Sep 16, 2015 New UH Publication: “Story is a Vagabond: Fiction, Drama, and Essays by Intizar Husain”
Series editor is Prof. Fran Stewart (UH English Dept.) with co-editors Alok Bhalla, Asif Farrukhi, and Nishat Zaidi
Aug 31, 2015 Nepal Earthquake: CSAS Donations Used for Educational Sponsorship of Children Survivors
The CSAS thanks all those at UHM who generously donated funds toward relief and reconstruction efforts in Nepal in the wake of the April earthquake. The $570 raised by the Center for South Asian Studies in May have gone toward an educational sponsorship fund
set up for the three young children identified by two UHM graduate students, Gita Neupane (Sociology) and Bal Sharma (Second Language Studies), who were in Nepal at the time of earthquake. Sadie Green, who graduated with a Masters degree in Asian Studies in the spring of 2015 and has worked for many years with non-profit organizations in Nepal, identified the Himalayan Children’s Charities (HCC). The charity has agreed to coordinate with the family and the school to support the education of the three children, Manju Tamang (11 years old), Anish Tamang (5 years old) and Sharmilla Tamang (2.5 years old). We thank Gita, Bal, Sadie and community member, Sanjeev Ranabhat, for their tireless efforts.
The Himalayan Children’s Charities (HCC) has also agreed to coordinate an educational scholarship program for more than a hundred children, who lost their parents in the earthquake, in the remote Dhading district. These children were identified through the initiative of Arjun Aryal, a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UHM. The Dhading Children’s Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Society of Nepalese in Hawaii (SNEHA), Fun Kids Nepal, Himalayan Children’s Charities (HCC), and the Keenan Foundation.
Jul 14, 2015 Call for Papers: Special Issue of Biography on Caste and Life Narratives
Caste and Life Narratives Special Issue of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly
Guest Editors: Dr. S. Shankar, Department of English, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, USA, and Dr. Charu Gupta, Department of History, University of Delhi, India.
Life Narratives (biographies, autobiographies, Facebook posts, legal testimonials, personal essays, memoirs, blogs, confessional poetry—the possibilities are many) are an important site for the construction as well as dismantling of identities. This special issue of the journal Biography explores the linkages between caste identities and representations of a life in diverse modes and languages.
Caste—a social category based on hierarchy, heredity and ideologies of contamination and exclusion—is often associated with South Asia and more particularly India. The recent political as well as intellectual mobilization of Dalits in India provides an important impetus for this special issue. The critiques of caste offered by Ambedkar, Periyar and other anti-caste crusaders are at the heart of this special issue. However, the special issue does not restrict itself to Dalit or similar life narratives but rather is concerned with caste in general. Just as contending with racism should not fall only to those groups oppressed by race but is illuminated in crucial ways by their perspectives, so too caste is not the burden of Dalits alone even as Dalit critiques offer crucial perspectives on caste.
Accordingly, the special issue sets out to offer theoretical and critical examinations of a variety of narrations of lives lived under structures of caste but is motivated throughout by Dalit and other insights critical of caste. Some sample questions (meant only to suggest the breadth of possible topics and approaches):
How have autobiographical forms such as testimonio been important in testifying to the breadth and ferocity of caste oppression?
Why have autobiographies played such an important role in the recent boom in Dalit writing in Marathi, Hindi, and Tamil?
What is the role of caste in biographies of Indian nationalist leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru?
Can the visual representations of B. R. Ambedkar, ubiquitous in certain urban spaces of India, be read as forms of life narrative, and if so, what do they narrate?
In what ways are the lives of “low caste” people narrated in folk forms (for example, the songs of Gadar)?
How is caste (mis)represented in biopics (Periyar, The Dirty Picture, Bandit Queen)?
How have social media, websites and blogs enabled or otherwise distorted the representation of lives marked by caste?
What is the role of caste in literary autobiographies by writers in English such as Nirad C. Chaudhuri and R. K. Narayan?
How do life narratives reveal or veil the intersections of caste and other social categories such as gender and sexuality?
How do diasporic life narratives represent or ignore caste?
