Moving Kahani

Launching today in Los Angeles at the opening night of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles: The Kahani Movement. A brain child of Dr. Sanjay Gupta (CNN) and Suneel Gupta (Mozilla), the new site “is a social network that aims to capture untold stories from first-generation Indians in the U.S. and provide those stories with a platform to be heard.” But what does that exactly mean? (Hat tip, Chick Pea)


the kahani trailer from Suneel Gupta on Vimeo.

I’m borderline obsessed with the ideas of documenting the history of South Asian Americans, and am completely fascinated with how this project is merging documentary with social networking with user generated content. There is so much potential.

The Kahani Movement…ties the concept of StoryCorps to the technology of Web 2.0 by inspiring Indian Americans to tell stories of their early days in the U.S. from the comfort of their own kitchen tables and then share this content on a newly developed social network.

The project takes a Hollywood 2.0 approach to sharing these stories by motivating young Indian Americans to pick up a camera, interview their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and then post that footage to Kahani’s web platform. The eventual audience for this content is a generation of people who may never have the benefit of a real conversation with their immigrant ancestors. [sajaforum]

I’ve been working on documenting my maternal grandparents’ story, and this is a space where I knew I would have been able to share it…that is if it weren’t an “Indian” space, but a South Asian one. My only critique of the site, which I think is substantial considering how integrated the South Asian American migration and historical experience is. Check out an interview with the founders and why they started the site.


why kahani? from Suneel Gupta on Vimeo.

What about you? Is this a site you think that you’ll visit or collect stories to provide content for? And more importantly, will Abhi finally have a forum for his Desi Dad project?

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About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

31 thoughts on “Moving Kahani

  1. Taz: Exceelent idea. Keep bugging Abhi to revive his “Desi Dad Project” one more time. He just posted one of my picture on his blog, and that was it. We need all the ‘South Asian Dads’ during that time frame, so that the young ones can see how “what goes around comes around”.

  2. Yes! I’ve been meaning to do this for years. I’ve felt so guilty as my grandparents have gotten older and I haven’t preserved the amazing stories I’ve heard from them.

  3. It’s not web 2.0 but lots of public radio stations are still involved with The StoryCorps Project so it’s possible that you can work it out with your local public radio station to record your interview (using professional mics, equip and an engineer). The station can use it as a StoryCorp feature and you can get a CD copy of your interview…just saying. (And damn! is that younger bro cute or what?)

  4. Web 2.0 AND Hollywood 2.0? This is at least 8.0x better than BollyGoogle Phish 1.3!!!

  5. funny thing. i saw the headline and thought ‘dal makhani’. mmm..

    back to your regular programming.

  6. I’ve been working on documenting my maternal grandparents’ story, and this is a space where I knew I would have been able to share it…that is if it weren’t an “Indian” space, but a South Asian one.

    You know Taz, tonight’s festival opening would be a great opportunity to mention this to Mr. Suneel…

  7. I’ve been working on documenting my maternal grandparents’ story, and this is a space where I knew I would have been able to share it…that is if it weren’t an “Indian” space, but a South Asian one.

    I second that. I like the idea though. I loved the Desi Dad Project too but I was too lazy to get the photos scanned.

  8. Taz, great idea.

    I loved the Desi Dad Project too but I was too lazy to get the photos scanned.

    Why the gender bias ? Why won’t you not include moms too? I know ‘desi dad’ sounds pleasing to the ear, but mom’s shouldn’t be left out too. More so, because the current crop of desi immigrants also includes independent women who are crossing the many seas for their own future, and not just accompanying the desi dads. That aside, the desi mom’s themselves must have had stories fighting loneliness, dealing with alien culture and what not (like in namesake)

  9. For any filmaker types out there, I volunteer my first gen husband, as a subject. His story is amazing!

  10. I’ve been working on documenting my maternal grandparents’ story, and this is a space where I knew I would have been able to share it…that is if it weren’t an “Indian” space, but a South Asian one.

    hey tazzminder – you may well dismiss me my comment as of some gassy paterfamilias [i did have trini roti + chickpeas for lunch] btw, but there is such a thing as an ‘indian’ ethos in a sense from before the lines were drawn and i think it a little harsh that you think ‘indians’ would not welcome your story. not that i can speek for the kahani project’s creators in any way, but i think you may be pleasantly surprised if you submitted it and wid de responses you get. that said, you may have total dicks getting heinous on your kahani, so your caution is understandable. but hey, why not.

  11. i think it a little harsh that you think ‘indians’ would not welcome your story.

