What does diversity in Australian writing look like?

Today is a wonderful day! I have had two firsts: my first time ever speaking at a writers’ festival and the publication of a personal piece in an Australian literary magazine. (another blog post on this, soon)

As a freelance writer it is a challenge to be able to write stories and essays for myself, from my own sensibilities AND get paid for it. I have to constantly look at my next deadline, next pitch and ask for work, the terms and conditions for which are set by others.

So it is a joy when I can write a personal take on something I deeply care of about and feel close to. I feel happy that this is my first creative personal piece in an Australian journal because it is about my respect for Indigenous Australian writing and an expression of my discomfort and disconcerting negotiation in an Australian literary landscape as an Indian writer who’s only just arrived in Australia.

Read the piece by clicking here or below.

Broadening the narrative around and about diversity

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On Teaching Exploration: The Pigeon Paper

Jan Priddy writes about the joys of discovering oneself and the things we believe to be true change after investigation.
“… writing creates learning, because it forces us to examine our knowledge in the face of evidence in black and white. …Research leads from the obvious to the obscure.”

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

by Jan Priddy

z pigeons.jpg (c) 2016 photo by Dinty W.Moore

In my college writing class I assign “The Pigeon Paper.” This is a short expository essay written to address a one-word topic—write about “squash” or write about “salt”—a paper completed in ten days. The first year it was about pigeons—hence the name. We began the assignment by brainstorming what we knew individually about pigeons and considering different structures for an expository paper (comparison, chronology, description); overnight each of us researched and the next day we brought in research and each proposed three potential topics and approaches; then we had a few days to complete a draft for peer editing in class, and a final draft of the paper was handed in the following day.

Long before I began teaching, I had faith both in assignments and research. I believe writing creates learning, because it forces us to examine our knowledge in the…

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What is Indian? An open letter to BuzzFeed Videos on what it means when you call something Indian.

Dear BuzzFeed Videos,

It’s a rainy evening in my part of the world. It’s cold on this Sunday evening and Im doing the obvious: searching to watch something that will make me laugh, think or intrigue me enough to decompress the weight of the week just passed.

I happen on this video. No clue why I clicked on it, but perhaps my ascending age, Indian heritage, gender-based social programming will account for an answer to that.

Im writing to you because of the claims made in the video. Sure you know what happens, but for those who don’t, and since this is an open letter, let me break it down:

It starts off with a model in a red lehenga-choli and a diaphanous dupatta twirling to the beats of ODESZA’s Say My Name and this text appears on the screen:

Red and gold are traditional colours for Indian bridal outfits.

Yes, perhaps. This follows soon after:

Bridal dresses are often adorned with jewels and can often be other eye-catching colours depending on the region or culture.

VERY NICE. Im liking the bend towards inclusivity and the use of the word ‘often’.

All the while the model is seen in different configurations of bridal clothes ranging in the colour scheme of red, scarlet, maroon and magenta.

Then this visual and text appears: Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 6.06.12 pm

Alright.

Next, a golden Ganesha statuette appears on screen followed by the model (bride) being garlanded with flowers and this text appears with it:

The jaimala is the exchange of flower garlands, symbolising the union of partners.

Cut to the Ganesha statuette again and shortly after, this:

Brides adorn themselves in gold to invoke the goddess Lakshmi and her blessings of prosperity.

Right. OK.

And just as this shot below appears, I know that it’s no longer a video about “Iconic” “Indian” Bridal Styles.
Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 6.16.51 pm.png

I say this because the video equates Indian to mean one thing. One cultural belief. It enforces one kind of story about what Indian means. I can’t support that.

It implies that weddings in India have a fire around which the couple take vows, all brides wear Mehendi and the exchange of flower garlands is common practice in these weddings. All of this is partly true. And this is where I take issue with this video.

What bothers me is the claim this video makes that THESE here are the ICONIC and INDIAN bridal styles (and Indian wedding practices). The only Indian bridal styles, in a sense. It doesn’t say so, but the implication is loud and clear.

It started off quite nicely by suggesting that styles may differ because of the difference in region and culture, but stopped just at that.

It excludes so many Indian bridal wedding styles. For example what about the Syrian Christian bride from Kerala, or the Khasi bride from Meghalaya? Is their bridal couture not haut enough to be “Iconic Indian”?

Why am I bothering with this?

Because representation matters.

When people start producing content which categorises and in effect portrays a particular culture/group of people to mean one thing it sets stereotypes, it sets the narrative, which basically sets like cement does.

It fixes the narrative of what ‘Iconic’ and ‘Indian’ bridal styles can mean. Sure there are people who are smart enough to take all this with several pinches of salt, and just enjoy it for what it is. But the problem arises when this happens too many times.

The growing and sustained narrative in India about culture or beliefs is set by the majority. And that’s not ok. Because it is exclusive and seeks to further one type of story about what being Indian means.