Given the strong association of caste with Hinduism, how is caste represented in a Christian or Muslim life narrative (for example in the work of Tamil writer Bama)?
Are life narratives of women different from men, and what happens when they intersect with narrativizations of caste?
Are life narratives by Dalits as much about the individual as the community?
When do narratives of pain and suffering come to constitute the cultural capital of Dalit life testimonies? How does quotidian and routine caste violence, through which stigma is perpetuated in, on and through Dalit bodies, undergird life narratives of Dalits?
Can one discern shifts or divergent strands in life narratives about caste, whereby stigmatization has given way to a “positive” ethical assertion of life?
Although caste has come to be associated almost exclusively with India or South Asia, it is not unique to that part of the world. This special issue is open to work that explores representations of caste in life narratives from other parts of the world; and also to comparative studies that might, for example, juxtapose representations of caste and race in life narratives.
Please note that Biography will arrange for contributors to present drafts of their papers at the University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu at the end of August 2016.
Jun 1, 2015 UH CSAS Grad Student Rajiv Mohabir receives the 2015 Kundiman Poetry Prize for 2nd book and a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant
Tupelo Press is delighted to announce that Tupelo Press Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Levine and Associate Poetry Editor Cassandra Cleghorn have selected Rajiv Mohabir of Honolulu, Hawai’i as winner of the 2015 Kundiman Poetry Prize for his manuscript, The Cowherd’s Son.
Winner of 2015 AWP Intro Journal Award and the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (Spring 2016), and recipient of a PEN/ Heim Translation Fund Grant, Rajiv Mohabir received fellowships from Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His poetry and translations are internationally published or forthcoming from journals such as Best American Poetry 2015, Quarterly West, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Anti-, Great River Review, PANK, and Aufgabe. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from at Queens College, CUNY where he was Editor-in-Chief of the Ozone Park Literary Journal. Currently he is pursuing a PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i, where he teaches poetry and composition.
The winner receives a $1,000 cash prize, publication by Tupelo Press, and national distribution.
This is the first year of the new partnership between Tupelo Press and Kundiman, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the creation and cultivation of Asian American writing. Starting this year, Tupelo will be the new book publisher of The Kundiman Poetry Prize. Now in its 6th year, The Kundiman Poetry Prize ensures the annual publication of a book by an Asian American poet. The award is open to self-identified Asian American poets at any stage in their careers. Tupelo Press could not be prouder of this new association.
The Translation Fund, now celebrating its twelfth year, is pleased to announce the winners of this year’s competition. The Fund received a record number of applications this year—226 total—spanning a wide array of languages of origin, genres, and eras. From this vast field of applicants, the Fund’s Advisory Board—Esther Allen, Mitzi Angel, Peter Blackstock, Howard Goldblatt, Sara Khalili, Michael F. Moore*, Declan Spring, and Alex Zucker—has selected sixteen projects which will each receive a grant of $3,100 to assist in their completion (*Voting Chair of the PEN/Heim Advisory Board).
“Translation is the lifeblood of literature. The PEN/Heim Translation Fund is at the very center of our lives as readers, making clear each year the richness and variety of what is being done in other languages, thus adding to the freedom of the word to move us and change us.”
—Colm Tóibín, Chair, PEN World Voices Festival
Rajiv Mohabir is a recipient for one of these awards for his translation of Lalbihari Sharma’s Holi Songs of Demerara. Published in 1916, Sharma’s collection of folksongs is the only known literary work to be written by an indentured Indo-Caribbean writer. One of hundreds of Indians indentured to work the sugarcane fields in Guyana, Sharma’s mesmerizing songs, in Mohabir’s deft and elegant translation, tell of life on the plantations, of labor, love, loss, and longing. (Available for publication)
From abroad Piya sends no word. I’m listless; it’s the month of Phagun without my love. The papiha bird cries, Piya.
