When you think about historic female reformers in India, you’re most likely to conjure an image of Mother Teresa, cradling hungry babies in Calcutta. But this saint isn’t the only woman who blazed trails of change in this historically patriarchal society. Pandita Ramabai Saraswati, politician and founder of the Mukti Mission, should be the first name to pop into your head.
The titles of “Pandita” and “Sarasvati” in her name itself give away how much of a rarity she was. The word “Pandita” is the female form of the Sanskrit word “Pandit”, which means “learned man.” The title was usually bestowed as a high honor on learned Hindu scholars, who were well versed in the high language of Sanskrit. They also served as priests. Meanwhile, Saraswati is the name of the Hindu goddess of learning and the arts.
From a young age, Ramabai shunned societal norms. Born in 1858, Ramabai was taught Sanskrit by her father, who was a Sanskrit scholar himself. This was uncommon at a time when child marriages were the norm and girls were expected to be seen and not heard for at least fifty more years. At 16, she lost both her parents to the Great Famine of 1876, which is said to have wiped out about three percent of the world’s population. Now an orphan, she wandered the countryside with her brother Shrinivas, giving lectures in Sanskrit and spreading the word about women’s emancipation. When she was just 20 years old, her knowledge and expertise led to the University of Calcutta awarding her the first-ever title of Pandita.
From a young age, Ramabai shunned societal norms.
In 1880, she married Bipin Behari Medhvi at age 21, which was unusually late for the time. Her husband was from a much lower caste than she was, making it a frowned upon inter-caste marriage. He passed away after just two years, leaving behind Ramabai and their young daughter, Manorama. In those times, widows faced extremely hostile conditions in Indian society. Some of the many rules and expectations included wearing white all the time, living in confinement, and even shaving their hair to remain in lifelong mourning. Many widows were also blamed for the deaths of their husbands, and ostracised by the family as a result.
But for Pandita Ramabai, this simply wouldn’t do. Instead of confining herself or shaving her head, she moved to Maharashtra with her daughter and founded the Arya Mahila Samaj (the Aryan Women’s Society). Soon after, she left for Britain to become a doctor but faced setbacks because of her increasing hearing loss. When the British instituted a commission to influence the education system in India, Ramabai was vocal in championing the cause of women in the workforce and recommended that women be trained as doctors from their home country.
A pioneer in women’s education & emancipation movement, the first woman to be accorded titles like ‘Pandita’ & ‘Sarasvati’ and one of the first 10 women delegates to attend a Congress session in 1889, social reformer Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati’s relentless spirit is inspirational. pic.twitter.com/rqNycZDCGB
“It is not strange, my countrymen, that my voice is small, for you have never given a woman the chance to make her voice strong!” she declared. Her evidence before the commission became so well known that it even reached Queen Victoria.
While in Europe, she announced her conversion to Christianity. In India, Christianity was seen as the religion of whites and Indians of the lowest castes. She received criticism from the higher sections of society for her decision, as well as her scathing, very public critiques of how women were treated in the country. In 1887, she published her most influential work, The High Caste Hindu Woman, in which she ripped into the oppressive conditions that women faced in India. She also started the Sharada Sadan, the first residential home for the rehabilitation and education of young widows and unmarried women.
When she ran into government restrictions with the home, she bought a larger place near Pune and in 1889 started the Mukti Mission, which is still active today. What is more, she was also one of only ten women delegates in the Congress Party, which later led India to Independence.
“It is not strange, my countrymen, that my voice is small, for you have never given a woman the chance to make her voice strong!” -Pandita Ramabai
My personal fascination with Pandita Ramabai began with a book my parents had given me when I was eight. I couldn’t imagine losing my parents as she had. And even though the significance of her work had yet to sink into my eight-year-old mind, I knew she had to be unstoppable to find her strength in championing the cause of other women despite finding herself alone at such a young age.
When I was ten I had the chance to visit the Mukti Mission near Pune, and there was a life-size cutout of her. I loved it because Ramambai was a short woman, just about five feet tall. For someone who was anxiously awaiting a growth spurt, being eye-to-eye with this feminist powerhouse was empowering, even then.
From her criticism of the societal norms, her conversion to frowned-upon religion, and her bold moves for the empowerment of women in unfavorable conditions, the work of Pandita Ramabai was erased from Brahmin history. But try as they might, her story has still made it to the public, and hopefully will for years to come.
There’s no doubt about it – the pandemic has done quite the number on all of us. In a time filled with sadness, confusion, and despair, making a big deal out of birthdays was not a priority for many of us. I am writing this article from a position of relative privilege because I have not been as personally affected by the events of the pandemic as much as others. Because of this, I could spare time and energy planning birthdays, and I had some amazing collaborators who helped out on these projects as well. Hopefully, this will serve as a springboard of sorts to help people get low budget ideas for how to make birthdays special during this time.
A tried and tested way of wishing friends virtually is making a video of their loved ones talking about how much they mean to them, or making a compilation of funny clips and photos of themselves. Since those are fairly common, I have not included those in my list. Here are five (extremely low budget) ways I made my friends’ lockdown birthdays special.
1. We made a lip-synced music video:
This was the first rather grand gesture I was part of during the lockdown. The birthday was at the end of April, so we began planning about two weeks beforehand. The idea was to take a song that my friend Anjali* loved, and get as many friends and family to lip-sync a few lines so we could put the clips together as a music video. I planned this with my friend Nirel, and the whole thing was done virtually. We divided Anjali’s friend list between the both of us and sent them instructions and a Drive link.
Everyone on our lists rose to the occasion admirably, and their videos were so fun! They used props, dorky dances and inside joke references to make their clips hilarious and endearing.
On the big day, we sent the finished video to Anjali’s brother, who played it on their TV at midnight. Anjali was completely taken by surprise and loved it!
Verdict: This method costs absolutely no money, but you will need a lot of time to follow up with people, and someone to put the clips together.
2. We wrote an original song:
My friend Nirel turned 21 in September. To commemorate the occasion, our friends worked together to write a song that was all about her and what she meant to us. My friend Rolland (who is a verified artist on Spotify) came up with the melody, and my friend Kenn produced the whole thing! On Nirel’s birthday, we played the song in the background of a compilation of her pictures and videos, and showed it to her on Zoom.
