How’s your novel coming along? If you’re writing one, did you outline it first? Or is it evolving?
“I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” Rabindranath Tagore
In the case of the two books I’m working on, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” I outlined it, wrote a bunch, thought I was about done — and then a new character introduced himself!
“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.” Tagore
Blogging has brought me the unexpected joy of meeting many new online friends from India, thereby stoking my curiosity about the country. It was only natural that my books include someone at least partly from there.
“Depth of friendship does not depend on length of acquaintance.” Tagore
Niks is a minor player. It’s the year of 2002. He lives in Southern California, the best place to surf and earn a living as a model and actor. He’s a gay man in his 40s. His parents were studying business when they met at UC Berkeley’s International House, a social club intended to help foreign students feel less alone. Pasta is the dish he makes best because his Italian mom taught him how to cook. His love of great Indian literature is thanks to his dad, who grew up in Kolkata.
“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.” Tagore
Are you from India? If so, feel free to correct me and/or add to what’s here…
“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” Tagore
“If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” Tagore
Did you know that the world’s largest non-trade annual book fair takes place in Kolkata?
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Tagore
The region is home to India’s major publishers. So are many great thinkers, such as Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941), India’s equivalent to Shakespeare.
“The most important lesson that man can learn from life, is not that there is pain in this world, but that it is possible for him to transmute it into joy.” Rabindranath Tagore
To my mind, Tagore as much a sort of Leonardo da Vinci. He was a revolutionary politically and artistically. At eight years old, he was already a poet and went on to be a musician, artist, Ayurveda researcher, actor, playwright, and more.
“Love’s gift cannot be given, it waits to be accepted.” Tagore
Quite the globe-trotter, he introduced the world to India’s creative treasures.
“Love is an endless mystery, because there is no reasonable cause that could explain it.” Tagore
It’s simple to be cynical. When I travel, it’s easy to regard those different from me derisively. When I point at others, as the old saw goes however, the majority of my fingers point back at me.Living in the prosperous United States as I do, it’s tempting to ignore how our politics hurt ourselves and other countries. If it was ever possible to do — now amid our police brutality of innocent people, during these perilous times of COVID19 — how can anyone overlook how intertwined and interdependent everyone everywhere is?
Blogging has gifted me the unexpected delight of a number of followers from India, a huge country I’ve yet to visit, but obviously multi-faceted and amazing in countless ways. For one thing, they’re home to the amazingly evolved creatures called elephants!
Globetrotter Chelsea, a native of Northern England, is based out of Barcelona, Spain. On Chelsea’s blog, along with epicurean insights, she offers her unique take on various lands. Here’s a slice of her visit to NW India and her insights about how we can all become part of the solution when it comes to helping animals. The main organization she discusses, Wildlife SOS, is an award-winning charity founded by and administered by Indians…
Elephants in India: 3 simple ways to help by Chelsea
It was my love of nature and animals that led me to Wildlife SOS India. Today I’d like to tell you all about the encouraging work of this fantastic conservation non-profit, particularly with regard to elephants, how COVID-19 has affected wildlife, what you can do to help, including other organizations.
What’s Wildlife SOS?
It’s a conservation non-profit set up in 1995 to protect and conserve India’s natural heritage, forest, and biodiversity. It is currently one of the largest Wildlife Organisations in South Asia. Its main missions are:
Conservation and protection of wild populations and habitat.
Rescue of injured and displaced wildlife, and to look after the welfare of captive populations.
Research into better protecting and caring for wildlife.
WSOS leads a massive variety of projects: battling illegal animal trading and poaching, advocating for wildlife within the legal and legislative systems, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and organising awareness workshops, to name just a few.
And the projects are just as diverse as the huge variety of animals they rescue every year ranging from snakes illegally captured by snake ‘charmers’, peacocks poisoned by pesticide, sloth bears forced to ‘dance’ for entertainment, and elephants enduring a life of cruelty in the tourism industry.
Love elephants? Read on!
Although WSOS is internationally known for its pivotal role in eradicating the practice of dancing bears, they are becoming increasingly well-known for their rescue and rehabilitation of elephants.
Their Elephant Conservation and Care Centre was created in 2010 to rehabilitate severely abused and exploited elephants, and nowadays houses over 25, many of which were rescued from a lifetime in captivity where they were forced to beg on behalf of their abusive owners, work as temple elephants, perform in circuses and give rides to tourists, among countless other atrocities.
