Category: connect

Girl Friends

“Friendship is the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words.”

George Eliot

What would women do without our girlfriends?

I have different girlfriend groups. My primary group is one that started when we had young children- my “mom friends”. We first met when our children were toddlers. We got together so the children could play and then found ourselves lingering to talk more. Initially about mom stuff, then other things. All of us are artists in some form, some do it professionally, the rest of us as a hobby on the side. We connected through being mothers of Indian descent, trying to celebrate Diwali, Dussehra, and for a few memorable years even Holi together.  As our children grew we could lean on each other not just to help each other out with kid stuff (pickups, drop-offs) but also with deep personal losses and sadness that come as you get older. Through illness, losses, health scares, surgery, divorce, and emotional breakdowns. We took care of each other and each other’s children. The children are teenagers and young adults now, but we still meet. One from our group moved to Australia but she’s still on our group text. We push each other to do better or more, to open our horizons. We’ve cheered each other on to professional and personal successes. We support each other through failures. We are sisters, our bond is deep and I hope unbreakable.

My other friend group consists of my friends I trained with during my residency. I’ve known these women for almost 29 years. We don’t meet as often but we have a “book club” where we try to get together a few times a year to talk about the book and catch up on each other’s lives. These are the women who understand what I do as a woman physician, who went into medicine sharing the same idealism which has turned to pragmatism. We still love our patients but not the baggage of corporate medicine. We struggle with balancing personal and family needs with work and the need to do “more” to make the world a better place. These women inspire me and also “get” my professional struggles.

Then I have my painting friends. We meet alternate weeks at each other’s homes to paint together and share painting techniques. I never paint on my own, there is always something else more urgent that must be done. But when I get together with these ladies for two hours we just paint and talk about art, politics, families, books, and movies.

I have work friends who have my back (and I theirs’), family (lovely sisters in law), and other friends I don’t meet as often as I’d like to. I’m lucky enough to have a mother who is also a girlfriend. She lives across the ocean in India but as a working mom herself, a child psychologist and an author she is my role model too. We talk several times a week, email and text. We talk about her grandchildren of course, but so much more. I get my love of art, books, travel,  and gardening from her.

Debra Tannen the author of a You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships states- “Talk plays a larger role in many women’s friendships than it does in many men’s, and when times are tough, talk can come into its own. Telling a friend what you’re going through can make you feel less isolated.”

This talk seems to be the secret of why friendships are important to women. Socially isolated people are at greater risk of poor health -high blood pressure, heart disease, infectious diseases. When we seek out friends we are following a biological need as well. People with strong social relationships have higher survival rates and longevity. Underlying our friendships is biochemistry, an increase in hormones that help us stay happy and calm (oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin) and a decrease in hormones that are associated with stress (cortisol). There seems to be a deep biological need for these social connections.

Strong social bonds are important for survival even in animals, not just primates, but also dolphins, giraffes, deer, bison, elephants, birds, to name a few species. These bonds are most common in females of the species.

Our women friends comfort, nurture, sustain, feed and elevate us. As Julia Child said “Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people’! In other words, friendship is the most important thing―not career or housework, or one’s fatigue―and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”

by Svapna Sabnis

Feminist Mom-ent

I hadn’t heard the term “feminist parenting” until I was way past the age of raising kids, and well into raising young adults who thought they were well past the age of being raised. But I’ve been a feminist ever since I can remember, even before I knew the word or grasped the full implications of the feminist fight. I’ve never regarded myself as anything other than perfectly capable of doing the things I wanted to do—whether it was the short-lived dream of becoming a world renowned molecular biologist or a drug-designing organic chemist, or the other one of writing that killer investigative story that would win me the Pulitzer—or at maybe the Ramnath Goenka Award. And not for a moment did I attribute not being able to do the things I wanted to do to my gender. Looking back, of course, with a keener—and more critical eye—I can see the points at which an unconscious response to deeply entrenched expectations on my part and a structural orientation on the part of society, nudged me in one way or another, or made a certain choice easier—or more acceptable–than another.

