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Documentary on Gandhi wins top honor at New York Indian Film Festival 2021

A documentary feature on Mahatma Gandhi, a documentary on the Sikh tradition of ‘Seva’ and a movie that explores the state of mind of a married woman during the Covid-19 lockdown are among the films that won top honors at the 2021 New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF).

The NYIFF awards were presented during a virtual ceremony Sunday.

Other winners at the festival were “Nasir”, directed by Arun Karthick, which won the award for best film; Akshata Pandavapura was named best actress for “Where Is Pinky?”, the best actor award went to Siddharth Menon for “June” and the best director award to Ajitpal Singh for “Fire In the Mountains.”

“Ahimsa Gandhi: The Power of the Powerless”, directed by Ramesh Sharma, was awarded the best documentary feature.

As the world commemorated the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi in 2019, Sharma was inspired to revisit the iconic leader’s life and philosophy. Shot in India, South Africa, the U.S. and Europe, Ahimsa tracks the influence of Gandhi’s non-violence approach on world leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., late Congressman John Lewis, former South African President Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. International musicians U2 and AR Rahman contributed to the title track of the documentary.

Rippin Sindher-directed “Seva” won the best documentary short. It highlights the idea of service, which is an important element of the Sikh religion, and underscores it against the backdrop of rising hate crimes against people of the Sikh community in the US, including the 2012 Oak Creek Gurudwara mass shooting.

Acclaimed actress Swastika Mukherjee-starrer “Tasher Ghawr“, directed by Sudipto Roy, was honored with the best short narrative award. The film explores the state of mind of a married woman, Sujata, played brilliantly by Mukherjee, during the coronavirus lockdown.

The film festival, presented by the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC), ran from June 4 – June 13 virtually, the second year in a row that the oldest and prestigious film festival that features cinema from India and diaspora has gone online due to the pandemic.

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Wisdom Cookie:
Minimalism – Being vs Becoming

By Rachna Chopra

Have you noticed a spike in talk of minimalism these days? Sounds contradiction in terms, but the sheer number of books that are being written, videos being created, podcasts being recorded, minimal gear being sold, mini-homes being constructed and minimalist designer brands that are mushrooming is astounding. So much talk of something that needs so little—its almost become about acquiring more of less!

The sacred spiritual practice of non-ownership that was to be gestured by a way of living is being sold so people can buy more and more of it. Sadly, the essence of the teaching is getting lost in translation. People can lure you into a monastery but that wont turn you into a monk. The switch has to happen inside first, before the symptoms appear outwardly.

Minimalism is a state of being, not becoming. It is a revolution in the spirit that springs from a radical disinterest in ownership, to finally realizing the myth of ownership. Its about seeing how things impinge upon you, and how our attention (every ounce of which is needed for our spiritual quest) gets trapped in objects. How innocent things appear, yet how powerfully they exert control on your life by their mute presence. Its about realizing that things are as much a part of the web of relations that you have, like your partner, siblings, kids or jobs. And they leave an equal vacuum when discarded, akin to death of a loved one.

Its when you begin to notice that when you bring a chair into your room, how you start interacting with it, investing in it. You start flinging things on it, start sitting and musing on it, brooding on it, laying books on it, associating memories with it. You may even start talking to it if the need arises! And thats a simple chair. What to speak of the bed (the greatest object of one’s attachment), the bookshelf, the watch, and that coffee mug! Oh and those clothes hangers; do one day without em and you know what piece of the puzzle they control.

If one fine morning you arrange a free pick up by St. Vincent de Paul and donate all that you own under a spell of experimentation or sudden detachment, for a brief moment (and that could be months) you feel stripped till your soul, like an orphan who does not belong to anything! Thats right—its you who had belonged to them; not they to you. Thats the power we accord to objects we own. We start belonging to them.

Not without reason do saints and sadhus give up things—they are awake to their impact, the nostalgia they awoke, and the warp and weft of attachment they spin around us. Monks living in caves live on the threshold of life and death, so when the moment to depart comes, they are not recalled to be flung back on the wheel of saṃsāra by the warmth of their blanket or the love of their pet. They are at the ready—thats minimalism.

Certain sects of Jain monks carefully analyze each thing they own, and evaluate its usefulness, before they give it room (real-estate) in their lives. Eliminating the unnecessary is a great start, even for commoners. Many layers have to be shed before we can arrive at the discernment of what to retain and what to un-acquire.

Yet, at some point in this journey (after you have given up near everything besides your underwear and toothbrush), you realize the futility of it. You see that no matter what you give up, you are still in possession of the biggest object of delusion you own—your body! Even if it were to die, it would spring back up again, wearing another name and form. It is the mother of all belongings.

