SNAKE GIRL TV Pilot Debuts At ArtWallah

May 5th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 7.07.31 PMI’ll be showcasing a scene from my TV pilot SNAKE GIRL at ArtWallah tomorrow! Featuring the immensely talented:

Anna Khaja (Silicon Valley, Stitchers, Quantico)

Shishir Kurup (Heroes, Surface, M.D.’s, Chicago Hope, West Wing)

Kavi Ladnier (Criminal Minds, Heroes, General Hospital)

United Nations Official Album Release!

February 3rd, 2017

Shilpa&SammyI entered the United Nations Headquarters for the first time ever this week, as an artist for the official release of the Rukus Avenue album, Music to Inspire – Artists UNited Against Human Trafficking, a compilation of over forty global artists and dignitaries, and introduced by former President Jimmy Carter, to fight modern slavery.

 

At this fraught time in our nation’s present, I recalled that the UN was ratified on American soil, in San Francisco in 1945, to prevent global war from ever happening again. The UN was to be, and has been, and an organization dedicated to international peace and protecting human rights.

 

The UN Headquarters in New York is filled with breathtaking art, gifts of goodwill from nations around the world, and as I stood, taking it all in, a senior dignitary, a Palestinian man, kindly showed me the cavernous Delegates Entranceway, pointing out Brazilian painter Candido Portinari’s Guerra e Paz. As delegates enter the UN, they are faced with “Guerra” (War), a massive mural in shadowy indigos, browns and blacks, the only light hues that of hands thrown up in supplication, and a mother’s arms holding her dead child. It is an indescribable portrait of suffering. On the other side, the side facing the delegates as they exit, is “Paz” (Peace) in whites and yellows, with splashes of bright red, scenes of children of all ethnicities at play, dancing and singing. The hope is that this is the vision our policy makers will carry forth into the world.

 

Considering the reason I was there, I could not leave without glimpsing the UN’s newest memorial, “The Ark of Return,” by Haitian-American architect Rodney Leon, which honors “the more than 15 million men, women, and children who suffered and died during the more than 400-year transatlantic slave trade.” At the memorial’s unveiling in 2015, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that, “Tragically, slavery has still not ended.”

 

Indeed, almost 30 million people are trapped in slavery today all over the globe, “in debt bondage, slave labor, sex trafficking, forced labour, or domestic servitude.” We were gathered together at the UN that night to launch an album into the world to raise awareness and funds to help stop this horrific crime against humanity. It was heartening to know that while we were in New York, back in Los Angeles, on the very same night, Operation Reclaim and Rebuild successfully carried out a massive human trafficking sting operation.

 

I was moved to hear the incredible voices of artists around the globe, to meet performers from Mexico, India, Sweden, Belgium, and America; Patricia Vonne singing “Missing Women,” Saum Ghosh and Varshini Muralikrishnan with “Not for Sale,” and Ozark Henry with “Maybe.” I was humbled to share space on this album with esteemed musicians A.R. Rahman, Quincy Jones, Sonu Nigam, Anoushka Shankar, Daryl Hall & John Oats, and many more. I was moved by each person’s desire to create from a deep place of compassion. Perhaps we are only drops in a vast sea, but collectively, we are a force.

 

~

 

Join us in the fight to end modern slavery! Rukus Avenue will donate all proceeds from this album to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund, established to provide humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims of trafficking. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/music-to-inspire-artists-united/id1200517543?ls=1

 

Music To Inspire – Artists UNited Against Human Trafficking

January 25th, 2017

MusicToInspire2Music To Inspire – Artists UNited Against Human Trafficking,” will officially be released on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at an evening gala event held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. I’m deeply honored to be there as one of the album’s over 40 artists and dignitaries.

Some months ago, Sammy Chand, Executive Producer of Rukus Avenue, called me up to ask me if I’d contribute an anti-human-trafficking advocacy piece to this forthcoming album.

The album was to raise awareness about a modern form of slavery: human trafficking, the exploitation of humans for labor, organs, or sex. It’s rampant here in America and across the globe, raking in $150 billion annually.

