“Email is Not Dead. It is here to Stay" -- V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email.

V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai is a scientist-technologist, entrepreneur and educator. He has been an inventor since the age of 14.

In 1978, Shiva invented email, while a 14-year-old high schooler, working as a research scholar at a small college in Newark, NJ.

Shiva invented and defined “email” as we all know and use today when he created a computer program which replicated electronically all of the functions of the interoffice paper-based mail system: Inbox, Outbox, Memo, Address Book, Attachments, Folders, etc. --- the system that was the foundation of every office, from the President of the United States, on.

The United Stated government formally and legally recognized Shiva’s invention of email  by awarding him the first US Copyright for “Email”, “Computer Program for Electronic Mail System”, in 1982, at a time Copyright was the only way to protect software inventions.

First Outstanding Scientist Technologist of Indian Origin. He created Systems Visualization, a pioneering new course at MIT, in the Department of Comparative Media Studies, to enable MIT students to communicate through art and design complex systems. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the International Center for Integrative Systems and Innovation Corps.

He had an interactive session with Abhijit Ganguly about the relevance of email, his new book The Email Revolution by Penguin, and about Innovation Corps --- a foundation he launched to enable youth innovation from India to the United States.

It is widely felt that the email is dying. Is it true? What can be an alternative? 

When you look at the origins of email, email is the electronic version of the interoffice mail system. When people say email is dead, they say that out of ignorance. When we understand that there are three types of communication streams, this ignorance becomes apparent, as I discuss in The Email Revolution.

One stream of communication is short messaging. Short messages are sent when you want to get out the message very quickly.  Such form of messaging dates all the way back to smoke signals, drum beats, in ancient times.  In modern times, when a secretary takes a little note or leaves sticky notes --- that’s a form of short messaging. That’s very similar to our current digital communication with forms such as chat messaging, SMS, or Twitter.

Another stream of communication is community messaging. That dates back all the way back to cave paintings. People would get together and do cave painting as one community, each “posting” their part of their painting --- the original “Facebook”. In this lineage, we have the community bulletin board. That’s essentially what a blog is today.  The communications are posted, made public, and everyone can give their “two cents”.

The third stream of communication really comes from formal business communication. This stream of communication dates all the way back to when writing began, originally done for commerce, on stone tablets, then papyrus.In the office environment this appeared as the “Memo” --- interoffice memos. The memo was very structured, and required an entire system --- the interoffice mail system to support its processing and distribution, with a complex set of functions and parts.

Between 1978 and 1993, before the web took off, email was used in the business environment. You didn’t need the Internet. Email was used on Local Area Networks (LANs) or Wide Area Networks (WANS). In 1993, when the Web came, we saw web-based email applications, such as HotMail, and AOL, which had the same functions as email, the first system I created in 1978. For consumers, email was now avaiable supporting B2C communications.  A consumer could send an email to the White House or to Nike.
With the coming of SMS,  some experts proclaimed “email is dead”. When Facebook and bulletin boards came along with the discussion threads, people like Mark Zuckerberg also started making comments, “email is dead”.
Gmail originally provided just email, then added chat (short messaging), and then began adding community messaging functions like Facebook, in Google Plus. Facebook had to respond to that. Facebook had chat and community messaging but did not have email. The day Zuckerberg said email was dead was the same day Facebook was adding email functionality!
So when you look at Facebook and Gmail, they really have those three streams of messaging.  It is absolute insanity to say email is dead, when the facts show email volume continues to grow, and more commerce and business is done via email than any other digital medium.

For business people, the key is to recognize that email is going to be here for a long time. The case studies we share in The Email Revolution provide a range of examples of how to exploit email in creative ways to get, keep and grow customers. In fact, email is becoming more and more an acceptable part of formal communications.  In the last five years, some of the European courts have ruled that email can be used to issue warrants and summons, for example.

What do you think about the state of research in Indian educational institutions? How can research and innovation be encouraged in these institutions?

I was appointed in 2009 to set up the largest innovation initiative by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from CSIR, to launch CSIR-Tech.  I was recruited as an Additional Secretary, Scientist Level H, in the Indian government.  I saw first-hand, the incredible talent within India and its scientists at CSIR, but a feudal, nepotistic infrastructure never allowed those with real merit to rise.  In fact, Lab directors were afraid of their own subordinates, that if they created something of relevance, the subordinate would get credit and supercede them!