    It’s not about ‘Indians’ not welcoming my story – not at all. In fact doing this work in the South Asian American community, I have felt nothing but accepted for the most part by ‘Indians’. It’s about how I feel as a Bangladeshi American on the margins looking into this ‘Indian’ space and not feeling like I belong. At the same time, I am NOT Indian, I am desi, I am South Asian American, and when I do enter spaces labeled ‘Indian’ my story/history/struggle is dismissed, and I find that highly problematic in a space that is dedicated to collecting the history of my people – my people as a South Asian American diaspora. My history is a Desi story, not an Indian one.

    There may be other Bangladeshi/SriLankan/Nepalese/Pakistani Americans that don’t have a problem with being lumped into ‘Indian’ but I am deliberate in how I participate in spaces labeled as such because I feel like it silences the struggles of partition and ’71 that my history is intertwined with. But maybe that’s just me.

  12. I dunno, Khoof. The label is important. In “Asian” spaces I always make it a point to let everybody know that I am South Asian*. You know that they aren’t going refuse you if you want to participate, but you also know that if you weren’t in their face, they wouldn’t give a shit about including your people. It’s like being the last one picked for a team during gym class, and only because the team captain was forced to.

    *I’m not always “South Asian”. I choose on the spot, based on how much education my interlocutors have or need.

  13. In related news, I need to find out more about this Suneel Gupta, who is hotter than his brother.

  14. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan – we’re all children of the SubContinent.

    Not trying to insult or dismiss anyone’s national sentiments – but we are all brown and share a unified history – last time I went to India I got a tattoo of pre-partition India, because to me, that was closer to the original ideal – Bharat(a).

    We should be able to be both South Asian (or Sub-Continental) as well as our individual national identities. It is great to try and respect both as some people try to just stick with one label.

  15. labeled ‘Indian’ my story/history/struggle is dismissed, and I find that highly problematic in a space that is dedicated to collecting the history of my people – my people as a South Asian American diaspora. My history is a Desi story, not an Indian one.

    i understand taz.

    It’s like being the last one picked for a team during gym class, and only because the team captain was forced to.

    labels are unfortunate though because it creates the sense of the ‘other’. i noticed a mr vasan in the trailer btw. i imagine he could have excluded himself on the grounds that he wished not to assimilate his tamil story into a project named in hindi/urdu. i also feel at least some of the older interviewees that were featured were born in regions that are no longer in ‘India’. but thse people rose above differences and shared their stories under this banner and it is appreciated.

    btw – for those fascinated by the stories from older immigrants (a new thread to follow shortly) one of my favorite series is currently running in the Star. it is entitled ‘Why i came here’. check it out. here’s another series on the chinese canadian experience.

  16. labels are unfortunate though because it creates the sense of the ‘other’.

    because it isnt one or the other. i am one and the other, as are you i am sure. the sense of multiple identiites is the foundation of a multicutural society; especially in toronto where one isnt necessarily limited in what one chooses to be. this is a huge debating issue in today’s canada – with the latest salvo being fired by rudyard griffiths in his latest book. he laments the loss of canadian-ness and argues for pumping immigrants with canadian lore and history* to give them a sense of identity with olde canada. well-intentioned though he is, i think he misses the point of today’s immigrant nation. the people immigrating today are not looking for sanctuary, are less content to sit under the wrap of musty native traditions and are looking to change the plotline. there are multiple generations being represented in the kahani project. i am eager to see if the narrative across the years validates my hypothesis.

    *what lore should the new canadians be ‘taught’? will it include this?

    Under the Provincial Elections Act, S.B.C. 1939, c.16 s. 5, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu or Indian persons are denied the right to vote in provincial elections in B.C. 1940. The Provincial Elections Act Amendment Act S.B.C. 1947 c. 28 gives franchise to all persons except Japanese and Indian persons but removes the franchise from Doukhobors, Hutterites, and Mennonites unless they had served in the armed forces.
  17. Pretty cool that Sanjay Gupta is part of this…you don’t normally think of him as someone too involved in ‘desi’ things.

  18. I’m a first gen and this does not apply to me.

    I however wanted to comment on the thread regarding the whole ‘Indian’, ‘South Asian’, ‘Brown’ identity deal. Aren’t they all bankrupt identities anyway? ‘Indian’ - we have see enough North Indian vs South Indian BS. And every state in India has its own division of some sort. Identity in these contexts is based on religion, community, language etc. ‘South Asian’ - India and Pakistan. Nuff said. ‘Brown’ – we have the ‘fair and proud’ desis and the ‘dark and proud’ desis. What about the South American browns? Why are they not part of our group and why don’t we get invited to join them)?

    Point is, you can choose to draw this imaginary line called your identity anywhere – but just remember that this line exists only in your head and nowhere else.