I had written about the red-light district of Kamathipura in my first novel Haunting Bombay, and I continue to write about women’s bodies and sexuality, systems of power, and subverting them. Now Sammy was giving me 30-seconds to deliver something educational and inspiring.

As we ended the phone call, an image came to mind, that of the goddess’s vagina spinning down from the heavens. There’s an ancient myth about Goddess Sati. After she immolated herself, her grief-stricken husband lifted up her lifeless body and danced about in a rage so intense that he almost destroyed the universe. In order to stop him, another god dismembered Sati’s body bit-by-bit, her severed toe, arm, head, hair, falling away, until there was nothing left of her. Except there was; her eternal self.

Meanwhile, Sati’s vagina thudded softly in Kamakhya, Assam, lodging deep within the earth. If you go there now, on pilgrimage, you will discover a dark cave temple and an underground spring that sometimes runs red.

There was a time in human history, when all societies valued the divine gift of womanhood, when gathering was as vital as hunting. And then, 10,000 years ago, there was a shift in consciousness, coinciding with the rise of agricultural societies in the Fertile Crescent and all over the globe. The delicate balance of man belonging to the natural world, of the need for respectful peacekeeping, tipped, and the world and its inhabitants were claimed as belongings by man, their despot king.

We know the rest of the story, a bloody account of conquest and war, a story in which women still haven’t regained control of their own bodies, let alone their lives. The United Nations estimates that as many as 200 million women and girls are “demographically missing” worldwide, which means that every single year across our planet up to “three million girls and women are killed through gender related violence.” There’s a holocaust happening every day before us, and yet we close our eyes, refusing to see.

Gendercide, infanticide, lack of health care and food, neglect, abuse, and violence all contribute, feeding the relentless juggernaut of sex-trafficking, not only the devaluation the female, but in the basic fact that if there are less women available as wives, more are needed in brothels.

As an artist, I’m gathering the scattered limbs and broken bits of the goddess. I’m tenderly reaching for the most degraded and ruined aspects of her and cradling them in my arms and my imagination. In my forthcoming trilogy, I’m resurrecting her divine body.

As a writer of social justice, I put my art out there, not just to bring injustice and suffering to light, but in the hopes that my stories will resonate, and maybe, just maybe, crack open a shuttered heart. We begin by looking inside of ourselves, into darkened crevices of our own fears and hate, into that which we believe unforgiveable. Once we see our true selves, once we yearn for light instead of dark, love enters us, fully, radiantly. That’s how we become whole again.

We do the hard work of repairing humanity’s bruised and battered body in the same way. With love. We remake the paradigm of world conquerors into that of world participants within the dynamic ebb and flow of this beautiful planet. When consciousness shifts once more, we will no longer exploit lives, any living life, for profit or pleasure. For when we are whole, society is whole, and such horrors are vanquished. It’s been 10,000 years. It’s time, at last.

~

Rukus Avenue will donate all proceeds from this album to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund, established to provide humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims of trafficking.

 

 

 

The Big Orange Dictator

October 13th, 2016

opqrsI once inhabited a world ruled by an obese, orange, lecherous dictator with big hair.

The dictator’s name was Otto the Official, and he ran the town of Ottoville. He was, by his own definition, the town’s only major, judge, jury, and lawmaker. He insisted that everything be painted orange. Houses, trees, even the grass as it grew. Otto, as you can guess, was fictional, a character in my high school’s junior class play, but his bigotry and intolerance speak volumes.

Otto’s sprawling mansion dominated Ottoville complete with a gigantic ‘O’ on his imposing door while the little cottage, which my character, young Rozelle the Rebellious, shared with her parents Peter the Prudent and Quilla the Quiet stood nearby. A big orange pillory, nicknamed the Ottomat, used for public humiliations, occupied the center of town, which tells you a little about the state of affairs.

No one was happy about their monochromatic lives, but neither had they the courage to defy Otto, and to make matters worse, everyone was forced to wear special glasses that turned everything the same dull strain of orange.