I’m overcome— He stole away to another country without telling me. The rain falls like arrows or serpents
stirring worry in my heart. All of the men search for him. How can I be patient when my youth itself is a poisoned arrow? Night and day
Prof. Jan Brunson in Anthropology is raising funds for the mothers and children with whom she works. Visit: https://www.crowdrise.com/SupportMothersinNepalQuake. She notes that this community in the northern rim of the Kathmandu Valley has not been hit nearly as hard as Gorkha and Sindhupalchok and she does not want to direct funds away from groups working in the harder hit areas.
Thankfully, I have been able to contact my immediate family members, who are safe for the time being. Some of my relatives’ houses are completely demolished and I still haven’t heard from many of my relatives and friends.
As the epicenter moves from the west to the east of the Kathmandu Valley, there have been many powerful aftershocks, as strong as 6.7, and people are too scared to go inside. My father says there are about 30 families camping out in our yard in Bhaktapur District, braving the wind and rain.
People search the rubble in the Kathmandu Valley for survivors of a catastrophic earthquake in Nepal.
It is snowing at higher elevations, and although media has yet to penetrate much of the rural affected areas, it seems that many villages have been devastated.
There is no power, Internet, or clean drinking water, and scarce medical supplies and food. People are extremely scared. My sister and sister-in-law were on a sixth floor when the earthquake struck. They tried to run outside with my month-old niece and it was so intense that they thought they were going to die.
Luckily, they are all safe. My brother sent me a message that reads, “Kathmandu is completely destroyed.”
I can’t believe what is happening in my country. Dust and gloom covers the Kathmandu Valley and people are confused, hopeless and in grief with hundreds of dead bodies lying on the streets, thousands of people trapped and homes collapsed.
As a poor nation, our infrastructure is already lacking and we do not have the necessary basic emergencies supplies. Overwhelmed hospitals are operating in makeshift camps outside.
When I see the pictures, I cry. The pain and agony of my people is unbearable. We have lost thousands of years of our cultural heritage, as temples, monuments and stupas lay in ruin. Bhaktapur city, once known as “a city of more temples than houses,” literally collapsed in seconds.
This is the situation of the capital of Nepal, home to more than a million people.
We have not heard from many rural areas of the country, but a report from a village in the Gorkha District stated only four of 1,200 homes remain standing! Massive landslides and flooding are sweeping away entire villages and surviving communities have related their needs for immediate assistance and their fear of what is to come.
CNN and BBC are also broadcasting the videos of avalanches at Mount Everest triggered by the earthquake and aftershocks. More than 19 people have died, and hundreds are missing.
Brutal images are circulating of large numbers of corpses in on streets, dead bodies of little children being taken out from rubbles, people crying and praying for help.
We Nepalese are helpless, shocked and crushed. Our nation is falling apart. Please donate wisely and generously to Nepal’s relief and recovery!
For those seeking reputable organizations to support, the Society of Nepalese in Hawaii 501c3 is raising funds for relief efforts.
Samarat Upadhay is a UHM alum who is the Martha C. Kraft Professor of the Humanities in the English Department at Indiana University-Bloomington, where he teaches in the Creative Writing Program. He is the author of several books published by Houghton Mifflin including Arresting God in Kathmandu, a collection of short stories (2001)and The City Son (2014).
Images coming out of Nepal’s devastating earthquake on Saturday reminded me of another earthquake of similar magnitude that occurred 81 years ago. That earthquake of 1934, or nabbey salko bhuichalo, as it was referred to throughout my childhood in Katmandu, had acquired an air of a legend, delivered in black-and-white photos of men and women in traditional garb standing amid the rubble.
But the 1934 earthquake, which killed more than 10,000 people, was a thing of the past, recalled by old folks, resurrected only in history books and works of fiction. History came alive on Saturday at 5 a.m. when I opened my laptop to write, in Bloomington, Ind., and saw the news.
I awoke my wife, who through bleary eyes looked at me in disbelief as I told her, “This is a big one.” The next few hours were spent in frantic attempts to contact our loved ones in Katmandu; first and foremost my parents, whose old age makes them vulnerable, and my wife’s mother, a widow, who lives in a tall building.
