Fall is officially here, and it is no surprise that it’s the favorite time of year for most people. This means that Diwali is also around the corner, and what’s not to love about colorful lighting, beautiful diyas, scrumptious sweets and so much more? This year might be even more special as lockdowns ease in many parts of the world and we have a chance to squeeze in some much-needed cuddles with our loved ones to celebrate the beautiful festival of lights and all the other holidays that are to come.
Back-to-back festivals mark our calendars from October right through November, and we just can’t wait to celebrate it all! But in all the party planning, home decorating and gift purchasing, it’s easy to forget about the person behind it all — you.
This is why we’ve put together a list of our favorite self-care organizations that are not only lovely but also clean and conscious brands so that you can add taking care of yourself and the environment to your holiday gift list.
Here’s how we would get ready to celebrate ourselves before a day full of Diwali dhamaka.
Let’s face it, the first thing that’s affected by the festival stress is our hair; the festival prep combined with the seasonal weather changes can make us want to pull our hair out — if it’s not falling out already.
Our suggestion? Pamper your hair with a guilt-free mind by using Switchfix’s haircare range. They make adapting a clean and conscious routine a piece of cake! Not only are their products 100% plant-based, but their shampoos are also designed as bars so that the packaging is biodegradable too! From choosing locally sourced ingredients that require less water to grow to using sustainable manufacturing practices, they are our go-to place to shop when we want to indulge ourselves while simultaneously improving our environmental impact. We didn’t think that was possible either!
Their DIFY bundle has been made just for pampering yourself during festival season. You get to curate a set from a range of hair care solutions to reverse your hair woes. Whether it be reversing hair fall through their acai berry range or treating dandruff with their blue tea goodness, they’ve got us covered with their shampoo bars, conditioners and scalp treatment oils.
South Asian heritage has historically been driven by beautiful and powerful crafts rooted in handloom. Let’s show some love to these inherently sustainable practices by incorporating them into our festive wardrobe.
Papreeka is a marketplace of curated conscious fashion from South Asia, housing gorgeous sarees, bags, jewellery and everything in between.
Check out their Manimekalai sarees made in Tamil Nadu from cotton and fibers of banana, aloe vera and gongura — yes, you read that right. Apart from being absolutely stunning, these handwoven sarees are sourced from weavers in India who are making strides of innovation in how they source their fibers. Most importantly, unlike most consciously made products, you can get your hands on these without breaking the bank!
Nothing spells self-care like taking the time to massage oils into your skin. A quick massaging of the face calms even the most frazzled nerves on festival day — don’t forget this tip this Diwali!
Ingredients are doubly important when it comes to skincare, which is why we recommend VanArc Organic Rituals’ products.
What’s sure to add gratitude to your festival morning is understanding the sheer number of people supported through VanArc’s small business. The founder, Saiba Ismail, decided to source their raw materials from across India exclusively from farmers and farmer producer organisations. This way the farmers’ profit does not get cut because of intermediary vendors.
The good deeds don’t stop there! Rather than relying on massive machines and huge industrial plants, VanArc’s oils are handmade in Hyderabad by residents of the Marg Foundation, a shelter for victims of violence and abuse. In fact, the foundation was started by Saiba’s mother, Nafeesa Ismail, in 2006.
Our recommendation is the Papaya Seed Oil. The vitamin C brightens and softens your skin, a combo we certainly love!
Do you remember the traditional system of heirlooms? Women would pass their most precious jewelry down the family tree, adding in memories with each generation. These heirloom pieces tended to be on the simpler side, a dainty pendant or a precious set of earrings — never too flashy but always elegant.
Though this tradition may have faded over time, why not take this year as the opportunity to start your own? The handmade jewelry created by Shiri from Artbyshiri is sure to have jewelry pieces you can see as your new family heirloom or even as the set that you reach for every festival season. These are made from the finest of metals and flowers from her very own garden so every piece already comes with a bit of history!
