Happy Independence Day, India! How Education Can Free India’s People

indian flagHappy Independence Day, India! It’s hard to believe that a country with such a rich history can only be celebrating independence as one nation for the 67th time, today. Just like on my birthday every year, it’s on India’s Independence day that I’m always very grateful: grateful for the rich culture from which I was born and raised and grateful for my life beyond India’s bleak reality.

Because I was born in India, it hits harder to home for me when I turn on the TV or hear the stories from back home. India’s poor seem to getting poorer, women’s rights seem to be getting fewer, and the entire country seems to be shrouded in a dark cloud of problems it can’t seem to improve. Somehow, I was one of the lucky ones got to experience everything wonderful that being Indian is about (here’s a little run-down of India’s history beyond Bollywood), but I was spared the hardships that so many millions of people suffer everyday.

Recently, I learned that India is the home to 287 million illiterate people — the most in any country. If that number is too vague to comprehend, think about this: India makes up 40% of the world’s population of illiterate people; almost as many people that LIVE IN THE UNITED STATES cannot READ OR WRITE in India.

When you can actually realize how many people this disables from having a job, having rights, having an opportunity to do something with their lives, you realize how many of this free country’s people are actually not free at all. They’re bound by the shackles of illiteracy, which will inevitably keep them and their children stuck in vicious cycle of poverty.

Education is what can free the world, and education singularly can free India’s people from their destitution. I’ve never felt more fiercely about the power — nay — the gift of education, and I’m pledging myself to educating people about this, so that maybe I won’t just be one of those “lucky ones.”

Pratham is non-profit organization that recently caught my eye because they are working at helping India’s impoverished children and youth by addressing the problem at the root cause: lack of education. The organization was established in 1995 and has helped to educate millions of children over the last 19 years.

What they’re doing is truly phenomenal. Pratham operates at less than a 10% overhead cost and develops innovating teaching solutions so that they can help educate children and youth with basic reading, writing and arithmetic schools to help them learn the foundational skills that are so important to build on.

Over the next month, a generous donor is pledging 25 cents for every new Facebook like Pratham USA’s page receives in order to spread awareness about their work solutions. It takes only about $25 to help educate a child in India for an ENTIRE YEAR. You’re already on Facebook all the time; a few seconds of your time to like their page can actually make a huge difference!

On that note, let’s hope that every child who has the opportunity to learn doesn’t waste it. An education is the greatest thing you can have for a better future — remember that!


Exotic Imports for a Good Cause

Cover of January, 1915 National Geographic Mag...

Image via Wikipedia

I’d like to say that my fashion sense is contemporary with a twist. I absolutely flip for vintage styles, especially jewelry and accessories and love quirky, unique pieces. Owning and rocking something that’s apart from the crowd makes you feel the same, and I’d say if I was to give one piece of fashion advice (not sure if I’m qualified to do that) – this would be it: incorporate something colorful, unique, and/or with a story behind it into your other fashion pieces. It’ll really add that pinch of “special” into your wardrobe.

I’ve always loved to scour flea markets and jewelry booths for handmade pieces and long-lost treasures from the past. As I said, I have an affinity for things that are unique with a story.  So, when I found NOVICA — a company associated with National Geographic — I was ecstatic. This company sells imported jewelry, decor, clothing, and accessories that are made by artisans from around the world – from India and Bali, to West Africa and Brazil. Their goal is to give an outlet to people to sell their beautiful products to customers around the globe, where otherwise they would not have the capacity or resources to do so.

On their site, shoppers can read personal words from the artisans themselves about their lives, professions, and how NOVICA has given them the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives. It’s really quite beautiful and touching, and gives the shopper a personal connection to the human creating their treasure. Read about Ketut Taram: the wood sculptor from Bali, or Yuni Kristina: the silk batik artisan from Java, or countless other people pursuing their passions to bring you their wares. And because everything is made individually and personally, you know that no one will own anything quite the same.

Could it get better? Yes! The prices are very reasonable, and a fantastic way to own something from an exotic land that you may otherwise not get a chance to visit – and you know it’s authentic! It’s unfortunate when a piece that looks like it’s from South America turns out it was “Made in China,” isn’t it? With NOVICA, you won’t have that problem. So, you buy a beautiful, handmade product from an exotic land at a reasonable price and support the work of artisans around the world. What’s not to love?

*Note: For more items, O.co also sells NOVICA branded products from the same regions and more.

Here are some of my favorites in jewelry, accessories, and decor:

Happy 65th Birthday, Mother India!