Verdict: This method cost us nothing as well, but I know you may be thinking, ‘Hannah, that’s great for you, but we can’t all pull singer-songwriters out of hats.’ I hear you, friend. I added this instance to encourage people to look at what talents they have already and use those to their advantage. Do you write poetry? Write a poem about your friend! Can you draw? Make a sketch! Better yet, make a compilation book of drawings or poetry from your friend’s loved ones, regardless of talent levels. I’m sure the results will be hilarious and heartwarming.
3. We compiled a book of life advice:
For my cousin’s 21st birthday, her sister and I decided to ask our immediate family members and a few close friends to write her a total of 21 letters of life advice. We made up the titles, and a lot of them were tailored to her personality. Examples included, ‘Open when you’re mad at the patriarchy’, ‘Open when you’re traveling alone’ and ‘Open when you’re overthinking’. We received the messages through text, wrote them out by hand, put them in pretty DIY envelopes, and stuck the envelopes on the pages of a scrapbook. That way they were all in one place, which made it less likely that they would get lost. Needless to say, she absolutely loved her gift.
Verdict: This was my personal favorite gift. Not only was it free, but it was like she carried a piece of all her family members in that book.
4. We sent word puzzles:
For my friend Kai’s* birthday, we did something that may sound tricky but is actually quite simple. First, we decided on a sentence that had the same number of words as there were people involved. In our case, we had fifteen people, and the sentence was “Here is some love for you to piece together. Happy birthday Kai, thinking of you!” On a standard size letter (we chose 6×6), we wrote cute notes on one side, and on the other side, we wrote our assigned word in big bold letters. Then we mailed these letters to Kai’s house separately and instructed them to only open the letters once they had all arrived. On the day, Kai could open the letters and get fifteen individual notes, but also piece together the flip sides to make up one big message too!
Verdict: The only cost involved is any incurred for postage, otherwise this option is free as well! You can of course customize this idea to include photos or anything else you might want to add.
5. We ripped off the Kasoor music video:
If you haven’t seen Prateek Kuhaad’s Kasoor video already, you should drop everything and go watch it right now. For the most recent birthday that we planned, we customized the Kasoor concept for our friend Phebe on her birthday. Like in the original music video given below, with a song that she liked in the background, we got her friends to react to different scenarios that we gave them, like ‘When you first met Phebe’ or ‘When Phebe starts talking about missing Dubai’. Our friends were a riot and turned in some very funny reactions. I loved the end result!
Verdict: This is an easy but creative and personal video to make for your friends. The clips are silent and need to be only a few seconds long, so you can easily get this done over the weekend if everyone cooperates.
I would love to know if you decide to use any of the ones I’ve mentioned here. As you can see, none of these projects cost much and they’re the embodiment of the phrase ‘it’s the thought that counts’. At the end of the day, we want our loved ones to feel special, so it’s important to keep their wishes in mind for their birthdays. If they don’t like surprises, go another route! Either way, let them know they’re loved. Goodness knows we all need it after the year we’ve had.
Tarabai Shinde was not your ordinary gal from the 1880s. While most other child brides at the time went about doing their thing, she was busy furiously writing in defiance of the inherent patriarchy she identified in the Hindu scriptures. She is thought of as the first modern feminist writer in India, and it’s a crime that more people do not know about her role in Indian feminism.
As with fellow reformer Pandita Ramabai, Tarabai’s father played a crucial role in introducing her to education and multiple languages. Contrary to the custom at the time, Tarabai’s husband moved in with her family instead of vice versa, which meant that she had a greater degree of freedom than was enjoyed by many of her peers in similar situations. Having made an active choice to not have children, she spent a lot of time with contemporary reformers Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule as well. It was with the latter couple that she became a founding member of the “Truth-Finding Community” or Satyashodak Samaj. This was an organization dedicated to the education and upliftment of traditionally discriminated against or ostracized sections of society, particularly women and Shudras (the lowest caste).
Tarabai Shinde is most known for her passionate pamphlets, the first of which was called “Stri Purush Tulana” or “A Comparison Between Women and Men.” In it, she timelessly demands, “So is it true that only women’s bodies are home to all the different kinds of recklessness and vice? Or have men got just the same faults as we find in women?”
Originally published in Marathi when she was 32 years old, the piece was written in response to an article about Vijayalakshmi, who was a widow who chose not to deliver her illegitimate child for fear of abandonment from society. It must be noted that those were times when widows had a rather bad time of it. Most feminists of the late 19th and 20th century concerned themselves with the rights of Hindu widows, but Tarabai was among the first to examine the intersection of caste and gender in terms of oppression. Moreover, she delved into the roots of the patriarchal beliefs and identified the holy scriptures as an important propagator of such toxic ideals. Now keep in mind – this was years before the school of cultural studies came up with similar thoughts and teachings!
In her pamphlet she starts out by saying, “Let me ask you something, gods! You are said to be completely impartial. What does that mean? That you have never been known to be partial. But wasn’t it you who created both men and women? Then why did you grant happiness only to men and brand women with nothing but agony?” Powerful words. What is more, she dared question the deities that were considered all powerful.
Once this groundbreaking pamphlet was published, it was met with an unsurprisingly hostile reaction from the rest of the public. It was not reprinted until 1975, when interest in her work came on the rise again.
Tarabai Shinde went radically against the situations that she was born into. She brought her husband home, she chose not to have children to prove that a life without progeny could be equally fulfilling, she campaigned for the rights of women. She argued that while women have their faults just as men do, those were by no means a vehicle to view them as inferior to men.
And that is something more people need to hear, whatever the time period.
Ross tries to replace Ben’s obsession with Christmas jingles and Santa with some knowledge about Hanukkah. The result? A Chrismukkah featuring Ross as the Holiday Armadillo, Chandler as Santa Claus, and Joey as Superman. Rachel calls this hilarious mix the “Easter Bunny’s funeral”.