I wasn’t able to fulfill my goals at CSIR --- because, the bureaucrats actually were incentivized to suppress Indian scientists.  Some have called CSIR, the Council for the Suppression of Indian Research. The bureaucrats wanted me to be like a Barbie doll, so they could tell the Indian public, we hired this MIT guy and all is well.  The problem was that I actually wanted to help India, my people. I naively thought I was hired to bring change. They could not bribe me with the nice house, servants, car, etc.  In some sense, they made a big hiring mistake.

I met many scientists --- some producing amazing innovations but the incentive model had been stifled. CSIR supported people writing papers and simply publishing patents ---not actually creating innovations --- the original intention of CSIR.

The truth is that there are a lot of smart people in India. Since 1947, India has not  indigenously created any Nobel prize winners in science or medicine. But if you follow my journey in inventing email,  I innovated email before I came to MIT. Email was created by a 14-year-old Indian boy, in one of the poorest cities in the US.
What was the ecosystem that allowed me to innovate email in 1978?
The ecosystem was one of freedom and respect. There was no oppressive hierarchy. Even at the age of 14, I was given tremendous respect.  I learned that innovation can happen anytime, at anyplace and by anybody.
Business entrepreneurs already know this. You don’t need necessarily go to IITs or the MIT to innovate.  I’ve been an innovator before MIT, during MIT and after MIT --- so I know this all too well.   I think ten to fifteen years from now, hopefully sooner, everyone will recognize that anyone can innovate --- and it won’t be that surprising that a 14-year-old created email in 1978.
Innovation is part of our DNA, and no one should be owning or controlling innovation. People who control innovation are as bad as Monsanto trying to control seeds and monopolize farming. Currently, the world needs to create 3 billion new jobs in the next 10 years. Right now we have 1.2 billion --- that means we have a deficit of 1.8 billion new jobs.
Creation of those jobs is not going to happen by putting capital into a couple of  “Innovation Centers” in major cities or hubs.  Innovation has to dispersed everywhere, so it can grow like an uncontrolled, wild seed --- if we are going to meet the need of those 1.8 billion jobs.
Last August 2013, back in Newark, NJ, the home of email, I have launched Innovation Corps. We want to identify twleve students in the 14-20 age group in the US and an equal number in India. The aim is to unleash innovation in inner-cities, villages,  by identifying and supporting those teenagers in high school who wish to see their ideas translated into tangible products and services.

Innovation Corps will support such teenagers with both cash as well as services to foster an environment for innovation, by providing them a similar ecosystem I had in 1978: mentors, good teachers, acess to infrastructure, some capital and local and community support.

All of my proceeds of The Email Revolution are going towards Innovation Corps.

How can politicians use email?

Politicians can use email to understand their constituency and respond to their needs.  Bill Clinton was aware of this as far back as 1993, as I share in the book.  Back then, I worked with the White House --- my second life with email, when I won a contest to automatically analyse and sort incoming email, sponsored by the Clinton White House.  That experience led to me starting EchoMail, Inc. 
 A few years later, I had dinner with President Clinton, and I shared how email could be used for extending the broadcast TV medium to have interactions with his constituency.  He got this, and understood this better than most senior VPs of Marketing in major organizations.
In an email, people tell you things that they don’t do in a simple marketing survey because it’s more intimate. By mining email, businesses can understand customer needs, get ideas for new products and be responsive.
We also worked on George Bush’s campaign. Email helped them in winning the elections. They used email to build relationships one-on-one by integrating their grassroots efforts with email communications.. I would suggest for any politician, while social media is good for getting “follower”, email is where one can convert followers to voters.
What is your view on the Indian youth?
I think that India is poised for a very big revolutionary phase. The youth are extremely bright and nobody can mislead them. My role is to inspire the youth and make them recognize that India has a huge history of innovation.


Tagore was an internationalist – how I would have loved to be with him when he met Albert Einstein!- Lee-Alison Sibley

She is a singer, an actor, a writer, a social activist and a teacher.  She marched for peace with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and works with a number of NGOs to alleviate poverty in the poorest neighborhoods.  She is Lee-Alison Sibley, an American who loves India.  Lee has a Master of Music degree and a Master of Education degree.  She has sung, taught, lectured and acted all over the world.  From folk music to opera to Broadway, Lee has done it all, and while living in Kolkata added Rabindrasangeet to her repertoire with her album “The Distant Near.”

How did your tryst with Rabindrasangeet happen? What has been your initial inspiration?

