united states social forum, and from atlanta, drove my way through the twining southern highway towards the north. on my way, i gained more appreciation for the unwritten codes of conduct, dialogue, and body language which we shared amongst us at the forum. ive been telling folks that being at the forum was like being at a hot like spitfire march (not one of the rickety bootleg why are we doing this marches thrown by people in the lead who need to step back and rest), that being at the forum was like being at a march for four days straight. a momentary band of gypsys. and then when i left and drove up the 70’s-75, 77, 79-i started being conscious of my interactions with white people again. like extra conscious. and i missed the understanding that pervaded much of the forum. not all, but much.

not that some deep shit didn’t go down amongst the races at the forum.  like when the white woman came in at the Very End of a desi-arab solidarity session led by DRUM (desis rising up and moving), and just had to be one of the Last Speakers after not listening to shit about the session talkin about: “You all really need to get the book, A People’s History, and really read it, and educate yourselves.” make me wanna laugh and cry at the same time.

or what about when a small circle of black grown women stopped me as i passed by, on my way to the immigration solidarity tent with a traditional indian cloth (chunnie/dupata) over my head, and all of a sudden i hear: “A! A! Come here, we want to take a picture with you.” im like you wanna take a picture with me, okay, let me take my chuney off, cause i aint posing for no its a small world picture, and one of the women reached over and Put it Back on my Head and said: “no, keep it on, be proud of your culture.” and i said: i am and after they took the picture two of them introduced themselves which was cool and i kept on stepping.

IV. NaXaL takes on the word “naturalized” in truly DIY etymological fashion: media justice based analysis of the 07.04.07 front page picture on the new york times.

did you see the picture on the front of the times on june 4? thousands of people at their citizenship ceremony, “naturalized” at disney world.

#1. see how they pacifying us, letting us see the ones who’ve made it through, bigging up the possibility of citizenship with no investigative reporting to accompany the picture which would clarify the image as largely unrepresentative of the global migrant and immigrant experience.

#2. okay…DISNEY WORLD?!?

#3. let’s break down the word “naturalized” for a moment…according to the ‘lectric law library, the legal definition of the term “naturalized citizen” is:

one who, being born an alien, has lawfully become a citizen of the United States under the constitution and laws. he has all the rights of a natural born citizen, except that of being eligible as president or vice-president of the United States. in foreign countries he has a right to be treated as such, and will be so considered even in the country of his birth, at least for most purposes.

according to me, “naturalized,” can be defined like this:

naturalized. someone is zapping you. making you turn into something. that they want you to be. which is this state of being. this way of relating to yourself and others. even your mother father sister and brother. that they designed. naturalized.

V. political poetry: more on the Manhattan Four and all the Unheard Women around the world who be persecuted for sticking up for ourselves

pick one example here

they made them an example here

cause us women who love women

we gettin too near

they thinkin we a coup

dripping sweat like fear

smell their shook up tears

i could write this for years

and i still couldn’t tell you what it means to me

the Mahattan Four

these four young women subject to state violence in retaliation for sticking up for themselves are named

patreece johnson: 11 years

renata hill: 8 years

venice brown: 5 years

terrain dandridge: 3.5 years

and that so many more are out there with names unknown

if i knew their names could i help em

scores of servant class and rural women in my home country

are routinely raped everyday by state actors

but they are not nameless

oppressive forces shameless

and that is their strength

and that is their great weakness

got us thinking we nameless

but we got names

all india ancient culture coast to salty coast

all united states bling boast to government cheese on toast

we are not nameless

we are unheard

Free the Manhattan Four and all Unheard Women Political Prisoners

*

ever been in a courtroom at juvenile hall/auction block/let off steam/give it wheels/make it clean/forget the pain of the auction block/mamma don’t scream/auction block/our babies/ripped and burned dreams

*

Stay up and stay tuned for more of All the News That’s Fit to Flip from political poet NaXaL.

Peace,

N