Videos such as these reach a large audience, who may or may not be affected or influenced by its content. Hoping it’s more of the latter. But the video adds to the majority narrative, of what a default “Indian” bride is. In its narrow portrayal, it does not seek to include, or even attempt to state that there are other kinds of Indian bridal styles. Instead, it seeks to portray not only bridal couture of a particular group of people, but also presents their wedding rituals as “Indian” without ever suggesting that these are Hindu customs, which are PART of the larger cultural group (s) that live in India and identify as Indian.

This video says Indian = Hindu. This is true.

Although the implication comes across as Indian = (only) Hindu. And this isn’t true.

And before people identifying themselves as Hindus jump at me for pointing this out, let me say I have nothing against you as people practicing their cultural beliefs. But I have a problem when content creators, creatives, producers & directors envision “Indian” as meaning only one particular kind or culture. It is incorrect and unfair.

BuzzFeed Videos, I don’t think this will reach your creatives in the meaningful way I want it to and certainly will not affect their creative processes for the next “Indian” “Iconic” video they make, but I had to say what I did.

I live overseas currently. I am constantly battling what being Indian means when I meet non-Indian people who are at times surprised by me being an Indian (for various reasons like language, appearance, food choices etc).

When I talk to such people I tell them that Indians are diverse. Indians live and thrive within their communities with people from different cultures, faiths and backgrounds. Of course they do so with their own individual struggles (gender, cast, class – I don’t intend to prettify that) – but all in all never presenting one type of India.

So, why do such creative outputs come to be? Outputs which are forever pander to the narrative of the majority, the mainstream, the single story of what Indian means?

Majority is authority, right?

 

In support of women in remote communities in Australia

Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to be able to write about things I support. This has brought me in contact with inspiring people who perform work that is both worthwhile and worthy of support and interest.

One such person I interviewed recently is Clare Wood, a community facilitator with Enterprise Learning Solutions for an article I wrote.

She works in the not-for-profit sector with Indigenous Australians in remote communities in Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Click here to read the article.

Literary Commons! Day 1

So, today was day 1 of this fest I’m volunteering at ~ Literary Commons! It’s brought 12 Dalit and tribal Indian writers from India to meet with Australian Indigenous writers in a spirit of commonality that stems from being colonised by others and by their own fellow countrymen.

Least to say the talks were enthralling, engaging and unlike the many seminars/talks I’ve been to, these weren’t sedate at all. Passionate and political minds were meeting to discuss how the knowledge of indigenous peoples both in India and in Australia can be, for the lack of a better term, used to further the understanding, respect and acceptance of indigenous and tribal peoples in both countries through future creative collaborations, perhaps. The word translation came up a lot.

Now, these writers from India did not all have English as their first language, but the spirit with which they embraced this minor obstacle was both humbling and reflective of the efforts artists and creatives will go to in order to bridge gaps and forge new relationships. Everyone wanted to be heard, everyone wanted to be understood, everyone wanted to be accepted ~ and that’s exactly what happened (or at least, Im hoping everyone tried to make that happen).

Tomorrow is day 2, and it promises to be as exciting as today. We kick the day off with my favourite topic: women in literature. This time P Sivakami (an author I have read at uni) will be part of a panel which will discuss women in Dalit literature. There will also be a discussion on ‘New Directions’ apart from the many others.

I hope to do a a detailed post about each session. But for now, this.

Attempting daily blogging

Half a bar of Whittaker’s Almond Gold was consumed in the creation of today’s posts and figuring out what goes where.

Bear with me please, this will take only a few days. Exciting days abound.

For example, today I sent off my first ever business cards for printing. I have to collect them in an hour. This excited me like a new toy excites a kid – Is this a good analogy? hmm…

For the next three days Im going to be part of an interesting series of events which will have 12 Indian Dalit, tribal and Bhasha writers (more on the categorisation of Dali, tribal, Bhasha) in conversation with 6 Australian Indigenous Australian writers. There will be talks, readings and discussions. I hope to put up pictures and quips/quotes from the events (i.e if I’m allowed to).

More on Facebook and the website for the event, if you’re interested.

Family violence

Of late Australia’s been rocked by some terrible cases of publicised domestic violence cases which have included deaths, trauma for the injured and abused and shame felt by members of the communities (which are spread all-over Australia, frankly) in which these cases have occurred.

Family violence campaigner Rosie Batty’s selection as the Australian of the year for 2015 brought the desperation and ugliness of family violence to the fore and opened up conversations on a national scale. She as a mother had the terrible misfortune of losing her eleven year old boy Luke to the violence perpetrated by her ex partner.

In February this year, I had the opportunity of speaking to some members of the Indian community about family violence, council assistance and recovery options open to them. I wrote up a piece for Eureka Street, an online Australian Today journal of analysis, commentary and reflection on current issues in the worlds of politics, religion and culture.

It’s a short 600 word piece, have a read and tell me what you think.