She Reads South Asia

SheReadsSouthAsia

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

WOMEN'S ABUSE IN INDIA, AMERICA AND ELSEWHERE: AN AMERICAN WOMAN'S PERSPECTIVE

by Simran

The following accounts are not for the faint at heart but their stories NEED to be told.

“A 22-year-old widowed teacher in India is forced to climb upon her husband’s funeral pyre and burn alive. Not far from where this is taking place, a young woman is found, still alive but blinded, eardrums perforated and her nipples and genitals torn away with a pair of pliers.”

These bone-chilling words constitute the opening of a new novel “The Ashram” authored by the novice Indian writer Sattar Memon. The book came highly recommended by abused women’s group “Saheli”. It exposes, I was told, stark women’s abuse and through the protagonist Dr. Jonathan Kingsley, leads to the emancipation of abused women. The book lived up to its image.

Seeta; the young school teacher in a village of India is about to sit atop a blazing pyre and hold her deceased husband’s head in her lap, wants to become suttee so that her soul can join her beloved in heaven. As I read, I broke out in a cold sweat and began panting. To be fair to the author, I won’t divulge this page-turner’s mind boggling and vivid scenarios, but you’ll be relieved to know that no new suttee has taken place in India since 1989 when a young woman named Roopkumar actually burnt to death in the regal state of Rajasthan. But the way some unfortunate women are still undergoing a variety of abuse and feeling its pain, shame and damage to the psyche, some wish they as well might be burnt to death to escape the pain.

The same pain I know all to well, as I too was an abused woman.

Suttee aside, let me share with you the depth and magnitude of women’s abuse that is going on in every corner of the world. But first, mind you, when it comes to the abuse of women, the United States of America is no exception.

A one-month pregnant woman in the USA is stabbed to death by her son, while nearby a woman is doused with gasoline, thrown inside a cab and set on fire by her husband. Her screams for help are not answered in time and she burns to death.

A young woman in Africa succumbs to infection and dies after being subjected to the “harmless practice” of female circumcision.

A 29-year-old wife and mother lay in a Saudi Arabia hospital bed after having been practically beaten to death by her husband. Their young son watches as his mother’s head is repeatedly slammed into a marble floor and then into a wall, leaving her unrecognizable.

A 13-year old Parisian girl reports that for years her own father has been sexually molesting her.

Girls and women in Bangladesh and Pakistan have acid thrown on their faces and bodies leaving them horribly disfigured when their spurned husbands or would-be suitors.

In South Korea a pregnant woman has her torso prodded with a kitchen knife over and over by her husband, who then throws her to the ground and hits her on the head a coffee canister so hard that she needed 10 stitches. When her scalp heals, he smashes it again. Same spot. More stitches.

A little girl of just 6 years old in Afghanistan, who should be thinking of playing with her friends, is instead being married off to an adult male in return for bride money. In the same country, a 27 year old women languishes in prison and is charged with adultery because she has run away from her husband’s home and beating rituals. Others still remain prisoners in their own homes.

Bride-burning, wife-beating, widow burning, female mutilation and infanticide, rape, mental, verbal and physical torture, public humiliation and acid attacks; they happen everywhere, Russia, Iran, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, and Dubai. In all countries and all walks of life, mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends and wives are suffering what is termed as “unspeakable crimes” against them.

The idea, which this term “unspeakable” implies is exactly what adds to the reason why it continues. Unspeakable? In this day and age, it can no longer be something we hide or only speak of only in hushed whispers. It is a “social cancer” and needs to be eradicated!

The Statistics

The reports and statistics we will mention are staggering enough but many attacks and abusive situations are never reported, leaving the numbers inconclusive and much worse than we think. Please take a serious look at the following incidents from the International fact sheet on gender violence, published by the UN Non-Governmental Agency, UNIFEM.

INDIA

It is estimated that more than 7,000 women in India will be murdered by their families and in-laws in disputes over dowries. 160,000 Nepalese women are held in India's brothels. Discrimination against girls are so strong in the Punjab state of India that those aged 2 to 4 die at twice the rate of boys. Statistics from 2000 showed that on average a woman is raped every hour in India. This is a very conservative number due to the fact that victims are often reluctant to report rape. Why? In an open court victims must prove that the rapist sexually penetrated them in order to get a conviction. This can be especially damaging. After proving that she has been raped, a victim is often ostracized from her family and community. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that rape laws are inadequate and definitions so narrow that prosecution is made difficult. Protected by powerful lobbies, landlords and men in uniform continue to rape.

