April 19, 2016September 29, 2020 10min readBy Kinnu Singh
Prologue: The Remnants of a People
Lahore, Punjab; 1940-1947
A wind of change is blowing as the sun begins to set for the great British Empire. The crown jewel has lost its shine; the breadbasket of India is empty. The seeds of revolution have been planted in the barren fields of Britain’s most valuable colony. Whispers are spreading throughout the state — partition is inevitable as the nation is beginning to crack right in the heart of Punjab. It is not cracking from natural wear and tear but rather being provoked, prodded and pulled. India is being manipulated into believing its religions and cultures cannot live in unity.
This is all a part of Britain’s divide and conquer policy. Sir John Strachey, a British Indian civil servant, wants to prevent “the growth of any dangerous identity of feeling from the community of race [or] religion” and believes “the existence side by side of the hostile creeds is one of the strongest points in our political position in India.” The British Empire is pitting religions against one another in politics and society through segregation.
However, the British Empire is reeling from the aftermath of World War II and is losing power. Civil unrest and fear of mutiny in India have started the unraveling of the empire. With little spices and riches left to take, the British decide to leave… but the animosity they have created will not scurry away along with them.
The day is 22 March 1940 in Punjab, the eve of partition. The city of Lahore rises with the sun. Dust dances in the wind as the suffocating heat of summer approaches. A thick smell of sweat and manure fills the air. Salesmen push tattered vegetable carts down bustling roads, the elderly beg for a few coins to feed their family and wild animals dig through piles of litter in an attempt to find their next meal.
Somewhere away from the clutter, politician Muhammad Ali Jinnah gathers with his colleagues for a three-day session of the All-Indian Muslim League. He wipes sweat from his furrowed brows as religious conflicts come to the forefront. Seven years ago, Jinnah supported Muslim-Hindu unity in India. Today, after years of volatile political conflicts and British-influenced division, Jinnah’s opinion has drastically changed. He believes Muslims will become second-class citizens in a predominantly Hindu nation and the two groups are too different to ever coexist. By the end of this annual session, he helps to pass the Lahore Resolution, establishing a separate homeland for Muslims out of British India. The session ends with Jinnah becoming the founder of Pakistan.
The Sikhs, predominant in Punjab, ask for their own sovereign state but are quickly ignored. Instead, Punjab is split between India and Pakistan. On the night of 15 August 1947, the nation tears in two.
The Sikh community is infuriated as families are split by the Punjab border, forcefully segregated by religious beliefs. Bad blood between Hindus and Muslims boils to a new height before spilling over at the border, leaving Sikhs caught in the middle of turmoil. Punjab becomes a victim of war.
Mahatma Gandhi and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru know that the Sikhs, despite only consisting of 2 percent of India’s population, have a militaristic history and make large contributions to India’s national army. The clever pair determines that the Sikhs would make useful allies in conflicts against Pakistan.
Gandhi tells the Sikhs:
“I ask you to accept my word… and the resolution of the Congress that it will not betray a single individual, much less a community… our Sikh friends have no reason to fear that it would betray them.”
Gandhi and Nehru will shamelessly break their promises later, but for now, the Sikhs become puppets of Hindu nationalism. Muslims in Pakistan, who now have sovereignty over a part of Punjab, develop a growing disdain for Sikhs. Lifelong friends kill one another for their religious communities and political agendas. The British Empire leaves the region tattered — the jewels have been lifted, the people have become divided and a mess has been left for someone else to clean. Bloodshed will ensue.
Stage I: A Fortunate Life
Lahore, Punjab; 1933-1944
Fourteen years before partition, the city of Lahore is buzzing. Men of different faiths work in the fields together. Their wives are at home, sharing stories over a cup of tea. Their children play cricket in the streets, sometimes taking shelter from the hot summer sun under the canopies of trees.
Congress slowly starts to take power from the British; the Indian people are a stone’s throw away from independence. The Government of India Act 1935 has given more autonomy to the Indian people. Although tension between religious groups has already begun, not many can see the struggles that lie ahead. And so, to the Sandhu family, it seems like a great time to raise a child.
Banso Sandhu is born on 15 June 1933.