It is interesting that you use the term “tryst” as if it was a romance and the songs were my lover!  I guess in a way it has been like that since 2002, when I first heard the songs.  I had been reading Tagore poems for many years before that, since I was young and impressionable, but I hadn’t heard the music until I was welcomed to Kolkata with a performance at the American Center by Pramita Mallick.  That changed everything for me – I fell in love with the songs and asked her if she could teach them to me.  I’m fairly sure Pramita did not think I was serious at first, but as I’m a professionally trained musician, a singer, I followed up and learned the songs I later performed with and with other artists. 

How challenging was it initially?

Pramita is really intelligent and savvy – her English is impeccable.  When she heard my voice for the first time, she knew that my western classical training would not be appropriate for all the Rabindrasangeet.  She chose those songs whose melodies were adapted from British folk tunes by Tagore and we both decided my voice was most suitable for those songs.  As Pramita is an excellent teacher, I learned the songs quickly and started to perform them almost right away.

What does Tagore mean to you?

People have heard me describe my first visit to Jorasanko when I saw where Tagore “breathed his last” and I burst into tears!  Tagore was a visionary poet, a man who knew that societies need to break down borders, who knew women play a most important role and need education.  He was an internationalist – how I would have loved to be with him when he met Albert Einstein!  He was a risk taker, one who was not afraid to tell the British to keep their knighthood – he didn’t want it after what they had done.  I admire him on so many levels – it would take hours for me to explain.

What is your favorite Rabindrasangeet number?

That is a most difficult question as I love so many of the songs.  When I sing “Ami chini go chini” I feel I am the bideshini he wrote about.  With “Prancay choku na chay” I can flirt and have fun with the audience.  In “Alo amar alo” I am transported to the light and “Amra shabai raja” reminds me we are all equal under the universal laws of the heavens.  My first song, taught to me by a Bengali officer at the US Consulate, Tinku Roy, was “Phuley, phuley, doley, doley” which I have sung hundreds of times around the world, in NGOs everywhere and even at dinner parties.  And it doesn’t stop there…

What is your take on experimenting with Tagore’s songs?

Would you believe me if I told you I was meant to sing the songs, that I was meant to be in Kolkata for three years, that I believe Tagore would have appreciated my interpretation of his music?  All of this is how I feel.  I left a piece of myself behind when I left Kolkata and I will always feel at home there.  I believe in Tagore’s philosophies on education, nationalism, the caste system and the treatment of women in society.  I think we would have gotten along very well indeed had we met face to face.

What are your future plans in this field?

I left Kolkata in 2005, but never stopped singing rabindrasangeet.  I performed at the Bangla Samelan that year in New York City and at the Bangla Mela in Chicago where I was also a chief guest.  I sang in New Jersey at a fundraiser for children with cancer, organized by Bengali Americans and in California in 2011 when I reprised my “Two Worlds into One in Peace” concert with Odissi danceuse Sanchita Bhattacharya.  This year, 2013, I sang “Alo, amar alo” in Delhi three times during Diwali celebrations.  Clearly, I will never stop singing these songs.


Hip-hop literacy, a lot of it focuses around developing critical consciousness, by bringing thought and action together

Hip Hop Psychology (www.hiphoppsychology.org) is the study of the psychological meaning of Hip Hop discourse (emceeing/rap, dance, visual arts, music production, spirituality, culture and education) and human development as it applies to educational and therapeutic contexts.Recently, Peddro's Salsateca (PDST), Kolkata in collaboration with Hip Hop Psychology,USA organized a workshop in Kolkata.   Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Lauren Gardner, Debangshu Roychoudhury, and Debanjan Roychoudhury of Hip Hop Psychology on the sidelines of the wokshop and performance. Debangshu is the Artisitc Director, while Lauren is the Operations and Organization Specialist and Debanjan is the Youth Organizer and Marketing Specialist for The Hip Hop Psychology Performing Arts Movement. 

Hip Hop Psychology…..

Hip Hop Psychology basically breaks down to three prongs:

It has to do with scientific research in the areas of psychology, human development and education – on how urban arts, particularly hip-hop and the various variations of hip-hop, including dance, music, the culture, graffiti, the verbal aspects of hip-hop art, how that influences youth development, and how hip-hop art can influence things such as literacy, psychological well-being, and social-emotional development.