2. Modern Family: “Undeck the Halls” (Season 1, Episode 10)
While Phil and Claire threaten to cancel Christmas and tear down their home Christmas tree to discipline their children, the Pritchetts argue over American and Colombian Christmas customs. But all ends well with a family feast, as Jay says: “This was the year the word ‘tradition’ got a lot bigger for me”. Watch if you’re in the mood for a major Modern Family throwback!
3. Gilmore Girls: “Forgiveness and Stuff” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Ah, Gilmore Girls. The whimsical snow-covered Stars Hollow is as magical as fictional Christmas sets can be. Throw in the town’s performance of the nativity scene, Christmas jingles, and fairy lights and you got yourself a wholesome Christmas episode. But what is Christmas without some family drama? Lorelai’s tension with her family peaks and is resolved by forgiveness, in true holiday spirit.
4. How I Met Your Mother: “Symphony of Illumination” (Season 7, Episode 12)
This personal favorite flips the title of the show on its head and gives us an episode of “How I Met Your Father” narrated from Robin’s point of view. In this exceptionally profound Christmas special, Robin panics through a pregnancy scare and is pulled in different directions: maternal instincts, her career, her individuality, and her independence. Recommended for the twist at the end!
Who says Christmas specials can only be about good cheer? If you enjoyed Psycho or The Birds, watch this nail-biting suspense in Hitchcock’s signature thriller style. His story of a Christmas gone so very wrong will leave you on the edge of your seat. It’s a Wonderful Life is not the only black and white vintage Christmas throwback you can watch over the holidays!
While the show’s Thanksgiving episodes are more memorable, this Christmas episode is certainly up in the ranks. There’s no Christmas like Christmas in the Big Apple, and Gossip Girl shows us how to celebrate it pure Upper East Side style. Thinking of holiday presents on a budget? Take some tips from Dan and Serena who seek out personalized presents under $50. If not, consider it a catalog for holiday looks. After all, nobody does fashion better than Gossip Girl.
Searching for something refreshingly nostalgic? Check out this episode from Cheers, the Friends of the 80s. In this Christmas special, the entire ensemble cast makes an appearance. We catch the characters in their habitual bar where everybody knows their name. Rebecca makes the bartenders work long hours, but hey! At least they have It’s a Wonderful Life playing on the bar TV to cheer them up.
This rare Black spin on sitcoms was way ahead of its time. Airing in 2005, this Christmas special addresses the intersections of class and racism. Chris wants a walkman (millennials, you know what I’m talking about!) but can’t afford it. His sister Tonya comes to face the reality that Santa isn’t real. It is one big reality check, sugar-coated with humor and childhood innocence. I feel if this episode had come out this year, it would have gotten the attention it deserved.
Americans aren’t the only ones obsessed with Christmas. The BBC production Downton Abbey’s second season finale is proof of that. Weaving together loose strands of subplots, the episode is like a Pinterest palette of vintage Christmas inspiration. Touted as “retro festive wallpaper”, the episode is truly eye candy culminating in the ultimate romantic moment (SPOILER ALERT!) – Matthew’s snow globe inspired proposal to Mary is a sight to behold!
This episode begins in Hanukkah, is set in the Christmas season but demands a holiday for the secular and invented, “Festivus”. In true, cynical Seinfeld fashion, the witty humor and abundance of inside jokes make the mundane 23rd of December a day of importance through Frank Costanza’s slogan of “Festivus for the rest of us!”
11. The Simpsons: “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (Season 1, Episode 1)
An ultimate throwback dating back to Season 1, Episode 1, with Homer as Santa and the rather broke Simpson family singing “Rudolph-the red-nosed reindeer”, might be THE animated Christmas special you need to see! The Simpson family does not give presents to each other, they play pranks on each other. And Bart removing Homer’s beard is the kind of slapstick I’m in for!
12. Friends: “The One Where Rachel Quits” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Rachel quits her job at Central Perk as a waitress. Meanwhile, in true Christmas spirit, Ross helps a Brown Bird sell boxes of festive cookies to help send her to space camp. Phoebe’s conscience about wasted conifer trees will make you question the environmental hazards of Christmas decoration altogether!
13. The Office: “Christmas Party” (Season 2, Episode 10)
This episode has almost unanimously been voted the internet’s favorite out of all the Christmas episodes of The Office, a show which has given us gem after gem of memeable content. This is an iconic episode too, featuring the legendary teapot that Jim gifted Pam during the gift exchange, which Michael hijacked, as Michael would.
I will stand by this opinion for eons, Nick Miller and Jessica Day’s arc on New Girl is one of the best on TV, ever. This episode is a prime example of how much they cared for each other, without even dating (I won’t give any more spoilers). It also features significant developments with Schmidt and Cece, as well as Jess and her boyfriend. Meanwhile, Winston just does his thing, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Every episode of Schitt’s Creek just gets better and better, but this one hits you in all the feels. Johnny Rose, the benevolent father of the Rose family, wants to have Christmas together this year, after reminiscing about the grand parties they used to have when they were rich. His family members are less than enthused, however, and Johnny has to come to terms with letting go of his extravagant past. Like all its other season finales, this episode is packed with hilarious one-liners, delightful Moira-isms, and just all-round wholesomeness – a perfect package for Christmas!
In this episode of everybody’s favorite cop show, Captain Holt gets death threats and assigns a delighted Jake Peralta to protect him. Jake loves his new role and uses it to lord over Captain Holt while he can, but he soon realizes the gravity of the situation. Throw in Charles worrying about missing his flight, and Amy trying to get Rosa to smile for a Christmas card, and you have yourself a merry Nine-Nine Christmas.
You know a Glee episode is going to be amazing when it opens with a Mercedes solo, as Whitney Houston, singing the classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You”. It’s a triple treat! Christmas is synonymous with Christmas music, and this episode is filled to the brim with classics like “Let It Snow”, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Blue Christmas”. The Glee kids are faced with choosing between having a Christmas special aired on PBS, or serving food for the homeless. Because the club disagrees on which one to do, we get to see both situations – a delightfully corny Christmas special in the style of Star Wars and Judy Garland, as well as heartwarming scenes at the homeless shelter. Klaine fans get plenty of material to swoon about too!