If there was ever a woman who grew more beautiful and powerful the more she expanded and reproduced, she was India. (Now, that’s a feat accomplished by few.)

Today, August 15, marks the country’s 65th National Independence Day. This day in 1947, the world witnessed the birth of a country whose powers and capacities had remained hidden behind British rule for almost 200 years.

A country often known today by superficial and unremarkable truths as the home to outsourced customer service technicians, curry powder and masala tea, the Kama Sutra, and billions of “brown people,” India’s true splendor has disgracefully withered away in time.

Having been born in the country and then been raised abroad, I often found myself clarifying what it meant to be Indian when I was a child. One question never failed to present itself repeatedly from many ill-educated and misinformed Westerners.

“What tribe are you in?”

Upon clarification that I truly was an Indian, many scratched their heads at what a “real Indian” was like.

“Can you speak ‘Indian’ for us?”

“India is in Asia?” ”

“But Indians are like Pocahontas, aren’t they?”

It was unfathomable how a country of such rich history, stature and global presence had become so lost in its identity to its neighbors abroad. And still today, India can be found often misunderstood and underrepresented for what she stands to be in the world.

As a tribute to my homeland, Mother India, included are some essentials to know about this land of mysteries. I hope that it will remind those from India to remember who they are and enlighten those outside a bit more about the country and its people.

The Flag

India’s flag is made up of three equal horizontal bands: saffron (orange),  white and green. In the center of the white band is the blue, 24-spoked Ashok Chakra. Each band and the chakra has its own representation for being apart of the flag.

The color saffron represents: courage, white: purity and truth; green: faith and fertility, and the Ashok Chakra: wheel of life in movement and death in stagnation.

The flag was designed in 1916 by freedom fighter Pingali Venkayya, at the suggestion of Mahatma Gandhi. It was accepted as the national flag of India on July 22, 1947.

The People

India remains as the second most populated country in the world, with almost 1.2 billion citizens as reported by the U.S. CIA World Factbook. Even with its bustling economy and rapid growth, only 30% of the population is urbanized and many are living well under the poverty rate.

India, also affectionately known to its people as “Bharat,” ranks as being home to the fourth highest number of citizens living with HIV/AIDS, with some 2.4 million infected, and the third highest in HIV/AIDS-related deaths, with some 170,000 per year since 2009.

The country is also home  to28 individual states — each unique with their own languages (and, for the record — “Indian” is not one of them), rituals and customs,  and seven union territories. According to India.gov.in, “All five racial types — Australoid, Mongoloid, Europoid, Caucasian, and Negroid find representation among the people of India.”

It remains no surprise, then, when one understands that a person speaking “Indian” would be a force to behold — because that would mean speaking 22 languages — all of which are recognized by the Constitution of India; the wide-spoken language Hindi is considered the Official.

Over many years, India has been home to many peoples, and the land has seen invasion by Europeans, Turks, and even Afghans, all of which make up hundreds of years of rule in the country.

The country’s colors are rich in diversity, but its people united under their blend. Being Indian begs many questions of origin, but one thing remains universal: it means hailing from a country rich in history and culture, beyond measure.

Happy Independence Day, India! Jai Hind!

Special note: Kudos to Google, again, for celebrating with Indians everywhere and honoring us with a special Red Fort-themed logo on its homepage, today (featured on August 15, 2011).

What’s Behind a Kiss?

We look forward to the first one that marks the beginning of many in our lives. The quality of it is often the make or break of a budding romance. The French contributed their own variety to the act. And sometimes we even do it ‘sitting in a tree’.

The kiss has a significance and presence greater than most realize today, and a history that would probably stump even the masters of the art. For an act engaged in by humans of all shapes and sizes, races and genders, not many truly know – what’s behind a kiss?

Made in India

In today’s media and pop culture, Indians are often portrayed as conservative and extremely modest citizens of the world, ghastly offended and thoroughly abashed at the somewhat liberal attitudes of Americans and other Western cultures. These attitudes especially show when it comes to any topics of the sexual nature. What interests many of these Westerners is that Kama Sutra, an ancient text about human sexual behavior originated in India. Most would consider this text rather risque, at times evoking a blush and a downcast of the eyes of the accidental viewer or reader.

Well, it turns out the country behind the Kama Sutra also seems to have produced of the first lip-lockers of the world. The earliest literary evidence of kissing dates back about 3500 years ago (around 1500 B.C.) in ancient Sanskrit texts from India. Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist from Texas A&M was quoted by the International Tribune Herald in 2006 saying that these texts refer to people “sniffing” with their mouths and lovers “setting mouth to mouth” He theorizes that kissing made its way to the West by way of Alexander the Great who conquered the Indian state of Punjab in 326 B.C.