The second prong has to do with consulting services, which means going global, interacting with hip-hop culture that we see as based in New York City and bringing that to other places in the world, as a form of diplomacy to create a hip-hop based infrastructure, creating schools that can utilize hip-hop arts. 

The third one, our favorite, is entertainment.  We go around and we perform pieces that capture the spirit of Hip Hop Psychology, which has to do with experiences, emotions, expression, social justice, and taking an activist stance.

Hip-hop dance in terms of health……

Some of our students have created different dance pieces to talk about domestic violence, experiences in their homes/communities/classrooms, about feeling lost, confused, not understanding their identity, coming out as gay, etc.  Some of the girls were saying, at school they were always fighting and arguing – and that they felt it’s ridiculous and need to stand together and do something. The young ladies suggested they should dance together, and so express solidarity.  So in terms of health – there’s the physical, mental, but also spiritual aspects of health.

Hip hop literacy…… 

Hip-hop literacy, a lot of it focuses around developing critical consciousness, by bringing thought and action together. It is also about utilizing hip-hop to increase literacy, to have people be critically conscious about not only the consumption of media, but also about the production of their own media, creating conscious consumers AND producers.
With hip-hop, over time, you want to see an increase in vocabulary usage, because the more you rap, the more you engage in the use of vocabulary.  There’s a thing, when you rap, it’s called “multi-syllabic uses”…..it’s a lot of syllables, so you should be seeing a greater amount of syllable usage per sentence, and obviously a greater amount of syllable usage belongs in words that are much more profound or abstract.
One of the things you should also see is a truncation of an argument, because hip-hop is written in a more truncated manner – it’s four beats per bar, so “June one-seven ninety-four dropped from Heaven” – right – so making an argument using 4 beats allows for a more truncated and articulate argument.


I think that one of the things, when people say that Hip-hop has misconceptions, we mean one strand of hip-hop, and that is a corporatized commercial iteration brought out by a few major companies, which probably only represents 1% of the entire global hip-hop culture.  So it is like boiling down all of Indian culture to one Bollywood movie. Both forms of commercialization are focused on profit, not developing culture.  But when we look at the global hip-hop culture which we saw today through our collaboration with Peddro’s Salsateca, it is much more complex.  Some of the things that come across as negative are just real expressions of the issues that are happening in life. We also are able to see how youth across the globe, especially here in India, express their hopes, dreams and plans for the future given the rapid changes and the fact that the majority of youth are being left behind economically.

American band brings traditional fiddle and banjo music to Indian shores

                                                                                                           The Corn Potato String Band

The Corn Potato String Band , a four member band comprising of Aaron Jonah Lewis, Lindsay McCaw, Aviva Steigmeyer and Roy Pilgrim, has delighted audiences with its driving fiddle tunes and harmonious singing across the United States, Europe, and Mexico. The band members are all multi-instrumentalists who are dedicated to continuing the traditional fiddle and banjo music and dance of central southern part of the United States.  Further, guitar, bass and mandolin, are some of the musical instruments that they strum while covering different antiquated styles including ballads, “ho-downs,” country “rags” and southern gospel.

Explaining the name of the band, Lindsay says “The name of the band is something we just picked up because we thought it sounded comical. It is silly but also reflective of what old time bands used to be called.  Sometimes groups would be named after a nearby Mountain, “The Bald Mountain String Band” or something in the barnyard like “The Crowing Rooster String band”. So, we picked our name from farm produce.”

When asked about the scenario of contemporary folk music in the US, Aaron feels, “The folk music scene in America right now is taking a hugely different shape. There are people like us playing traditional old fashioned folk music. Then there are those who are living in the 1960's like the kind of music played by Rudy Catherine or Pete Seeger. Then there is also newer folk music which is not much connected to what we do."

He goes on to add, “So far as our community goes, it is a pretty small one. I think it represents just a thousand or so of the 100 million Americans. Most of us know each other and are very connected. We play the music for each other and for fun. Most people aren’t playing this music professionally. For example, a farmer, or someone doing some kind of labour or working in a shop, plays the banjo or the fiddle in his free time. As we say, it’s more fun to play than listen to music. It is easy to play. It’s easy to get into it. It’s not specialized. It is an old fashioned form of entertainment.  It is especially attractive to people who might have had enough of mass media entertainment.”

