The Henna Artist’s bighearted Alka Joshi on saris, plus my wedding henna

“When’s the last time you read something unapologetically pro-choice — & that’s as empowering as it is romantic? Me? Never. Can’t wait for Joshi’s next book! Wish there were more novels that discuss pro-choice issues head-on. Enchanting story set in 1950s India from women’s point of view about the choices we’re given and how much we can make with them. Audiobook narrator Sneha Mathan is marvelous!”

~ My review of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for Amazon and Goodreads

I absolutely adore books (after all, I’m writing two)! Whenever I finish reading an exceptional novel, I review it on Goodreads and Amazon. Sure, not all stories resonate with me. As a tender-hearted author, I know too well the blood/sweat/tears that even a crappy book demands, so I don’t review those.

Then I email the novelist to thank them for making my life more thoughtful and maybe even fun. Ditto for any audiobook performer involved. Some thank me back, and on the days my stars are truly aligned, they agree to contribute to Happiness Between Tails.

Anyone who doesn’t read The Henna Artist is missing out. Clearly it’s written by a generous spirit. Just glance through Alka’s website and Youtube channel, where she lauds other authors to the extent that poses with their books! Here she is, holding Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic as she says how grateful she is for it. Btw, I love that book too, so she’s got good taste to her credit as well lol 🙂

Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert in a video.

Allow me to digress a moment: Henna, oh, henna, you magical green powder! You enhance my hair, and you make lovely tattoos!…

Photo of da-AL's henna-tattooed hands. The day before I got married, I went to Los Angeles’ Little India for these gorgeous henna tattoos.

They’re far more forgiving than the permanent ink ones, and brides aren’t allowed to do housework until they’ve worn off…

Photo of my henna tattooed hands and feet. I needed just the right sandals to show off my enhanced tootsies!

Dusting off my photos to show you these provided an excuse to reconnect with Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer (check out her Instagram too) who was beyond kind to gift them to my sweetie and me. Back when she shot them, we both worked for the Beach Reporter, a Manhattan Beach community weekly. I reported on Hermosa Beach and, In addition to her work as an event fotog, at the time she was the publication’s photojournalist.

Wedding party photo of Khashayar and da-AL. It seems like yesterday when you’re having fun…

Back to our esteemed guest: Alka was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. At the age of nine, she moved to the U.S. As a Stanford University grad, she’s worked in advertising and PR, and owned a marketing consultancy. On top of all that, she has a Creative Writing MFA from Cal Arts San Francisco. The Henna Artist is her first book. In way less than a year, it’s a huge success! The sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, is set for July, plus the third book in the trilogy for 2022. And — she’s an executive producer for the novel’s upcoming Miramax TV series!

Read on for her thoughts on women in India. Note that it’s not just India — unfortunately, I’ve met women architects in the U.S. who encounter discrimination here too…

Alka Joshi, author of Alka Joshi, author of “The Henna Artist” and more!…

“The Sari vs. Modern India” by Alka Joshi

In January 2019, the Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, received an email from the registrar to attend a convocation.

Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon's news bulletin board. Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon’s news bulletin board.

It requested formal dress: “trouser, coat and tie for men” and “saris for women.”

Students wear western clothes. Students wear western clothes.

This sparked a lively, funny, albeit very polite, conversation on WhatsApp among the female faculty, who normally wear trousers, Western blouses/tops, or salwar kameez (long tunics with legging-like bottoms) most days.

“I may not wear a sari…I don’t even own one!”

“I do not even know how to wear a sari.”

“[I’m] not against saris. But at 7:30 in the morning, especially when I’m not used to it is definitely a challenge.”

“Can’t tie one at 7am and drive…and get through the day!”

“No sari. Impossible to wear and report at 7:30 in the morning.”

“Why a sari at all?”

“If the women must wear a sari, wouldn’t a *dhoti be more in sync for the men?”

*(Now mostly worn by village men, a dhoti is a white cloth from five to seven yards in length, wrapped loosely around the legs and tied in a knot at the waist. While dhotis have gone out of fashion, saris are still a mainstay of female couture for weddings, special occasions and family gatherings.)

This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home. This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home.

“We are all sensible enough to know what to wear. Most of us might even have worn saris to the event without being asked. But when you tell us exactly what to wear, we are going to have something to say,” laughs Monisha Sharma, associate professor. “Our Dean, who is female, told us to just look as smart as we do every day, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching. Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching.

In addition to teaching in the Architecture school, these women are working architects. At construction sites they are often greeted with curious expressions: Can women really be architects? Are these women here to tell us what to do?

One professor told me that she had organized a site visit to a factory for her students. When they got to the site, the founder only responded to the junior male faculty who had accompanied her, choosing not to acknowledge her at all. 

Similarly, a female architect who was managing a project for her father’s structural engineering firm was not being consulted by the construction team until her father ordered them to talk only to her. She was, after all, the project manager and the only one who could answer their questions.

Architecture Professor in India. “At 7:30 in the morning, I don’t have time to gather and pleat a sari. It’s a lot of work!”