The day came when Rozelle ran off and did the unthinkable. She took off her glasses. It just so happened she discovered a flower, one that had been overlooked in the daily painting of the landscape orange. She sat back at stared at it, a starling pop of blue in a saffron sea. This marked the moment of first awareness, the first bloom of truth in a young consciousness. I see! I see! The world isn’t the way I’ve been taught! It’s bigger, more complex, more expansive, more beautiful! “Oh, won’t old Otto be surprised,” she sings as she skips home, flower in hand, “yes, he’ll be surprised, oh yes, old Otto will be stunned.”

Truth isn’t something everyone wants to see. It’s ugly, dangerous, subversive, threatening. Rozelle runs into her parents, who are horrified, and do everything they can to destroy the little blue blossom. But from that moment on, Rozelle can’t be stopped. She faces off with Otto, only to end up in the Ottomat. In the end, though, Otto is unmasked for what he really is: an incompetent fraud and bully.

The play, OPQRS, ETC. by Madge Miller, denounces the belief that one “color” is superior to another, but it could easily be about race, gender, sexuality, or nationality. It’s deeper meaning is about discovering truth, as painful as that can be sometimes. Once the citizens of Ottoville find the courage to see the truth, it is they who, collectively, overthrow the man who was once their leader, and free themselves from their bondage.

Truth, a quietly powerful force, is always rising up in unexpected ways. It’s up to us whether or not we choose to see it, to feel it, to know it, but once we do, everything changes, and there’s no going back, because what was there before feels like a homogenous world, safe and familiar for some maybe, but what lies in front of us is a vibrancy that offers possibility for all.

 

Humanity’s Most Essential Lessons

August 15th, 2016

Daniel Quinn’s novel, Ishmael, is a conversation, start to end, between a gorilla and a man. If this strikes you as strange, it may be at first, until you set aside your disbelief and go along for the ride. And what a ride it is. A man is disillusioned with the world; he seeks something better, and that’s when he stumbles across an ad in the paper: “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” He applies, walks into a room, and comes face to face with his teacher: an intensely intelligent gorilla, Ishmael, who also likes to chew on stalks of grass and snuffle his nose.

They begin with talk of myths, particularly the myth of why the universe was created. “As you tell it [Ismael lectures his student], the birth of man was a central event – indeed, the central event – in the history of the cosmos itself. From the birth of man on, the rest of the universe ceases to be of interest, ceases to participate in the unfolding drama.” Ismael asks the pertinent question: Is this how a wombat might view creation?

He divides humans into two categories: the Leavers, which are societies that have exited from three million years ago until present, ancestrally as hunter gatherers and in modern-day as certain indigenous and tribal communities such as exist in tiny pockets all over the world; and the Takers, which are those that split off ten-thousand years ago at the start of the agricultural revolution and grew into what we know now as modern civilization.

Ishmael deftly argues that both the Leavers and Takers are enacting a story. The Takers’ story? The world belongs to Man. Man learns to manipulate and control the world through agriculture. Man eventually conquers the world.

Ishmael says, “There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as [the Takers’] does, they will live at odds with the world, they will act like lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.”

Grim, yes. Here’s the end of the Takers’ story: Man destroys the world.

The Leavers’ story, on the other hand, has remained unchanged for three million years: Man belongs to the world. “Creatures who [abide by this story] follow the peace-keeping law, and because they follow that law, they give the creatures around them a chance to grow toward whatever it’s possible for them to become.” The peace-keeping law is the law of limited competition, the law that says you don’t exterminate your competitors, or their source of food; you take your share, yes, you fill your belly, yes, and then you let them to fill their bellies too.

When you belong to something, you see yourself as part of a whole, you see the impact of your actions on the whole, you care about the welfare of the whole.

Here’s the end of the Leavers’ story: All creatures get to fulfill their potential, not just humans. All creatures. The world survives.

Most of us are enacting old belief systems and mythologies, until we awaken, break them, and consciously chose the stories we want to enact, stories that are positive to ourselves and those around us. In the novel’s closing pages, we see Ishmael taken captive as part of a menagerie, huddled in a cage, shivering with cold, gawked at like a circus animal. And the man – the man is horrified by such cruelty, by the fact that humans are the ones truly captive by their/our limited thinking; he will do anything to save this gorilla.

It’s too late for Ishmael.