She wakes up at the crack of dawn to race the sun out of bed and gets to work — she walks ten miles to fetch water, cooks for her father and uncles, cleans the house and then picks crops. Only in the evening, when the exhausted sun begins to retire for rest, does Banso get a chance to sneak off with the other young girls to gossip and share riddles. The girls sing songs, dance and tell folktales. It’s a short escape from her rigorous day, a chance to catch her breath, a moment to smile. Of course, such pleasure comes with the risk of being caught by her mother and being beaten with a wooden stick.
As cumbersome as her situation may sound, Banso is one of the more privileged girls in Lahore. She is one of ten children born into a well-respected and wealthy family. Although the Sandhu family lacks formal education, they have built their fortune through agriculture on copious amounts of land. Banso is expected to live a relatively easy life.
“People told me I should be grateful for the life I had,” she says now, eight decades later. “But even in those times, I wasn’t allowed to go to school. As a girl, I was told education is for men and my job is to cook, clean and run errands. It was still a much better life than most had, so I didn’t complain.”
Stage II: Tales of Tragedy
Lahore, Punjab; 1944-1945
Not everyone is as fortunate as the Sandhu family. Hunger growls in the stomach of Punjab. In a dark alley in Lahore, a group of bandits plot to rob the Sandhu household. Their teeth are rotting, they suffer from malnutrition and black grime coats their rough faces.
Lahore seems quiet only in the darkest hours of the night. Banso, now eleven years old, is sleeping calmly in her home, unaware that her last few moments of peace are ticking away.
Her innocence ends with a loud crash as the front door is knocked down. Banso wakes up startled to see her uncles already running in panic. Six armed bandits enter the home with a wild look in their eyes, spitting as they bark out commands through clenched jaws. The entire family is summoned to the atrium-styled entrance of the house and tied to chairs with frayed rope.
One of the bandits tries to comfort Banso and her siblings with unconvincing promises that everything is okay while the other five scour the house. They fill large sacks with all of the gold and money they can find.
“Let them take what they want, don’t do anything to get yourself hurt,” Banso’s mother whispers to everyone in a shaky voice.
Things, however, do not work out that simply. Banso’s father is on the way home after working late in the fields on this unfortunate night. He walks in as soon as the bandits are about to leave and understands that he cannot let them pass — word would spread that the Sandhu family was weak and laid down without a fight. They would become targeted by bandits many times more.
His efforts were fruitless. One of the bandits raises his gun and shoots Banso’s father three times in the chest. She watches him die as she sits helplessly bound to a chair. Her racing heart won’t slow down, the panic will not disappear and she becomes void of every emotion except for fear. Banso tries to hold onto her sanity as she falls into despair but there is nothing to grab and no one to catch her. The next year of her life is a blur. She vomits every day and is bedridden with grief. She is too dizzy to walk or help her family as they struggle with their losses. An uneducated village doctor tells Banso that an evil spirit has entered her and gives her pills to take every day. There is neither acceptance nor treatment for her post-traumatic stress disorder.
As time passes, nothing seems to help Banso but her own strength. She learns to function through daily life and live with the dizziness. The pain in her heart is visible; the fear shows itself whenever a loud noise shakes the stillness of dark nights. She knows that the flashbacks will haunt her for the rest of her life. What she doesn’t know, however, is that her pain is just beginning.
Stage III: Bloody Rivers of Punjab
Punjab, Pakistan; 1946-1947
There is no time to grieve or dwell over losses. Word of partition and the creation of Jinnah’s Pakistan are spreading fiercely. Sikhs and Hindus on the Pakistani side of the Radcliffe Line fear for their lives as religious tensions spike. Lahore falls on the Pakistani side of the border, leaving the Sandhu family little time to escape and ensure their safety.
Millions of people try to relocate amidst chaos. Travelers know that survival is unlikely. With the loss of Banso’s father and their riches, the vulnerable Sandhu family decides to wed Banso at a young age to Jaginder Bhullar, a well-respected boy capable of providing for her.
Banso is married just as violence begins to erupt. With each passing day, bodies begin to pile up. Jaginder and Banso have no choice but to make a run for the border, hoping to cross safely into India. Banso takes her puppy along with her to remember her family and her home by, knowing she will never return to Lahore again.
The journey from Pakistan to India is not an easy one. Bodies float in the bloody rivers of Punjab. Family members wait at train stations to pick up their loved ones, only to find trains arriving at stations full of people slaughtered like animals. Angry mobs roam the streets attacking anyone of a different religious background. Fear overcomes Banso around every corner, knowing one wrong move could mean her death. However, Jaginder and Banso make it safely past the mobs. Their misfortune does not catch up to them until they reach the border, where military personnel berate the young couple and deny their requests to leave Pakistan.