This is a controversial choice to put on this list, because everyone knows the definitive one out of all the Community Christmas episodes (and possibly television as a whole) is “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”, where the episode is shot in stop motion animation and deals with profoundly bittersweet themes. However, “Regional Holiday Music” is the very antithesis of the Glee episode mentioned just earlier on the list, so I felt it was fitting. This was not the first or last time show creator Dan Harmon has poked fun at Glee, and in this episode, the study group is lured into Glee Club one by one by the increasingly manic Glee Club director (Taran Killam). Complete with classic Community running gags and warm Christmas spirit, this episode is a must-watch (after Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, of course).
Ah, Arrested Development. What a gem of a show. In this gag-filled episode, Michael and Maeby begin to spend time together after feeling ignored by their respective family members. Meanwhile Gob discovers that his attitude has been annoying his employees, and that they would not be toasting him at the Christmas party like he had expected. Lucille misses Buster. There’s not much one can describe about Arrested Development episodes in words, so I’m just going to let you watch it.
20. Fresh Off The Boat: “The Real Santa” (Season 2, Episode 10)
In typical fashion, Jessica Huang wants to ‘fix’ Santa for her son Evan. Why? He doesn’t have an advanced degree, he’s only a toymaker or a glorified delivery man, and either way he’s labor, not management. When she finally blurts out that Santa is Chinese, the show then asks the question, why can’t Santa be Chinese? Fresh Off the Boat has always created light-hearted but refreshing conversations about race, and this episode is no different.
30 Rock has proven on several occasions to be one of those rare shows that do absurd comedy exceedingly well. In “Ludachristmas”, the 30 Rock gang is planning their annual Christmas party, but Tracy (like in real life) has been ordered to abstain from alcohol, which he finds difficult. We also have a delightfully spiraling meeting between Liz Lemon’s family and Jack Donaghy’s mom, and you’re sure to be in stitches by the end of the episode!
Superstore has been touted by many as the spiritual (albeit not equal) successor to that pinnacle of workplace comedy, The Office. Set in a big box store similar to the likes of Walmart, Superstore is a very underrated show providing hilarious jokes along with timely addressal of socio-political issues. In this episode, Mateo is not too excited about the prospect of Christmas, and Glenn sets out to prove him wrong. Meanwhile, Amy wants to show everyone that she’s more than the stuffy person they think she is, and Sandra gets a Christmas miracle. The whole episode ending not quite how one would expect, but definitely in line with the wacky core of the show.
23. Veep: “Camp David” (Season 5, Episode 8)
Anyone who knows Selina Meyer would know she would be the last person to get sentimental about holidays. Which is why, when she suggests a family getaway to the presidential retreat of Camp David, you know she has her personal agenda in mind. A Chinese diplomatic envoy, tough negotiations and colorful hijinks ensue in this hilarious episode also featuring the ever-welcome Minna Hakkinen.
24. The Middle: “Christmas Tree” (Season 5, Episode 9)
The Middle has always been about finding the joy in the ordinary and the usually crappy moments in life, and what better time for these themes than 2020? In this episode, Frankie is disappointed, for the umpteenth time, in Mike’s usual lack of outward affection for her. Brick has begun questioning the Bible on Christmas, which horrifies Sue, who recruits Reverend Tim Tom to help out. Meanwhile, Axl makes a new friend. In the end, it all ties together for a Hecking lovely Christmas.
To many, the show Blackadder represents the very pinnacle of British humor (aside from Monty Python, of course). It brought together Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Tony Robinson, with frequent cameos from other British greats. Loaded with sarcasm, elaborate insults, and its trademark wit, Blackadder’s Christmas special is a parody of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It opens with Ebenezer Blackadder, the nicest man in England, being visited by the Spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane a.k.a Rubeus Hagrid), and seeing how successful his life might have been if only he had been meaner to everyone around him.
BONUS – 26. Mr. Bean: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean” (Season 1, Episode 7)
More Atkinson! His most loved character remains the iconic Mr. Bean. Atkinson has the rare ability to make you laugh without uttering a single word, and the Christmas episode (available on YouTube) is no different. However bad your day might be going, a good dose of Mr. Bean’s antics would definitely cheer you right up, from his new and improved version of the Nativity scene to his newfound choir conducting skills. Gather around with the whole family for a good dose of nostalgia and light-hearted fun!
BONUS – 27. Dash and Lily – the entirety of Season 1
Seriously, this show is for everyone. No matter if you love or hate Christmas. You should watch it, because it will warm your heart.
Here you have it! Everything you need to indulge in for a seasonal delight. Watching Christmas specials of your favorite shows can now be your new essential holiday tradition. These episodes will have you feeling all kinds of things- from holiday nostalgia to uninhibited laughter. Lucky for you, we selected the ones with the widest of cheers, the loudest of laughter, and the warmest of sentiments!
I must say that I wasn’t too thrilled about the news of yet another Christmas themed offering – especially when it was an entire TV show this time. You know the drill, the Christmas themed soundtrack, at least three carols, Christmas trees everywhere, and of course, the heart of it all – what does Christmas mean to you? Despite the aggressively crimson-colored marketing, however, Dash and Lily managed to rise above the clichés and change my mind.
Before you read further, fret not! This is a spoiler-free review, and all details mentioned here have already been shown in the trailer.
Executive produced by Nick Jonas (yes, of the Jonas Brothers, I know, what a strange crossover!), Dash and Lily is the first show I have seen that centers the entirety of its arc around the Christmas season. The series, as are most shows released on Netflix nowadays, consists only of a small number of episodes, which also makes it the perfect bingeable length. The first two episodes introduce us to our protagonists separately, and the next six ones show us how their lives intermingle before they finally meet. The series is based on the YA series Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by authors David Leviathan and Rachel Cohn.