Elephants in captivity face a life of cruelty and abuse, starting with being poached from the wild as babies, isolated from other elephants, and beaten until they can be coerced to do anything. (Note from da-AL: the video link that follows is truly upsetting.) The ‘taming’ method for an elephant usually goes like this: baby elephants are kept in a small cage similar to those used in intensive pig farming, and they are tied up with ropes so they can’t move. The elephant will then be subject to repeated beatings with nails, sticks, chains, and bullhooks. In a process lasting several weeks, the animal is starved of food and water while enduring sleep-deprivation, until they submit to their owners, who can then use them for financial gain.
This cruel practice is aptly called phajaan or “breaking of the spirit”.
All captive elephants will go through at least some form of this vicious ritual. Next time you see an elephant used to give rides or appearing in a film, the signs of abuse will be easy to spot. Shredded ears where they have been torn by bullhooks, nasty skin conditions, lacerations all over their body, and tears in their eyes are all indications of abuse. It’s simple really — no wild elephant would voluntarily paint pictures, perform in the circus or let people ride them.
Only a creature that has had its spirit crushed through abject torture would submit to such unnatural behaviour. While in Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to still find a circus with real elephants, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,700 captive elephants all around Asia that are still actively subjected to some form of exploitation.
Such abuse is particularly sad when we consider that elephants are among the most intelligent of all land mammals. Elephants exhibit renowned cognitive skills and share many behavioural traits with humans. These sensitive souls exhibit grief, altruism, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness and have excellent memories. They remember other elephants and humans they had met briefly decades previously, and they will certainly never forget the anguish they endured all their captive lives.
As visitors to the Agra Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, it was heartwarming to see elephants which had endured a lifetime of cruelty finally be able to spend their days in peace, enjoying long relaxing mud baths, receiving a nutritious diet and veterinary care, as well as enjoying a daily stroll in the open fields with their friends.
Some phony ‘sanctuaries’ are more like petting zoos and little other than dressed-up tourist traps where the mistreatment of animals is commonplace (here’s how to spot one). In total contrast, at Wildlife SOS’s rescue centre in Agra, only small groups of visitors are allowed to come on a prearranged visit, and no touching of or direct interaction with the elephants is permitted. Elephants are in no way made to perform for visitors, and riding is, of course, banned. Although these elephants would not be able to survive in the wild again following decades of captivity, they are well cared for and live as natural a life as possible in the centre.
How to visit Wildlife SOS
I was deeply impacted by the life-changing work Wildlife SOS is carrying out and would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting Agra should carve out a firm place in their itinerary to visit both WSOS centres in Agra to see the projects first-hand. We hired a driver and visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and Elephant Conservation Centre all in one day, with time to get the 5pm train back to Delhi, so it’s definitely possible to have this eye-opening experience on a day trip!
For more information, check out Wildlife SOS’s website to find out more about how to visit theElephant Conservation and Care Center. Make sure to get in touch in advance by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to organise a customised visit. It’ll be the highlight of your trip to Agra!
How has COVID-19 affected Wildlife?
The current COVID-19 crisis is making its effects felt universally and is forcing us to reexamine our relationship with wildlife and nature.
Another silver lining of the current pandemic is that it has shone the spotlight on the illegal global wildlife trade. There is more awareness than ever of the risks that exotic animal markets pose to human health and increasing pressure to close them down for good.
At the same time, wildlife tourism is being severely impacted by restricted international travel. On the one hand, this is good news – the lack of tourists will be a relief to elephants who are otherwise forced to give rides all day. On the other hand, rescue centres like Wildlife SOS will not be able to welcome visitors whose entrance fees go towards the animals’ upkeep.
Ultimately, whether it comes as a blessing or a curse, COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call, and one thing is certain: we need to seriously rethink how we treat the natural and animal world around us.
3 Easy Ways Everyone can help — Wildlife SOS and beyond…
Visit the WSOS site for everything from how to spread awareness, fundraise, volunteer, and sponsor an animal, to opportunities to assist children in Kalandar. In addition to learning more about their groundbreaking conservation work, visit their bear and elephant facilities in Agra, if you’re in Bangalore, South India.
Donate elsewhere: every little helps, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis with food shortages looming.