USA

While it has been said that here in America the rate for such heinous crimes has decreased in recent years, here’s what we know - About 1 in 3 American women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. A woman is raped every 6 minutes, battered every 15 seconds. 683,000 women are raped each year, according to the National Women's Study. This translates to 1 every 3 minutes, 78 per hour, 1,871 per day. 9 out of 10 women murdered are killed by men; most are at the hands of a male partner. 10-14% of all married women in the US and at least 40% of battered wives have been raped by their husbands.

ELSEWHERE

More than 15,000 women have been sold into sexual slavery in China.

Assassination of women in Bangladesh by their husbands accounts for 50% of all murders.

In Papua, New Guinea, 67% of rural women and 56% of urban women have been victims of wife abuse.

In the Maternity Hospital of Lima, Peru, 90% of young mothers aged 12 to 16 have been raped by their father, stepfather or a close relative.

A survey of women in Barbados revealed that nearly 1/3 has been sexually abused during childhood or adolescence.

Every 1 1/2 minutes a woman is raped in South Africa, that’s approximately 386,000 women each year. In North Africa, 6,000 women are genitally mutilated each day. Half of Kenya's maternal mortality rate of 170 per 100,000 live births is due to circumcision's infibulations and/or other harmful traditional practices.

Among the Vietnamese boat people, 39% of women are abducted and raped while at sea. Again due to unreported incidents, this number is very likely underestimated.

One study of 33 infibulated Somali women, all had to have extensive episiotomies (cutting) during childbirth, and their second stage labor was five times longer than normal; five of their babies died, and 21 suffered oxygen deprivation due to the long and obstructed labor.

The Feelings

Fear, shame, worthlessness, pain, denial, loneliness, depression, despair and suicide, are some of the feelings experienced by the victims. Many are led to believe that the abuse is a direct result of something they did to “deserve it”, turning them from victim to the cause of the abuse.

Some learn at an early age to cope by blocking out the abuse, others have constant horrifying memories, which replay over and over again in their mind even when they’re not being abused at that particular moment. The pattern of going from one abusive relationship to another is played out all too often, as the abused feel they aren’t worthy of anything better.

Many victims have taken to the unhealthy practice commonly known as “cutting” or self-inflicting wounds by a sharp object, (i.e. razor, knife, scissors, or even the sharp edge of the tab on a soda can) enough to break the skin and make it bleed, on their wrists, arms, legs and/or stomach. It is used sometimes as a “wake up” from the numbness experienced after a traumatic episode of abuse. Some say it gives them a sense of relief, expresses their pain or helps them try and gain control over a situation. Although it starts out as an impulse, it can very quickly become a compulsive behavior, an addiction, which tricks the mind into thinking that this false sense of security is necessary, leaving it to crave it the next time the tension from abuse builds up. This constitutes only an existence and not a life for those who suffer.

The Healing Process

The first step to gaining victory over the violence is the realization that you are not only a victim but also a survivor. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Remember, suicide is not the answer. It is instead a permanent solution to a temporary problem. You are not alone! There are those who understand what you are going through and are willing to help. Search out those who can help you get out of the situation. Talk with them and others in similar situations. Find a creative outlet for all the feelings that have built up inside i.e. painting, writing, music. Share your story with others, helping them as well as yourself. Work towards gaining a positive attitude on life and erase the negativity. In time, you will see yourself transform from a tiny seed to a beautiful blossoming flower.

There are many organizations both internationally and locally (see entire list below) who are tirelessly working to STOP THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN! Organizations like Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), Saheli Boston, who have recently launched a campaign called ‘Men Speaking Out to Stop Violence Against Women’, The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by television star Mariska Hargitay (of SVU fame) who uses dolphin therapy to help the many victims she encounters.

Remember, healing takes time. Give yourself the time you need to do so.

Wouldn’t it be nice, as in Sattar Memon’s ‘The Ashram’ that a kindhearted widowed man would put his life and career at risk to save and protect abused women? Where are those brave men? We need them and mostly we need each other. But until such real men, real heroes, the knights in shining armor of our dreams come to our rescue, we’ll just have to stand up on our own, join hands high in the air and scream as loudly as we can: “We will not take this abuse anymore!”