May it not be too late for our world and its living community.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Michelangelo

May 27th, 2016

I just finished reading Irving Stone’s 664-page tome The Agony and the Ecstasy, about the life of Michelangelo. Yes, there’s agony, and plenty of it. Michelangelo is a man who desires only to be free to pursue his calling, to carve into pure white Carrara marble, which he considers “the heart of the universe.” And yet, again and again, forces bigger than himself thwart him. It’s heartbreaking, really, and the feeling is like going on a quest, getting past one obstacle, taking a breath, thinking now our Florentine genius can carve his David, only to come face-to-face with an armed Roman soldier around the next bend. Aargh! The young sculptor’s father opposes his choice of profession, his beloved mentor dies, and rivals malign and attack him with increasing rancor. One even punches in his nose, crumbling it into his skull. Michelangelo survives periods of poverty, the plague, wars, the sacking of his studio, an attempt on his life, and a circus of narcissistic Popes who bend him to their will, taking years away from his fruitfulness.

On the other hand, the world would not possess the marvel of the Sistine Chapel ceiling if it were not for Pope Julius II forcing Michelangelo to abandon sculpture in order to paint. When Michelangelo finally returns to marble after four long years, the misery of separation has given way to the ache of wisdom. “As he stood in the center of his allegorical blocks, he divined that time too was a tool: a major work of art required months, years for its emotions elements to solidify. Time was a yeast; many aspects…which had eluded him before now seemed clear to him, their form matured, their definition resolved.”

But wait, there’s still more agony. Michelangelo spends ten years working on a tomb for Pope Julius II, only to have the next pope, Leo X, stop him cold. Michelangelo begs to complete it, “You must not stop me. It’s a crucial moment for me. Holiness…I implore you not to do this terrible thing to me….Give me time…but I must not be tormented in mind and spirit.” Pope Leo X is unmoved and adamant, “A Medici artist should serve the Medici…we wish you to undertake a façade for our family church… We will protect you against the Roveres.” Years later, after Leo’s death, however, Julius’s relatives, the Roveres, enact their revenge, accusing Michelangelo of defaulting on the contract, and going about trying to ruin him.

Michelangelo despairs, “What am I to do? I’ll be bankrupt, my life savings swept away…How could it have happened? When I started out so full of love for marble, so consumed to carve, to work at my craft? When I have never wanted anything else in the world?” He’s forty-seven years old at this time, struck with deep anguish, wanting to give up, and believing he’s at the end of his career. Despite all his success, he must reckon with inner demons, with anger and sense of unfairness at the world, and with the sick feeling of being abandoned by God. “I have talent, energy, enthusiasm, self-discipline, singleness of purpose. What am I missing? Fortuna, luck? Where does one search for the leaven of luck?”

After such defeat, where does he turn? Back to trusting in a divine order, for the God whom he accuses of desertion is the very same divinity that sings through him as he carves. So Michelangelo returns to his marble. And this is the sweet ecstasy. “For him the milky white marble was a living, breathing substance that felt, sensed, judged… In the back of his mind, a voice said: This is love…Marble was the hero of his life; and his fate. Not until this very moment, with his hands tenderly, lovingly, on the marble, had he come fully alive.”

It is love then, love for his stone, love for fellow human beings (he never married but loved three women and one man deeply), and love for God that lifts him up again and again. Despite the many obstacles he must face in the long, exhausting quest of his life, he creates Genesis and The Last Judgment in the Sistine, and carves the Pietà in St. Peters, his David, Moses, Day, Night, Dawn, Dusk, and dozens of other sculptures that stir our collective heart. His entire life is a haunting dedication to the belief and stubborn insistence that “the forces of destruction never overcame creativity.” For an artist, for all artists, that is all we can ever ask.

 

Yann Martel’s “The High Mountains”

April 23rd, 2016

The High Mountains, like Life of Pi, is a book filled with wonders, sublime emotionality, and a bit of implausibility. There is, too, the ingenious bond between human and animal, in this case between a man and an ape. This theme, critical to the story Martel tells, begins with the slave trade and a Portuguese priest’s revelation that humans are “risen apes, not fallen angels,” then circles forward in the third novelette to Peter, a retired politician living with his ape companion, Odo, realizing that, “what’s come as a surprise is his [Peter’s] movement down to Odo’s so-called lower status…While Odo has mastered the simple human trick of making porridge, Peter has learned the difficult animal skill of doing nothing. He’s learned to unshackle himself from the race of time and contemplate time itself…” Martel seems to be implying that in becoming this “risen ape,” humans have lost something immeasurable, something vital, something soulful.