Beyond this point of realization, there is no more passage. The situation demands resolution. Now the real enquiry begins—where did this body object spring from? How can one get rid of it, rather how to stop its recurrence? Now owning or not owning things, big or small, makes no difference. All that is left to do is to drop the load of false identity, and simply stop belonging.

thesatime | The Southasian times

The author of this holistic wellness blog is a modern mystic, fire worshipper and spiritual travel guide. She guides self-discovery journeys to places of power and pilgrimage in American Southwest and South Asia. Web: www.rachnachopra.comEmail: info@rachnachopra.com

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Will the Black Gandhi please step forward?

By Nawaz Merchant

The killing of George Floyd on May 25 this year in Minneapolis sparked outrage among African Americans, as well as white and immigrant communities all over America.

“This was not us,” we said when we spoke to our friends. “This isn’t America. This was an anomaly, a cop who took it too far.”

Then came the inquiry into the deaths of Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor and many more, individuals killed in situations that would not have escalated if they weren’t black.

“It’s a few bad cops,” we said. “It’s not all of them—cops save lives, answer 911 calls.” Gradually it dawned on us that for millions of law-abiding Americans, calling 911 is the last thing they’d do–because they’re black, immigrants, don’t speak good English, or have someone at home who’s undocumented.

Would Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence have been effective if Bhagat Singh had not exploded bombs in the central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi to demand independence with violent confrontation? Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a compelling speaker and a visionary, would his message have resonated so loudly if Malcom X and the Black Panthers had not provided a violent counterpoint? Photo courtesy medium.com

“Black lives matter!” said black activists. “We matter; all Americans can’t matter until black people matter.”

People who were resistant to that message then created “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” as a response, trying to invalidate that hard-won self-affirmation of the BLM movement.

We wondered, “why don’t black men just obey the cops? Why do they panic, and try to run?” We learned a great deal by watching the 2016 Netflix documentary Thirteenth about the harsh prison sentences handed to black men for minor infractions, their disadvantage in the court system, and the labor-hungry prison-industrial complex.  It shocked many of us who had not experienced the second-class citizenship that blacks suffer. Yet we are hard put to find sympathy for the groups of violent people shown on TV.

We asked, “Why are they burning businesses, why riot, destroy someone else’s property?” The February Women’s March and the Aug 28th Black Lives Matter march on Washington seem to have made little impact on actual policy. If a march on Washington makes no difference, is this what citizens of democracy are driven to?

In August, violence escalated with the deaths of protesters and a white shooter; those with entrenched opinions dubbed the BLM movement “Blacks Looting and Murdering.” Mainstream Americans still see this movement as something ‘other’ people are doing, violent people who should be locked up.

To understand today’s racial tensions, I examined three periods of massive social change, looking for a pattern to how societies change. In each case violent turmoil drew attention to society’s ills. It was followed by strong, non-violent leadership that led to positive change.

Would Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence have been effective if Bhagat Singh had not exploded bombs in the central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi to demand independence with violent confrontation? Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a compelling speaker and a visionary, would his message have resonated so loudly if Malcom X and the Black Panthers had not provided a violent counterpoint? Photo courtesy medium.com

Massive social change occurred during three recent events: the Progressive movement of the early 1900s, India’s independence struggle that culminated in 1947 and the 1960s civil-rights struggle.

In each of these, a radical group drew attention to the problem with violence. Would Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence have been effective if Bhagat Singh had not exploded bombs in the Legislative Assembly in New Delhi to demand independence with violent confrontation? Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a compelling speaker and a visionary, would his message have resonated so loudly if Malcom X and the Black Panthers had not provided a violent counterpoint?

In the 1900s, America’s progressive movement grew as President Teddy Roosevelt supported child labor laws, broke up monopolies and mediated labor disputes—but that came after violent anarchists agitated for radical reform in the 1890s.

Would Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence have been effective if Bhagat Singh had not exploded bombs in the central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi to demand independence with violent confrontation? Although Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a compelling speaker and a visionary, would his message have resonated so loudly if Malcom X and the Black Panthers had not provided a violent counterpoint?QQ Photo courtesy medium.com

Why did it succeed? Because “Reform, in that view, was preferable to revolution,” says John M. Blum in historian Myra Immell’s book The 1900s. “The center of American consciousness was slowly acquiring a new conscience. It produced a growing understanding of the efforts of some of the less privileged to improve their lot, a sympathy of the protests of the best informed against the inequities of American life, and, though rarely, a tolerance for the outrage of that small minority of Americans who were committed to rapid and radical social improvement.”

We can learn from this. Today it means: Law abiding though we may be, believers in working within the system, opposed to lawlessness and rioting, yet we need a tolerance for the outrage of those who are most deeply grieved by centuries of neglect, being ignored and being harmed. To be treated as sub-human shrinks the self. That some of this group raise their heads and demand equality should spark not disdain, but our respect— they risk their future, their careers and job prospects to shout loudly so that we can hear. Such courage deserves our tolerance for desperate actions intended to propel our attention—and our support for the change they seek.