The Doctor Is In - An Interview with Sattar Memon, author of the Ashram

A Woman's Emancipation from Her Oppressive Culture and Fear of Men; A Physician's Overcoming His Inability to Cope with Death and Learning to Love

The Ashram awakens the consciousness and as Robert Gover (Editor, Writer’s Digest School) so aptly put it, “immerses the reader in a sensory bath that is India.” It is rich with culture and tradition. The characters are complex but so well-defined that we can easily relate to them, as they struggle with life and death questions and decisions; suffering as we all do.

Despite being fiction, it takes you to a time and place where suttee, although outlawed, still took place in reality. Steeped in mystery and spiritual enlightenment, it enthralls the readers and keeps them riveted to their seats as they anxiously turn from one page to the next, not wanting to put it down until the cat and mouse game, which will keep you guessing throughout, is solved and the secrets are revealed.

“It is the story of two people living on opposite ends of the world: one dreaming of death, the other running from it. Improbably, their fate lies wrapped in each other.” - Press Release

Dr. Jonathan Kingsley travels to an ashram in India, trying to escape his suicidal thoughts after the death of his wife. Hoping to find peace by helping others who seek out the shelter of the ashram, Jonathan encounters practices and rituals he never knew existed. As he searches for a reason to keep on living, a young woman struggles to keep her own husband alive, not only out of love, but for her own safety.

It is the hope of the author that those readers, who find themselves like Dr. Kingsley, battling with the demons of losing a loved one to suicide and going through the process of learning to love again or the women of this saga who are victims of abuse, will find a healing and a voice. The Ashram takes this fear and oppression and shows how such trials can lead into happiness and fulfillment.

Sattar Memon infuses this beautifully written story with all the love, experience and passion for life and writing that he has found within himself. It is this labour of love, which has been nurtured for ten years that has finally come to fruition and the results are EXTRAORDINARY! Definitely a novel worth waiting for! Allow yourself to be immersed in it and emerge a stronger person afterwards. Anyone reading The Ashram despite culture, background or walk of life, will be forever affected by the story it has to tell.


Simran: Where are you from and how has this influenced your writing?

Sattar M: I was born in a small village in Rajasthan, India. This is where most suttees happened. About 11 years ago I read a story in an Indian newspaper about a schoolteacher who was planning to sit atop a funeral pyre with her dead husband’s body and become what is called in India a “suttee”. I was devastated by her decision to allow herself to be burned alive with him, so as to “join his soul in heaven.” In a country where unfortunately, women are beaten, mutilated and raped, just because they are women, I couldn’t fathom why she would do this act voluntarily. Thinking that it would be a basis for a short story, eleven years later, it has become a novel. Also, being a cancer specialist for so many years, I have a lot of experience dealing with life and death situations.

Simran: When did your passion for writing begin?

Sattar M: The desire to write has been with me since childhood. And now, the dream has come true.

Simran: What is your favorite part about writing? Your least favorite?

Sattar M: Fantasizing. While penning down the character, I play the role in my mind. I even act and voice the dialogue for effect. (Yes, to avoid involuntary admission into a mental asylum, I keep my study doors closed). Second, it’s a great catharsis. Third, once the scene is complete, it flows in front of my eyes like a scene from a movie. There is nothing least favorite about writing.

Simran: What advice would you impart to aspiring writers?

Sattar M: Have patience, perseverance and a dream, but don’t quit your day job!

Simran: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter while writing? How did you overcome these challenges?

Sattar M: The first challenge was dispelling the fear that a medical doctor can’t write fiction. I went ahead and let the love I had for writing take over. Finding the time to write with an overwhelming work schedule was the second challenge. Keeping at it for ten years until I could complete it was how I overcame it.

Simran: Are there any other books, articles, short stories or poems that you have in print?

Sattar M: Yes, there‘s ‘Manohar’, which is a short story about the oppressed life of a poor gardener in India. ‘Valji, the Vegetable Wallah’, is a tale of an altruistic vegetable farmer, who is ruined by monsoon floods. ‘Indomitable Hope’ tells the saga of a struggling young breast cancer patient, who conquers her disease. ‘Send me an Angel’ is the true story of a WWII veteran, who fights against his imminent death - until a miracle helps him embrace the inevitable peacefully. Then there is ‘The Lesson a Patient Taught Me - Confessions of a Doctor’ and ‘Doctors, the Infallible Species’.

(The information on where each one of these was published can be found on the last page of ‘The Ashram’.)