For many Nepali expatriates, attachment to the homeland is fierce. I love America, but Nepal is my home —it’s a landscape I have returned to in all of my novels and short stories. And every year I return in person, with my MFA students. Last year we went up to the Himalayan region of Mustang, where my students bathed in the icy cold water from the 108 springs around Muktinath Temple, situated at 12,000 feet. Throughout the trip I was moved by Nepal’s beauty and moved even more by the kindness of the Nepalis we encountered, from the old grandma who served us food at Hotel Bob Marley in Muktinath, to the hotel owner in the resort town of Pokhara who went out of his way to arrange transport for us.
That such calamity would befall such generous people is heart-rending. The initial quake on Saturday has been followed by countless aftershocks that have everyone panicked. Reports are coming in of entire villages laid waste in the mountains. My parents, with whom communication has been difficult because of erratic phone connections and lack of electricity, are camped out in rain on a small field near their home on the outskirts of Katmandu. My mother-in-law is staying with one of her daughters.
We had been warned. In the early ’90s, when I returned to live in Nepal for two years, the country experienced mild earthquakes. Articles appeared in newspapers claiming that a major earthquake was imminent. The reason: movement of tectonic plates in the Himalayas, the very process that created those mountain peaks of stunning beauty in the first place. Concerns were raised about lack of preparedness, especially with the alarming growth of shoddily constructed buildings. But these prophesies of a major trembler didn’t come true. I was among those who thought the experts were exaggerating.
Now this. Thousands have lost their lives, many more have lost their homes, and centuries-old temples, prized for their exquisite carvings in Katmandu Valley’s old palace squares, have been destroyed. Katmandu Durbar Square is in ruins. Patan Durbar Square has been devastated. These were World Heritage sites so, in a very literal sense, the whole world has lost physical access to its cultural history.
Last year my students took photos of erotic carvings in the Jagan Narayan Temple in Patan Durbar Square for Indiana University’s Alfred Kinsey Institute. That temple is now gone. In 2010 we climbed the Dharahara tower in central Katmandu for a panoramic view of this chaotic yet vibrant city. The tower, whose original structure dates to 1832, had collapsed in 1934 and was rebuilt. At the top I remember — now with horror — telling my students that the monument was vulnerable to another collapse because Nepal was so earthquake prone. On Saturday, Dharahara was reduced to a stump.
Nepalis, most of whom are Hindus and Buddhists, are well attuned to the idea that nothing is permanent. The champion of impermanence, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, was born in Nepal. He also taught that life, by its very nature, is filled with suffering.
We Nepalis know suffering. We survived a century-long Rana oligarchy that had most of the country in rags, and the decades-long repressive Panchayat system that kept power in the hands of the king and the caste elites. The 1990 pro-democracy movement ushered in a constitutional monarchy — and then a civil war left thousands dead. Petty politicians have stymied efforts to make a new constitution.
But my people are also resilient. Already Nepalis are uniting to deal with this most recent tragedy. They are digging through the rubble for survivors.
“Feeling helpless,” my wife wrote on her Facebook page. When we have managed to connect, it’s our loved ones in Nepal who have reassured us, rather than the other way around: “Don’t worry, we’re fine. It’ll be OK.”
Samrat Upadhyay’s novel “The City Son,” set in Katmandu, is a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award. For donations to Nepal, please visit globalgiving.org
Anna Stirr is assistant professor in the Asian Studies Program at UHM. She specializes in Himalayan cultures.
(CNN)—Living on the fault line that has produced the world’s highest mountain ranges, the people of Nepal knew there would be a major earthquake someday.
Yet last Saturday’s heartbreaking losses still come as a devastating blow, from which Nepal will take years to recover. As the world pitches in to help with immediate relief, thoughts are also beginning to turn to long-term recovery. In the aftermath of the quake, Nepal’s musical traditions can help buoy the resilience and spirit necessary to rebuild the country.
When they could finally reach each other by phone, flutist Nirmal Singh related his experience of the earthquake to his uncle in Hawaii, who relayed his story to me. Nirmal was performing at a Hindu flutes and fled the stage, seeking shelter in the open with other musicians and audience members alike. They watched helplessly as Kathmandu crumbled around them. In that moment, they felt their hearts crumble, too.