Most fusion works to me look like con-fusion - Adriana Di Cillo

Adriana Di Cillo (Drix) is a Spanish/Brazilian director, choreographer, dramatist, coach, dancer and actor with vast international experience. Her artistic education started at the age of four and has included along a lifetime of dedication, western classical ballet, modern and contemporary dance, acting, Spanish flamenco, Latin-american dances, such as Brazilian samba, lambada, salsa, and Argentinean tango, martial arts, Indian classical dances (Bharatanatyam and Kathak) and Film directing. For the last 18 years Adriana has ventured through the routes which trace back the eastern origins of flamenco art, having worked and researched extensively in 4 of the 5 continents: Americas, Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Adriana has performed in very auspicious stages such as The House of Blues, Luna Park and Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the Music Academy of Madras and the Sangeet Natak Academy of Lucknow in India. She has coached, choreographed and performed for several dance companies as well as various social projects worldwide. Adriana Di Cillo is the President and General Director of the Mundaka Arte & Cultura Org, a cross-culture NGO that promotes the interaction and exchange between different artistic manifestations.

Please tell us about your association with dancing. How did you develop an interest towards it?

I believe as Ana Pavlova says: "I danced from the moment I could stand", but started learning dance formally at the age of four. I asked my mother to take me to a ballet school and thanks God she heard me.  Actually I am forever thankful to her, who as a doctor had a clear understanding on the essential place of arts and sports in the building of a child's personality. Along the years, as I became more and more involved and dance became my path in life, the very meaning of my existence, she also continued to support me.

How did your tryst with India happen? Based on your experience, do you think that it is more difficult for a Non-Indian to learn Indian classical dance?

India to me has been from my teenage hood a homelike culture where i found such deep identification, from the arts, the food, the arquetypes, the dress codes, the myths, to the languages.. it all seem so familiar to me...  I normally say that I have European decadency and Indian ascendency.

Now dance is a language spoken throughout the world by its uncountable dialects. Learning any foreign dance demands a deep understanding on its regional cultural lexicon.  So in that way, it is not easy for a foreigner to learn Indian classical forms because we first must become familiar with the way of life of this or that community, be exposed to their daily chronicles, learn about their history and their mythological arquetypes. So, only after that one can cognize such complex and layered syllabus, and that is actually when steps will have meaning. 

In another hand I have experienced quite a few times that in this globalized world, sometimes a fresh eye can reveal aspects of a particular tradition that have long been hidden by the so many turns mankind takes on writing its own history. Like Ragini Devi for example, an American dancer who came to India in the late twenties, to some extent rediscover the greatness of Kathakali.  Even myself have come across situations here in modern India, where I struggled  to remind some art partners, both dancers and musicians, that if we are going to count on the clock the amount of money we make for our creative proccess, better to start looking for a an office 7to5 kind of job.

Nevertheless, by the grace of God I have had wonderful Gurus here who have given me genuine reference and the proper guidance towards my own research on Indian classical dance and its original sacred forms.

We're seeing considerable fusion being applied to traditional dance forms now — what are your views on this trend?

Most fusion works to me look like con-fusion

Not because I don’t believe that different styles or art forms couldn’t or shouldn’t communicate. But because things take time. If I want to interact with an Indian person in Hindi, I must learn some Hindi. Same thing the other way around. That takes time. The thing is that most con-fusionists are moved by immediatistic commercial trends, influenced by the never satisfying consumerism, from where mostly noisy non-sense art products are being produced all over the globe.

Fusion is unavoidable in today's world; it actually represents a big chunk of the world's voice in our present time. But again, communication is about talking and listening, it’s about learning, where taking is also a form of giving.

Many of the maestros have a spiritual approach towards their music/dancing. Do you believe music/dancing connects with a higher being?

I have come to realize by the practice of the anga bhedas and abhinaya in general,  its profound power of self -sculpting oneself from both inside out and outside in,  and  of how the consciousness of gesture makes living a dance of its own.  In that way, as far as I am concerned Indian Classical Dances are a very complete form of yoga practice, as a path to Divine archetypical embodiment, raising the aesthetic experience to the level of spiritual contemplation.

Nonetheless I believe that the arts in general can bring one to such place of self-rapture, where the thin line between Creator and Creation vanishes, so that the artist disappears for the Art to be revealed.

What is your advice to budding artists and dance enthusiasts?

Well, quoting from Neitzsche: ”We should consider everyday lost in which we don't dance. " 

The life of an artist is a life of devotion, a life of offering and sacrifice, where through our sadhanas we bring ourselves in the face of mystery to realize the unimaginable power of the body to transcend its own physical limitations.  So let’s make it sacred, let’s keep it sacred, let’s make our dance studios as holy grounds, knowing that in that place for dance, we bring ourselves to a place of prayer, that more than anything else, it’s about offering...