Simran: The cover of the book is beautifully illustrated and really captures the essence of the story. Was it your concept to do it this way?

Sattar M: Yes, but it was painstakingly designed and redesigned by my friend Dr. Mahendar Paul, a famous, accomplished and much loved veterinarian from Cranston, RI.

Simran: For those not familiar with the term, an ashram is a spiritual hermitage where a guru or spiritual guide teaches. How is it that you chose it for the title of your book?

Sattar M: We all come to this place, rest stop, or spiritual hermitage to pay our dues, do our karmas and move on to the next step in the eternal cycle of nirvana. It seemed a fitting title for the story within its pages.

Simran: Do you see a portrait of yourself in Dr. Jonathan Kingsley?

Sattar M: Yes in some ways. I’m outspoken, loving, respectful…and not a bad doctor.

Simran: What message do you want people to come away with after reading The Ashram?

Sattar M: Hopefully, they will enjoy the story and it will have a positive effect both on their view of death and their ideas of women’s emancipation. Those readers, who find themselves like Dr. Kingsley, battling with the demons of losing a loved one (in this case, his wife) to suicide and going through the process of learning to love again or the women of this saga who are victims of abuse will find a healing and a voice. The Ashram takes this fear and oppression and shows how such trials can lead into happiness and fulfillment.

Simran: I understand you will be donating a portion of the proceeds to a deserving foundation.

Sattar M: The proceeds will be divided among several foundations that are connected to the basic theme of the book; including those who are involved in giving women who have suffered horrific tragedies a voice. My PR people are in the process of researching and contacting worthy charities.

My Submission to Caffeine Society Stories Contest

A Mind-Brewing Experience


The early morning line at Café Arpeggio was out the door as always. Being the best café in Fall River, Massachusetts, their assorted eclectic coffees excelled over what you received at any of the others and was certainly beyond that of the numerous local donut shops. Not often minding the wait, as being a freelance writer, my schedule was ordinarily unrushed, today was different. I had an interview to conduct and was running late. Now, after standing in line with a clear view of the menu board for the last ten minutes, the guy in front of me still couldn‘t make up his mind. The seconds on my watch seemed to tick off louder than usual, echoing in my head, as if to emphasis how ticked off I was in reality. “Come on buddy,” I thought to myself.

After scratching his chin for the fifth time, he came to a decision. “Finally,” I thought.

“I’ll have a brambleberry-filled muffin and a medium Caramel Blizzard Latte, dark with three sugars and extra shots of caramel and whipped cream. Oh, and can you put one of those chocolate covered maraschino cherries on it too please?”

I did a double take. He ordered his coffee the exact same way I did, along with my favorite muffin. “Make that two,” I blurted out loud, not wanting the barista to waste anymore time.

The man turned around to see who shared his creative taste of gourmet brew and bakery delight. He smiled and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who drinks their coffee this way and with the same muffin. Amazing.”

“Maximum doses of caffeine and sugar,” I replied, smiling back. “Sorry about jumping in and ordering mine at the same time but I’m kind of in a hurry.”

“There’s no need to apologize. Actually, I’m running late for an interview myself.”

“An interview? You too?”

The barista broke into the conversation. “Is this all together?”

We both answered simultaneously. “Yes.” “No.”

“Ok, which is it folks? Do you see this line out the door,” the barista asked in frustration.

As he handed a ten-dollar bill to the barista, he adamantly said “yes” and told him to keep the change for his troubles. Turning back to face me, he said, “I insist. Now, we should get to our interviews and allow some of these other people to get their ‘cuppa joe’ too, before they stampede us for taking so long.”

We moved out of the ever-growing line with our carefully guarded items of sustenance. Precariously holding his in one hand, he held out the other in an introductory manner. By the way, my name is Rahul and yours?”

I stood there dumbfounded. How was it that I didn’t recognize him earlier? I slowly reached out for his hand, still in a daze. “Rahul,” I repeated. “Rahul Malhotra?”

“What a coincidence, that’s my name too,” he laughed.

I stuttered. “No, I meant…well you obviously know what I meant. I’m sorry; my name is Michaela, Michaela Simmons. I’m the…”

“Ah yes, you’re the lovely lady who’s conducting the interview that I’m late for. My humble apologies. Nice to finally meet you.”

“I’m just as late, so I apologize as well. And yes, it’s nice to finally meet you too.”