The guards are angry, shouting and screaming as they steal every valuable item Banso carries with her. They eventually allow the couple to cross the border in exchange for gold, but Banso’s puppy will not stop barking and growling at them for their hostility. They grab the puppy and shoot it in the head, throwing its limp body aside and laughing as they tell the couple to move along. Banso hides her tears and passes through, leaving her best friend and her last connection to her home dead at the Radcliffe Line.
Stage IV: Same Heartbreaks
The beauty of Punjab does not fade in the village of Kandhwala. The sound of singing birds and the soft rumble of tractors can be heard through miles of green farmland. Jaginder and Banso buy land here, where they build a loving life together and raise four children. Banso shares riddles with them on rooftops under twinkling stars in the night sky. She is eager to give them the childhood she never had.
But political issues continue to boil. India’s government begins to retract its promises of independence made to Sikhs and oppresses Punjab instead, cutting off water supplies. Farmers become desperate as they begin to starve. In small villages like Kandhwala, water shortages lead to disputes over control of clean water.
Jaginder knows the importance of thriving as a community. Owning land that contains an ample amount of water, he tries to share it with his neighbors. In the end, his efforts prove to not be enough. Neighboring farmers get envious and greedy, demanding more water than Jaginder can afford to give.
Eventually, Jaginder’s neighbors will not accept “no” for an answer and decide to pay him a visit. Its midday, the hot sun is scorching down on Jaginder as he waters the few crops he has remaining. He hears a tractor pull up by his home and decides to return to greet his guests. He sees farmers, armed with rifles, yelling at Banso to tell them where Jaginder is. He approaches them calmly, smiling and asking for a peaceful conversation. But the farmers have already made up their minds; they did not come here to talk. Believing that they can take the water supply and land by weakening the Bhullar family, the farmers shoot Jaginder three times in the chest. He dies before Banso can rush over to hold him.
Banso relives the horror of her father’s death; her mental trauma worsens and her sickness intensifies. The fate of the family is left in the hands of her oldest teenage son, Baldev. He manages to take care of the farmland and the water, protecting it from the scavenging neighbors.
Still, the Bhullar family struggles. Baldev is heckled in the village and the family is called weak for not retaliating. Jaginder’s murderers roam the village freely, never paying for their crimes. The village begins to believe that the Bhullar family is easily taken advantage of, putting them at further risk.
Baldev decides he has no choice but to avenge the death of his father. Just like Banso, his innocence and childhood must end early. He will never forgive himself for the murders he will commit, but he has no other choice to ensure the safety of his family. He closes his eyes and pulls the trigger.
Unlike the farmers who killed his father, Baldev is charged with murder. Banso is now scared of losing her oldest son to a death penalty and is haunted by nightmares of his potential hanging. She cannot cope with losing another loved one. However, the family is eventually able to use political connections and bribery to free Baldev after two years in prison.
Stage V: A New Life
New York, U.S.A.; 1990 – 2016
Revolutionary movements arise in Punjab after broken promises by the Indian government. Conflicts between Sikhs and the Indian government lead to violent attacks and further oppression of the Sikh community. As violence spreads throughout the state, Banso decides to leave behind the pain that has haunted her family and relocates to New York City in May 1990.
Throughout her childhood, Banso heard how fortunate she was to be born with great privilege. Now, after all, the fortune of her childhood has been looted and shattered, she holds onto the blessing of being one of the few who was fortunate enough to escape the vicious cycle of violence in Punjab. She knows that millions of others were not so lucky.
Today, Banso is 83 years old. She is a great-grandmother and her children are thriving with business ventures while supporting her in her old age. Most importantly, everyone has been safe. However, Banso will never heal from her lifetime of tragedy. Whenever she hears a loud noise or someone yelling, she begins to tremble and tears flow from her eyes uncontrollably. Almost every day, she believes something terrible is waiting to happen just around the corner. Some days her dizziness leaves her bedridden and weak.
After having gone over seventy years with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, Banso is beyond the point of recovery. Banso never returned to Lahore after leaving and has only seen her siblings a few times since. Some of them have passed away without ever seeing their sister again.
