Yearly Archives: 2014

Nov 26, 2014
Prof. Lee Siegel’s New Publication “Trance-Migrations: Stories of India, Tales of Hypnosis”

CSAS Affiliate Faculty Lee Siegel has a new publication out:

Trance-Migrations: Stories of India, Tales of Hypnosis


264 pages | 14 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014



University of Chicago Press

Part non-fiction, part short fiction; part memoir, part essay, Trance-migrations is both an entertaining and informative read and a thoroughly original and creative experiment in metafiction. Combining great erudition with sophisticated word play and bawdy humor, it alternates sections containing stories– both fictional and non-fictional–to be read by the reader to her or himself with sections of stories to be read aloud to a listener. In the latter cases Siegel intends that the listener actually go into a hypnotic trance out of which the reader will eventually awaken her or him. In this way the narrative form of the book “performs” a hypnotic “induction script” out of which the listener awakens to find that it is impossible to tell what “really: happened, just as in hypnosis the line between fact and fiction is irremediably blurred. Siegel uses hypnosis and the dynamic between hypnotist and hypnos and as a way of exploring other power dynamics — between lovers, between writer and reader (or listener), between masculine colonial culture and the “feminized” East, between God (or gods) and mortals, and ultimately between memory – historical and personal – and constantly shifting meaning. The book is above all about reading as a hypnotic experience. Through stories based on motifs and characters from both Indian mythology and from real life (notably Abbé Faria, a Goan Catholic monk who gained notoriety in the early nineteenth century with demonstrations of magnetism in Paris, and James Esdaile, a Scottish surgeon for the East India Company who experimented with mesmerism as a surgical anesthetic in Calcutta), Siegel epitomizes and elucidates the psychological and political dynamics of a fascination with a mysterious Orient, and reveals the anxieties embedded in such fascination.

Lee Siegel





Lee Siegel (Profile Picture)Lee Siegel’s publications, dealing particularly with the aesthetic, erotic, and comedic dimensions of religious experience, are experimental narrative explorations of the possible relationships between scholarship and fiction. He teaches an undergraduate introduction to religion, a graduate seminar on Indian religious literature, and he directs graduate workshops devoted to both rhetorical and pedagogical methodologies in religious studies. In both his research and teaching endeavors at the graduate level, he is also concerned with the development of a poetics for the translation of Sanskrit literary and religious texts.





Nov 17, 2014
Remembering Pandian

by Sankaran Krishna

MSS Pandian 

Generosity. That’s the first word that came to mind when I thought about how to write this difficult reminisce on Pandian’s passing away. Though I had been aware of his many essays in the EPW and had read “The Image Trap” by then, I met Pandian only in the early 1990s when I walked into his office at the MIDS in Adayar. Dressed casually in his bush-shirt and slacks, the thin and boyish guy with a scraggly mustache was a bit hard to square with the mental image I had of him. I was just beginning my research into India’s intervention into Sri Lanka and Pandian opened up a world of possibilities for me. He suggested names and phone numbers of people I should meet; groups in Chennai and elsewhere that I was unaware of; and books and articles to read. His interest in my research – and we met regularly almost every summer thereafter while also exchanging many emails – was deep and genuine. Most importantly, he helped me think otherwise than the nation. His take on Dravidian politics; on the alleged peripheries – both regional and intellectual- of the heartland and the mainstream; on the multiple and varied idioms of resistance to majoritarianism; on the ways in which support for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause in Tamil Nadu was something that could not be adequately understood or calibrated through just the formal domain of politics; and a host of other issues enriched and complicated my thinking in all sorts of ineffable ways. Looking back, what is striking was his patience with me. Especially at the beginning, I had unconsciously and completely ingested a very mainstream and Delhi-centric narrative of India’s intervention into Sri Lanka. Helping me see that, and in a wider sense to “rescue history from the nation,” was something Pandian did almost imperceptibly and as a consequence of our equitable conversations. Most importantly, all our interactions and arguments were marked by his generosity towards and affection for what I was doing.

The students and others you met at Pandian’s office in MIDS were different from the ones you might run into at the offices of most of India’s intellectuals. Very often they were more comfortable in Tamil or in regional languages rather than English, and were not part of that comfortable upper-caste/middle-class/English-educated habitus that dominates our academy. Pandian interacted with them no differently than with the twice-born, whether domestic or NRI or authentically firangi. The outpouring of remembered generosity by a wide diversity of his students from various places – MIDS, JNU, Manoa and elsewhere – is the real testament to his innate egalitarianism and collegiality. And of his respect for interesting ideas and people, irrespective of their provenance in terms of class, accent, language, or caste.  

