Why is that Santa Black?

A small anecdote about race…


I work for a small branch in a huge, urban public library system.  Last Christmas the supervisor for the libraries in this area gave our branch a present….a plastic Santa face to put up as decoration.  Earlier this week, a kindergarten class came to the library for their regular visit.  One kid, very smart but sometimes irritating because he loves attention a little too much, asked, “Why is that Santa black?” 


The child was African-American as are most of the libraries patrons…..In fact, I’d say that 80-95% of the people who use this neighborhood library are African-American.  Out of a class of 22 kids, maybe 1 will be Caucasian. 


Anyway, the question took me aback.  The class was on its way out the door and I was a little flustered so the best I could come up with was to say, “Why not?  Why shouldn’t the Santa be black?”  I was also curious as to why he thought Santa’s must be white.  I guess he always saw Santa represented as white.  If I had more time perhaps I would have said something like, “Santa represents generosity and hospitality.  Santa never really existed, but everyone can be like Santa by being generous, hospitable, and cheerful.”  I also didn’t want to be the one to break it to him that Santa doesn’t exist. 


What would you have said to a six year old asking, “Why is that Santa black?”

What does this say about India and the U.S.?  For me, it was a reminder that kids notice everything.  When Satya and I have a child, we will have to make some conscious decisions about what we show our child.  Will we have a white Santa or a brown Santa?  I don’t know.  St. Nicholas was from Turkey so if we want to be historically accurate a brown Santa would be best.  On the other hand, my Caucasian family is the one that celebrates Christmas, not his Indian one.

Our MultiCultural Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! 


A while back some people asked me to blog about how Satya and I will be celebrating Christmas this year.  This year will be a bit different because we aren’t celebrating it in Minnesota with my family.


My aunt seems a little worried that I’ll turn my back on my Catholic upbringing.  For my birthday this year she gave me: cloth Christmas placemats and napkins, an Advent wreath, and some homemade soap from a monastery (smells like Christmas soap), and a batch of her special 7 Step Bars (one of my favorite sweets). 


Advent wreaths count down the weeks until Christmas.  The first Sunday of Advent one candle is lit.  This past weekend was the fourth Sunday so all candles were lit.  The third Sunday of Advent always has a pink candle.  The other candles are all either purple or blue-the colors of advent. Each Sunday has a name and a special theme.  For example, the third Sunday is called “Gaudete” which means “Rejoice” because soon Christmas will arrive.  The Advent wreath also came with prayers to say while lighting the candles.  Each week has a different prayer.  When I was a kid, we would make Advent wreaths in Wednesday night religion class and be sent home with prayers to say. 


Each Christmas season sometime after Thanksgiving my mom’s family would start baking.  They’d make fudge, gingerbread, spritz cookies, lemon bars, plantation bars, 7 Step Bars (graham cracker crust, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut and more), and more.  On the weekends when we’d come to my grandparent’s house for Sunday Supper we’d play games and watch movies and eat lots of sweets.  The sweets would be stored in empty Blue Bunny ice cream buckets and put in “the cold room”-the coldest room of the upstairs near the attic where there was no heat.  This year, since we aren’t making it back, my aunt sent me my favorite kind.  Someday I’m sure I will make 7 Step bars with my own kids.  Luckily, Satya likes them too.


We did get a Christmas tree.  We got ours about two weeks ago.  It was a journey!  First we went to Home Depot because we heard they had $30 trees.  We didn’t like any of their trees.  Then, we went to Lowe’s.  Their trees weren’t much better, but they were on sale and we found a cute round one.  It was also bitterly cold outside-the wind was blowing hard.  We asked Lowe’s for a tree stand, but they sold out.  We went back to Home Depot but they also had sold out.  2 weeks before Christmas!!  Then we tried Target.  At Target we found some cute ornaments and some great multi-colored lights, but no tree stand. We even got so desperate as to go to Whole Foods because they had a lot of Christmas trees for sale.  They too were sold out of tree stands.  After Whole Foods, we got so sick of the whole thing we decided to go across the river to New Jersey.  We raced back to our apartment, put the tree in a mixing bowl in the tub so it wouldn’t dry out too much and then continued our search.  We had to drive almost an hour, but the first place we tried did have a tree stand. They sold out of their metal tree stands, but still had plenty of the plastic kind. 