My show is based on audience participation, I constantly push the crowd to react and interact with me - Murray Molloy

Murray Molloy Sword Swallower Extraordinaire from Ireland has been performing and traveling all over the world from Australia to Laos and Portugal to Fiji, for more than fifteen years. He has performed on the street, in bars, clubs and festivals, in front of tribal chiefs and in the legendary Jim Rose Circus in America and the Edinburgh fringe festival. He has studied yoga in the spiritual capital of India, Benares and clown with the famous Jango Edwards in Barcelona. He currently lives in Spain where he is exploring new fusions with cutting edge creators from diverse fields.

What challenges did you encounter when you first started performing?

One of the biggest challenges was to make people comfortable watching me do what I do. Its a pretty scary stunt and I wanted to make it fun, that's been a huge challenge! Also because I started performing on the street it was a big challenge learning to attract and hold the attention of a crowd!

How do you connect with audiences and keep them engaged? 

My show is based on audience participation; I constantly push the crowd to react and interact with me, whether through jokes, moving among the audience or inviting people onstage.

Your experience of performing in Kolkata? 

I had a great time in Kolkata; the audience was a lot of fun, very energetic!

Origin of sword swallowing is traced back in India. Please share your views?

Sword swallowing originated in India of 3,500 years ago by Fakirs and Shaman priests who developed it along with fire-walking on hot coals, snake handling and other ascetic religious practices as a demonstration of their power, invulnerability and connection with the divine. Sword swallowing is still practiced in some parts of India and there is rumored to be a tribe in Andhra Pradesh who pass the art from father to son. From India sword swallowing spread to China, Greece, Rome and Europe, sword swallowers are mentioned in 410 AD during the Teutonic fight for Rome. From Europe it traveled to America.

A jhal-muriwallah in King Arthur’s Court!

The year: 2004. Angus Denoon, British and a chef, came to Kolkata as a tourist. He wanted to do a  short documentary on the city’s famed street food  and the faceless men  and women who run the business. The jhal muriwallah topped the  list of the  people he was keen to meet. To him, he looked more That non-descript man (or woman) was  like a human machine standing (and sometimes sitting) for hours moving his arms in a seemingly mechanical routine. It cast a spell on him. He studied their ways, learnt how to make jhal muri, and started his own business – in the streets of London! Today you might see his quirky, colourful cart flamboyantly signed as  ‘The Everybody Love Jhal Muri Express’ at street corners, weddings, festivals and fairs, and –hold  your breath, even at No 10.

   For nearly two centuries, all kinds of things have been traded between the two countries. But of all things, jhal muri! That beats them all. The  humble puffed rice has now gone places. It may not have offered a hefty foreign exchange bounty. But it has paid back in something far more precious than that – the love and  admiration of dozens of people  of a far country. 

Angus says,"I love being a street food hawker! It’s like having your own kitchen in your van and get a chance to interact with the customers. I do sell phuckas or ghugni chaat sometimes. I get muri from Kolkata and other ingredients from Indian grocery shops found here and ther in London, but I prepare my own chutneys."

He gets tremendous response for Jhal muri. A thonga is priced at £2. What is the peak time? Angus says  In between lunch and dinner. Normally I sell about 60-70 paper containers, but it depends on the weather. During the festival time when the weather is good the number increases. My customers are everyone–Asians,  Britishers, assorted others. The Asian community in the UK is very big. In the whole of London there are two Bangladeshi, to my knowledge  selling jhal muri. You will find me in most Indian/Bangladeshi weddings.

Does he have any expansion plans? Angus says,"I have plans to make dry version of jhal muri and it can be sold in packets. In England we have big problem with snacks. Big multi million dollar companies sell take-away snacks. They don’t satisfy one fully because people will buy more. They also put in a lot of chemicals and additives which are very harmful. They are eating chips and other foods. I organize  workshops in schools and I have seen school kids love eating muri. Giving muri is great. They love it, and it’s better for them! I have served many well-to-do and famous people. I have served drug addicts. When they eat it they become normal.

He adds,"Last time when I came to Kolkata, I tried dohi phucka in  the Lake Gardens area. I liked it very much." Maybe one day it also might be there in his  menu.