One day, he will perform music again
Several days later, Nirmal remains in a makeshift camp near the performance site, reeling from the earthquake’s devastation. He is trying to get up the courage to walk the five or so miles to his apartment, thinking of the devastation he will pass along the way, and fearful of what he might find when he gets home. Heavy-hearted, he doesn’t feel like playing music yet. But he takes comfort in listening.
Nirmal comes from a family of flutists and flute makers. His uncle, fellow flutist and flute maker Ram Kumar Singh, told me he believes music and art will be necessary for the healing process. “When we see and hear Nepali cultural sounds and images, it creates a mood for the victims to be more positive and to unite. Folk music and arts are the medium that creates a feeling of humanity. It totally ignores differences like ethnicity and political parties.”
For the last several years, Nepal’s government has been trying to restructure the state after a 10-year civil war (1996-2006). Amid well-meaning efforts to right decades of wrongs against marginalized peoples, ethnic identity politics have become a sticking point, and the major political parties have created a stalemate by refusing to compromise.
While marginalized groups fight for long-denied rights and representation, others use the threat of national disintegration to uphold their power and the status quo.
A way to further unity among people of Nepal
Regardless of their own ethnicity or political affiliation, musicians often embrace politics of a different sort. Their claims that music transcends differences are only partly true. Just as often, music and other performing arts celebrate difference, asserting proud identities associated with the country’s 126 registered ethnic groups, 123 spoken languages, and many regional and religious affiliations. Yet they do this in the spirit of social inclusion, appealing to notions of common humanity. The politics of music becomes a politics of humanistic unity, rather than antagonistic power plays.
This may sound a bit utopian. But in artists’ and ordinary folks’ musical responses to the quake, this prevailing discourse about music and unity may help avoid some of the problems that have occurred after other natural disasters. The power struggles over access to aid following the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Sri Lanka threatened neighbors’ peaceful co-existence.
Nepal will face similar challenges in the coming weeks, as relief efforts strive to distribute resources equitably under difficult conditions. The extent of damages in hard-hit rural areas still remains to be determined.
So far, reports paint a picture of a country rallying together to survive. In another Kathmandu camp, writer Sanjeev Pokharel tweeted his delight at hearing his neighbors in the next tent singing. Music’s symbolic social harmony lives on. Laments provide shared catharsis, the continuation of local traditions sounding elements of hope.
In 2006, the Nepali folk band Kutumba played for programs about disaster relief. I was a guest performer, as was Barta Gandharva, a young singer and sarangi fiddle player. “Let’s be safe from earthquakes!” Barta sang to a crowd in the ancient town of Sanothimi, a few miles east of Kathmandu. This town was all but destroyed in the last major earthquake of 1934, and on Saturday was once again reduced to rubble.
That day in 2006, we called elders up to the stage, and they told us their memories of the 1934 earthquake. “Everything was broken,” said one old man. “Our hearts still cry, remembering.” For a few moments he appeared lost in his sadness, years of hardships etched in the lines on his face. Then he, too, began to dance to the music.
Also, organizations such as the Red Cross, the World Food Program, Oxfam and Global Giving all have good reputations for this sort of crisis intervention and have set up donation sites especially for the crisis.
Mar 16, 2015 On the ban of BBC Documentary ‘India’s Daughter’
India’s Daughter is a BBC documentary that was recently banned by the Government of India. The documentary (based on the rape and murder of Jyothi Singh Pandey in New Delhi, India on 16th December) interviews both the perpetrator of the crime as well as Jyothi’s parents. The video was posted on Youtube earlier this month and has since then gone viral. The content and message of the film have sparked controversy. Such debates are significant, especially because we are once again confronted with how to tackle the issues around women’s safety, agency, and bodily integrity when women occupy and transverse public spaces.