Then, we decided to eat at one of our favorite South Indian restaurants, but it was packed so we walked down to an Italian one.  We returned home, put the tree in the stand and then decorated it.  When we were finished at roughly 12:30 am, Satya got on Skype and showed his parents our tree.  It was our first tree as a couple and Satya’s first Christmas tree period. 


Ornaments:  We got our ornaments at Pier 1, Target and A.C. Moore.  Pier 1 has some gorgeous ornaments.  We found a simple angel holding a harp go at the top of the tree. At Pier 1 I found a red bird ornament complete with green glitter to outline the wings and bright red tail feathers.  My grandmother had Christmas ornaments from her family going back to the ’20s and ’30s.  Some of my favorites were the delicate bird ornaments.  She even had little nests to go with the birds!  We also found the obligatory “Merry Christmas 2008” ornament to commemorate our first Christmas tree and first Christmas married.  Satya’s ornament taste runs more to the rustic.  He loves cabins for some reason.  One of his picks was a little house painted dark red with a tin roof.  Maybe some day we will have a little red cabin…We did try to find a star to go on top the tree. Stars and angels are the most popular choices for tree toppers.  Also, stars are more multicultural for us than angels since Hindu representations of angels don’t look like Christian representations of angels.  Stars are basically stars though and stars are also very important for Deepauli.  Once we find one we like we’ll replace the angel.  Other ornaments are a red reindeer, sled, white owl, and a beaded reindeer.  We have about 12 ornaments.  I figure that as the years go by we will slowly gather more. 


Tonight we plan on traveling to be with the family of my sister-in-law.  Her family is from Argentina so we will be having a very multicultural celebration.  We will be doing a simple gift exchange and eating lots of food.  Satya mentioned going to midnight Mass, but I don’t think anybody else is Catholic besides me.  We might try to find one, or may not.  Going to church does make Christmas seem more real-my favorite time of year for churchgoing was always Advent and the Christmas Season.

My Favorite Kannada Film Yet “Aptha Mithra”

I had nearly lost faith in Kannada movies, but luckily we saw “Aptha Mithra” this past weekend and faith was restored.  “Aptha Mithra” was very entertaining and we both enjoyed the movie very much.  Also, Kannada movies are starting to make some sense-words are more familiar, as are some of the actors and actresses. 


Plot: I’d call “Aptha Mithra” a suspense film.  It isn’t gory and there is not any blood or guts.  The film does have a ghost, though.  In a city in Southern Karnataka there is a large, beautiful bungalow that had been abandoned for years.  A young couple comes to rent it out, even though others try to dissuade them.  One day the curious young wife goes up to the haunted room and opens the door.  The ghost is released.  The ghost is the mistress of a king.  She was a dancing girl.  Her lover lived in a small house on the property and when the king found out she had a lover, he killed her by lighting her on fire.  Her angry ghost was locked into a room of the bungalow.  How will the ghost leave? 


One of the interesting subplots in the movie was how the ancient and modern work together.  For example, the character of the holy man seems to me to represent the ancient.  Vijay’s character seems to represent modernity.  Only by working together can they force the ghost leave. 


Another unique fact is that the story first appeared in a Malayam movie (the main language spoken in Kerala in South India), and afterwards was made into a Tamil movie (main language of the state of Tamil Nadu also in South India) and even in 2007 was made into a Hindi (Bollywood) movie, Bhool Bhulaiyaa.  I’d like to see the other versions some day to see what remained the same and what got changed to fit the different cultures. 


The film seemed to be like a “who’s who” of the Kannada film industry starring popular actors like Dwarakish, Ramesh, Soundarya, and Prema, .  My favorite character in the film was Vijay, the psychiatrist played by Vishnuvardhan.  I thought his cool guy, always in control character was a little funny.  This actor reminds me of Chuck Norris of Walker Texas Ranger fame.  I guess it is that they are both so over the top?  Both have reddish hair?  Both look to be the same age and both have over the top fight scenes?  His character was definitely larger than life…..how many psychiatrists can you think of that could fight 5 or more guys at the same time and win? 