The necklace of our choice is called “Flora.” Each bead was added by hand to the necklace and the centerpiece is a white flower preserved in resin. The matching earrings —“Floral Garden” — are just as magical because of the three colorful flowers preserved in resins. Every piece is unique and exquisitely made; the pendant and earrings are polished brass and the chain is 24K gold-plated brass. These are guaranteed heirlooms to last for generations without tarnishing!
So it can be a little daunting to put on a full face of makeup, especially to match the glam of a desi-inspired Diwali look. But our girl Deepica Mutyala’s brand, Live Tinted, has everything you need to pull off any look you want with just a few simple products.
Our top pick is their Huestick in ‘Legacy’ so you can go all out desi with a kohl-lined smokey eye to complete your look.
All the Live Tinted huesticks are highly buildable, super blendable, and packed with skin-good ingredients like hyaluronic acid, squalene, and vitamins C + E. The ‘Legacy’ huestick is also free of carbon black pigment or any other harmful ingredients traditionally found in kajal, making it one of the cleanest kajals on the market. More importantly, the brand is a strong advocate for vegan, cruelty-free and clean products. So what are you waiting for, pack these into your makeup bags now!
And…no Diwali is complete without garam-garam chai!
Lastly, a tradition in India, often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of modern life is stopping for a cup of chai. A nostalgic personal favorite is the masala chai, primarily made from cardamom and ginger, which has a soothing effect on the mind and body.
We hope you find some time to slow down and enjoy a cup of tea and our pick for you are the beautiful blends created by experts Radhi and Jay Shetty at Sama Tea.
Sama, in Sanskrit, means to be fully balanced. At Sama Tea, each of their four blends has been purposefully curated to help you balance your mind, body and heart. Made from adaptogenic botanicals and ayurvedic ingredients, these blends help your body recover and resist stressors, ultimately leading to a healthier and happier you.
So, this Diwali, make sure to take a moment, sit down with yourself and enjoy a cup of these beautiful blends that are sure to make you feel as good as they taste.
And there you have six conscious brands that will help you rejuvenate in time for Diwali 2021!
This piece was co-authored by Prithika Manivel and Aishwarya Viswamitra.
Bharatanatyam is a traditional Indian dance form and the oldest classical dance tradition in India. Bharatanatyam, originally a dance performed by women in temples of Tamil Nadu, is often used to convey Hindu religious tales and devotions. It is taught by a teacher known as a guru. The dance costume resembles that of a South Indian bride and the dancer wears anklets, called ghungroos, to keep the rhythm while dancing to the music. While Bharatanatyam is still taught all over the world in the traditional way, the styles of teaching have changed over the years. For the last six years, my sister and I have been taught modernized styles of Bharatnatyam in the USA.
An Arangetram lasts approximately three hours and has nine, or in our case 10, dances in total. It begins with an introduction dance called a Mallari or Pushpanjali following the guru’s nattuvangam (rhythm kept using symbols). In the middle of the program is a Varnam — a centerpiece dance that lasts about 30 to 40 minutes. This dance tests the dancer’s endurance as well as their storytelling ability. The performance is concluded with a Thillana which is seen as the last glimpse into the dancer’s full capacity. The Thillana is followed by a Mangalam, the closing dance of the Arangetram.
My sister and I began learning Bharatanatyam in 2016 when we were nine years old. Despite our instant attachment to the art form, we were always daunted by the idea of having an Arangetram of our own. It would be challenging, mainly because we are twins, and our performance would have to be suitable for two people to perform side by side. We began preparing for this event in the summer of 2021. Our guru would make us run for the first half hour of class to build our stamina — much-needed for a three-hour repertoire. We would spend the next two and a half hours learning our repertoire. The first dance we learned together during this time was our Varnam. Learning this dance took a month and we spent a lot of time memorizing it. Our Varnam was dedicated to Lord Krishna, one of the many Hindu gods, known for his charm, wit, and being a master Guru whose philosophies were immortalized through the Gita — the Hindu Holy scripture.