“Well, now that we’ve got the apologies out of the way, if it’s all the same to you, there is an empty booth over in the corner. We could do the interview there and save on any further delays. What do you say?”

“That sounds like a great idea,” I agreed.

After getting settled in the booth, I took one sip of my latte before taking out all the needed equipment for the interview, including my prized copy of his book, which awaited an autograph and a mini tape recorder.

“You don’t mind if I tape it too, do you?”

“Not at all. I’ll just try and speak up over the chaos at the counter.”

We both laughed, which broke the rest of the lingering nervousness.

“Well, I already have an answer to a question I’ve never yet asked when interviewing an author - what is your favorite café java and baked good item.”

“Yes, and you don’t even need to write down the answer to remember it.”

“I think from now on I’ll make it a unique, yet standard question in all my interviews.”

The questions continued until “the interview” concluded several hours later, although by the end of it all I wondered who had queried whom.

Later on that evening, I was sitting at my desk, trying to come up with an interesting ending for my article, which eluded me, that is until I looked at the take out menu from the café. Their slogan read: “The tastiest fun in town.” It seemed to capture the time we spent there and promised to spend again as a couple, hopefully for years to come.

My Make India Smile Contest Submission

Call centers have been getting a lot of negative media attention these days and in some cases, rightly so. But for a change I’d like to relate what it was like working in a hotel reservation call center here in the US. It was quite interesting, to say the least. The callers can come up with some pretty tough and sometimes pretty strange requests. Most of us took it in stride and did everything possible to make sure that the guests had a wonderful experience with us, even before they got to the hotel stay itself.

One of my co-workers really got into his job and one would never remember that they had called the 800 number instead of the hotel directly, after he was finished. This particular day he had a caller who wanted to know if there were any hotels (of our brand) in Mumbai. He found that we did and was so animated while giving her all the wonderful details that he clinched the sale. As a matter of fact, after listening to him, I was ready to book a flight to India as soon as possible, since I had been dying to go already.

Well, it was a few days later that his wife told me how impressed she was with how he made the hotel come alive. I looked at her a little confused, as she knew he was one of the top reservationists because of his style of selling. Surely she had heard him talk about so many of our hotels that she’d be tired of listening. But after she went through the types of rooms and amenities (or amemities as he called them), including butler service, six different restaurants, the fact that it was only five minutes from the airport, and (best of all) the wellness center, which has Indian massage and traditional spa therapy, I thought, either she saw the hotel online or he must have printed out the information and read it off to her. She assured me neither was the case.

She then looked at me and said, “you’re not going to believe it but he was so impressed with this particular hotel that he went through all the details from memory, right down to the reservation number!” “The reservation number,” I said. “Why would he give you the reservation number? Oh don’t tell me, you’re going to India?” She started to laugh. “No, but that’s how ingrained the details of this place were for him, he made the reservation last night…in his sleep!” Now that’s a hotel that makes a lasting impression on you, without even having been there. Guaranteed, that’s the one I’ll be staying at when I finally get there. India, here I come!

My review of The Ashram

The Ashram awakens the consciousness and as Robert Gover (Editor, Writer’s Digest School) so aptly put it, “immerses the reader in a sensory bath that is India.” It is rich with culture and tradition. The characters are complex but so well-defined that we can easily relate to them, as they struggle with life and death questions and decisions; suffering as we all do.

Despite being fiction, it takes you to a time and place where suttee, although outlawed, still took place in reality. Steeped in mystery and spiritual enlightenment, it enthralls the readers and keeps them riveted to their seats as they anxiously turn from one page to the next, not wanting to put it down until the cat and mouse game, which will keep you guessing throughout, is solved and the secrets are revealed.

“It is the story of two people living on opposite ends of the world: one dreaming of death, the other running from it. Improbably, their fate lies wrapped in each other.” - Press Release

Dr. Jonathan Kingsley travels to an ashram in India, trying to escape his suicidal thoughts after the death of his wife. Hoping to find peace by helping others who seek out the shelter of the ashram, Jonathan encounters practices and rituals he never knew existed. As he searches for a reason to keep on living, a young woman struggles to keep her own husband alive, not only out of love, but for her own safety.

It is the hope of the author that those readers, who find themselves like Dr. Kingsley, battling with the demons of losing a loved one to suicide and going through the process of learning to love again or the women of this saga who are victims of abuse will find a healing and a voice. The Ashram takes this fear and oppression and shows how such trials can lead into happiness and fulfillment.