As shown by his contrarian stance on the cartoon controversy, by his daring resignation from MIDS to become an academic libero for a while in the early 2000s, and his refusal to accept certain regions, cultures, civilizations or individuals as somehow more consequential than others, Pandian hewed to an ethic that came from both within and elsewhere. His was a distinctive voice, and a rare one in the context of India. In these biopolitical times marked by an obsessive and commodified care for the self, Pandian indulged his love for cigarettes, alcohol and the good life in full measure. I am trying very hard not to channel my frustration with his early passing into wishing he had played more by the rules. For Pandian was never about playing by the rules but more about playing with them, as he himself might have said with that delighted gleam in his eye. 

Sankaran Krishna

Krishna (Profile Picture)

Sankaran Krishna is Professor of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has written extensively on ethnic identity and conflict and identity politics in India and Sri Lanka. Prof. Krishna is the author of Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka and the Question of Nationhood, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000) and Globalization and Postcolonialism: Hegemony and Resistance in the 21st Century, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.

Oct 16, 2014
South Asia related films at the 2014 Honolulu International Film Festival

34th Hawai’i International Film Festival


haider-2014-songspk-hindi-movie-songs-mp3-download-musictrain24-com_A Bollywood adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ by Vishal Bhardwaj, Haider is a young man who returns home to Kashmir on receiving news of his father’s disappearance. Not only does he learn that security forces have detained his father for harboring militants, but that his mother is in a relationship with his very own uncle. Intense drama follows as Haider learns of his father’s death and upon discovering the culprit, seeks to avenge the murder. Click here for more info…


Friday, October 31, 8:30 pm, Dole Cannery E

Thursday, November 06, 8:30 pm, Dole Cannery C

Mary Kom

Mary-Kom-Hindi-Movie-PosterA chronicle of the life of Indian boxer Mary Kom who went through several hardships before audaciously accomplishing her ultimate dream. Brilliantly portrayed by Bollywood favorite Priyanka Chopra (BARFI, KRISSH), MARY KOM can easily be dubbed the Indian MILLION DOLLAR BABY, but is also a stirring portrayal of a devoted wife and mother whose indomitable spirit has made her a source of inspiration both inside and outside the ring. Click here for more info…

Saturday, November 08, 4:30 pm, Dole Cannery G

Sunday, November 09, 4:00 pm, Dole Cannery E


Cannes_Titli_Film_PosterIn the badlands of Delhi’s underbelly, Titli, the youngest member of a violent car-jacking brotherhood, plots a desperate bid to escape the ‘family’ business. His schemes are thwarted by his unruly brothers, who marry him off against his will. But Titli finds an unlikely ally in his new wife, Neelu, who nurtures her own frustrated dreams. They form a strange, mutually exploitative pact to break the stranglehold of their family roots. But is escape the same as freedom? Click here for more info…

Monday, November 03, 5:30 pm, Dole Cannery C

Thursday, November 06, 3:00 pm, Dole Cannery D

Tomorrow We Disappear

large_Tomorrow_We_Disappear_web_2“We are the flying birds…here today and gone tomorrow.” The puppeteers, performers, and magicians of the Kathputli colony in Delhi are the last of their kind. When their land is sold to developers to be bulldozed and transformed into luxury high-rises, these once-itinerant artists are forced to fight for the only home they know. Fending off relocation, they keep alive the mystical Indian folkarts, one day at a time. In this stunning feature debut, Jim Goldblum and Adam Weber capture the fleeting joys of a way of life that is quickly becoming lost. What beauty is destroyed as we are forced into someone else’s vision of the future? TOMORROW WE DISAPPEAR is not simply an act of documentation, but ultimately an extraordinary act of preservation. [-Liza Domnitz] Click here for more info…

Sunday, November 09, 11:30 am, Dole Cannery D

Bang Bang

Bang-Bang-Hindi-MovieA chance encounter of the unassuming bank receptionist Harleen Sahni with the charming yet mysterious Rajveer Nanda results in an on-rush of ditched planes, car chases, shoot-outs, bombing raids and general global mayhem. But as the transcontinental chase ensues with Rajveer convincing Harleen that he’s the good guy, can she really trust him, and will trust matter when the bullets start flying? Click here for more info…

Thursday, November 06, 5:30 pm, Dole Cannery F

Saturday, November 08, 11:00 am, Dole Cannery F

Beyond the Surface

8142756_origIshita Malaviya, India’s first female surfer, is joined by a unique and talented group of women- Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, Lauren Hill, Emi Koch, Kate Baldwin, and Liz Clark. With unshakable determination for a better world, they travel through Southern India documenting the ways in which surfing, yoga, and ecological creativity are bringing hope and fueling change for local people and the planet.