On the surface, Lily (Midori Francis) is the quintessential teenage girl you’ve met in all the Christmas movies you’ve seen before. Oh, the season is so lovely and magical, and look at the snow and the joy of Christmas overflowing in every crevice – that sort of thing. Francis however, manages to tone down what could have been a sickly sweet character responsible for many a diabetes flareup, and portrays Lily with depth and layers. Lily is a whole, multidimensional teenager who just wants to reclaim her confidence and reconnect with who she used to be. Her loving family is Asian, but thankfully the show does not beat us over the head with the “exotic” details, and portrays them as just another close-knit family with their own traditions and communication issues.
On the other hand, Dash (a reluctant, brooding Austin Abrams), is extremely anti-Christmas, and is therefore set up to be the anti-Lily. He hates the holidays, thinks all the ‘forced cheer’ is one big act. His mum and dad don’t talk to each other, and he is spending Christmas alone. Their paths cross when Dash, on a quest to repatriate wrongly shelved books at a bookstore, discovers a mysterious red book titled ‘Do you dare?’ And of course he does, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a show.
Connecting from a distance (sounds relatable in 2020), through their love of reading (less relatable in 2020), and a shared loneliness on what is supposed to be the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, the two leads find out more about each other and themselves as the show progresses.
Both Francis and Abrams are ably backed up by a stellar, lovable supporting cast. Troy Iwata as Lily’s brother Langston was a personal favorite, and I honestly would not mind a spinoff show focusing only on his life. Honorable mentions include Dante Brown as Dash’s best friend Boomer, Keana Marie as Dash’s ex-girlfriend Sofia, and James Saito and Jodi Long as Lily’s grandfather and great aunt.
The show manages to avoid many of the potential logistical loopholes set up by its admittedly familiar premise, either by providing explanations or simply acknowledging the problem. This works in its favor especially in situations where it veered towards the manic pixie dream girl trope. I for one, also had a couple of questions about leaving the book around for the other person to find. What if it rains? What about unwelcome visits from birds with potential gastrointestinal issues? What if someone tears pages from it to wrap their gum? Fortunately, the show is endearing enough to make the viewer not care as much about the logic of the ensuing events, and that is appreciable.
Ultimately, Dash and Lily is more than a Christmas show. It is also more than a romantic show. It’s a show about being brave and coming into your own. About acknowledging the limitations of your fairytale but going for it anyway. Could they have done more with it? Maybe. But after the year we’ve had, I think we all deserve the whimsical, fluffy cheer of Dash and Lily.
The past few days, the world held its breath as the United States embarked on a nail-biting election week. Punctuated with an anxiety-inducing number of twists, the 2020 American election ended in a win for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Now, as we all sit back and relax, here is a roundup of some of the best memes from election week.
1. One of the few things that kept us going:
The only thing that’s getting me through this election anxiety is the fantasy that somewhere Taylor swift is in a recording studio doing her re-records and giving us the 11 minute version of all too well
Throughout this election cycle, many points of concern have been raised by democratic political officials as well as the American populace. One issue of importance has been voter suppression which prevents people (mostly BIPOC communities) from voting via systematic negligence that ultimately causes votes to be lost or unaccounted for.
Voter suppression in America resembles legislation that makes it difficult for people, particularly minority communities, to vote. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), voter suppression can take the form of cuts to early voting, oppressive voter ID laws, and purges of voter rolls. These tactics have been used against citizens since the inception of the United States.
A survey conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, detailed in a BBC article, found that Black voters waited in line for an average of 16 minutes during the 2016 election. Comparatively, white voters only waited 10 minutes. Even the existence of the electoral college in itself acts as a system of voter suppression.
Since the American Civil War, statewide efforts have been made to discourage entire communities from having a voice in the democratic election process. For example, Jim Crow laws imposed poll taxes and forced Black Americans to pass literacy tests to be considered eligible to vote. More modern examples include making voting more inconvenient by shutting down polling stations, therefore forcing people to travel long distances in order to exercise their voting rights. These cases were especially highlighted during the midterm elections in 2018.
Particularly, the 2018 race between Stacey Abrams and Georgia’s republican governor Mike Kemp has been widely suspected of voter suppression tactics that resulted in Kemp’s unsavory win. After her loss, Abrams herself stated, “To watch [Kemp], who claims to represent the people in this state, boldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote has been truly appalling.”
As a result, Stacey Abrams has since registered to vote an estimated 800,000 citizens to combat the suppression impacting minority voters within the state of Georgia.
Recently, however, due to the pandemic and Donald Trump’s overtly racist rhetoric, voter suppression has also taken the form of voter intimidation, the spread of voting-related misinformation, and mail-in ballots which have conveniently gone missing.
For the Trump administration, the tactful use of voter suppression has consistently been their 2020 election strategy.
During this election cycle, the president himself has anomalously and openly embraced the tactic as is highlighted in an MSNBC article stating, “Voter suppression has been a long-term problem in America, but having a president publicly invoke it is something altogether unprecedented.” Donald Trump has vehemently sought to use the pandemic to further disenfranchise voters across the country.
In one instance, the Trump campaign filed an emergency motion in Nevada, a swing state, to prevent mail-in-ballots from being counted and prosecuted an appeal to permit the state to review signatures. In addition, Trump has repeatedly encouraged his followers to vote in person to discredit the legitimacy of mail-in-ballots, despite the severe endurance of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
Joyce Vance further details in her aforementioned MSNBC article, “The suppression has been widespread and at least partially successful.” Therefore, this unusual circumstance presents a newfound threat to the electoral process and the overall American democratic system.
Correspondingly, in Florida, there have been ongoing debates regarding whether convicted felons should be allowed to vote. Even after convicted felons were granted sanctions to vote in 2018, new obstacles like taxes and fines were added to discourage them from legally voting. Notably, Florida has more than 700,000 felons who were unable to vote because they had remaining fines to pay off. A substantial number of these individuals were African American, a demographic which has historically and considerably voted Democrat – and been disenfranchised.
Voter suppression of any kind is an affront to a complete and legitimate democratic process because it obstructs American citizen’s fundamental right to vote. What is more, it hinders election results from accurately reflecting what the people – all eligible people – want.
Here are some important facts to keep in mind for upcoming elections, courtesy of ACLU and When We All Vote –
If you are still in line while the polls close, you are still allowed to vote. If they try to turn you away, you have the right to request a provisional ballot. Stay in line!