Sattar infuses this beautifully written story with all the love, experience and passion for life and writing that he has found within himself. It is this labour of love, which has been nurtured for ten years that has finally come to fruition and the results are EXTRAORDINARY! Definitely a novel worth waiting for! Allow yourself to be immersed in it and emerge a stronger person afterwards. Anyone reading The Ashram despite culture, background or walk of life, will be forever affected by the story it has to tell.

The Ashram is available at Barnes and Noble, Border Books and Amazon.com.

Indian Nights - 2004

The night air was cold as my sandaled feet walked along in search of their destination. The faint sounds of music could be heard from inside a nearby building. Following the lilting tune, I allowed it to draw me closer to the entrance. The strong yet sweet smell of incense wafted through the air to my nostrils as soon as the door became ajar, inviting me to enter.

The room itself was dimly lit, but became lighter still, as a beautiful young woman, soon to bear her child, traipsed around softly, placing small, newly lit candles on each of the many panes of stained glass windows. Her smile and nod welcomed me.

The artisans assembled were practicing for what was to be one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I was unaware of how this night would leave such a lasting impression, as yet.

Taking a place in the back of the little hall was sufficient for me. But after being invited to move to the front, I couldn’t resist. A decision, which in hindsight, was the best one to have been made.

All the guests were soon to find that this would be a night of whimsical fancy, as we were to be taken through the ages of Indian music, from its ancient roots in Classical Raagas to folk music and devotional hymns, to the present romantic and popular renditions of Indian life, love and majesty.

The next few hours spent listening to the various sangeet was the sweetest journey through Indian music that I had ever encountered up until that point. Closing my eyes, the warm air and aromatic odor enveloped around, as the melodious sounds emanating from the mesmerizing chords of the sitar, the pounding of the tabla, the shimmering glissandos of the harmonium and the soothing expressions of the most exquisite instrument, the human voice, welled up warm emotions within me. For all in tense and purposes, I was in India!

The tiny village was filled with the khubsurat sounds of those gathered to share their sorrows and joys through music and dance, telling the stories of each one’s zindagi.

As one handsome young man took his place behind the tablas, the crowd was hushed to nothing more than a whisper. At the first leisurely, but insistent and compelling tappings, his body and those of his audience began to sway slowly and gently, like the cooling breezes of the night air, which had come to quell the remaining effects of the blistering heat of the day. He closed his eyes, the tempo became faster and faster still, as his skillful hands quickly caressed the smooth form beneath them. His constant swaying hastened its pace to keep up. The amazing speed at which he performed, left me breathless, as I watched in awe.

The intensity heightened until I felt myself wanting to rise and accompany him with the passion expressed through Bharata Natyam. Images of Madhuri Dixit and Shahrukh Khan in the wedding song/dance called Sanso Ki Mala Pe from ‘Koyla’ flooded my mind. If only my inexperience and shyness hadn’t confined me to the place where I sat. How I wished to be transformed into a dancer with the ghungaru, being free of all restraints and allowed to show how this exhilarating and enchanting rhythm was affecting every part of my being at that very moment in time! Then as swiftly as the throbbing sounds of the tablas had commenced, they ceased, leaving me reeling with their echo pulsating in my ears.

Before continuing on, everyone was invited to the table which bore delicious samosas. A welcome treat for the taste buds. Afterward, we quenched our thirst with either water or cola for those who didn’t mind the caffeine at this late hour. I played it safe with the more natural drink of the two.

The air then again became filled with song. The Karnatak vocals took precedence and eventually those of the timeless “Rang Barase took their place. First, the men with their deep voices and expressive gestures, burst forth in song. The voice of one particularly distinguished older man captured my rapt attention, as if I had met him before. Had I? There was something very familiar about him, a connection perhaps to a mutual friend or relative. In any event, I could picture him being on the silver screen as he sang truthfully from his heart.

Next the women added their softer renditions of popular filmi tunes. Then, a combination of the two styles united. The playfulness and celebratory memories of Holi were conjured and one wished the festival of colours could be enjoyed on every day of the year.

Unfortunately, the festivities came to an end all too soon, which I didn’t want to happen. I would have been content to stay all night, until the morning sun rose up over the horizon. But I had without meaning to, been transported back to the tiny hall that I had found just a few short hours before. It was time to leave, but not without taking all the sights, sounds, and tastes with me so that I might be able to vividly recall them for years to come.