This event was in collaboration with the Center for Biographical Research, for:
“FINDING FAMILY IN THE ARCHIVES: STORYTELLING IN DELHI, KURSEONG, AND KOLKATA”
By Anjoli Roy, PhD Student, Department of English
February 5th, 12 – 1:15 pm, Henke Hall 325
Kalinath (Anjoli’s great grandfather) and Anjoli’s dad in 1942/1943 India
When he was arrested in 1919 four days after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre for what the British government called “seditious writings,” freedom fighter and English-language journalist Kalinath Ray became a symbol of the free press in India. Gandhi took up the movement for Kalinath Ray’s release, and a tide in India turned from striving to achieve equality within the British Empire to the call for civil disobedience on the road to independence. For two months in summer 2014, I traveled in India to recover the stories of Kalinath Ray’s’s legacy and to reconnect with family I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. After working in archives in Delhi and Chandigarh and spending rainy hours with family in Kolkata, I returned to Hawai‘i with some answers about Kalinath Ray, stories about so many of my other family members whom I never knew, and many more questions that push me to consider how to take care of these stories, what forms they belong to, and how I, as no scholar of South Asian history, can continue to buoy them for and with my family in India and the U.S.
Feb 24, 2015 Bridget Moe, the last link in a sublime musical loop between Hawaii and India, passes away
On Wednesday night, Penina Partsch posted an item on Facebook announcing the death of her grandmother, Bridget Moe in Houston, Texas. This photo shows Partsch and Moe in 2011, as they were preparing for the older woman’s 85th birthday. Partsch had cooked up an enormous meal, made elaborate decorations and and edited a slide show about her Nani’s amazing life. And what an eventful life it had been. Bridget Moe, born Bridget Althea Ensell to an Anglo-Indian family in Calcutta, was the last living link in an unlikely cultural loop that connects India to the South Pacific islands, a connection that has enriched Indian music immensely.
This loop was strengthened immeasurably in 1929, when a Samoan guitar player named Tau Moe, who had grown up in Hawaii, stopped by in Calcutta for the first time. He would return a decade later, and stay much longer. Moe was a master of the Hawaiian guitar, which is placed horizontally, often across the musician’s lap. The strings are plucked with one hand, as with conventional guitars. But instead of picking out chords with the other hand, Hawaiian guitar players change pitch by sliding metal or glass bars across the strings, giving the instruments its distinctive sound. The slides are sometimes called “steels”, which is why Hawaiian guitars are also called steel guitars.
Tau Moe – or Papa Tau, as he was known – started his musical career as a schoolboy, playing at a stage show in Honolulu for passengers who had stepped off their cruise ships. In 1927, when he was 19, he met his future wife, Rose, at a steel guitar class. Later that year, they joined a music troupe that had been hired to do a South Pacific musical show in the Philippines, setting off on a voyage that would keep them away from Hawaii for 60 years.
Over the next few years, they played Hawaiian music in Japan and China. They even did a stint at the Taj in Bombay in the 1930s before heading to Berlin, where they met Hitler at a fundraiser for orphans. The 1940s found them back in India and they spent almost all of the Second World War in Calcutta, playing at the Grand Hotel. “We played Glenn Miller arrangements (or my own) but always included Hawaiian music,” Moe told one interviewer. “We would do a session of jazz band music, then some classical music, then a Hawaiian session with me on steel guitar.”
The couple’s son, Lani, who had been born in Kyoto, choreographed the shows, in addition to singing and dancing with the band. Their daughter, Dorian, was born in Calcutta in 1946 during a burst of intense Hindu-Muslim rioting. The Moe family would later start performing as the Aloha Four.
At some point during his stay in India, Moe met Mahatma Gandhi. “He was a very highly educated man and I enjoyed the 35 minutes were spent talking to him,” Moe told one interviewer. The musician thought that Gandhi’s dhoti was similar to the lava-lava worn by Pacific Islanders, but told the political leader that it was unusual to see the garment tucked between the legs. “He laughed and said, ‘Well, I am better off than you Polynesian people who walk about without shirts,’” recalled Moe.
During Tau Moe’s stay in India between 1941 and 1947, he taught several Indians how to play the steel guitar, most notably an Anglo-Indian musician named Garney Nyss. Nyss would later form a band called the Aloha Boys and would go on to cut more than 60 records. In the 1950s, the Hawaiian guitar became a familiar sound in Hindi film tunes. Tau Moe died only in 2004 and continued to perform until late in his life. Here’s a record he made in Calcutta in 1943 with the African-American pianist Frank Shriver, who went by the stage name Dr Jazz. Lani Moe is among the vocalists.