And before kissing may have been socially acceptable on the silver screen in the western hemisphere, the Indians were smooching in movies as early as 1933. Devika Rani, a leading lady in movies during that time is credited to the first spit-swapper in Indian cinema in the movie Karma. It is speculated that the kiss lasted a whopping four minutes and is thought to be the longest kiss on the big screen in the world. Talk about healthy lungs!

We’re Not Alone

Humans have a tendency to consider themselves the superior race. What – because we can talk, build things, think with complexity, walk on two legs, and kiss – we claim the top spot in the competition of the best living creatures? Well, actually –  almost all animals communicate in their own languages; most have to build their own homes from the ground up; many have better raw survival skills than humans – even as babies; more than one species can walk on two legs; and turns out other animals also know affection and kiss – or something like it.

Because there is not a clear-cut definition for “kissing”, and it can be a term that more accurately describes the act humans engage in of pressing lips to lips or other parts of the body, people should understand that at the most basic level “kissing” is an act of affection. As anthropologist Sheril Kirshenbaum from The University of Texas-Austin and the author of The Science of Kissing said on the podcast Science Friday, there are a lot of behaviors in the animal kingdom, “that look a lot like kissing.”

Some of the species Kirshenbaum mentions are the Bonobo Apes which have been, “spotted to suck on each other’s tongues for about 12 minutes straight.” While this behavior seems a lot like the human kiss, animals like turtles and giraffes have been seen to tap heads or entwine their necks. Humans aren’t the only ones who need love, people!

Righty or Lefty?

The majority of people in the world are born with a tendency to have one dominant working hand: right or left. The rare few have the option of working with both with equal productivity. Regardless of a person’s ‘handedness’, however,  there seems to be no correlation to the direction of the ‘lean’ when going in for the kiss. German researcher Onur Güntürkün, conducted a study in which he observed couples locking lips in public arenas  like beaches, airports, railway stations, etc. in Germany, the U.S., and Turkey.(Obviously PDA wasn’t a discouraging factor for these lovers) What he found was that regardless of a person’s right or left-handedness, two-thirds of kissers have a tendency to lean to the right when smooching.

This finding, Güntürkün told BBC News in 2003, has a correlation to the tendency of babies turning their heads to the right when they are in the wombs.

“There could be one very early habit given to humans before birth which still influences our behaviour for the rest of our life and is visible in subtle habits during, for example, kissing.”

Another expert, Professor Chris McManus of the University College of London says this all makes sense, and told BBC News that 90% of babies, when laid on their backs, “turn their head to the right and stick out their left arm. It’s a reflex.”

Some will argue the history and ‘science’ behind kissing attempts to give explanation to the act of locking lips to a lover or a loved one, when it is simply a phenomenon of life that needs understanding. It is an act of emotion, love, and passion and much like spirituality, is something you have to feel rather than see or study to truly grasp the beauty of it. Even then, now you know a little more about kissing for that next icebreaker. Who knows – you may even get a kiss out of it?

India thinking about banning big, fat liar

Lindsay Lohan – where did we go wrong with you?! You were so cute and lovable (and NORMAL) playing twins in the Parent Trap. You were perfect alongside Rachel McAdams and Tina Fey in Mean Girls – even if you weren’t that funny yourself. We liked you; we really, really liked you! But then you turned into a nut and lost some 100 lbs and turned into a coke head. Let’s not forget your (fleeting?) stint as a lesbian. Hey, whatever you want to do with your life – it’s cool. We just want the freckle-faced, redhead, girl next door back!

Well, I’m not sure if we’ll get so lucky with the girl-next-door part but LiLo MAY be coming back to the States – just not by choice. Recently Lindsay traveled to India to film a documentary about child sex-traffiking. She recently Tweeted that she gallantly rescued 40 child workers from a sweatshop herself! Kudos to you!!!…IF IT WERE TRUE! Indian activist officials later said that she arrived after a rescue raid was over and she didn’t have anything to do with rescuing anyone. Burn.

Now officials are considering BANNING Lohan from ever coming back to India. Hah! On top of that, she violated the country’s visa laws by coming to India with a tourist visa to film for her documentary – which is also illegal.

Lessons to learn? 1. You don’t have to be a mastermind, evil-doer terrorist to be banned from a country. 2. Don’t lie to India!

Shame, shame Lindsay. Shame, shame…