To someone like me, who’s been raised in the West since the age of nine, it’s surprising that the women’s reaction is not anger (that would have been my response, along with bewilderment and confusion). 

Instead, the Indian women laugh it off. “We have already made our mark in our profession,” they say. “We don’t need to hit them over the head with it.”

At the convocation, the female faculty wore Western trouser suits. Not a sari in sight.

There’s more than one way to make a statement.

Are dress codes unbiased where you work?…

Mesmerizing Mandalas by Graham A. Stephen

Photos blossomed into digital mandalas for Graham A. Stephen, a North Wales-based photographer, blogger, and self-described “seeker of beauty in the ordinary.”

His photo blog is here and his resulting mandalas blog is here. Below he’s allowed Happiness Between Tails to share with you a few of his mandalas…

Mandala #11 – Plant. Created from a wide-angle shot taken in 2015 of a potted succulent at Plas Cadnant – the restored gardens of a 19th-century manor house on the island of Anglesey in North Wales.

 

Mandala #75 – Fungus. The original image for this mandala was a photograph of some shelf fungus taken in 2018 at Bodnant Garden – an 80-acre National Trust property in Conwy county, North Wales.

 

Mandala #78 – Scuttle grate. Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron in Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire – an area of great industrial historical note – houses the original artefact featured in this mandala. The W. S. Scott Morton Patent Scuttle Grate appeared in the Coalbrookdale Company’s 1902 catalogue. The decorative grate had a coal scuttle on either side of the fire. The exhibit was photographed in 2015.

 

What entrances you?…

Authors! Novelists can be anyone we want to be! by da-AL

Novelists can imagine ourselves into whatever characters we choose! Ones who’ve already published, like Valeska Réon, from Germany (given that I’m the soon-to-be self-published author of the upcoming “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat”) inspire to me to no end! I found this photo of her while I was searching for something else (isn’t this always the case?) — and love it so much that I’m sharing it in the hopes that it’ll inspire you too!…

Image by Valeska Réon from Pixabay

I don’t understand German, but I love how boldly she assumes identities on her video channel.

Valeska Réon and her many personas include her dogs.
Valeska Réon and her many personas.

In addition to a host of careers she’s had and currently pursues, she loves dogs — she often features them on her Instagram! See what Valeska’s up to later here.

Valeska Réon with her black and white dog.
Valeska Réon and her dog indulge in a black and white moment.

How do you re-imagine yourself?…

Guest Blog Post: How I Got Published (Big Time) by Lance Akiyama

How does an author get their book published by a big company, as opposed to doing it on their own? Hard work and good fortune figured into how a big-time publisher of how-to books reached out to Lance Akiyama. Together, they’ve put out four books (including a revised version of one) by him about how to make cool stuff from rubber bands, duct tape, and more.

Do you have first-hand experience? I’m gathering a following of fiction lovers who might enjoy my soon-to-be-published books, “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango and the Sitting Cat.” Other authors have posted on Happiness Between Tails about their book experiences here and here and here and here and here and here.

Read on for Akiyama’s post about how he got published. He notes that non-fiction vs. fiction call for different methods…

Lance Akiyama, author of "Duct Tape Engineer" and more.
Lance Akiyama, author of “Duct Tape Engineer” and more.

My process for getting published was pretty unusual. I had created a series of free project tutorials on Instructables.com, which ranks pretty well if you search Google for ‘engineering projects for kids.’ At some point, my publisher’s editor had a book idea for a series of gadgets that were powered by rubber bands and made from household items. She went searching for someone who could realize that vision, found my work, and offered me the book deal! I don’t think many people have offers to become an author just drop into their inbox, but that’s how it happened.

DIY project books are a bit different than publishing a novel. There’s no outline phase. Instead, there’s a tinkering phase; I had to experiment with about 30-40 project ideas before settling on 20-ish and then spending more time fine-tuning those ideas so they could be easily recreated at home by the reader. The editing phase is more focused on the clarity of the step-by-step instructions rather than the plot or character development. And finally, I had to take hundreds of pictures in my tiny home studio. Well, ‘studio’ is a generous term. Really it was a folding table with a cloth backdrop that was set up in my bedroom. But eventually all the pieces came together, and the publisher’s design team polished up all the content into a great-looking layout!

The next few books followed a similar pattern: my editor had an idea, asked me if I wanted to author the book, and then tinkered & wrote & produced all the materials. But after 4 books plus one revised edition, I think I’m ready to take a break from writing!

Cover of "Duct Tape Engineer" by Lance Akiyama.

About Lance Akiyama: he’s an avid tinkerer, and voted Most Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse. He currently holds a full-time position as a science curriculum developer for Galileo Learning, an innovative summer camp company. His mission is to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and artists with hands-on projects that make kids think, “I can’t believe I made that!” Contact @ MadeForSTEAM.com/contact

Happy 2019 New Year from 1919 by da-AL

vintage photo from Argentina of a New Year's celebration
1919 New Year’s, my grandmother celebrating with friends and family. Abuela sits in the middle with flowers in her hair.