The saturated hues of India set the scene for this 16mm film documentary captured by award winning cinematographer, Dave Homcy. BEYOND THE SURFACE touches upon eco tourism, youth and women’s empowerment, biocentrism, and personal growth along with the pursuit of India’s perfect waves.

Through the medium of film, this group of women hopes to inspire others to seek a deeper connection to their fellow humans and nature. Click here for more info…

Sunday, November 02, 12:30 pm, Dole Cannery E

Tuesday, November 04, 4:15 pm, Dole Cannery E

Munich in India (München in Indien)

featured_exhib_featurebox_berlinbeyond_munichinindiaBetween 1932 and 1937, as the Nazis rose to power, destroying the works (and lives) of artists they disdained and breaking promises to even those it revered, German painter Fritz-Munich found acceptance and success in India as the only German court painter of the Maharajas. Walter Steffen follows Konstantin Fritz, the artist’s grandson, to India where he visits his grandfather’s paintings looking for fragments of his fairytale life. Accompanied by Fritz-Munich’s historical 16mm film shoots and diaries. Click here for more info…

Watch the trailer.

Saturday, November 22, 02:30 pm, Doris Duke Theatre

Oct 1, 2014
Shangri La: Celebrating the Arts of Mughal India – Event List

Sep. 16, 2014 – May. 2, 2015 


Space at Shangri La is limited and programs fill to capacity quickly. Advance registration is required. To receive email announcements about programs at Shangri La please sign up here. Online registration will open approximately two weeks prior to each event. 

For programs occurring at other community venues, available contact information is included below.


Kai’kena Dining Room, Kapi`olani Community College (KCC)
September 16 – 19
Celebrating Shangri La: Moghlai Banquet Lunch (Cuisine)
Chef Kusuma Cooray, Professor of Culinary Studies, and students from KCC’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific present a week-long menu showcasing a range of classic Moghlai dishes at $22.95 per person. Seatings available at 11:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Call (808) 734-9499 for menu information and reservations.

Culinary Institute of the Pacific Auditorium, Ohia Building #118, Kapi`olani Community College (KCC)
October 6, 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Taj Chefs Prepare Mughal Cuisine: Demonstration and Tasting (Cuisine)
Executive Chef Hemant Oberoi and two master chefs from Mumbai’s Taj Hotel chain present a Mughal cuisine demonstration and tasting. Seating is limited and admission is free.

Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
October 9, 7:30 p.m.
From Doris Duke’s Bedroom to the Mughal Suite: An Inside Look at the Journey to Shangri La (Lecture)
Sharon Littlefield, Shangri La’s curator, maps Duke’s world tour in 1935 and explores the lifelong projects that arose from it. Shangri La curator since 1999, Littlefield is the author of Doris Duke’s Shangri La (2002) and several articles on Duke’s collecting. Admission is free.  

Tarang with Kenny Endo (Performance)
Shangri La

October 25, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Abhijit Banerjee’s Tarang, an ensemble of Indian classical musicians, collaborates with Hawaiʿi’s taiko drum virtuoso, Kenny Endo to perform traditional Indian music with a modern and multicultural twist. Tickets are $30 and must be reserved in advance.

Hasan Elahi, Artist Talk (Lecture)
Art and Architecture Auditorium, University of Hawai
`i at Mānoa
October 29, 6:30 p.m. 
Hasan Elahi is an interdisciplinary artist whose work examines issues of surveillance, citizenship, migration, transport, and borders and frontiers. He is an associate professor of creative media at the University of Maryland and the director of digital cultures and creativity. He will be an Artist-in-Residence at Shangri La from October 26 through November 9, 2014. Cosponsored by the University of Hawai`i Department of Art and Art History and the Center for South Asian Studies.

Hasan Elahi, Artist Talk (Lecture) 
University of Hawai
`i at Mānoa, venue to be announced 
November 5, 12:00 noon
Hasan Elahi is an interdisciplinary artist whose work examines issues of surveillance, citizenship, migration, transport, and borders and frontiers. He is Associate Professor of Creative Media at the University of Maryland and the Director of Digital Cultures and Creativity. He will be an Artist-in-Residence at Shangri La from October 26 through November 9, 2014. Cosponsored by the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa International Cultural Studies Program.