Though Tau Moe was the most influential steel guitar player in India, he wasn’t the first to bring Hawaiian music to India. In 1922, a seven-member group named Ernest Ka’ai and his Royal Hawaiian Troubadours presented a show called A Night in Honolulu at the Excelsior Theatre, performing hula hula dances wearing yellow wreaths. They came several times over the next few years. By the time they returned in 1928, The Times reported, “Bombay has many lovers of Hawaiian music and there is for these, and indeed for anyone who loves good music and singing and dancing, a treat in store when Mr Ka’ai’s Troubadours open in Bombay on November 30.”
Everyone seems to need someone to exoticise. Somehow 1930s India, the country others saw as a place of snake charmers and opulent maharajas, chose to be captivated by women in grass skirts swaying under fake palm trees. In 1930, a group called the Royal Samoans visited Bombay. The correspondent of The Times of India was bowled over by the spectacle they put on at the Empire Theatre. “The dress (what there is of it) of both men and women reminded one of the pictures of the ancient Egyptians,” the paper wrote. “They are unlike anything India has seen before.”
Bombay seemed to be fascinated by the South Seas. The next year, one Mrs Hayes of Jasmine House on Convent Street in the Fort was offering Hawaiian guitar lessons at Rs 30 for four classes a month. Furtado’s music store, meanwhile, was offering Hawaiian guitars – “sweet toned and good finish”, their ad promised – for Rs 28. The price included a canvas case. In 1932, at a fundraiser at Bandra’s St Andrew’s School, right down the street from where I live, the repertoire included “an excellent replica of Honolulu’s coy maidens dancing the hula hula, enlivened by song”, said the Times.
Back in Calcutta, Tau Moe had by the 1940s been joined by two of his cousins: Pulu and Tauivi Moe. Tauivi Moe began to perform at the 300 Club, where he met a young Anglo-Indian singer named Bridget Ensell. They were married when she was still in her early teens, though, her granddaughter Penina said that they didn’t start living together until she was 18. In 1944, Tauivi Moe’s husband introduced her to the African-American pianist Teddy Weatherford. Evidently, Weatherford’s band at the Grand Hotel was receiving mixed reviews at the time, mainly because his singer wasn’t up to scratch. Tuivi Moe told the pianist to “try out his wife” because she had “a lovely voice”. It was a fit and she ended up making a couple of records with the Weatherford band, in addition to singing with them at the Grand.
Tauivi and Bridget Moe headed for Samoa in 1949 and moved to Hawaii in 1956. Neither of them sang professionally after that. Tuivi Moe became a masseur at the YMCA, while his wife became a manager at a shop called India Imports. When their daughter, who was living in Houston, was expecting her first child in 1977, the couple moved to Texas and ended up staying. Tauivi Moe died in 1980.
Though I’d read a little about their famous cousin, I discovered the story of Tauivi and Bridget Moe only three years ago, when their granddaughter Penina Partsch wrote to my friend Suresh Chandvankar of the Society of Indian Record Collectors wanting to know if he had any of the records he grandmother had cut with Teddy Weatherford. If Bridget Moe had actually put any copies of the records in her baggage when she left Calcutta, they’d long been lost.
Chandvankar passed the message on to me – and as it turns out, I did have one track. I mailed Partsch Ice Cold Katie. The next morning, I had a message in my inbox. “You can imagine my excitement when I receive emails about the Ice Cold Kate track!” Partsch wrote. “I am still reeling from the shock. I played it for my sister living in Hawaii (who is incredibly homesick as it is) and she cried and cried.”
One of the joys of growing up in the India of the 1960s and ’70s was the multiple forms of cricket played all around you. There was tennis-ball cricket, cork-ball cricket, French cricket, cricket played on matting wickets, turf cricket with a proper cricket ball, and a host of other forms – some of them possibly unique to India and owing to what one might call our context of scarcity and surplus of imagination. I’d like to ruminate on some of these forms and the special skills they necessitated and developed.