Bengali by ancestry, Costa Rican by nationality, and in search for her roots

He was named Abdul Rezak in  Hooghly where he was born. He came to Costa Rica in the late 1940s with a British passport. He  was studying medicine at Oxford . Since India was fighting for its independence at that time his parents thought it was good for him to leave the UK in case something happened to him and his family. He decided to look for another country and not to return to India .
So they thought of starting a new life. They were looking for a place where there was an Indian community. Initially they thought of Jamaica . He went to Jamaica with his wife and four other Indians. On the way his wife died. They didn’t feel comfortable in Jamaica .  So they went to Panama . Panama has a big Indian community over there. But they did not like Panama either and crossed the border and went to Costa Rica . They settled there.

Cut to 2014. Marissia Obando Razak, the grand daughter of Abdul Rezak, has been in Kolkata in search of her roots. Marissia elaborates,“ My grandfather  came to Costa Rica with only one bag, a pair of pants and some shoes. He had no money and didn’t  get any financial help. He choose to begin all over again from zero. He made a store and it was the only store which was selling everything- rice, bean, sugar, fabric, and shoe.  He died in Costa Rica and was buried there.”
What was their family’s initial experience in Costa Rica ? 
Marissia feels, “It was like a new world for them. They were Muslim and practised a religion whish was different there. They were from India so they ate a different kind of food. They would speak another language at home. After my grandfather died my mom became a Christian and married my dad who was a Costa Rican. She didn’t speak Bengali after that. It was a very emotional decision she made. .My mom had to face a crossroad. She was a Muslim and  there was no mosque there those days. She didn’t have anyone with her to read the Quran or pray five times. For her the easiest thing was to look for another faith that would make it easier for her to fit in that country This is because she was all the time with my grandfather. So when he passed away she was left alone in a dark place not knowing what to do next.”
There are around 40 Indian families and about 200 Indian people staying in Costa Rica . They celebrate almost all the festivals there.

How was her experience?  “From childhood we knew we were different. Once my mom asked me why my friends from school didn’t come and study with me in our home. When I told my friends one of my good friends she said to me, ‘I didn’t like your house. It smells funny’."

She continued, “We used to burn incense in our house and she was referring it to that smell. In our house We had pictures of my grandparents and we used to burn incense. My mom used to talk about Indian culture and Indian history. We started to develop deep feelings for India . She was a high school principal and on Sundays she used to cook parathas, kheer, rice with cashews and peanuts and very spicy food  flavoured with chilly. In our house we ate with our hands. It was different for everybody else but for us it was natural.”

What motivated Marissia to choose such a  journey?  She explains,” Last year I was here in India for four months to attend a course at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication.  I think that was the beginning of this journey. I decided to visit Kolkata and see myself how my grand father’s homeland was. One year later here am I. I don’t have enough information. I don’t think I have any relatives here. But it is great to be here and sharing my story. It is the beginning of a journey which will push me to look for may be answers or experiences that will bring me closer to my roots. I actually feel like being at home here. I consider myself more Indian than Costa Rican.”

Talking about her country she says, “The UN has quoted the Costa Ricans as the happiest people in the world. Costa Rica is one of the leading countries in Central Latin America . Unemployment is less than 2% over there. The growth is over 4% yearly. Our main activity in Costa Rica is tourism. Earlier it used to be agriculture. We were known all over the world for our bananas and coffee and sugar. Now the country’s  main activity involves major sectors. This is because tourism involves a lot of sectors. The official language is Spanish but all of us can speak English. Our economy is growing. Education is free all the way up to University.

The little-known world of Kolkata's China Town

How often we have taken Chinese food. How often we have visited Chinese beauty parlours. How often we have visited Chinese dentists. How often we have bought shoes from Chinese footwear shops. 

We always use their services. But how many of us,  or how often,  care to know how they live,their settlements, what are the features what matters to them most as a community, how have they as a migrant ethnic community assimilated into Kolkata’s culture and society?

It is these basic questions and there unanswered silence that have led a young Calcuttan, Kamalika Bose, to explore these uncharted areas. And she is the one cut out for the work. An assistant professor in the faculty of design at India’s premier architecture institute, CEPT University, she has chosen to do research on the Chinese community in Old China Town of Kolkata. A batch of 27 students has come along with her out of whom 12 are from Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark. Thomas Hilberth, associate professor, Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark, is the co-instructor in the programme. 