Chain of Fire: The Prologue Exhibition to the 2016 Honolulu Biennial (Exhibit)
Our Kaka’ako: 445 and 449 Cooke St., SPF Projects at 729 Auahi St. and Agora, at 441 Cooke St.
October 30 – November 9, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily
Shangri La Artist-in-Residence Hasan Elahi will present a site-specific multimedia work as part of theChain of Fire: The Prologue Exhibition to the 2016 Honolulu Biennial co-presented by the Hawaii International Film Festival and Honolulu Biennial Foundation. The exhibition and related public programs will be held in Our Kaka’ako: a new neighborhood by Kamehameha Schools. For additional information, please visit

2014 Hawaii International Film Festival Spotlight on India Film Series (Film)
Regal Dole Cannery Theatre 
October 30 – November 9
“Spotlight on India” showcases four of the best new films from India, presented by the Jhamandas Watumull Fund as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival 2014. Visit for film dates, times, location and ticket information.

Ustad Ikhlaq Hussain Khan and Amir ElSaffar in Concert (Performance)
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
November 20, 7:30 p.m. 
Sitar virtuoso Ustad Ikhlaq Hussain Khan and award-winning Iraqi-American trumpeter/composer Amir ElSaffar combine talents with performances of traditional North-East Indian Delhi gaharana sitar music, the Iraqi santur (a traditional Persian 72-stringed dulcimer) and original genre-crossing jazz. Khan and ElSaffar will be Shangri La Artists-in-Residence October 10 through October 24, 2014. For ticket information, please visit

Ustad Ikhlaq Hussain Khan and Amir ElSaffar in Concert (Performance)
Shangri La

November 22, 5:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Sitar virtuoso Ustad Ikhlaq Hussain Khan and award-winning Iraqi-American trumpeter/composer Amir ElSaffar combine their respective talents in sitar, santur, and trumpet in an intimate, highly original jazz-tinged performance followed by a buffet dinner. Khan and ElSaffar are Shangri La Artists-in-Residence October 10 through October 24, 2014. Tickets are $40 and must be reserved in advance.

An Evening with James Ivory (Lecture)
Shangri La
November 29, 5:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Legendary filmmaker James Ivory of Merchant Ivory Productions shares his experiences from a lifetime career of making films in India. Buffet dinner to follow. Tickets are $35.00 and must be reserved in advance.

A Conversation with James Ivory (Film)
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
November 30, 7:00 p.m.
Legendary filmmaker James Ivory introduces the film series Picturing India: The Films of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala with a talk and screening of their films The Delhi Way andAutobiography of a Princess. For tickets, visit

Picturing India: The Films of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Film)
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
November 30 – December 5
This series of classic Merchant Ivory films on India includes The Delhi WayAutobiography of a PrincessShakespeare WallahBombay TalkieIn Custody; and Heat and Dust. Merchant Ivory Productions was a collaboration of three remarkable people: Producer Ismail Merchant, born in India; Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, born in Germany and educated in England; and Director James Ivory, born in the United States. Ivory continues to direct films today and introduces the series of films on November 30. For information on tickets and screening times, visit

Learning from Mughal Architecture (Lecture)
Shangri La
December 6, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, professor of architecture at University of Hawai`i at Mānoa, presents an illustrated lecture on 16th-17th century Mughal architecture and art, focusing on how the foundation of a native modernity, secular practice and culture of cohabitation was laid out in a fractious universe. Cosponsored by the University of Hawai`i Center for South Asian Studies. Reservations are required. Admission is free.


Behind the Scenes: Conservation and the Mughal Suite (Lecture)
Shangri La
January 10, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Shangri La’s art conservator Kent Severson describes the remarkable range of repairs and conservation behind preparing the Mughal Suite and collections for exhibition. Reservations are required. Admission is free.

The Power Within: The Love Story of Mehrunissa and Khurrum (Performance)
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
March 13, 7:30 p.m. 
One of the greatest love stories of Mughal history is interpreted through dance, spoken word, music and poetry in an original performance by Shangri La Artists-in-Residence Dipankar Mukherjee and Krithika Rajagopalan. Mukherjee is the creative director of the Pangea World Theatre in Minneapolis; Rajagopalan is the creative director and a principle dancer at the Natya Dance Theatre in Chicago. For tickets, visit

The Power Within: The Love Story of Mehrunissa and Khurrum (Performance)
Shangri La
March 14, 5:00 – 7:30 p.m.
One of the greatest love stories of Mughal history is interpreted through dance, spoken word, music and poetry in this open-air, original performance by Shangri La Artists-in-Residence Dipankar Mukherjee and Krithika Rajagopalan. Mukherjee is Creative Director of the Pangea World Theatre, Minneapolis; Rajagopalan is Creative Director and Principle Dancer of the Natya Dance Theatre, Chicago. Performance followed by buffet dinner. Tickets are $40 and must be reserved in advance.