This film was a huge hit when it came out in 2004.  It ran in movie theaters for over a year and broke all sorts of records.  The movie also won lots of awards- Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Music Director.

I will be watching more Kannada movies after this.  Unfortunately, we are nearing the end of Netflix’s Kannada selections.  Soon we will have to find another way to get our Kannada movies.

Kannada Movie-Joke Falls

This weekend Satya and I watched another Kannada movie-“Joke Falls”.  This movie was very, very popular in Karnataka about four years ago.  It is a comedy.  I am beginning to lose heart with Kannada movies.  I think I assumed that since I like Bollywood movies that I’d like Kannada movies.  Of course this is not a fair to anyone.  This movie just didn’t make any sense to me and I didn’t think it was very funny-well, except for the 3 wannabe gangsters.  Their ridiculous appearances made me smile.


Plot:  The movie opens with an ode to Karnataka and to Kannada.  The scenery is extremely beautiful, particularly of Jog Falls.  Jog Falls is the highest “plunge” waterfall in the world, according to Wikipedia. 


A goodhearted (he lets the caretaker of the botany center visit his family by taking over his duties) botany professor marries a botany student.  I couldn’t figure out why she was so enamored by him…it seemed she made her mind up to marry him just because he wrote a well-known biology text.  The wife goes on and on about how marvelous her brother-in-law is.  The wife considers the brother-in-law to be next to God.  The brother-in-law is getting ready to be a judge so is being extra careful about his connections to make sure he is not connected to any scandal that could jeopardize his chances at a judgeship.  The brother-in-law disapproves of the botany professor.  I forget the exact reason why.  Salary not high enough maybe?


The botany professor decides to play a trick on the pompous brother-in-law.  He decides to become the brother-in-law’s chauffeur.  Part of the reason I think I didn’t find it funny was because a lot of the movie relies on language jokes and puns that don’t translate well or go right over my head.  For example, the botany professor’s alias as the brother-in-law’s driver is Priyatama.  Priyatama translates into “lover”, according to Satya.  The brother-in-law got very uncomfortable when his wife calling the botany professor/driver “Priyatama”.  Also, the brother-in-law also liked hearing pure Kannada uncontaminated by English so “Priyatama” would point out the idiosyncrasies of English.  “Priyatama” gets in a love triangle when a servant girl develops a crush on him.  “Priyatama”/botany professor get caught “doing yoga” with wife in the forest by a girl who then reports back to the brother-in-law.  Brother-in-law questions why his chauffeur would do yoga with his sister-in-law.  The movie was filled with mix-ups like that.


I couldn’t really figure out how making the brother-in-law look stupid would make the brother-in-law accept the botany professor.  Somehow it all worked out and there was a happy ending.


Good parts: I liked the songs.  As I mentioned before, Kannada songs are very different-sounding from Bollywood songs.  Part of this is because Southern Indian classical music, Carnatic, has very different influences from Northern Indian, Hindustani classical music. 


I thought the 3 gangsters were funny, although I thought the middle gangster with the two earrings, big necklace, and skirt-like attire was a cross-dresser at first.  Satya informed me that that is the typical look of a Tamil gangster.  Oops!  I have a lot to learn….


It was nice to pick up more Kannada.  Occasionally, I can match up words with their subtitles so that is a good feeling.


Finally, saw some more attractive men in the movies.  They were in the background, but still nice to see.


Scenery was nice.  Satya likes seeing the interiors of the homes and the scenery.  Jog Falls is awe-inspiring even on tv.  Maybe someday I’ll see it in person.


My conclusion:  Learning to appreciate Kannada movies is going to take longer than I thought.  I am not giving up though.  At least watching the movies gives me the opportunity to hear Kannada and to see how people act, dress, decorate homes, etc. 


To all those Kannadigas out there, what are some of your favorite movies?  I’m open to all suggestions!