Although she left behind so much of her life in Punjab, some things never changed. Banso still wakes at the crack of down to race out of bed and get to work — she feeds her grandchildren, she cooks for herself and she watches old Punjabi movies on the television. In the evening, when the sun begins to retire for rest, Banso shares riddles and stories with her family, laughing through the night. During her free time, Banso plants crops in her backyard, watering them and watching them grow as if she were still in the fields of Lahore. She hopes that somewhere out there, her loved ones have turned their misfortunes into blessings as well.
January 1, 2023January 1, 2023 7min readBy Brown boy
Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.
Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?
Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.
What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?
I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.
What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”
In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.
What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?
So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.
As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?
So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.
What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?
Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:
“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”
That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.
My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.
Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?
Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.
Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?
Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.
Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?
Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.
Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?
Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.
But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.
How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?
Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.
Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!
January 18, 2023January 18, 2023 5min readBy Arun S.
From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!
What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?
We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.
Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?
Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.
What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?
The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.
As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?
It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.
Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?
We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.
What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?
Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.
How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?
This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.
What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?
The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.
What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?
Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.
As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?
Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.
How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?
It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.
Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?
More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.
What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?
Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!
How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?
Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!
Dimitri Vegas Like Mike
We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.
Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.
Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.
I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.
Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.
Passion is something many claim to have, but few truly possess. Whether it’s hobbies, professions or romances, it’s the secret ingredient we all crave but is quite difficult to come by. But on meeting Chef Devan Rajkumar — aka Chef Dev — it takes just a few moments to understand true passion. For the Indo Guyanese chef from Toronto, passion has always been food and its power to connect, nourish, excite and represent.
Whatever the outlet, Rajkumar feeds his mission to bean ambassador for modern, West and East Indian cuisine. I recently sat down with him to talk about this and the experience of bringing Indo Caribbean flavors to South Asia and beyond.
Feeding a passion for food
“The sights, the sounds, the aromatics. The excitement of the kitchen has just always appealed to me,” he began. “Food moves me in a certain way. I want to nurture and nourish. I’ve just always wanted to do for others.”
As he sat back in a ‘Guyana vs. the world’ tank top, Rajkumar’s energy was palpable.
“I’ve always lived and breathed food, all day, all night. Like I’m talking about food right now. I’m constantly talking about food.”
To Rajkumar, food is education — one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to learn, teach and explore the world — and he credits his older brother Jai for inspiring this mindset. Jai was the first to introduce him to different cuisines, teach him to be curious about the world and show him how to challenge the norms of a “typical brown kid.”
Despite this encouragement, however, a culinary career wasn’t Rajkumar’s first instinct. The son of a businessman, he initially jumped around universities and career paths. He also struggled with substance abuse and grief after Jai’s passing. Through all the challenges, food remained a constant, and the sense of community it created was a powerful draw.
“At a very young age, I recognized how food made me feel if I was in a bad mood and how it made others feel,” he shared.
He’s always looked forward to sitting around a table with friends and family, enjoying a nice meal, and how everybody could share their stories or just forget their troubles.
“Food is a very powerful vehicle for transporting someone.”
In 2009, Rajkumar finally followed his passion and joined a culinary school. He realized he had a knack for creating this experience for others.
“I realized I had the power and the gift to nourish and nurture someone else in this way,” and it became irresistible.
A cook with no boundaries, Rajkumar didn’t want to limit the number of people he reached to just those in Canada.
For many, success in the culinary world is having a thriving restaurant, but after spending six months opening one with The Food Dudes in 2015, Rajkumar realized this route wasn’t for him.
“I wanted more culture,” he explained. “I wanted to learn and not so much get my ass kicked, but to be a sponge. I knew I needed to travel to broaden my horizons.”
So he did. Rajkumar spent months cooking in India, London, Peru and Dubai. He shared his experiences on social media and people back home took note.
“When I returned to Toronto,” he continued, “that trip had established me as a cook who had no boundaries. As someone who wasn’t afraid to explore and get out of their comfort zone.”
And get out of his comfort zone he did.
“From catering to a pop-up abroad to filming ‘Cityline’ and speaking engagements, every day is different,” he explained. “I’ve had my bouts with imposter syndrome, but ultimately, I’ve gotten to make more of an impact than just opening a restaurant.”
That impact has especially been prominent in South Asia.
Rajkumar embraces not only his Caribbean culture, but his South Asian roots as well.