An Arangetram is the on-stage debut of a traditional Bharatanatyam dancer following years of training and discipline under the able guidance of a guru. This is a milestone for young artists as it opens up the opportunity for solo performances, choreographing individual pieces, and instructing other dancers.
By January, we had learned our entire repertoire and were starting to memorize it while adding expressions, poses, and building up our stamina, making them look effortless. Some dances were more difficult to memorize than others, particularly dances that were story-based. Because most Bharatanatyam dance music is in either Sanskrit or Tamil so we couldn’t understand the lyrics right away. Our guru helped us interpret the stories before teaching us the choreography making them easier to commit to memory. We also had help from our mother who listened to all our songs and gave us keywords that corresponded with our dance moves. Listening to dance music on the way to school, dance, or while getting ready for bed, became a part of our daily routine as it helped us internalize the rhythms.
Although a year seems like a long time to prepare for an event, the day of the Arangetram came before we knew it. The morning started off with family and friends coming to our house to help us transport decorations and essentials we would need backstage. We arrived at our venue — the Balaji temple in Bridgewater, New Jersey — and made our way to the green rooms. Our makeup artists assisted us with hair and makeup, which lasted four hours. During this time we were going through the dances in our heads and mentally preparing for the performance to come. Once we were dressed in costume, we headed for the stage pooja, a prayer session on the Arangetram stage with close friends and family, to invoke a successful performance. This was also the time when jitters started kicking in. It had just occurred to us that the performance we’d been preparing for our entire dance careers was about to happen and this was the only chance we had to show the audience our very best.
A person can only have one Arangetram in their lifetime, and this huge milestone comes with pressure given how special the performance is.
As the masters of ceremony were introducing our first number all I could do was stare at my sister standing in the other wing, and I knew we had the same thoughts going through our minds.
As we began dancing I felt almost a sense of relief because of how well we knew the dance. Every single dance was so ingrained in our muscle memory that it felt like second nature even in front of such a large audience. During the repertoire, we had two costume changes, with three costumes in total. Each costume change took 15 minutes while the audience was learning about SAMHAJ or listening to speeches from our friends and family. Backstage, our makeup artists and backstage moms were busy helping us change our costumes and jewelry, adjusting them to make sure nothing would move while dancing. We also had some of our fellow dance girls backstage giving us water and fruit as well as tightening our ghungroos so they wouldn’t fall off on stage.
Our Varnam was a huge success, resulting in a standing ovation from the audience. After the Varnam, we performed a slower dance called Ramabajanam, telling all the stories about Lord Ram, another Hindu god known for his chivalry and virtue. We decided to dedicate this dance to our parents since it was always their favorite to watch and listen to. My mom was heavily involved in helping us memorize this dance by telling us the stories so we wouldn’t forget the choreography. Right before the last dance, we acknowledged all of the people who helped us backstage and were presented with our graduation certificates. In order to give the audience a peek at the effort that went into the performance they were watching, we shared our experience with the audience as well as our guru’s message during this time. Our last dance surprised the audience, as our mother joined us on stage and danced with us. She always dreamt of being a dancer as a child but was never able to learn. Sharing one dance meant a lot to us, and watching it was very entertaining for the audience as well. After all the dances were over, all our guests proceeded to the banquet hall for dinner where we were able to greet all our guests and thank them for coming. When the night ended we were exhausted but still full of adrenaline.
Even though the tension that had built-up in my head over the last few months had now subsided, I was somewhat disappointed that the process had come to an end. I wouldn’t exactly call my Arangetram journey perfect or effortless, but I grew so much this past year as a dancer and as well as a person. The lessons I learned from dance about hard work and resilience will carry on with me for the rest of my life and for that I am forever grateful. The event itself brought so many people together such as my aunt and cousin, who came all the way from India to attend, as well as so many relatives that we hadn’t seen in years. Grandparents, as well as young children all gathered in the audience to watch a display of their culture, or for some audience members, learn a new one. Not only did we spread awareness for this beautiful art form, but we also raised awareness on mental health amongst South Asians — an issue we’re passionate about.