As Kamalika explains, “I think when we look at Kolkata and talk about Kolkata and Kolkata’s heritage, we largely focus on the British colonial heritage, its architectural features found mostly in the Dalhousie Chowringhee region, and the culture that went with it. It is only recently that the area of research has widened. There has been a spark of interest in alternative histories, alternative heritage that have developed as part of the mainstream identity that the city has. Out of all these communities that had once migrated here, the Jews and Armenians and the Greeks have left. We have their synagogues, old churches, burial places and such other left-overs.

But what about the people who were once the owners or creators of these heritage buildings, these architectural beauties? So we don’t look at their heritage just as isolated monuments.” Basu said. For the last ten years she has been researching on North Kolkata, on the Rajbaris and the paras and how they developed. Her interest was always along Chitpur Road, the sort of culture that developed on either side of Chitpur Road. The Old China town forms the southernmost starting point of Chitpur Road, where Bentick Street ends and Chitpur Road starts.
Thomas feels “It is very important in our globalized world to have an understanding of different cultures around the globe. For us it is a fantastic opportunity to have this collaboration with CEPT and we could join the course which Kamlika Bose had prepared so well, so it is not only that we profit from the difference between one culture and another, we can compare three cultures.”

Talking about the Chinese community, Kamalika says, “What was interesting for me was to see how they have fitted themselves into Kolkata which was a very alien place for them. We know that the Chinese are a very close knit community which is steeped in tradition and culture. They have held on to most of the traditions. For instance I didn’t have any idea that they had so many Chinese burial grounds. Then there are different temples, each temple is from a different province from where people have migrated. We look at the community as one community-Chinese community in Kolkata. But within that there are so many subcultures. Its almost like India. There is no one India, There is no one Chinese food. Similarly there is no one Chinese culture. It has been a revelation for me, in the part of the study to understand these multiple Chinese identities that make the collective idea of the Indian Chinese community.”

Thomas adds, “What I thought was very interesting to discover was that there were so many kinds of diverse professions that are traditionally Chinese like dentists or carpentry or boat building, or jobs in the leather industry. Kind of niche jobs or professions which required a lot of skills. They always look at themselves as Indian Chinese and not migrant Chinese.”

When asked whether the next generation youths are migrating for a better future. Kamalika feels, “There is one segment of the youth who still have values, they respect their history. Though they are looking for economic opportunities, they don’t want to obliterate this heritage they have in search of newer opportunity. they want to strike a balance, which is why I think any conservation here is important because that becomes an incentive for the newer generation to find pride in what they have. If everything is demolished or disintegrates then the community loses that pride that they have. It is very important that the revitalization of Old China town is going to be shorten the arms for the entire community especially the youngsters who otherwise look at other opportunities elsewhere. So conservation can really act as a trigger and can give a great boost and incentive to the local communities to find pride and reconnect with their identities.”

What does Thomas feel about the architecture of the Chinese temples? Thomas explains, “The multifunctional aspects of the places are amazing. People playing mahjong in front of the temple shrine that would be impossible in the Indian context! It was really a surprise for me. It is very pragmatic. There is no categorized boundary. Architecture-wise the spaces are quite simple. The decoration is more elaborate. This also relates to their profession, carpentry. When the Chinese came to India they were under British rule, so the external facade and features of many temples are very classical and reflect those traditional classical features whereas inside you see the Chinese identity strongly.”

                                                                  Kamalika and Thomas
What is the importance of conservation works in today’s world? Kamalika elaborates, “In an era when we are rapidly homogeneousing as cities, as people, there is no difference between the way Shanghai looks and Dubai looks, and what we aspire for our cities to look. With the kind of IT townships we are creating, we are flattening the globe. It is not remaining a diverse place as we like it to be. But we also recognize places with their historic identity. It is the heritage of the country that defines the history and identity. Therefore conservation plays a very important role in restoring and holding on to the identity.”

While Thomas signs off by saying, “if you don’t understand where you come from you will never understand where you are going to. To recognize the diversity and colorfulness of the culture. Globalization has the danger to flatten the culture. It is important to preserve the small oasis we have in this lovely city.” Normally it’s a notion of being in a China Town universally, there is an image about a Chinese identity of speaking loud, neon signs/ billboards, large buildings with Chinese character. Kolkata’s Old China Town is very distinct in such a way that it does not visually loudly declare it as a China Town but only once you start walking within it is that you discover it as a hidden part of the city it has woven itself nicely.”

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