My visit to the elephant centre left me emotional, and a lot of tears went into writing this article. The way humans treat their fellow living creatures is disheartening, to say the least. We call people ‘animals’ when they act aggressively, brutishly, and uncivilised, but really, animals don’t hold a candle to the depths of fiendishness us humans are capable of on a regular basis. In fact, it’s animals who time and time again surprise us with their altruism and affection towards humans. Here are examples of our wonderful dolphin friends!
But I’m also optimistic. Yes, there is still an enormous amount of needless animal cruelty going on today all over the world in the name of entertainment, medicine, food, or whatever other reason you can find a justification for, but there are also beacons of hope like Wildlife SOS.
As more people shun the use of animals for their own perceived gain, I like to think we can stride in the direction of a world with a little less suffering, and a lot more love and compassion.
Sending you sunshine and positivity, Chelsea!
Dear readers, please weigh in…
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My idea of India is a place so fascinatingly diverse and vast that a lifetime of studying it can only scratch the surface. A teacher, a blogger and a photographer, Niks is based out of Jaipur, Rajasthan. His site is filled with intelligent posts with memorable photos of India. He also writes personally, such as how his small hometown is faring under the specter of COVID 19. Here are his tips for visiting Incredible India…
Incredible India by Niks
India is the most beautiful place to visit. It has an amazing history, culture, and heritage that attracts tourists from all over the world. It’s the best place to visit because it is a combination of art, culture, and heritage. There are many tourist places in India. These are historical places like forts, palaces, and also natural places like lakes and gardens.
In ancient times, India was known as ‘golden bird’ as it was dominant in trading. But, after British rule, it became a poor country in the world. With time, it improved its economy. Now, India’s economy is the fastest-growing in the world.
It was ruled by various rulers. Most were fond of beautiful palaces and forts. They spent a lot of money on their luxury lifestyle. The architecture of palaces that they built is indeed attractive.
In northern India, there are forts and palaces that attract tourists. However, some hill-stations are also popular. The famous places to visit in North India are Srinagar, Golden temple at Amritsar, New Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. Golden temple in Punjab is a religious place that is worshipped by the Sikh community.
Srinagar is a town in the Kashmir state of India. It is a hilly area that has snowfall in the winter season. Taj Mahal is located in Uttar Pradesh that is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Northeastern India is best for those who love hill stations. Shimla, Manali, and Assam are popular destinations of northeastern India. These places are famous for adventurous activities such as river rafting, paragliding, and more.
The states of Rajasthan and Gujarat are located in the west of India. Rajasthan is well known for its forts. There are more than 60 forts in this state. Most were built by Rajput rulers. They show the culture and history of Rajasthan.
Gujarat is a western state of India that is famous for wildlife parks and tasty food. Gir National Park in Gujarat is the largest park of lions. “Statue of Unity” is a monument in Gujarat, which is a statue of Vallabh Bhai Patel, who was a politician of India.
Southern India is popular for temples, food, and heritage sites. The architecture of temples in south India is alluring. Alora caves, Mahabaleshwar, and Sun Temple are some of the famous places in South India. Also, the cultural festivals of South India is a great experience.
Plan your journey before the visit.
Contact a tour guide to know about the places you want to visit.
Book hotels and transportation tickets in advance.
Do not talk with strangers.
Along with tourist places, the culture and food of India are amazing to experience. Peoples of India are friendly and respect foreign tourists. You don’t need a lot of money to visit this country as it is quite affordable.
Picture me sitting on my haunches atop a conference table, assigned to perform an entertaining Toastmasters speech titled, “The benefits and the Politics of Squatting”…
The subject first piqued my interest years ago, when my mom moved in with us. To make things extra comfy for all, we had some construction done on our snug home.
Each morning, a crew of men assembled under our backyard gazebo. Aged from early twenties to eighties, each hailed from Cambodia.
What intrigued me was the way they waited for each other to show up. In totally relaxed full-squats, the gentlemen sipped coffees, munched pastries, chatted, and smoked. Once all were there, they stood — not a one groaned or complained of creaky bones.
Lunch involved more of the same. They full-squatted as they passed around freshly steamed rice with fragrant grilled meat and veggies. Afterward, still squatting, they finished with smokes and maybe a sweet.
Squatting was still on my mind when, a couple of years later, I broke my knee twice in the same year. Torn cartilage, fractured bone, stretched tendon, blah, blah, blah. Ouch!!!! and Ohno!!! don’t begin to cover it.