The book is filled with laugh-out-loud humor, gorgeous detail, and moments of such tenderness that the heart can’t help but ache. The second novelette, however, acts as some sort of rubbery glue, consisting of a mini-dissertation on the Bible and Agatha Christie which, though intense and fascinating, feels out of place, interposed with a strange, surreal autopsy which produces a chimp inside a corpse. This is one place where Martel falls short in his mastery of storytelling.

But  moments where self and the other meet, as in the case of the priest and an imprisoned slave woman, are shattering. “She turned her head & looked me in the eyes… My tongue was stilled of any priestly cant. I am transformed. I saw. I have seen. I see. That short gaze made me see a wretchedness that until then had never echoed in my heart. I entered that cell thinking I was a Christian man. I walked out knowing I was a Roman soldier. We are no better than animals.” And later, full circle again in the third novelette, Peter recounts the remarkable moment when his ape truly sees him. “To be so imperatively summoned by the ape, and therefore so forcefully acknowledged – he is shocked. He feels as if he’s just been birthed out of nonexistence.”

What is human, what is animal? Slaves were considered animals, creatures put to work the soil, lesser, equated with brutish behavior, inferior status, intelligence, and morality. But as Martel shows us by the third novelette, to be an animal is to embody emotion, compassion, dignity, love. To be an animal is to understand the present moment, to revel in it, to have no past, no future, to “[burst] dramatically…then [make] way once more for the blue sky, the permanent blue sky.” We are human and animal both. We must no longer see them as a clash between superior and inferior, sacred and profane, but a merging between two sides of wholeness. To reach for the greatest qualities in each is to discover our highest potential.

 

The Cages of Mumbai’s Red-Light District

April 9th, 2016

Last night I went to see the LA premiere of SOLD, an extraordinary film based on the true stories of girls sold into prostitution. The film opens in Nepal, where twelve-year-old Lakshmi is deceitfully taken away from her home and forced to work in a brothel in Kolkata, India.

The film is heartbreaking and violent. How did we as a society get to a place where we’ve allowed the abduction and serial rape of the poorest and most vulnerable? Who are these men who thrill at causing such brutality and suffering? It’s said that every eight minutes, a girl disappears into sex slavery. And yet, throughout the film, there it is, the light of humanity, in simple kindnesses between the girls in the brothel, in their camaraderie and caring, in the ways in which they resist, and eventually, in the act of sacrifice that saves them all.

I wrote about the red-light district of Kamathipura in my first novel Haunting Bombay. I had walked those streets with a group of fellow students, and later had done interviews and research to learn more in order to set my story in the 1960s, but time seemed to have stood still there, adding only more decay to the peeling painted wooden buildings, the lower sections fitted with bars behind which the prostitutes beckoned. Garbage festered in the corners, the tang of sweat and desperation saturated the air. My heart felt as if it might burst from my chest. I felt drained of hope just being there. How could anything ever change?

In my book, my minor character Chinni had been sold into prostitution upon her husband’s untimely death, her infant son taken away from her. Her first thought was to kill herself. But the madame, experienced with breaking-in girls, chained her to the cot by her ankle and promised that she could see her son after half her debts were paid off. Of course, debts are rarely paid off. The brothel, 24 Falkland Road, is fitted with velveteen drapes and rexene-covered sofas. Behind the drapes lie tiny cubicles where girls and women have access to nothing but a filthy toilet pit and a bucket of potassium permanganate diluted in water to be used as a postcoital antiseptic, or in more concentrated doses, to induce abortions.

Years later, Chinni’s son eventually shows up at the brothel, a gangly, pimply-face adolescent, with his uncle, the man who had sold her into slavery, eager to take his first prostitute to bed. Chinni’s story is a thread linking the centers of power to the peripheries, showing how we are all culpable, how we are all connected in this dynamic that allows such depravity. In the end, she does what she can to break the cycle, stealing a knife and murdering her son, her betrayer, and then taking her own life. Fifty years ago in Bombay, this is the only way she could bring an end to her suffering, never mind the massive juggernaut of pain and abuse that continued on beyond her.

This is why the film SOLD, now in the midst of its 21-city tour, and the work done by so many in the ensuring years to end sex slavery and give survivors a new chance is critical, as is the rising tide of compassion and consciousness in each one of us. Change is happening. We can bring an end to this global crime. Death should not be the answer but life. Life, hope, renewal.

@SOLDMovie

http://www.soldthemovie.com

LA Premiere of SONG, a Film on Sex-Trafficking

April 6th, 2016

Tickets went on sale today for the LA premiere of SOLD, a film that highlights sex-trafficking, one of the most atrocious crimes against humanity. Red carpet this Friday night with David Arquette and cast at the Laemmle Santa Monica, 7:10 show followed by Q & A with Director Jeffrey Brown and crew. Proud of friends Sammy Chand and Anchal Leela Chand for helping to bring this vital film into the world.

All I Really Need To Know I Learned From My Cats

March 17th, 2016

IMG_5385As a kid, I never really owned a pet, a real pet like a cat or a dog. We had the odd goldfish brought home in a plastic bag from birthday party, and those strange tiny sea monkeys we ordered from a comic book. We briefly had a pair of gerbils that escaped under my parents’ antique bookshelves once too often. I assumed I’d continue this trend once I became a mom, though I sought to make up for it by bringing home the class rabbit, or taking my kids to see newborn pups, or babysitting my neighbor’s clutch of chickens. Animals were a lot of work. They were messy, and smelly, and needy. I was very clear that I didn’t need more complexity in my life. Right about this time, two kittens were abandoned on a doorstep and my kids begged me to take them in. “No way,” I said, “it’s not happening, I’m allergic to cats, let’s go for ice-cream.”

It’s been five years now since we adopted Poppy and Prince. They are outside cats, which is possible here in Southern California, though they have an insulated cedar cabin complete with a warming mat. Poppy is a scraggly, obsessive-compulsive creature. He’s always shadowing me about, harassing me for food. If I’m in my office, he’s there on the fence, meowing in rhythmic intervals like an alarm clock without a snooze button. If I move to the kitchen, there he is, framed in the window, intently licking his anus while I’m trying to cook. If I sneak to the living room, not daring to open the blinds, I hear him, an insistent scritch-scratch at the screen. He’ll break in at every opportunity. Just this morning, I discovered vicious slash marks on a bag of kibble. Let me be clear, he gets plenty of food, and the good, grain-free, high quality stuff. Yet, he always agonizes about his next meal and prowls about, getting into scuffles with rival cats.

Prince, on the other hand, is fluffy and fat. Nothing will pull him from a slumber except for the sound of his food bell ringing, and even then, he can’t seem to muster the energy to jump the fence. He’ll wait to be lifted over. Once in a while, he may channel his inner tiger to swipe at a butterfly. If he misses a meal or his sibling steals his food, he’ll sit there like sphinx, slowly blinking, knowing that at some point, more salmon pâté will be served. When a squirrel races by, having stolen an avocado from our tree, he may give brief chase to show who’s boss, then he’ll plop down with a yawn and doze off. Occasionally he’ll get locked in the neighbor’s garage, but even that doesn’t faze him.

Poppy and Prince are brothers, and they looked very similar as kittens, but their personalities have influenced the way they’ve grown into adults. Poppy has a lot of health issues. Fleas, worms, parasites, you name it, he’s the one we’re carting off to the vet. Prince, on the other hand, is glossy and robust. I believe it all comes down to their world view. Poppy is always searching, always wanting, always worrying, whereas Prince is content with whatever life brings. He trusts in the day. Even if he spends two nights shut away in the garage, he knows we’ll come looking for him. Life brings hard times, but so does it bring the good. Worry wreaks havoc on the body. Better to be like Prince and trust. Receive the gifts of the day. Frolic in the rosemary. Find a sunny spot and sleep.