The next step in progressive change —and it can’t come too soon– is strong non-violent leadership, demanding productive steps in legislation, able to articulate that vision in public with persuasive and reasonable language. What the vast moderate citizenry awaits is not polemic diatribes, not break-the-bank write-offs, not blank-checks! How inspiring it would be to hear a vision of productive initiatives to engage the black community into policing its own, in participating in the business of self-renewal, in building alternative routes of dialog to diffuse and de-escalate public and individual encounters that have the potential for violence! Shouldn’t the black community be part of re-educating local police forces, and equating treatment in the court system? Who better to envision the solutions, than those most harmed by existing inequality?

But this is not an easy role—Gandhi undertook hunger fasts to rein in the youthful violence of those impatient for self-government. It required compromise and didn’t always go down well. By demonstrating control of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. put himself at risk, suffered arrest, and at last won the support of JFK’s election campaign. In the 1900s, after experiencing a decade of anarchist assassinations and terrorism, Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive legislation was slow and methodical, laying the groundwork for later enhancement in labor laws, anti-trust and child labor legislation. Small steps, in the right direction can alleviate the building pressure.

Today’s turmoil is the harbinger of tomorrow’s progressive change, but it needs a strong, calm and capable leader. Who will this leader be? Kamala Harris is well positioned to take this role; so are Cory Booker, Michelle Obama, our ex-president Barack Obama, and many others. Who will step forward to demand concrete steps to reform policing and address the rampant racism of these recent years? Will the Black Gandhi please step forward? God knows we need you.

Copyright Lifetouch Inc. 2020

By Nawaz Merchant

 Writing as Nev March, author Nawaz Merchant is the recent winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. A Parsi Zoroastrian immigrant, she teaches Creative Writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute, and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Hunterdon County Library Write-Group. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

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Mahatma Gandhi’s gold-plated glasses to be auctioned in UK

London: A pair of gold-plated spectacles believed to have been worn by Mahatma Gandhi and presented as a gift in the 1900s have emerged on the UK auction circuit, estimated to fetch between 10,000 pounds and 15,000 pounds.

East Bristol Auctions in Hanham, south-west England, said that they were pleasantly surprised to find that the spectacles, dropped through their letterbox in an envelope, may have such a rich history behind it.

“It’s a huge find of great historical importance. The vendor had presumed them to be interesting, but of no value and did tell me to dispose of them “if they’re not worth anything”,” said auctioneer Andy Stowe of East Bristol Auctions.

“I think he nearly fell off his chair when we presented our valuation. It’s a really great auction story – and one that we all dream of,” he said.

The glasses, which have already attracted an online bid for 6,000 pounds, are said to have been in the family of the unnamed elderly gentleman vendor in England, who was told by his father that they were a gift to his uncle when he was working for British Petroleum in South Africa between 1910 and 1930.

“The vendor’s uncle definitely worked for British Petroleum in South Africa, and I believe Mahatma Gandhi didn’t wear glasses until the late 1910s early 1920s,” says Stowe in reference to the provenance of the glasses, which are likely to be one of Mahatma Gandhi’s earliest pairs during his time in South Africa.

“The story that appears with the lot is exactly what the vendor told us, and exactly what was told to him by his father some 50 years ago,” explains Stowe.

The lot, titled “Pair of Mahatma Gandhi’s Personal Spectacles”, forms part of the auctioneers’ Military, History and Classic Cars online sale and will go under the hammer on August 21. It has already attracted much interest, including from India.

“A pair of early 20th century c1920 gold plated circular rimmed spectacles by repute owned and worn by Mahatma Gandhi,” notes the auction lot details.

“The spectacles of usual form, with sprung gold plated arms and prescription lenses. Jointed by a gold plated nose bar, the spectacles formed an important and somewhat iconic part of Mahatma Gandhi’s overall appearance. It was known that he would often give away his old or unwanted pairs to those in need or those who had helped him. A rare and important pair of spectacles,” it notes.

“The uncle worked for British Petroleum at the time and was stationed in South Africa, and it can be presumed that these were gifted by way of thanks from Mahatma Gandhi for some good deed. A note from the vendor is included,” the auction lot adds.

Mahatma Gandhi became synonymous with the iconic round-rimmed Windsor-style glasses, common during the period when he was studying law in England in the late 1800s and 1900s. While initially used infrequently, the glasses became a regular feature during the national movement and Mahatma Gandhi’s civil disobedience protests in India.

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US envoy to India apologizes for desecration of Gandhi statue

New Delhi: The US Ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, on Thursday apologized for the desecration of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Washington DC.

The statue was vandalized by unidentified rioters during the ongoing violent protests against the custodial killing of an African-American citizen, George Floyd, in Minneapolis on May 25.

Reports said the statue of India’s founding father Gandhi, who is globally known as an apostle of peace, was defaced with graffiti and spray paint outside the Indian embassy in Washington.

The US envoy to India in New Delhi apologized for the vandalization of the statue. “So sorry to see the desecration of the Gandhi statue in Wash, DC. Please accept our sincere apologies. Appalled as well by the horrific death of George Floyd & the awful violence & vandalism. We stand against prejudice & discrimination of any type. We will recover & be better,” Juster tweeted.

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