If you make a mistake on your ballot, you are allowed to ask for a new one.
If your absentee ballot was rejected for verification reasons, you can still fix it before the deadline.
If the machines are not working at your polling station, you can request a paper ballot.
Election Protection Hotline numbers in case of any problems:
English: 1-866-OUR-VOTE / 1-866-687-8683
Spanish: 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA / 1-888-839-8682
Arabic: 1-844-YALLA-US / 1-844-925-5287
Bengali, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, or Vietnamese: 1-888-API-VOTE/1-888-274-8683
For anyone not living in the US, it might seem easy to write away the US election as a TV show that can be turned off and ignored, but that is a huge mistake.
Like many other people, last night I (Aafiyah) made a hot drink and got myself comfortable for a long night of projections, exit polls, and results. As a Brit, this election was particularly important to me especially in light of Brexit. The current President has been a long supporter of Brexit and has promised a strong US-UK trade relation filling the gap that would be left by the lack of trade from the European Union. Biden on the other hand is a big supporter of multilateral trade agreements, and his identity as an Irish descendant has muddied the water on a clear, quick trade agreement with the UK.
To the rest of the world, the choice seems clear. On the one hand, you have an unpredictable, openly xenophobic, racist reality show host. On the other, there is a comparatively stable career politician who, while also flawed, actually meets the basic criteria of standing up for human rights and concrete plans for the future. And yet somehow the US has had a hard time choosing between the two. Rebecca Azad, a fellow Brit, highlighted this when we asked her about her thoughts about the election: ‘Waking up to the news that the U.S. election is still undecided astounded me – does the USA really want Trump to return as president? Even after his appalling handling of the coronavirus pandemic, contempt for the Black Lives Matter movement, bringing in a Muslim ban, enforced separation of migrant children from their parents at the border, and a long list of other heinous decisions, it’s scary that the people still consider him to be worthy President for another term.”
Across many countries, the US election has been the main topic of conversation for months now. The election impacts more than the continental US and that the consequences of the results will be felt across the world. From the UK, Bashirat Oladele states ‘America unfortunately, controls the world now and it’s insensitive to be told to stay out of it. It’s a reflection of American exceptionalism and the brainwashing of Americans in schools when they don’t know about international relations, geopolitics. When America catches a cold, the whole world sneezes.’
As an Indian, (Hannah) I find myself rather invested in the American election as well. My Instagram feed is flooded with (mostly celebrity) accounts urging me to vote Biden-Harris, while the comment sections of these posts angrily sling virtual mud against whoever challenges Trump’s place as the most powerful man in the world. I have had the opportunity to amusedly disparage the electoral college system followed in the US, coming from a country where the majority vote ushered in eight years of rising intolerance and hate. For India, four more years of Trump could mean more difficulty with visas, more hoops to jump through if we wanted to immigrate, more rallies where he proclaims his support for ‘the Hindus’. For me personally, it would mean four more years of another unpredictable, authoritarian world leader getting to keep making decisions. Like Modi, like Bolsonaro. Not a very cheery prospect.
There’s a heightened level of anxiety surrounding this election. Naturally, no matter what side of the political side you fall on in the US, there is a lot at stakes for the entire world. This was touched upon by our own Editor-in-Chief Federica Bocco, from Italy – “It’s nerve-wracking. The wait, the not knowing. In 2016, we stayed up all night, from before the polls closed, waiting for any clues or hints at the final outcome. This time around, I’m glad to see more of my friends all over the world are tuning in and holding their breath along with us.
This feeling of comradeship around the world has been one of the most comforting things throughout this whole period and the one thing that has been a constant is the emotional impact of the voting process. With more and more people tuning in and understanding the implications of this election, it means that the emotional burden is reduced. Having worked for and with Americans my entire career, I have a better understanding of what’s going on than most of my peers in this part of the world, and it’s been heartwarming to see many of them asking me questions all night long about what differences there are between the states and the electoral seats, etc. The system is incredibly complex, but I’m happy to see more and more people are trying to understand it because they realize this is going to affect the entire world, not just the USA.”
For recent Indian graduate Mukundan, a Trump victory would mean more than four more years of prime Daily Show content. “A lot of international students are carefully watching the election to decide whether they want to study in the USA or not.”
In a global pandemic, Donald Trump did what he did best – he created division. Referring to the COVID-19 virus the ‘China’ or ‘Wuhan’ virus, he created a divide between the Chinese American population and the rest. He reduced this community to a stereotype leading to xenophobic attacks across the state. Even now, the pandemic is still moving strong across the world, he refuses to take accountability for the deaths he has caused, instead choosing to scapegoat a community to push the blame and make himself feel better. A presidency under Trump will only perpetuate this and there will be no end to the scapegoating until there are no communities but the white community left.
Let’s remember what Bradley Whitford tweeted, “Whatever happens, elections are commas, not periods. The work continues. We don’t just get a democracy, we have to make it. Every day.” Ultimately, whatever happens, this US election will be a testament to how the global political landscape is going to look like in the near future, and the work we all have cut out for us for the next four years and more.
Get ready, K-Pop fans – an actual K-Pop star has released a semi-fictional book about what it’s actually like to be an idol, and we are here for it. Before we review Shine though, let’s take a deeper look into who Jessica is, shall we?
Jessica Jung. OG K-Pop fans know the pain we felt when, on 30th September 2014, Jessica walked out of her agency in tears, no longer a part of her girl group. And not just any band either – Girls Generation is widely known in South Korea as ‘the Nation’s Girl Group’, a rarely bestowed honorific. They are also the 11th best selling girl group of all time (the Spice Girls top this list) and have the 2nd and 8th best selling girl group albums of all time in South Korea and Japan respectively. Considering that they debuted in 2007 when the K-Pop scene was only finding its footing internationally, these records are impressive indeed.
Following her intriguing and much speculated-about departure, Jessica went on to establish her own fashion label Blanc and Eclare, which now has sixty locations around the world. She also signed with Coridel Entertainment and entered acting, solo music and reality TV. Now, exactly six years after she left South Korean showbiz giant SM Entertainment, Jessica has released Shine, a semi-fictional account of K-Pop trainee Rachel Kim as she prepares to debut as an idol. Don’t worry, this review is spoiler-free!