A lovely cousin recently gave me a copy of this photo of my grandmother, Julia Vaccaro who was an Italian-Argentine of Buenos Aires — ringing in 1919 with family and friends! Like the United States and so many other places, Argentina is a country of immigrants.

My grandmother's mother, dressed in a dark dress, stands in the middle.
My grandmother’s mother, Rosa, dressed in a dark dress, stands in the middle.

It fascinates me to see such an old photo where everyone appears relaxed and candid. The man who’s wearing pajamas in the tree — did he just wake from a nap in what could be a hammock to his left? Is the woman below worried he’ll fall or does she think he’s crazy? At the bottom, the man toasting looks comfy in his socks. That young boy who seems to have skinned his face is my cousin’s dad. The large woman in the dark dress is my great grandmother. Whatever the woman told the flapper in the middle, it’s given her pause for thought…

Close-up of my grandmother, 1919 New Year's celebration.
Close-up of my grandmother, 1919 New Year’s celebration.

Wishing each of you, dear readers, a New Year filled with joy, vibrancy, love, and good fortune!

With optimism and love,

da-Al

Guest Blog Post: Antique and Vintage Photos by Val Erde

Val Erde’s sensitive and artful photo coloring truly brings history to life. Based in the U.K., she kindly contributes this for you to see…

Dog in garden before and after. Photo coloring by Val Erde

In my blog I show the colouring work I do on my collection of antique and vintage photos. I’ve been an artist all my life and have been doing these photos since I had my first pc and graphics program. I usually colour photos of people, though I have a few that include dogs and cats, but this is the first in a long while that I’ve done just of a dog. I hadn’t intended to colour it, but well… look at it. Wasn’t it barking calling out for colour? Or, more likely, food.

“Please give me a treat. Anything will do, really. Maybe something you’re eating? I like your food. I like everyone’s food.”

I haven’t a dog so have to rely on photos for colour references and as I don’t know what breed it is, I’m not sure I got this one right. I suspect it’s a bit of lots of different things. Well, doggy things, anyway.

So… any ideas what sort of dog it is? And – the dog aside, can you by any chance identify the flowers to the right? The ones on the left are roses, that I know, but the rest – what the heck are they? To me the blossoms look like Cosmos, but the leaves are wrong. Anyway, to be safe, I coloured the innards yellow and the outtards (yes, I know) varying shades of pink. But they could be anything really.

There’s more to do on this photo but I decided to call it a day. Well, actually, I’ve called it a dog.

My thanks to Da-AL for inviting me to guest blog!

Do Dogs Laugh and Smile? by da-AL

Whenever I look at this photo of my sweet doggie, it makes me smile back at her huge grin!

Photo of my black and white pitbull mix dog who's smiling.

Which animals have you seen smile? What made them laugh?

Part 2: Tehran Visits The Louvre by da-AL

Abbas Kiarostami, (Iran 1940-2016)
Look twice at the folks in the foreground.

Art bridges cultures and makes us see differently (that’s why the first of my novels-in-progress is titled, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat”)  — look again at these art photos by Abbas Kiarostami, a noted Iranian film producer/director/screenwriter, poet, and photographer.

In his photos, Kiarostami examines the relationship between art and visitors. He shot them at the Louvre, between 1996 and 2012.

My husband happened to visit Iran’s National Museum and generously returned with these photos. Hover over them for descriptions and click on them to see full-sized. Look closely — the people in the front are observers like us…

How do you view art?…

See Part 1: The Louvre visits Tehran by da-AL

Part 1: The Louvre visits Tehran by da-AL

Art bridges cultures…

Wedding of Thetis and Peleus
Wedding of Greek deities: Thetis and Peleus (Italy 50BC – 50AD)

Art museums often lend each other masterpieces. This year, however, marked a first — a large-scale show by a major Western museum in Iran! The world’s largest museum, the Louvre, proudly calls it, “…an outstanding cultural and diplomatic event for both countries.”

The Louvre contributed fifty masterpieces for “The Louvre at Tehran” to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Iran’s National Museum. Meantime, back in France, The Louvre exhibited, “The Rose Garden: Masterpieces of Persian Art from the 19th Century, on Qajar dynasty Iran.”

Lucky for us, my husband happened to be in Tehran to snap these photos for us. The art spanned centuries. Hover over the pictures for descriptions and click on them to see full-sized.

What does art mean to you?

See Part 2: Tehran Visits The Louvre by da-AL to see the contemporary art photos of Abbas Kiarostami, a noted Iranian film producer/director, screenwriter, poet, and photographer.

Huntington Library, Art, and Gardens by da-AL

da-AL at The Huntington, sitting on a bench in rose garden

What better way is there to celebrate a special occasion than with an all-day excursion of gorgeous weather, strolling an array of gardens that span rainforest to desert and Japanese to Australian to more, seeing the worlds’s stinkiest (and amusingly phallic) plant, eating international fare, admiring fine art museums, and ending it all with a high tea?

My honey and I spent our special day at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (a collections-based educational and research institution) located in San Marino, California. Tap photos for captions…

da-AL and her honey having high tea at The Huntington

What’s your favorite way to celebrate a special day?