Book Review–Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading this on lunch breaks and on the train.  First off, it is a long book 560+ pages!  Secondly, I can see why some love this book and some hate it.  Mehta is a great writer who writes with beauty and power.  Some of the pages brought tears to my eyes-describing the street children, interviewing those who burned Muslims during riots, etc. 


I think the reason people hate the book is because Mehta does not spend much of his book talking about ordinary, middle-class people.  Instead, much of the book is given over to gangsters, rioters, bar dancers and their customers, Bollywood, and slum dwellers.   Do these people make Mumbai unique?  Are the middle classes the same as everywhere?  Perhaps not, but maybe Mehta wanted to focus on people who are far from ordinary or maybe he wanted to find out “why?”  Why do gangsters become gangsters?  Why would a girl choose to be a bar girl?  Why would someone leave their comfortable village life for a crowded room in a slum that they’d share with their spouse and 3 children?  How could someone marry someone only 4 weeks after they met for the first time and never having met their future spouse alone?  I think Mehta does answer all those questions well.  Maybe Mehta is calculating-he focuses on those people because those are the people that people in the West know about, wonder about, and want to read about.


Another reason people might not like the book is that Mehta does not do much to change Western stereotypes about India.  The India he chronicles is (mostly) the India that Westerners see on tv commercials that ask for donations to help feed starving children.  The India in the book is mostly dirty, poor, and chaotic.  Or it is fantastically wealthy draped in gold, diamonds, and silks.   Perhaps if Mehta had chosen to write about more mundane characters perceptions would change a bit or if he’d chosen to write about other parts of India. 


I read parts of the book to my husband.  He does not have fond memories of Mumbai. Each time his family visited or passed through, they would get ripped off.  The “Mumbai for Mumbaikers” mentality doesn’t make it more popular with him or his family.  Also, the city is very crowded, loud, chaotic, corrupt, and dirty.  He takes umbrage at Mehta’s assumption that all Indians aspire to Mumbai and that Mumbai is the future of India.  He prefers to think of Bangalore as the future and as a Gandhi follower, thinks most people are better off in villages.  Strangely enough though, he doesn’t think Mumbai is any more corrupt than NY or any other huge metropolis.  To him, all big cities are the same.  For those that have read the book and visited both cities, do you think they are equally corrupt?


Reading this book did not make me long to visit Mumbai.  I can see why people love it-relying on personal networks to get things done rather than on “the system”, the excitement, etc.  Despite the corruption, in some ways Mumbai is a very safe city.  For example, if you walk alone at night you are not likely to be robbed, raped, or killed.  People are still kind to each other and accommodating-even the people in the insanely crowded commuter trains will make efforts to make room for each other and to help others catch the train if they are running late. 


Some parts of the book were fascinating and I think very relevant to today.  Mehta clearly describes why Mumbaikers rip off each other and everyone else possible and why gangsters are so powerful there.  He also clearly makes the connection between gangsters and terrorists. 


I enjoyed reading the book a lot.  It did help explain why some things are the way they are.  Mehta wrote a great book.

One Word Meme

Evenshine tagged me for this meme.  Thanks, Evenshine.  I agree…the trickiest part is the one word answers.  I was very tempted to write more.

Where is your cell phone? Home
Where is your significant other? Computing
Your hair color? Brown
Your mother? Nurturing
Your father? Conformist
Your favorite thing? Learning
Your dream last night? Forgotten
Your goal? Growth
The room you’re in? Public
Your hobby? Cooking
Your fear? Stagnation
Where do you want to be in six years? Parent
Where were you last night? Apartment
What you’re not? Unchanging
One of your wish-list items? Perfume
Where you grew up? Minnesota
The last thing you did? Clean
What are you wearing? Warmth
Your TV? Overbearing
Your pet? Imagined
Your computer? Exploration
Your mood? Impatient
Missing someone? Family
Your car? None
Something you’re not wearing? Necklace
Favorite store? Banana
Your summer? Full
Love someone? Mucho
Your favorite color? Turquoise
When is the last time you laughed? Afternoon
Last time you cried? Anger

I tag everyone who would like to respond.