Along with our guru, we decided to leverage this event to create awareness for mental health amongst South Asians in the United States. We decided to advocate for SAMHAJ, a charity that provides education and support for South Asians affected by serious mental illnesses. In order to educate people about mental health, SAMHAJ offers workshops to social service organizations, schools, and mental health professionals as well as provides culturally competent mental health services by creating bilingual support groups. You can donate to SAMHAJ via this link.
Overall, this process has been immensely gratifying and I simply cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me with Bharatanatyam.
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, being the only brown face in a room has never fazed me. I was always the little brown girl in the corner with waist-length hair and a name that made every teacher pause, but the feeling of “otherness” captured in this line was something I knew all too well.
This feeling isn’t unique. It’s the same experience of many immigrants and first-generation South Asian Americans, and that of the main character of “The East Indian”as well.
While a work of fiction set in the 1630s, the novel paints a very real picture of immigration and race in the United States today and the human need to belong.
It is the story of Tony East Indian, inspired by a real person documented in the country’s archives as the first known East Indian in the American colonies, but who is otherwise a work of the author’s imagination and research.
The son of a courtesan from the Coromandel coast of India, Tony unwittingly finds himself as an indentured servant in the plantations of Jamestown, Virginia at just 11 years old.
He accepts “Tony” as his first name — though he doesn’t care for it — because a fellow Tamil once suggested others in the world would find his real name “too hard to utter.” Then he adopts the surname “East Indian” simply because it is thrust upon him when he arrived in Jamestown. The protagonist can no longer even recall his birth name, but soon, he accepts it as a thing of his past.
Over the course of the novel, Tony lands at the center of scandal as he works to establish a new identity as a physician. All the while, he also struggles with isolation, prejudice and the challenges of trying to maintain pieces of the culture he carried with him from abroad.
He is confused as to why Native Americans are also called “Indians” and many colonists simply label him a “moor,” a term used for North Africans or anyone with darker skin, with no context for India or its people in this new world.
He, feeling disloyal to his “many Gods,” converts from Hinduism to Christianity, believing it will give him more credibility and a sense of connection to his peers. He begins to eat meat and spend time at taverns, all in hopes of belonging, and assimilating with colonist ways.
As he comes of age and furthers his physician’s apprenticeship, Tony also begins to ponder questions of race and social class to no avail. He reflects:
“I would talk to Doctor Herman and try to understand the reason behind white skin and black and brown and, more important, what greater distinctions of wit, sensibility, and soul the differences in hue signified. I read and was taught by my master the new ideas put forth by men of learning in England and Europe on the workings of the bowels, the brain, the blood; the causes of migraines, melancholy, and madness, but I never got closer to understanding the real meaning behind what they called different races of men, and if such difference exists in any profound sense that really matters.”
Overall, in “The East Indian,” Tony becomes a man. He learns of the world’s cruelty and its kindness. He learns to work, play, love, hate, scheme, grieve and care for himself and others. But, like most immigrants, he still longs for home.
“For home is singular and unique. Everywhere else is but a stopping place, a bed in a stranger’s house, eating off plates not one’s own, an unfamiliar view from a casement,” Tony said.
When attempts to head West and find an ocean back to India fail, Tony accepts that returning to his motherland is unlikely and resolves that he must learn to adapt.
He worries his love interest, born in the colonies, will not relate to him, for “her heart did not ache for another place beyond the sea” and also wonders what the future of his children will be. Nevertheless, he is never defeated.
“I would thrive wherever the wind laid me,” says Tony. “[I] will be my own shelter, my landing place. Like a snail, I will carry home on my back, find it where I happen to be, make it from what I bear inside me.”
Leaving or even kidnapped from their homes with little to no hope of return, thousands of Indians faced journeys fraught with violence, condemnation and injustice trying to create new lives and identities away from their homeland in places like Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, and Jamaica. However, like Tony, they also found the strength and courage to survive and establish their own cultures and communities.