Rachel Kim is seventeen, Korean-American, and a trainee under the hugely influential DB Entertainment – which coincidentally also has the same number of letters in its name as SM does. So far, extremely thinly veiled. Right from the get-go, Rachel tells us that she isn’t very liked by the other trainees because of ‘preferential treatment’, which means she gets to stay at home with her family while all the other trainees have to live at the company dorms. Rachel’s mum, dad, and little sister Leah have uprooted themselves from New York to let her pursue her dream, and that is just the first layer of the pressure she faces from all angles – she has to prove she’s got what it takes. Unfortunately, the road to debuting is filled with mean trainees, handsome, forbidden boys, strained friendships, and enough backstabbing for any orthopedics department to have a field day.
It is clear from her style that sophisticated writing may not be Jessica’s primary talent. That does make sense, considering she has already established her prowess at singing, dancing, acting, modeling, and fashion designing. Adding writing to that list too would just have been unfair to the mortals. I daresay those unfamiliar with the KPop industry or Asian culture would find it a tad difficult to keep up with the barrage of names in the beginning – Rachel Kim simply has too many characters involved in her life (which sounds about right for an Asian girl).
The plot of Shine tries its best to throw some curveballs towards the end but remains largely predictable on the whole as well. Moreover, it must be said that the vast majority of characters are rather unlikeable and sadly underdeveloped for the most part, which gives the audience little emotional investment in their journeys. Indeed, one of the few interesting dynamics was between Rachel and her fellow trainee Mina, whose father is an influential figure in South Korea.
Another odd feature about Shine is the random name dropping of actual celebrities in this self-proclaimed fictionalized world. Apparently, Rachel’s school gets Simone Biles as a gymnastics instructor? And Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner frequently drop by the agency café because the food is just so darn good? There’s also mention of partying with Lindsay Lohan and shipping Klaus and Caroline from The Vampire Diaries. It does feel at times like she opened a Quora article about what kids are into these days in an effort to make the story relevant to her young adult target audience, which sometimes ends up making Rachel’s world even more detached and inaccessible than it already was.
I must, however, give props to Jessica for addressing several problematic elements of the K-Pop industry – the suffocating rules, the double standards for male and female artists, the cutthroat competition, and the pressure to debut before you’re ‘too old’ (meaning 20), the staged interactions, and the ridiculous schedules. A lot of this would be new information for those who haven’t delved into the rabbit hole of K-Pop generations and fancafé conspiracy theories, so in a way, this book does shine a spotlight (see what I did there) on the ugly side of global adoration as well.
For those familiar with the story of Jessica and Girls Generation, here’s a tip – don’t try and match fictional characters to real-life individuals, you will only drive yourself insane. According to Jessica herself, the story is ‘semi-fictional’ and most characters are compounds of different people she met over the years as a trainee and later an idol. The amount of insider information this book provides may no doubt also lead KPop fans to question every band interaction and idol relationship they have seen before. It’s probably best not to think about it too much.
All in all, Shine is a cathartic experience for Jessica and an entertaining read for your average K-Pop fan. My rating would be a 6.5/10. What’s more, it definitely sets up a solid premise for its sequel, the imaginatively named Bright, rumored to be out next year. There is also talk of a film adaptation to be released on Netflix, which sounds very promising. Too much time has passed since Crazy Rich Asians came out, and I for one am very much looking forward to a YA film with an all Asian cast. I mean, I think it’s time All The Boys of the Kissing Booth made some space, don’t you?
If you follow the Indian comedy scene you might have noticed a hashtag called #BringBackBLF popping up last week. For those wondering what it means, BLF stands for the ‘Better Life Foundation’, an Indian mockumentary web series released on YouTube in 2016. Following the lives of employees at the Better Life Foundation NGO, the series featured lead and cameo appearances from the biggest names in Indian comedy today, including Naveen Richard, Sumukhi Suresh, Kanan Gill, and Kenny Sebastian, among others.
Upon release, the five-episode show was met with positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, resulting in an equally acclaimed second season picked up by the streaming service now known as DisneyPlus Hotstar.
Clearly inspired by iconic workplace mockumentary shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, BLF was praised for its subtle and self-aware tackling of a myriad of issues in Indian society – like the language gulf between those who do and do not know Hindi, mentalities towards the differently-abled and the infamous world of Indian bureaucracy. I could go on and on about the Michael Scott-esque lead character Neil Menon or his far more competent program head Sumukhi Chawla (think Leslie Knope with Rosa Diaz’s sunshiney attitude), but let’s get to the point.
In 2018, a short time after BLF’s season 2 was released, Hotstar took it off of its platform. The move was seen by many as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the news that one of the actors, Utsav Chakraborty, was accused of sexual misconduct. That was the year that the #MeToo movement swept through India, bringing many such instances to light and empowering survivors to tell their stories. However, Hotstar’s action also called into question its authenticity and whether it was just ‘hollow appeasement’ to appear part of the movement. #BringBackBLF was trending on Twitter, and the show creators spoke up about their opinions as well.
Why bring this up two years later, you may ask? Thanks to the efforts of college student Nishant Manoj, #BringBackBLF has caught the attention of the show creators a second time, and better late than never – we need to discuss the implications of Hotstar’s decision to take it down.
Objectively, it does seem as if the removal aimed to display solidarity to the victims of criminal behavior from the stars of their content. However, Vikas Bahl’s Masaan remains up on Hotstar, and Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara(understandably) received 95 million views in the first 24 hours on the same platform, despite both directors being accused in the #MeToo movement as well.
Yes,Kevin Spacey was rightly fired from House of Cards, but they were allowed to finish without him. What is more, none of the previous seasons got wantonly removed from their platform. Neither did the numerous films associated with Harvey Weinstein. Production simply went on without their accused members, and that is a choice that the BLF team was robbed of.