Voila! Thanks to his suggestion that I squat five times a day, for thirty seconds each time, as I watched TV, my knee is so great that I never needed the surgery that two doctors prescribed! Yesterday I went for a terrific jog, no problemo!
By aligning muscles and organs from toes to neck, squatting aids in…
Getting rid of hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and hernias.
Preventing heart attacks caused by straining on European-style toilets.
Alleviating incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Making pregnancy easier.
Guarding reproductive organs, including protecting against prostate cancer.
Bees — including the tiny not-so-flamboyant ones easily mistaken for pests — need global support. The most important step is to minimize poison in our lawns, gardens, and farms.
Here Birgit of Germany, who blogs from Denmark at Stella, oh, Stella and has been our guest here and here, tells us about the bee-utiful activism of India’s lauded environmentalist Vandana Shiva — which we can all learn from, wherever we live…
“Save the bees and the farmers: Vandana Shiva becomes protectress of this citizens‘ initiative” by Stella, oh, Stella
The winner of the alternative Nobel Prize, Vandana Shiva, has officially assumed patronage of the initiative. We are calling for a gradual EU-wide ban on chemical-synthetic pesticides, measures for the recovery of biodiversity, and an EU agricultural policy that supports farmers in sustainable farming.
During her lecture tour through Bavaria, the Indian scientist and seed activist publicly declared her support for the campaign:
“If we don’t save the bees and insects, the farmers will also be lost. But we are also fighting for our next generation with the initiative. With great pleasure, I, as a godmother, will make an active contribution to making the European Citizens‘ Initiative a wake-up call to politicians in Europe to finally be consistent and courageous. “
Europeans — join Vandana Shiva by signing the European Citizens‘ Initiative now. Almost 160,000 people have participated. If we can collect a million votes across Europe by the end of September 2020, the EU Commission is legally obliged to deal with our demands. Can you help us save bees and farmers?
Everyone else — please do what you can to protect, to educate, and to get the word out!
How important do you think it is to protect bees?
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Have resources ready -> Again, going back to my comment about the use of technology, I would say keep some LGBT-friendly movies, newspaper articles, novels, stories of successful personalities, etc., handy. Make sure to say this to your peers and family “Take as much time as you need. Once you are ready, ask me as many questions as you want to. I can share some very helpful resources with you so you can understand more about the LGBTQ+ community.”
Be prepared for aftereffects of the storm -> Coming out can be a SHOCK for some people (who are we kidding, it’s a shock for the majority of people!!). From the person who comes out to the people whom he/she/they come out to, everyone gets affected for a variable period of time. Aftereffects can range from minor behavioral changes to crazy fights (to the point of people being thrown out of their own homes, sadly!). So here comes the con of coming out on video calling – although you aren’t physically there to face those aftereffects every single second, you might feel guilty of not being there to support your peers (or at least I was made to feel extremely guilty for not being there and making a wrong decision of using FaceTIme). Whatever, I have no regrets of how I came out to my parents, and I think it was the right time!). Even the duration of these aftereffects can vary from a few hours to days (in my case) to few months or even years (Nick’s case and most people’s case too), which brings me to my next commandment.
Be patient -> As I mentioned before, it can take up to 5-10 years (or maybe a lifetime) for your family to come to terms with your sexuality. Unfortunately, I know of some of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community whose families have not accepted them yet, despite it being >20 years. But don’t lose hope and be strong….
Be strong -> As I mentioned previously that you must be 100% comfortable with yourself before coming out to people. Being comfortable with one’s self also helps to have that courage to face the world. It is NOT an easy process (but neither is life!). When I say that be strong, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the lone warrior on the battlefield. You have tons of resources at your disposal which you MUST use – movies, music (my coming out song to inspire me was Let it go from Frozen), stories of successful people (Ellen DeGeneres, being one of my inspirations), your partner(s) 😉 , best friends, etc.
Hope for the best and have faith – Eventually, it will work out!! Don’t lose hope, think positive, and try to keep yourself occupied (especially in the immediate coming out period) to destress. Coming out is a tough step (in fact, a MILESTONE for every LGBTQ+ community member), so be PROUD of yourself and everything you have achieved.
I wish you all the very best for the next big step in life.
A bit about Rhys in his own words: Rhys: A simple guy, who was oblivious of the gay world, fell in love with the most unexpected person… Now wants to share what it feels like to be in love and the experiences of being gay….!!!