Tennis-ball cricket (though sometimes the ball in question was nothing more than a lowly rubber ball) was the predominant form in most playgrounds and schoolyards, especially among the younger lot. Given the sheer surfeit of players and the need to rotate strike as quickly as possible (everyone fancied himself a bastman, of course) you were out caught even after the first bounce. Batsmen – the good ones at any rate – rapidly figured out the virtues of playing with soft hands, placing the ball into gaps, and using their wrists to control the trajectory of the ball. You could hit the tennis ball a long way if you had the elusive kinaesthetic skill of timing and always hit with the wind and never into it.
As I heard foreign commentators rhapsodise on the wristiness of Indian batters like Azhar or Laxman or Vishy, I’ve often sent a silent thank you to those days of one-bounce tennis ball cricket that is probably to credit for overdeveloping those skills. As a bowler in tennis-ball cricket you quickly realised your best bet was to perfect the length and vary the pace ever so slightly. With all the tennis-ball cricket played by the youth of India, we should have been churning out metronomic bowlers in the Glenn McGrath mould.
The cork ball was the poor boy’s cricket ball. It lasted forever and had the hardness of the real thing. On dusty playground tracks it offered bounce, and you could bowl both fast and spin with it. There was something funny about the cork ball’s bounce: upon first hitting the ground it slowed down and sort of stood up, but after the second bounce it accelerated rapidly. As a fielder this meant you either stopped it right after the first bounce (or caught it before, of course) or you were in for a futile chase to the boundary as the cussed thing picked up speed with each bounce. As a batman, if you timed your shot well off the middle, the bounciness of cork ensured that you could hit it a long way. If you were a bowler, again length became your best weapon. Short balls, even by the faster bowlers, stood up and waited to be clobbered. The roughness of the cork ball offered spinners a lot – sometimes too much, as it were – making length crucial once again.
When you had no stumps, not even a wall on which to draw them with charcoal, and a postage stamp of a field, French cricket was your best bet. I have often wondered if this form of cricket is played anywhere at all outside India, and how it came by its strange name. Your legs are the stumps and if the ball hits you below the knees you are out. In some variants, the batsman cannot move his feet and has to dexterously play the ball behind his back even, when needed. Once you struck the ball away – and keeping it well away from you was the secret to success in the game – you scored runs by circling the bat around your midriff, with each circle counting as a run, until the next “delivery” came at you. This version required the least equipment of all (a bat and ball would suffice), and I remember school days where the hard clipboard on which we placed our exam answer papers served as bat and a balled-up wad of paper was the ball.
My first encounter with a matting wicket and a real leather cricket ball was also my education about the chasm that separated all other forms of cricket from the real thing, and the boys from the men. Possibly because of the mat itself, suddenly the distance between the bowler and batsman seemed to have shrunk greatly. Matting wickets offered pace and true bounce (especially if the turf below was hard and well-swept) and you had to judge the length instantly. Batsmen who could hook, pull and cut – all shots played above the waist – thrived on matting wickets, and physical courage was indispensable. It was a delight for bowlers too: the coir offered turn for the spinners, movement off the seam for faster bowlers, and bounce for everyone. And you could bowl a genuine bouncer – as distinct from a half-tracker that floated over the batter’s head.
As I watch incredibly talented batsmen like Suresh Raina struggle against the short ball on fast and bouncy pitches, I’ve wondered if early exposure to a turf wicket, especially in India, isn’t a tad underrated. A stint on coir matting might be the answer to Raina’s woes. In fact, what if we required about half our domestic matches to be played on matting wickets? It would give our faster bowlers responsive tracks and teach them the virtues of bowling the right length, our batters a chance to get used to the short and sharp stuff, and even our fielders some much needed deep-slip catching practice. It would certainly better simulate conditions in Australia or England than bowling machines or throwdowns can. And it may even help India accomplish something that seems more distant than ever – win a Test series down under or in South Africa.
Sankaran Krishna is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu