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Bringing These Two Rich Cultures Together

Author Interview
Simran Sadana & Meena Iyer Author Interview

Ramayana Through Ikebana uses a Japanese art form to tell India’s Ramayan and explains how Ikebana has been used to depict various sequential scenes from Ramayana. Why was this an important book for you to create?

Our exposure to the Japanese culture during our stays in Tokyo along with pursuing multiple masters in the field of Ikebana and our own cultural Indian heritage as a part of our upbringing, always made us wonder whether there was an opportunity of bringing these two rich cultures together.

The calling of building a unique concept which intertwined the art of Ikebana with Indian roots sparked from a simple idea of attempting to make one ikebana arrangement symbolic of a scene of Ramayana that transcended into hosting an exhibition in one of the art galleries in India where we took hundreds of people through a live display of different ikebana arrangements demonstrating different scenes of Ramayana with Ikebana in 2019.

Seeing the response of the audience, we felt the impact of this powerful concept needed a wider audience and greater depth. This led to the creation of this book with the core focus of embarking every reader into a journey of the two oldest cultures in the world where one could appreciate the richness of the Japanese traditional flower arrangement art, while reading a brief narration of the oldest Indian epic.  

What was the collaboration process like between the two of you to bring this book to life?

We decided to break up the design of the book into multiple phases. Our first phase was to ensure that we were fully aware of the entire tale of Ramayana. We read the entire Valmiki Ramayana, the original version of this tale, constituting of 24,000 verses to identify how do we want to break this story and which crucial scenes could be designed using an Ikebana arrangement.

The second phase was to identify all the various scenes we wanted to narrow down and ideate on what natural materials, design styles we could possibly use to represent each of the scenes. Over a span of a few weeks, we did multiple sessions of playing with different materials to arrive at each of the scenes. Quietly we browsed through our material, walked through different landscapes, browsed various styles to take inspirations. Little did we realize that our own arrangements were surprising us on what we were creating.

In the third phase, we deeply thought over the narration style of this book. After brainstorming on our target audience and different field experts, we decided to break the story into different chapters where we narrated Valmiki’s Ramayana and then ended each chapter with one of our arrangements. We also decided to explain in detail the thought behind the design of the display and symbolism of each element. Our core objective being, the reader should cohesively understand and absorb the depth of the artistic displays.

With different iterations over a span of months, the final product brought a soft smile of sheer joy to see the story and the art come together.

What scene in the book did you have the most fun creating?

We had the most fun representing the scene of the burning Lanka where an angry Hanuman used his tail to burn down the entire city of Lanka, Ravan’s kingdom. We were attempting to build a large arrangement where we wanted to show a city burnt down to ashes with rakshasas, the residents of Lanka, running for their lives and the fire scorching the city.

To build such a large arrangement, it was exciting and inspiring as we used various materials such as large palm sheaths, dried tulsi, branches of arjuna pods, red berry sticks and chrysanthemums.

It took us various iterations before we could bring a structured cohesive theme, visually impressive, and at the same time symbolic of the story.

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from your book?

We hope it leaves the readers with the awareness and appreciation of Ikebana coupled with visual appreciation of “Ramayana”. They can even appreciate how there is tremendous untapped opportunity in fusion across different traditional artistic styles & cultures.

Author Links: Instagram | YouTube

Ikebana, the ancient art of arranging flowers, is deeply rooted in Buddhism and Japanese traditions. Over the centuries, it has developed as an art form all its own, garnering popularity and leading to the development of schools dedicated to teaching this art form. A few things set Ikebana apart from traditional flower arranging. Those who practice this art know that it is based on minimalism, a focus on space, its unique materials, and asymmetry. Another amazing tradition is that of India’s Ramayan, a tale describing both love and honor. When the art of Ikebana meets Ramayana, something truly beautiful emerges.

Ramayana Through Ikebana, by Meena Iyer and Simran Sadana, is a unique combination of mythology and explanations of how Ikebana has been used to depict various sequential scenes from Ramayana. With attention to color, shape, position, and texture, each arrangement in the book’s photos tells the story in the most stunning fashion. The authors have taken great care to caption each photograph, listing the materials and the rationale for the arrangement for each as it relates to the storyline.

I found it amazing that I could actually picture the story’s scenes when I looked at the arrangements. Iyer and Sadana have managed to pull together for readers two exceptional art forms and present them in a way they will both appreciate and at which they will marvel. Ramayana is beautifully told throughout the book and carries with it both amazing symbolism and life lessons that readers will enjoy.

I can see Iyer and Sadana’s work as being beneficial in both literary arts and visual arts. The Indian story itself is a wonderful representation of both culture and tradition while the vivid descriptions of Ikebana throughout the book benefit those who are studying flower arranging. The authors have gifted readers with a true thing of beauty–on many levels.

I was pleasantly surprised at the way the two art forms meld seamlessly to convey a timeless tale. I highly recommend Ramayana Through Ikebana to anyone interested in exploring other cultures, those who are curious about the history and significance of Ikebana, and any fan of mythology. Iyer and Sadan’s work is a lovely presentation of two cultures united in one work of literature.

Ramayana Through Ikebana

Ikebana, the ancient art of arranging flowers, is deeply rooted in Buddhism and Japanese traditions. Over the centuries, it has developed as an art form all its own, garnering popularity and leading to the development of schools dedicated to teaching this art form. A few things set Ikebana apart from traditional flower arranging. Those who practice this art know that it is based on minimalism, a focus on space, its unique materials, and asymmetry. Another amazing tradition is that of India’s Ramayan, a tale describing both love and honor. When the art of Ikebana meets Ramayana, something truly beautiful emerges.

Ramayana Through Ikebana, by Meena Iyer and Simran Sadana, is a unique combination of mythology and explanations of how Ikebana has been used to depict various sequential scenes from Ramayana. With attention to color, shape, position, and texture, each arrangement in the book’s photos tells the story in the most stunning fashion. The authors have taken great care to caption each photograph, listing the materials and the rationale for the arrangement for each as it relates to the storyline.

I found it amazing that I could actually picture the story’s scenes when I looked at the arrangements. Iyer and Sadana have managed to pull together for readers two exceptional art forms and present them in a way they will both appreciate and at which they will marvel. Ramayana is beautifully told throughout the book and carries with it both amazing symbolism and life lessons that readers will enjoy.

I can see Iyer and Sadana’s work as being beneficial in both literary arts and visual arts. The Indian story itself is a wonderful representation of both culture and tradition while the vivid descriptions of Ikebana throughout the book benefit those who are studying flower arranging. The authors have gifted readers with a true thing of beauty–on many levels.

I was pleasantly surprised at the way the two art forms meld seamlessly to convey a timeless tale. I highly recommend Ramayana Through Ikebana to anyone interested in exploring other cultures, those who are curious about the history and significance of Ikebana, and any fan of mythology. Iyer and Sadan’s work is a lovely presentation of two cultures united in one work of literature.

Permission to be Their Full Selves

Suchi Sairam Author Interview

Dancing Deepa follows a little girl that loves to dance but is not sure if her unique cultural dance will be accepted at school. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

Dancing Deepa was inspired by a composite of experiences – the need that many have felt to keep different parts of your life separate. Growing up in the 70s and 80s in Texas, I had my “Indian” life at home and my “American” life at school. I see many of my dance students feel the same way now, 30-40 years later. Dancing Deepa was an effort to help kids give themselves permission to be their full selves all the time, without the burden of keeping important aspects of their lives hidden from the other.

I loved the art in your book. What was the art collaboration process like with illustrator Vidya Vasudevan?

The collaboration with Vidya was an absolute delight. She connected with the premise of the book immediately, having her own experience growing up in the Indian diaspora, and now raising Indian-American children of her own. Early in the process, I shared some ideas I had on a few spreads, but also wanted to ensure that she had the space to flex her creativity, and she did! We had wonderful dialogue about what to feature throughout, and she created some absolute gems. For the cover art, I wanted to play on the idea of Deepa seeing herself in the mirror, both as an everyday Indian-American girl, and as a Bharatanatyam dancer; Vidya took that idea and ran with it. It was a true collaboration, and we are both excited to do it again sometime soon.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this children’s book?

There are a few key themes I wanted to explore. First, the idea of “dual life” that I mentioned earlier; this is something that a lot of people may not understand if that isn’t their lived experience. I also wanted to explore the theme of help; being in tune with how others may feel to extend a timely helping hand, and being willing to ask for help. The idea of risk taking was very important to me; that we can love to do something, want things and dream about them, but we also must be willing to take a risk and put ourselves out there. Last, circling back to the idea of leading a “dual life,” the idea that our assumptions about what others may think or feel may be a product of our own imagination.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

The next book is in draft right now. I was fortunate to have a very fast turnaround on Dancing Deepa (about 4 months from mind map and rough draft to publication), so that may or may not be reproduced. But if all goes well, I’ll be able to share a new book in early 2023.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Website

Deepa LOVES to dance. She studies a dance from India called Bharatanatyam that is like moving poetry! But since her dance is different from what her friends at school do, she isn’t sure if she should share it. Is there someone like Deepa in your class at school? What passion might you two share? Read to find out how you two are alike, how you are different, and how you could be friends to one another.

A to Z of Mini Muslims

A to Z of Mini Muslims: An Alphabet book exploring all about Islam and being a Muslim teaches the alphabet to children in a unique manner. Instead of using typical shapes, animals, and things to teach each letter, this fantastic children’s book uses words and phrases associated with the religion of Islam to explore each letter. This approach makes this picture book more than just a letter learning book; it is an introduction for those that are not familiar with the Muslim faith.

Author Mariam Latifi and illustrator Saba Yasmeen have created a children’s book that even adults can learn from. The vibrant and welcoming images on each page give readers a look into the Islamic religion; for those practicing Islam, The artwork will keep young readers engaged as they learn the alphabet, and older children can pick out details from around the world as they move through the pages. Seeing characters that look and participate in the same activities is crucial. Representation is essential to children and allows them to know they are seen and valued.

I love that this picture book teaches more than just letters of the alphabet. Learning the names of the lunar months and the meaning behind some of the Islamic holy days was fascinating. This is really an eye-opening book for more than just children. Adults can learn just as much from this educational book as other children that do not grow up in this faith.

A to Z of Mini Muslims: An Alphabet book exploring all about Islam and being a Muslim is an exceptional picture book that will entertain readers young and old with actual facts about the religion of Islam and the Muslim faith. Any library would find this to be an excellent addition to their shelves and a great resource for teachers when teaching about diversity.

Pages: 35 | ASIN : B09KZZ13DY

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America: Standing Strong

Robert J. Emery’s America Standing Strong is a detailed analysis of the latest catastrophes in American politics. Backed up by a plethora of quotes from historical- and present- day visionaries, scholars, and politicians, Emery reviews the political and legal pratfalls of the previous administration while offering brief lessons on America’s accomplishments and shortcomings.

Emery covers such topics as tribalism, conspiracy theories, the environment, gun violence, BLM, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He relates many current events back to historical parallels, but the common theme seems to be that the American people have never been on such a precarious precipice of losing their democracy.

America Standing Strong is not a light read, but it is a useful and necessary lesson and provides readers with a worthy and informed reflection on how and why we, the American people, got here. Emery does a great job of laying down a baseline of American history, including failures and accomplishments. The main focus of the book is on how to recover from the damage done by the Trump administration. To his credit, Emery uses polite language, and the message to the American people throughout the book is a plea for togetherness, forgiveness, and reconciliation. This is a worthy undertaking, as the author presents problems with solutions, that will appeal to anyone that is willing to listen without bias.

America Standing Strong is an enlightening and impactful read and presents compelling evidence that has the potential to change political discourse in the U.S. Whether you pick up this book up to get a better understanding of the contemporary issues America faces or because you want to find new solutions to those problems, this is a book that will surely get people talking.

Pages: 228 | ASIN: B0B2KSLN5D

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Caravan of Pain

“A successful failure, and the honor of a lifetime.” The single line sums up the author Scott Alderman’s thoughts perfectly regarding his tour project for 2000, ‘Tattoo the Earth.’ In Caravan of Pain, Scott Alderman shares the many escapades that followed the catalyzing of his dream, ‘Tattoo the Earth’ tour, the first concert tour to combine tattoo and metal music worlds. As an initiative taken when tattooing was still underground and illegal in many parts of the U.S., this, however, wasn’t the only setback in the 2000 tour. The upfront memoir acquaints the reader with the behind-the-scenes resilience and determination involved in operating the unprecedented multi-day festival and tour.

A ten-chapter narrative, the book follows up Tattoo the Earth tour from its conception to completion, along with the many in-betweens of the challenges encountered along the way. From the unbosoming the seed of the concept to handling its various aspects, including the selection of bands and tattoo artists, and not to mention setting aside their skepticism and emotional weariness about being a part of something that’s practically a virgin idea, these chapters open the lid on stress, depression and the effects on those involved.

Caravan of Pain presents blatantly the stark image of musical bands and tattooing industries, and the genuine reaction from the audience in the late 1900s. It covers many prominent musical bands like Slipknot, Coal Chamber, Seven Dusts, and Slayer, along with the twenty metal brands of the time, and the eminent tattoo artists, all of which help to convey the pop culture of the time in a way that could not have been conveyed any more energetically. The images from the book, including those of the band artists as well as the tattooists, convey the colors and culture of the time while stirring readers’ interest in the various artists even more by letting them connect to them.

While depicting every aspect of his novel tour, the author has worn his heart on his sleeves. He has been open and sincere in his judgments on his associates, his corporate jobs, and even his questioning of the righteousness of his own conduct while putting the dream tour together. While bringing the reader closer to the reality behind the cool and hunky tattooists and band artists, as well as their lively and carefree lifestyle, the reader is also shown their true struggle to navigate life’s internal politics.

Caravan of Pain is a genuine story of perseverance, courage, resilience, and the harsh realities of the entertainment industry’s ruthless dealings. I recommend it for its candid narrative accompanied by witty comedy that covers a good deal of the history of music and tattooing. It’s a must-read for fans of 1990s pop culture and metal music.

Pages: 182 | ASIN: B09P5RJ9L5

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Cultural Reconciliation

Author Interview
Doreszell Cohen Author Interview

Link-Up 2 Lift-Up offers a route towards mental liberation and total independence for African citizen in the US while imparting personal experiences and observations. What were some ideas that were important for you to share in this book?

Every idea or position that I expressed in my book was inspired by the zeitgeist of our time: To abolish institutional racism (AIR) so that all Americans can breathe. My postulations and assertions are based on my studies and/or life-experiences. As I embarked on a self-imposed writing challenge, it became clear that some of my ideas were evidence of my latent learning. These unveiled ideas were held within my heart and mind – and revealed when our nation and world were altogether shocked by the blatant disregard of a black man’s life: George Floyd. Therefore, I really cannot place a rating on the relevance (e.g., important or not-important) or a scale (e.g., greatest or least) on the idea(s) written in my “Culture Kingdom” wokebook. That said, I’d really like to know what some ideas that readers found important?

I appreciated the candid nature with which you told your story. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?

Because of my self-imposed 30-day writing challenge criteria, I had to refrain from elaborating or sharing too many actual details from both my academic insight and real-life experiences. Therefore, the hardest thing to overcome was writing a cohesive and comprehensive theme – as a co-worker in the kingdom of culture – in a concise way. After I developed my writing flow, I didn’t find my story hard to write about at all because I am brutally honest – all the time; which is sort of a blessing and a curse. However, I was surprised by the deep emotions that overtook me at times while writing about life-altering past experiences. One writing difficulty occurred when I recollected the memories of my thirteen-year-old daughter who was peer-pressured to attend a block party in our community; whereby, she was stabbed seventeen times from her head down her back – lacerating both lungs, one kidney, and undergoing a blood transfusion.

Another surprising, suppressed memory aroused my emotions when I recalled into my mental being my overt encounterment with institutional racism; wherein, a judge, with the stroke of his pen and the power of the Duval County court system, denied me of my rights – under both the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and State of Florida Family Laws. I felt like a slave woman (whose owner sold away her offspring) when that judge ordered the courts to unlawfully remove my four minor children from my parental custody during my diabolical divorce proceedings.

What do you hope is one thing readers take away from your story?

I hope readers understand and assert equal rights and justice for all Americans; regardless of the socially constructed race, gender, or class system that we have been assigned and subjected to live within – in the great American experiment. Historically, our environmental context has been to survive and thrive by complying to the societal norms set forth by our ancestors and predecessors who did not view diversity, human rights, and quality of life as we do today. Unfortunately, most people have learned to avoid speaking openly and candidly about variables, such as cultural privileges, cultural constraints, etc., so institutional racism continues to affect us as it lives on today– much like the Coronavirus – not seen but felt and experienced by us all subtly in some way or another. Furthermore, I hope readers take away from my story a boldness to be straightforward and confront our own biases, prejudices, discriminatory, and bigoted attitudes and behaviors, so that we can begin a pluralistic cultural reconciliation – as one nation for our future generations.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

My next book is on my former dissertation prospectus topic – Leadership. It is also a mix between memoir and reference book; as I share scholarship combined with my life-experiences from my days as a community activist in the south (October 2005 through October 2015) and from my short unsuccessful political run for mayor for the City of Jacksonville, Florida (November 2016 through August 2018). My next wokebook is expected to be available October 2022.

Author Links: Amazon | GoodReads

LINK-UP 2 LIFT-UP: Sorting through Our Culture Kingdom for Our Future Generations is written using emic perspectives to respond to the problems that still negatively impact descendants of slaves in the United States of America. This short and sweet like candy “WOKEbook” will keep our engaged and intellectually energized people working to abolish institutional racism; while simultaneously creating an institution of pluralism for every citizen.

LINK-UP 2 LIFT-UP: Sorting through Our Culture Kingdom for Our Future Generations shares integrative approaches, ecological models, universalistic perspectives in interpreting our problems. This book boldly offers a humble route towards mental liberation and total independence for citizen Africans in the United States; as was aspoused by Thomas Jefferson; in his ideological Declaration of Independence.

Tribal and Human Values

Thomas Kochuthara
Thomas Kochuthara Author Interview

Christianity and the Tribal Societies of North East India provides readers with an in-depth exploration of Indian tribes and Christianity. Why was this an important book for you to write?

The north eastern region of India comprising of seven states, covering the sub-Himalayan mountain ranges, has seen waves of migration from time immemorial. It exhibits a plurality of cultures, races, languages and religions and is one of the most unique and romantic places. I lived there for fifteen years and thus had the opportunity to visit the places and have contact with people. My appreciation for their social, cultural and religious life and the way they led their political and economic struggles and faced the challenges and threats from the natural forces, prompted me to write the book to convey relevant messages to modern man.

What were some key aspects of tribal societies that were important for you to include in this book?

Their loyalty and faithfulness to the tribal traditions and way of life, their struggles to keep up their tribal identity in spite of modernization, their desire for imparting education to their children, their involvement in the struggles for obtaining political statehood on tribal basis, gender equality, higher status of women in some tribes as an inspiration for women liberation, absence of any caste system found in many major population groups in India, their love for singing and dancing etc., are some of the important aspects included in the book.

What kind of research did you undertake to complete this book?

It is a descriptive and analytic research that I have followed in this work. I have given a clear and precise picture of the seven states in the north eastern region of India, their topographical and geographical details, the tribal people inhabiting the states, their cultural, social, religious and political life, the struggles for the formation of the different states and the scope and challenges in the economic and agricultural fields. I have also analysed various aspects of their socio- cultural life and advances in education and political consciousness and I have made theological reflections in the light of these.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from your book?

The one thing, I hope, the readers will take away from the book is their high sense of tribal and human values, characterised by sincerity, openness, simplicity, solidarity with fellow human beings and concern for the poor and the weak.

Author Links: Website | GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook

The north-eastern region of India comprising of the seven states known as the ‘Seven Sisters’ represents an area of enormous ecological, geographical and ethnical diversity. This region which is inhabited by 166 diverse tribes is blessed with dense and lush green forests, hills and valleys, rich flora and fauna, and holds immense mineral and power resources. Its passes and valleys have witnessed centuries of migration and served as a gateway of commerce and culture. The North East has a plurality of races, religions, cultures, languages and dialects, making it one of the most diverse and picturesque regions of India. Ending its isolation, this region has come into the main stream of national life through the educational and modernization process set in motion in the region chiefly by Christian missionaries. The region has also over the years been through much unrest and turmoil. With growing awareness, people have also been demanding a greater share in the achievements of the nation. But often their aspirations are met only partially, and the dissatisfaction with the poor development of the region and the absence of adequate opportunities prompt the younger generations to adopt what often turn out to be unconstitutional and militant ways to end exploitation and domination, culminating in much violence and bloodshed, throwing the entire region into turmoil. As Christianity has much influence on the life of the people here, it is its responsibility to take seriously the situation of insurgency and militancy that directly affect the people’s aspirations for an authentic, dignified and peaceful life. In order to enable the Church to respond adequately to this situation, it is essential that a suitable theology emerge in the multicultural and plurireligious context of the North East. Such a theology will not be limited to that region, but will have consequences also for dealing with several problems affecting the universal Church. The present study is undertaken with a view to examining the features of the theology that will emerge in the north-eastern context, and also its impact on universal theology. The North East of India can exert tremendous influence on the debates on current theological issues and can pave the way for the emergence of a Church with truly indigenous features.

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