A significant character in my soon-to-be-finished novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” is an American/South Asian gay man. While researching his identity, I encountered Rys’ excellent site! Indian by birth and now working as a physician in the U.S., Rhys shares some of his wisdom with us here…
“Let it go! 10 commandments of coming out of that damn closet!!” by Rhys
As I had promised in my post about coming out to my parents, here are a few tips/tricks on how to come out, if you are very nervous and not able to decide what to do (as I was initially).
The answer to the big question, “how to come out?” is ………… “There is NO one way or magic trick to do it!”
Everyone is different, with different family structures, different backgrounds, and people they grew up with. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing I can tell you to guide you for your coming out process. So, here are the 10 commandments of coming out. I compiled these from mine and Nick’s experience. The list is in NO way exhaustive, but does highlight the most important points:
There is NO need to rush to come out. EVER!! The best time to come out is when you feel like you are prepared – be it 10 weeks, 10 months, or 10 years!
You have to be 100% comfortable with yourself FIRST before coming out to your family, peers, or any random Tom, Dick, or Harry (pun intended) 🙂 If you aren’t comfortable with yourself (physically, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and every way you can think of), it becomes hard to stay strong in such a stressful situation.
It’s 2019 -> Make use of technology. FaceTime, etc., aren’t the most ideal way to come out, but I have realized that having the physical distance can help in decompressing some of the tension and harsh situations, which is VERY common during coming out. I used video calling to come out to my whole family. Since I had no plans of meeting my family for an extended period of time, and I was ready to come out. So, I thought video calling was the answer. Believe me, the physical distance was super helpful, especially to decompress the situation in the first few days (but video calling has its cons as well like not being there to actually encounter the aftereffects, which might make some of us feel guilty – read further below).
Be direct -> If there is any situation in life where you don’t wanna beat around the bush, this is one of those times. The more you talk about random BS and take 30-45 mins to come to the point, your audience would have been exhausted already. (Remember, the average attention span for humans is 25-45 minutes.) I admit of being guilty at this myself too. I talk a lot (if in case you haven’t noticed yet :P), and sometimes, the main point is lost in my jargon. It took me 5 attempts (6 video calls in 3 days) to eventually gather the right words just to say it bluntly “I have a boyfriend, and I am gay!” Boom – silence follows (as if you weren’t expecting that – haha!).
Divide and conquer -> This isn’t ethically the most appropriate title, but it was REALLY helpful. When I started coming out in my med school, I came out one by one to my close friends first. Using the same technique, I first came out to my brother and sister-in-law, and 6 months later to my parents. It serves a dual purpose: not having the added stress from everyone at once and also, the people you came out to already can help others come to terms with the “shock.” My brother and sister-in-law were a HUGE support for my parents at the time when I came out to them over FaceTime.
A little about Rhys in his own words: I am a physician from the East Coast of the USA, who grew up and spent 25 years of his life in India, before moving to the west! Currently living with my boyfriend, Nick, I often post on our joint blog, which we created in 2012 when we started dating. He is also a physician, and we love to travel, are big-time foodies (absolutely love brunches!), and are happy to make new friends always!
Magic, fiction, and art: journalist/novelist/blogger equinoxio21 weaves them together with compassion and wisdom to create his fascinating equinoxio21 site.
From the start, he‘s led exciting life! In a short reply to a reader, he described himself: “I am a cultural “mongrel”. Born in Pakistan, raised in Africa. It helps to add tiny details, the “couleur locale”. Reality, to me, is what adds weight to fiction.
Here he combines his historical photos (and here’s some of beautiful original art he posts as well) with those from antique books…
Wildlife is under a death sentence everywhere. Those giraffes (and ostrich, look closely) I saw in Kenya in 1969, fifty years ago (!) are being snared by poachers. What for? For giraffe hair bracelets? To turn their skin into a carpet? Pointless. As a teen, I was fortunate enough to see the last of the wild. Isolated pockets still remain with Game wardens practically turned into a military force. But who knows how long they will last?
This is how giraffes were seen in 1879. (In Mammifères, Louis Viguier). 140 years ago. This is yet another of my books falling apart. Major restoration in the works. The engravings are priceless. Many would tear the book apart and sell each engraving for 20 Euros on the banks of the Seine.