The temple he grew up in was a blend of Guyanese and East Indians, so he knew foods from a typical Guyanese household like alu curry and saijan but also East Indian favorites like dhokla and malai kofta.
“Ultimately, we came from India,” he declared. “I embrace the culture and I am very comfortable leaning back and forth into it. It’s in me. It’s who I am.”
In fact, Rajkumar noted his career became much more defined and successful when he really began to identify as not just a chef, but as an Indo Guyanese Canadian chef.
Hearing this, it was no surprise that Guyana, India and Pakistan stand out as some of his favorite destinations.
“Guyana is hugely impactful for me,” he shared, having visited his parents’ homeland frequently. “As soon as that door opens [at the airport], you smell Guyana. You smell the sugarcane burning from rum factories. I have all these wonderful sights, sounds, smells and flavors from those trips.”
His sentiments for India are similar.
“Incredible India is incredible India,” he referred to the country’s tourism slogan. “Every 100-200 kilometers, the menus can change completely. I can live in India for the rest of my life and never see it all.”
Rajkumar’s first trip in 2020 was only nine days long, but its impact stayed with him.
He couldn’t have been more excited to return for a month, earlier this year, and host what his friends there dubbed the “Mad Love Pop-Up,” after one of his signature sayings.
He filled the menu for the 18-day event with global dishes like ceviche and scotch eggs but infused them with West and East Indian flavors like masala, jerk and cassareep — a rich extract of the bitter cassava native to Guyana. Before he left, he even prepared Guyana’s national dish of pepper pot, a hearty meat stew, for the staff meal.
“My whole thought process was ‘let me give these people — my family there — an experience they’ve never had before,” he detailed. “Any time I give someone pepper pot or cassareep, they’re just so shocked. It’s so unique.”
Rajkumar is always excited to share the flavors and culture of Guyana with new people, but with his roots in South Asia, bringing them to Pakistan was that much more profound.
“In India, maybe it’s different, but in Lahore, most people don’t know about Guyana or where it is. That’s another reason why I did this. That’s why I do all the things I do. That’s why I’m wearing this tank top — to raise awareness about my culture and how beautiful it is,” he said.
Time in South Asia has also helped Rajkumar gain a deeper appreciation for the origins of many Indo Caribbean dishes and reinforced his love for them.
“Guyanese cuisine doesn’t just have Indian influence, but so many dishes in some way, shape, or form come from there. Like when I’m eating sada roti, I can tie it back to which type of flatbread it came from in India. I feel like a better-equipped chef at the end of the day. I’m more connected to my Guyanese roots and to the culture overall.”
Rajkumar wants to foster a deeper understanding and relationship between both heritages. He wants his food to build connections, not disparity.
Bringing the world back home
Rajkumar has visited over 20 countries, but Pakistan remains one place he’ll cherish his entire life. He is grateful not only for the opportunities he’s had there, but also for the chance to offer a fresh, alternative view of the country from what is often shown by the media.
“When people saw me posting content from Lahore, they were like, ‘Oh my God, this is Pakistan?’ This is not what we expected. This is not what we thought we’d see.’ They were shocked at how beautiful, kind, and welcoming everyone was.”
Reactions like these are Rajkumar’s ultimate goal.
A cookbook is due next year. He has aspirations of launching merchandise and cookware, traveling to South East Asia, and continuing his pop-ups, but ultimately, he concludes,
“I just want to stand for something. I want to continue to learn, remain humble, represent my Western and Eastern cultures and spread mad love. I want to be an ambassador to that world and be someone who’s dedicated to his craft, bettering himself and those around him.”
“I just want to continue to grow as a person,” he added with sincerity as he touched on his sobriety and what it’s taught him about achieving your goals.
“That might sound cliche, but it’s new to me. I’ve spent the last two years learning about myself and being vulnerable about how I feel, my healing journey and what I’m going through. If I excel and continue to invest time and discipline in that arena, everything else around me will flourish. I believe that goes for anyone.”
Rajkumar is going far literally and figuratively, but no matter where he lands, you can be sure he’ll bring something back for his supporters, whether it be a new view of the world or a concoction like a ceviche pani puri on one of his menus.
“That’s my travels to India, Pakistan and Peru all in one bite!” he exclaimed.
Chef Dev’s journey has not always been an easy one, but it’s a powerful example of the success one can taste with hard work, embracing authenticity and following true passion.