Visions of Courtly Splendor: Costumes and Jewelry in Mughal India (Lecture)
Shangri La

March 28, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Cheri Vasek illustrates Mughal jewelry and costume as part of a larger visual aesthetic by examining shared motifs and meaning across a variety of forms, including miniature painting, architecture, carpets and tile work. Vasek is assistant professor of costume at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa Department of Theatre. Cosponsored by the University of Hawai`i Center for South Asian Studies. Reservations are required. Admission is free.

In the Footsteps of Babur: Musical Encounters from the Lands of the Mughals (Performance)
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
April 29, 7:30 p.m. 
Inspired by visual images and literary descriptions of exuberant music-making in the Mughal courts, the Aga Khan Music Initiative brings together musicians from Afghanistan, India and Tajikistan with the aim of merging their talents, traditions and musical instruments to create new sounds. Cosponsored by the Honolulu Museum of Art. For tickets, visit

In the Footsteps of Babur: Student and Musician Workshop (Workshop)
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
April 30, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Musicians with the Aga Khan Music Initiative will host a master class for students and working musicians to learn about Central Asian musical traditions. Cosponsored by the Honolulu Museum of Art. For information, visit

In the Footsteps of Babur: Musical Encounters from the Lands of the Mughals (Performance)
Shangri La

May 2, 5:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Recreating the exuberant music-making in the Mughal courts, the Aga Khan Music Initiative brings together four musicians from Afghanistan, India and Tajikistan, merging their talents, traditions and musical instruments to create new sounds. Performance followed by buffet dinner. Tickets are $40 and must be reserved in advance.

For program website, click here

Sep 9, 2014
Congrats to CSAS Graduate Student Rajiv Mohabir!
Congratulations to UH CSAS Student, Rajiv Mohabir, for winning the 2014 Four Way Books Intro Prize for his poetry manuscript “The Taxidermist’s Cut.” Four Wars Books has announced that his book will be published in 2016.

Here is a sample poem of his, titled ‘Preface,’ featured here

Let’s pretend you are going hunting.
You pack your gear: a buck knife, a bow
and arrows cleft from the straight weeds, wild
in my front yard. You perch in a red oak, yearning
for those chilly mornings that signal harvest.
The copper of pine needles falling; whether
you catch me or not is not the point. You look first
at the wandering deer, the bigger prize,
full of meat and bone, with a skin to cure,
but you keep an eye peeled for upland birds too,
smaller, easier to mount once ensnared. You don’t need a guide
to hollow lungs of song. Yes, I said,
birds are easy to work with, their refugee bones
hollowed for flight, so small and delicate,
they may as well not be there. I have always
made myself invisible. I mean to say
I am still—the trembling breath of a comma,
the coincidental object of your want.

Essay by UH PhD student and J. Watumull Scholarship awardee

This essay appears in the Frontier Psychiatrist


Taj Dad Donovan and me 1024x915 Mixed in India


I grew up in southern California and was continually mistaken for Chicana. During college in New York City, I was also confused for Latina, Greek, or even Egyptian. In Hawai‘i, where I’m now a graduate student, a Korean boy I tutored asked me if I was Filipina, tracing his seven-year-old finger down my brown arm. When I was younger and people asked “what” I was, I would say that I was white. I’d watch embarrassed clouds of confusion cross their faces. “And Indian,” I’d add, eventually.

To clarify: I wasn’t trying to pass for white; in fact, I’m pretty obsessed with my ancestry, as might be obvious from my blog,Fatherland. I just hate the casual way that (usually white) folks ask about ethnicity, as if it were no big deal, as if any person who deviates from the unmarked (white) race must surrender racial identity on demand. As if I was making them ask me. As if I should have told them already. Ultimately, these questions felt like barriers to community.

So, when I was awarded a two-month scholarship to uncover my family history in India, I hoped to glimpse a feeling of belonging. I wanted to uncover and preserve the story of my great grandfather who fought for India’s independence from the British, who my family both in the US and in India were in danger of forgetting. I wanted to learn about my thakurda, my grandfather who was a famous mathematician and died long before I was born. I wanted to see if I could fit my feet into my father’s childhood footprints. He’d left India when he was eight, but had vivid memories of life with his beloved family in Kolkata and of his boarding school in the mountains of West Bengal. Finally, I wanted to spend time with this side of my family, who I had last seen nearly two decades before, at age 11, when I visited India for the first time for a tiny two weeks. While I have dedicated a good portion of my graduate work at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to studying South Asia, I knew the trip to India would reveal how little I actually knew.