While no details are known about the real Tony East Indian, Charry weaves a compelling coming-of-age tale that takes him as well as readers across three continents.
The novel, like life itself, has fast and slow moments, but it is filled with vivid, historically accurate depictions of the colonial world and moving moments that keep you rooting for the main character’s triumph.
It is this authenticity and compassion that makes “The East Indian” an invaluable modern work. There are no known first-hand accounts of the indentured or South Asian colonists in America. The only proof of the mere existence of many are the generations that have come after them.
With several years of research put into it, Charry’s “The East Indian” serves as a rare realistic portrayal of what life may have been for these individuals; the hardships they endured, and the strength they embodied. South Asian or not, it is a rich history not only worth reading but sharing and celebrating.
To learn more about Brinda Charry and her professional work visit her website. The East Indian is now available in print and audiobooks from all major book retailers.
Featured Image: Author Brinda Charry was born and raised in India before moving to the United States for graduate school two decades ago. She considers herself “a novelist-turned-academic-returned-novelist | Photo Credit: Lisa Arnold Photography
Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the coming of spring and is observed near the end of winter. It’s also referred to as the festival of colors or the festival of love. Although my daughters and I are not Hindus, (we are Sikhs) we still celebrate Holi. Our Holi celebrations always include reading about this festival, making colorful art, playing with the colorful powders, and making some delicious, traditional sweets. This is always such a great occasion to discuss the diversity of Indian culture with my daughters. I use this opportunity to teach them about inclusivity and respect for different cultures around the world. All across India, different states celebrate this festival in their own meaningful ways.
My first experience celebrating this beautiful festival was in university. My roommates, friends and international students put together a lovely day of Holi celebrations outside. We were completely covered in variety of colors — pinks, purples, and blues. There was music, laughter, dancing, and an overall joyous atmosphere (including bhang, which is essentially a cannabis milkshake). It was particularly heartwarming to see so many Indian students coming together as a community, so far from home, to connect with such a beloved tradition.
For those of us, brought up in Canada, such celebrations were amazing opportunities to genuinely experience the true spirit of Holi. Similar to how it is done in India, everyone became one – there were no small groups or cliques doing their own thing; class lines and caste systems, predominant across India, disappeared. Everyone joined together; our skin tones hidden under the bright colours of the Holi powders. It surely was an unforgettable time.
As a child, I got to experience Holi only through Indian Cinema. Bollywood films like “Silsila,” “Darr,” and “Mohabbatein” stand out in my memory. The actors are dressed completely in white at the beginning of the song, enjoying Holi celebrations, and are then painted from head to toe, in various bright colours, by the end of the song. Since then, I’ve learned that certain colours hold meaning and significance. Red symbolizes love, fertility, and matrimony; blue represents the Lord Krishna; and green stands for new beginnings.
Now, as a mother, I don’t want my children to experience our culture through a screen. So we bring these Holi traditions into our home in our own creative ways. We certainly tend to get creative since around March there is still ample snow on the ground outside and a chill in the air!
The activities we have fun doing are:
Making rangoli designs using coloured powders (this is a helpful site we’ve used)
Making paper flowers to decorate the house with (like the ones here)
Making tie-dye shirts (we’ve got a kit for this because the girls love it)
Baking a traditional Indian snack, like gujiya (we bake them because I get paranoid about the girls being around hot oil).
“Let’s Celebrate Holi!” by Ajanta Chakraborty and Vivek Kumar (for three to seven-year-olds)
“Festival of Colors” by Surishtha Seghal and Kabir Seghal (for two to eight-year-olds)
“Why Do We Celebrate Holi” by Anitha Rathod (for eight years old and above)
This year, Holi falls on the same date as International Women’s Day! To combine the two celebrations, my daughters and I plan on sketching South Asian females we look up to the most, and then adding bright colours using different types of paint. For another element of texture, we might add the paper flowers to these as well. I’m thinking these are going to be frame-worthy pieces of art!