The show also featured a large number of women in the crew, including the director Debbie Rao, executive producer, and female leads. What is more, because of their contract, the creators do not own rights to the show that they built. This means they do not have permission to re-upload their hard work on any other platform either.
I don’t know about you, but I was reminded about a similar spat that Taylor Swift had with Big Machine Records about owning her own content. Taylor came out on top eventually (as queens do), but what happens when you aren’t worth upwards of 300 million dollars?
Ultimately, I don’t know if DisneyPlus Hotstar will ever acknowledge or make amends for their actions. They’re a multimillion-dollar company with bigger fish to fry, so they’ll probably stop at blocking the person who restarted the hashtag (they did) and leave it at that.
Whatever happens though, hopefully, #BringBackBLF serves as a reminder about the danger of knee jerk reactions – however well-intentioned – and the importance of support for creators who have poured their hearts into their work.
The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.
Adding to the growing list of worrisome actions taken by India’s Narendra Modi led government, Amnesty International has been forced to halt their activities in India after being accused of ‘money laundering activities’ and noncompliance with the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.
In a statement to the BBC, Rajat Khosla, senior director of advocacy at Amnesty International and former Human Rights Adviser at the World Health Organization, expressed grave concerns about the situation. “We are facing a rather unprecedented situation in India,” he said. “Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner.” The news comes after their bank accounts were frozen for the second time in as many years. Up till then, Amnesty India had channeled the contributions of more than 100,000 Indians towards humanitarian work.
Since taking power in 2014, the current government has had a disquieting record of silencing dissenting voices and quashing opposing viewpoints. It is worth noting that before its shutdown, Amnesty International had released two reports about two major events in India involving human rights – the anti-CAA protests in Delhi from late 2019 and the situation in Kashmir post the dissolution of Article 370.
Let’s start with the first. The organization had highlighted the role of the Delhi police in fueling the violence during the anti-CAA protests in an investigative report which was hotly contested by the Delhi police themselves. As for the report on Kashmir, this was not the first time that their views on the perennially conflicted valley were met with opposition from the authorities. By 2016 Amnesty International had been slapped with sedition charges after the release of their report titled “Denied: Failures in accountability for human rights violations by security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir”. Their latest report on Kashmir was published in August of this year, providing an update on the human rights situation in the valley.
According to a piece via independent journalism website The Wire, it happened to be these two reports which “provided fresh impetus to the establishment to harass and intimidate” the organization. “It is with great concern that I have been observing the rule of law deteriorate in India”, said Maria Arena, chair of European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.
To make matters worse, this is not the first major international human rights organization to be turned away from India in the last five years. In 2017, Christian humanitarian aid body Compassion International halted their operations in India due to tightening governmental controls on their funds. In a statement to a congressional committee, their lead attorney claimed that they faced an “unprecedented, highly coordinated, deliberate, and systematic attack intended to drive us out.” India received the highest amount of donations from Compassion International, with around 145,000 children being supported per year.
Paul (named changed for privacy), a former Compassion child, talked to us about his personal experience with their work. “As a young boy, I lived on the streets a lot. That one meal they gave me in the afternoon helped me to survive. And it was not just any old food, it was high-quality food with all the nutrients I needed. I will not forget what they have done for me and countless other children here.”
This troubling update comes in the thick of accusations against the government for creating an environment conducive to the stifling of free speech. A recent example would be when prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan was booked by the Supreme Court for ‘contempt of court’ after his tweets criticizing the actions of the Chief Justice of India. Another example aligns with when the Prime Minister’s Office blocked a Right to Information request about the PM Cares fund, which has collected over 3000 crores (around 400m dollars) with little accountability on how it has been spent.
As circumstances in India grow more hostile towards foreign humanitarian aid, the need of the hour – especially during this pandemic – is to provide support for local NGOs that are working to eradicate poverty and provide aid to underprivileged sections of society.
So why would sharing such a tragic incident on her own social media account invite so much flak from the comment section?
The post, which has currently garnered more than 10 million likes and 500,000 comments since the three days of its publication, has a host of vicious comments ranging from personal attacks and speculation to downright verbally abusive. Here are some actual examples (trigger warning: some of these are pretty brutal, so feel free to scroll past them):
There are several problems with this barrage of insensitive comments on Teigen’s post. Firstly, it is astounding that people think they have reached a place where they dictate in what way a person expresses their grief, especially after losing a child. Everyone mourns in their own way, and whether that way is public or private is in no way connected to the authenticity or validity of the individual’s pain.
Moreover, it is no secret that Teigen is already known for regularly posting on her social media (her hilarious tweets have earned her the title of ‘unofficial queen of Twitter’), and her account has more than 4000 posts, not including almost daily Instagram stories. If a person already posts that much about the happy, aesthetic moments in their life, why is it that posting a vulnerable one sparks so much controversy about being ‘attention seeking?’
Secondly, the fact that Teigen chose to place her tragedy in the public eye contributes to the destigmatization of miscarriages and troubled pregnancies. According to the Mayo Clinic, 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages. When taking into account that there were about 6 million pregnancies in the US alone in 2010, that percentage in 2020 could easily translate into more than 600,000 miscarriages every year – a devastatingly high number.
When celebrities use their platform to show that their lives are not beds of roses and that miscarriages can happen to anyone, it can act as a comfort for all the other individuals who have had to go through the experience. Talking about it helps other women to open up as well, and take away some of the taboo around what is a natural process but is widely considered a matter of personal shame.
Trolling aside, that comment section also featured a remarkable outpouring of support (mainly from other moms) and more than a few similar personal experiences faced by the users themselves.
There were also several comments to the tune of ‘she should be prepared for negative remarks when posting on such a public platform’, that offered a feeble defense for the hate surrounding the issue. Here is what is wrong with that limp cabbage of an explanation – it sounds awfully similar to ‘she should be prepared for unwanted advances when posting on a public platform/ wearing such clothes/ making such faces/ existing as a living female’, you get the gist.
It is extremely difficult to imagine the level of self-inflicted masochism that would prompt someone to post on Instagram actively seeking negative comments about such a desolate event, but what is easier to imagine is attempts to strip women of their agency and turn their personal narrative against them.