I don’t speak a South Asian language. I was raised largely without South Asian cultural traditions. My dad left India when he was eight in 1950 and my momma is white. Much of what I “know” about the subcontinent I learned in classrooms. Still I was hoping to blend in. After all, I am Indian. Or half. Whatever that means.

“You are looking so much like your mother!” my cousin Piyali-didi said to me almost immediately upon my arrival to Kolkata.

I thought it might be my recent haircut, a sloppy bob that looks a little like mom’s short, permed hair from her last visit to India back in the 80s. Or maybe it was ombre thing I’d done to lighten the tips.

“It’s in your shoulders,” she clarified. “Joya-didi is so tiny,” she said of my eldest sister. “She is obviously Indian, an Indian beauty. You are all beautiful. You and Maya, you two are mixed.”

Later, on a flight from Delhi to Bagdogra, the security officer in the “ladies” screening line stopped me. She looked at my passport, at my face, and then back at my passport, trying to reconcile my appearance with the markers embedded in my name.

“Is your husband Bengali, madam?”

“No. My father is, I said, most likely sounding like a child. “I am.”

Racial confusion became a lasting motif in our journey, and not just for me. I was traveling with my dad, who is recognizably Indian, and my partner, Donovan, who is Kanaka Maoli, Chinese, Filipino, white, and Cherokee. Donovan experienced his fair share of racial confusion in India, mostly in humorous and loving ways. So few people who we encountered could even find Hawai‘i on a map.

“Is that near Cuba?” our guide in Delhi asked me when Donovan was out of earshot.

Dad and me reflecting on Down Hill school 1024x745 Mixed in IndiaWhen we arrived to Kurseong, the mountain town that cradles hard secrets from my father’s boarding school past, we walked single file as we were used to doing to avoid cars on sidewalk-less roads. A mother cloud had wrapped herself around rain-soaked, green hills, and we were so dazed and grateful to have escaped Delhi’s dusty 118-degree heat that I didn’t notice when an uncle flew out of his house and was all over Donovan, exclaiming in an unfamiliar language that might have been Tibetan or Nepali, smiling and hugging him tight and rubbing his hand all over Donovan’s belly and chest, the way that men sometimes do when they’re teasing each other. When I turned toward the commotion, the man spoke to me in probably Bengali, emphatically trying to communicate. He must have realized that we didn’t understand, because he eventually just smiled at us, and we, stunned, laughed and caught back up with Dad.

“Maybe he was saying that you looked like his son,” I said. “Maybe he’s part Chinese too?” I resisted the urge to take Donovan’s hand—we’d agreed that PDA on this trip was a no-no—and instead flashed him a big smile. Donovan looked confused.

Jaipur Traffic 2 1024x604 Mixed in IndiaFor me, the most pronounced moment of racial confusion came at Amer Fort in Jaipur, which we visited before seeing the Taj Mahal on another short break from our family-research work in the Delhi archives. As we crossed the car to the queue for the elephant rides through the sun gate, we saw a thick of hawkers, selling sandalwood figurines, postcards, and garnet necklaces.

“Don’t talk to them,” our guide had warned us in the car. “They are like honeybees. More will only come if you do.”

The problem is, I’m not really good at ignoring people, walking blithely past them as if they aren’t there, as if they aren’t human, all those things that capitalism tells tourists to think when they visit countries that force them to check their privilege.

“No, thank you,” I said to the man handing me a wood carving of Ganesh. Perhaps because of my foreigner’s voice, or an American tell in my walk, or my lack of confidence in how I wore my salwar, dollar signs flashed above my head and a fleet of hawkers clustered around me, as the guide had warned. Up ahead, I saw similar clusters around Donovan and Dad, who walked with their heads down, their hands saying no.

The Ganesh figurine seller asked me in English if I spoke Hindi. I shook my head, embarrassed as I am whenever someone asks me about speaking a South Asian language, especially Bengali, the language of my ancestors.

My father, who grew up in the segregated U.S. South, never spoke Bengali to us and even now speaks it like an eight-year-old. Still, I felt that niggling at the back of my head. Why have I still not studied South Asian language? What does it mean to write my family’s history in English? How can I tell decolonizing stories when my own mouth is still colonized? How can I claim an Indian identity at all when I’m only half, when my closest connection to Indian is my father’s macher jhol, dahl, papadum? How could I think that in coming to India I’d feel like anything other than a tourist?

“200 rupees!” called the man with the necklaces, holding out a blue stone strand. “150!”