    I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

  19. It’s about how I feel as a Bangladeshi American on the margins looking into this ‘Indian’ space and not feeling like I belong. At the same time, I am NOT Indian, I am desi, I am South Asian American, and when I do enter spaces labeled ‘Indian’ my story/history/struggle is dismissed

    THANK YOU FOR ARTICULATING THIS!

    Taz, this is for you (if you don’t understand it, ask your father or mother to translate).

  20. This gives me some ideas about my maternal grandmother. She’s had the most amazing life story – with only a fifth-grade education, she speaks passable English and passed the U.S. citizenship test on her first try, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

  21. In related news, I need to find out more about this Suneel Gupta, who is hotter than his brother.

    Sorry for double posting, but I completely agree, Shruti!

    And as always, the good ones are taken. :(

  22. Contrary, what Nilu/Taz says, I believe that instead of story of non-Indian-south-asians being dismissed, they will be welcomed by many ; in fact immigrants from the states that shares the border can identify more with these countries than with probably many other Indian states. For example, I got a knee-jerk-like memory reaction the moment I heard the nazrul geeti Nilu posted. I have grown up listening and singing them, even though I am not Bangladeshi. It has happened before, that when my mom found a bangladeshi family while living outside US, she was elated, and took steps to get to know them much more; not so much of an hyper reaction when she met another Indian family who spoke a different language. So, really, a lot of Indians like me would welcome your dadu-didu’s golpo.

  23. i second zee’s comment. my parents have the exact same reaction when they meet bangladeshi families who want to start up cultural events involving both the hindu indian bengali community and the bangladeshi community. it’s important to remember that a great many indian bengalis would not have been indian had partition not occurred. i descend from “east-side” sylheti bangladeshis who fled to assam during partition, so i also grew up listening to nazrul geeti and rabindra sangeet.

  24. Taz, thanks for the post…we’re big fans of Sepia Mutiny and appreciate the coverage. Kahani is inclusive of the entire South Asian community, though that point wasn’t clear in one of our press releases. As our site states, Kahani “helps you capture untold stories from first-generation South Asians in the U.S. and provide those stories with a platform to be heard.” If you see any other references to Kahani being an Indian-only project, please let us know (ideas@kahanimovement.com), so that we can clarify.

    And yes…we’re hoping Abhi partners “Desi Dad”, which was a brilliant idea, with the Kahani photos section. Still looking for the one of my father grilling tandoori chicken on the backyard patio in short shorts and aviator sunglasses.

  25. I disagree with the critique of the site being “Indian,” and not a “South Asian” one. India itself is already so diverse that I feel a lot would be lost if the project was to lump together an even extreme myriad of different ethnic, religious, cultural, linguistic and national groups.

    Where does one draw the line on where to divide? A Malayalee Christian would already have a very different experience of integration in Western society than a Buddhist from Sikkim who would in all likelihood have an experience closer to a Chinese American. I mean when someone comes from India, i think the fact that they are Indian has less of an impact on their experiences in this foreign land than their appearance, accent or religion. And that varies greatly in India, and even more in South Asia. I bet the vast majority of Americans still view Sikhs as “Middle Easterners,” and their experiences may very well be similar.

    And isn’t this one of the main reasons of the project? To document their experiences? Well, where do you find the common thread in all of South Asia that is yet different enough to not include, say Iranian Americans or Tibetans?

    Now if you are to add Bangladeshi’s, Pakistani’s, Nepalese, and Sri Lankan’s to the mix, each with their own different patterns and periods of migration, objectives of migration (escape political or religious persecution, in search of better opportunities, or any other reason), the unique identity of the “Indian” experience is further reduced, and you are now you are just a stone’s throw away from portraying the “immigrant” experience.

    Certainly, there are more than sufficient populations of Indians living in America for this project. To Kahani Movement, I think this is a wonderful, long overdue project, but I submit that there is no real need to include all South Asians for the project. I know that the Sepia Mutiny leadership and its members like to use labels such as “Desi,” and “South Asian,” and like to be inclusive of all South Asian groups, and their responses thus far are commensurate with this, its their first gut reaction. I wholeheartedly respect this; I’m all for South Asian unity, however not only do i not see the need to lump together all South Asian groups in this project, I actually think it would drastically take away from the project. Even the word “Kahani,” itself would be unknown in meaning to those that do not speak Urdu/Hindi.

  26. You know, there is a problem with the statement “…just pick up a camera and …” It’s a pet peeve but it is very misleading. One just doesn’t pick up a camera and create something of value. There are a lot of things that are involved in this process, lots of resources to be invoked, lots of passion and patience is needed. Telling kids to simply pick up a camera and do something is just very uneducated. Lets provide them with a backing and a type of support that truly enables this as well.

    Just two cents here.

    p.s. i accidently posted this in another story. gaaah!