“¿Español?” the Ganesh figurine vendor asked.

I smirked at being asked this familiar question in India of all places. “Poquito,” I muttered over my shoulder. Donovan and I climbed onto an elephant that started ambling away from the vendors. I was just shy of a minor in Spanish at NYU. Do elephants sweat? I wondered, wiping my forehead.

“¡Español!” the hawker cried loud enough for the other hawkers around him. The exclamation carried through the crowd and the hawkers started exclaiming in Spanish, with the same fluidity as they had in English plus newfound enthusiasm, as if someone had flipped the channel to Spanish-language television.


“¡Un regalo para tu madre!”


“¡Ven! ¡Ven!”

“¡Algo especial!”

Amer Fort elephant driver 246x300 Mixed in India

I focused on Moata Lake, which curbed the fort, and the patterned green gardens at the water’s edge. As our elephant eased up the incline to the fort, I read a sign that said that there used to be banyan trees all along the shore. Donovan and I took turns taking pictures of the painted elephants heading back down the hill. I noticed that the Indian woman and her son, presumably, who were on the elephant in front of us, had been spared the swarm of hawkers. I noticed that said hawkers had given up on us as well and we had a moment of quiet now too.

As we turned a switchback to the sun gate, we talked a bit—us asking questions, the driver answering in single syllables—as a photographer who had stationed himself on a craggy hill to take tourist photos and identified himself as Ali Baba, implored us to “Kiss kiss! Look here! Remember my face! I will meet you after!”

We gave up on conversation as we edged to the entrance. I wondered how many times the elephants had to make this slow, hot stretch up and down the hill to the entrance to the fort, before they finished, mercifully, before the midday heat. I felt bad for looking forward to this elephant ride, for mistaking tourism for connection.

I watched two men mount a motorcycle at the entrance to the gate. The second one hopped on behind his friend and asked us where we were you from.

“California,” I said.


I shook my head this time, knowing better.

“You have an Indian face,” he said over his shoulder as his motorcycle revved down the hill.

The zing of this recognition ran through me.

“I like you!” he added.

The zing dissipated.

As my two-month trip to the fatherland came to a close, Donovan returned to Hawaiʻi  and my dad and I visited family in Kolkata. In talking with my cousin Ranabir-dada, I mentioned that I was worried about making uncomfortable the introverted schoolchildren to whom his wife gave evening lessons in my bedroom. I was a stranger, after all.

“You are fair and beautiful,” Ranabir-dada said matter-of-factly. “They’ll love you.”

The recognition clanked around in my mind of how I would have been received differently in India had my mother been, say, black instead of white, if I had been darker. Images of the onslaught of “fairness” creams, including armpit-whitening deodorants that played on repeat during sleepy, monsoon afternoons, to the “intimate washes” that demand that even your vulva be pale, crowded my vision. From my cousins’ air-conditioned car on the way to and from Gariahat market, I saw more keenly the larger-than-life advertisements of impossibly moon-faced, smiling women lording over the brown-skinned folks who gathered on the sidewalk for the next Tata non-AC bus.

Ultimately, I realized that my desire to blend in racially had been on the surface of a deeper dream. The depth was in spending with family, cracking jokes and telling stories. It was plumbing carefully my father’s forested, mountain-town boarding school with him and my love, talking story with open-hearted people about India’s independence from colonial rule, the heartbreak of Partition and the painful legacy of communalism. It was these visions for the future. It was learning what folks my age are doing on the ground to make connections and bridge tribal and urban communities in mindful, reciprocal ways, and having conversations about parallels between independence movements in India and South Africa. It was the privilege to dig through the Delhi and Chandigarh archives and find my inspiring, freedom-fighting great grandfather who might have otherwise been lost to our family, to time.

On my last night in the fatherland, I sat with the eldest of our family, 92-year-old Moni-kaka, who had just finished tracing our family genealogy six generations back, telling stories from half a century ago with clarity and verve like it had been yesterday. He laid these stories out with generosity and openness, as if the people he was talking about were his family, and mine too. Which, of course, they are.

I was stationed on the far end of the room in my cousin’s South City Garden apartment, whose white curtains danced into the room with a late afternoon breeze. Shallow puddles on the tenth-floor balcony feathered. On the street below, outside the apartment compound, chanting from a religious celebration wafted up to us as hollow voices. The video camera in my hand shook weakly.

I was lobbing into the room persistent questions about my family that the archives hadn’t been able to answer. My dad translated these questions into his ever-improving Bengali, which Moni-kaka responded to, and then my dad or my cousins translated the answers back to me in English. Nearly a dozen members of our family were gathered all around.

Two hours later, when he tired, Moni-kaka stood up beside me and made me promise that I would return in eight years for his centenary.

“Will you tell your sisters everything I’ve told you?” he asked.

I nodded, water clipping my vision.

After a thirty-hour combination of flights and layovers, I arrived home to Hawai‘i with three overweight bags containing hours of tape I’d recorded of Moni-kaka, countless piles of paper I’d amassed from the archives, tangles of family photographs, and so many gifts. It would take a long time to know all that I’d been told, before I could retell these stories with intelligence and care. Somewhere amid my bursting suitcases, I carried with gratitude the recognition that I had found more pieces of myself on this trip than I’d ever imagined existed. My work to honor this knowledge is laid out before me.

Anjoli Roy is a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her last piece for Frontier Psychiatrist was the personal essay Bald Woman. She is grateful for the support of the J. Watumull Scholarship for the Study of India, Prof. Craig Howes,Prof. Caroline Sinavaiana, and her advisor, S. ShankarShe is also thankful for feedback from Nikki Rosenblatt, Aiko Yamashiro, DKC, and FP Editor-in-Chief Keith Meatto. Finally, she thanks her amazing adventure-partners Donovan Kūhiō Colleps and Subir Roy.

Sep 4, 2014
RWCLS Call for Proposals – Deadline: 9/26/13

The Center for South Asian Studies invites applications to bring scholars to UHM with an expertise in South Asian studies or South Asia related topics as part of the Rama Watumull Collaborative Lecture Series. The award is aimed at supporting the interest in departments across the UHM campus in South Asia-related topics and perspectives.

The deadline to submit the application is September 26, 2014. If you are applying to bring a speaker in early fall, contact the director at

However, we will continue to accept applications after the deadline on a rolling basis to bring speakers in the spring of 2015.

The Rama Watumull Collaborative Lecture Series awards will not exceed $1,500. This grant may be combined with other awards, if necessary.

The funds provided by the Center will cover reasonable costs of travel, lodging, and honorarium for invited speakers.  The responsibility for organizing and making arrangements for the visit and associated events as well as for hosting the visiting scholar(s) will be that of the faculty/department receiving funds.

The invited speaker will:

–  Deliver a lecture on South Asia related research or material for a departmental colloquium series, and

–  Participate in a workshop with faculty and graduate students on the relationship between South Asia and or South Asian studies and the specific concerns of the discipline.

Departments and programs interested in making use of this opportunity should submit:

  • the name of the prospective invitee
  • a brief rationale for choosing the speaker and possibilities of co-sponsorship.  Include dates for the visit and topics proposed for the talk and workshop.
  • a CV or other biographical information a budget.

We ask that you please submit materials to Morsaline Mojid, the CSAS Coordinator by email ( by September 26, 2014.

2014 Winners for the J. Watumull Scholarship

Tamara Luthy is a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, pursuing a concurrent Master’s Degree in Botany to prepare her for dissertation research on the topic of the intersection between traditional resource management systems, sacred groves, and conservation. She will embark on her field research in Vrindavan in the summer of 2105. Tamara is also the secretary of the UH Manoa chapter of the Ethnobiology Society of America, and enjoys service learning trips oriented towards habitat restoration.

Samantha Schaeffer is an undergraduate at UHM who is using the scholarship for a semester-long study abroad at the Ambedkar University in Delhi.  She left for the program in July.  Originally from Alaska, Samantha has developed a keen interest in Indian history, arts and religions.  At the Ambedkar University, Samatha will be taking courses in Social Change and Development, Gender and Society, Early India and an Asian Studies course focussing on South Asia with the resident director, Prof. Mimi Sharma.  She also plans on volunteering for a non-profit organization during her stay.

Benjamin Zenk is a PhD student in the department of Philosophy.  He has started an intensive language training at the American Institute of Indian Studies’ Sanskrit Language Program in Pune for the 2014-2015 academic year. Ben is working on his dissertation on philosophical approaches to peer disagreement.  The language program will help him with close readings of texts in  Madhyamaka Buddhist thought, Jaina meta-philosophical speculation, and the tradition of hermeneutics. 

Aug 27, 2014
CSAS faculty and UHM MFA work with Hawaii Theatre of Youth

CSAS faculty – Sai B. and Cheri V. and UHM MFA — Rohini A. — worked with Hawaii Theatre of Youth on their production of ‘A Bollywood Robinhood’. Read further about the production here

Jun 4, 2014
Article on the Watumull Family in The Hindu

Here is a wonderful article on the Watumull family, “A century in Hawaii” which was recently featured in The Hindu. 

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