So when my children were born, one lovely girl after the other, there was no question that they would be raised as human beings, first, and human beings last. This is not to say that there were no gendered paraphernalia in their lives; given the plethora of adoring aunts, uncles and grandparents, they had their share of little-girl gifts. At different points they wore pink and purple and lace and frills, they fantasized about being princesses and mermaids, they demanded Barbie dolls and glitter, which I gave in to reluctantly and always with a bit of a deconstructive lecture. But they also had swimming and soccer, karate and cycling, and were encouraged to climb trees and when possible, mountains. They watched me and my husband share tasks and responsibilities, they watched him defer to me on some things and me to defer to him on others. Yes, we also found ourselves and our ideas often hemmed in by the expectations of a traditional South Indian family structure, but despite this, there were spaces for conversations that steered around and through these constraints, acknowledging them yet offering possibilities of resistance and change.
It helped (and helps) that they are surrounded by female strength of different kinds: grandmothers with a strong sense of self and their own respective passions; aunts who laughed heartily, unafraid; cousins who had made unpopular choices and those who had adopted convention but retained a measure of choice. And it also helped (and helps) that there were many men in their lives who never used the words “you’re a girl, so…”.
It’s never easy being a parent, and it wasn’t easy for me–who had strong feelings about the ills of the world and what to do about them. It’s even harder when you are constantly trying to resist conventional wisdom while keeping the peace. I’m not a natural non-conformist, and I hate to rock the boat…I’m the kind of person who will nudge it sideways, a little at a time, believing firmly that the course will eventually change.


But ideology has not really been a conscious part of the parenting approach—although, one might argue, our political beliefs form the subtext even of our domestic lives. They surface occasionally in our interactions with family members, run through the arguments we have in spoken and unspoken words, the ways in which we treat those who work for and with us, and in the manner in which we approach the market. But I suppose the ideology would have been evident in the books we bought for the girls, the activities we enrolled them in, or the ways in which we dealt with the ups and downs of life, or in our interactions with people and the world.
So it was no surprise that daughter number one made choices that were fiercely her own, challenged only in relation to how they spoke to her mind and soul rather than their “value” in the employment market, that there was no question that she would follow her heart no matter where it took her and how long a journey it would be. And it was no surprise that daughter number two found her passion in sports, that there was no question that she too would stumble through those highs and lows in her own way, that we would neither shield her from disappointment nor set any ‘external’ standards.
What I have done is try to be (pretty much) transparent. I’ve talked with them about my own uncertainties, frustrations, hopes and dreams. I’ve shared with them my vulnerabilities and my anger. I’ve also done things I’ve enjoyed, and taken my space as and when I’ve needed it. But there is one thing I haven’t been able to do, and that is, to lay down my own guilt in the face of not meeting imagined expectations. Fortunately, though, they see the futility of that guilt and often try to talk me out of it. It’s in the middle of those conversations that I stop and think, “Wow, they have grown up, indeed!” 

Perhaps in the final analysis, feminist parenting is really about creating a space where there is both conscience and consciousness, a space where self-concept is untethered to the limitations imposed by expectations of [gender or other] roles. It’s not to say that things have been ideal. They still have to deal with the [gendered] anxieties that arise when they’re out late or in unfamiliar contexts. They still need to offer justifications about being safe. But I can see that the same anger I feel simmers in them too. It’s an anger that leads one to uncover narratives of oppression in popular culture and the other to rally against discrimination in sports.

But still, twenty-seven years later, when my daughter admonishes me fondly upon my asking if my dangly earrings look “too young for me”, saying, “Ma, what sort of a feminist are you?” it makes me smile inside.

by Usha Raman PhD

On Belonging

I could say many things about the upcoming two person exhibition and my collaboration with Lois Bielefeld. I could load this post with art theory terms, postcolonial phrases, race and political commentary and technical jargon. But it will not explain what this work has meant to me over the last two years. I will simply tell you a story.

Two years ago, I came back from one of my trips to India to experience what felt like a different country. With a new president, each day brought sensationalist headlines, new announcements and events that highlighted an increasingly polarized America. I needed to wrap my head around what was going on, observe, read, speak to mentors and friends before I returned to the studio, questioning whether my work was relevant anymore.

An idea slowly began to emerge that demanded more courage from me than I have ever given before. For the first time, I included my physical self in the production of a body of work. I reached out to Lois Bielefeld, who I did not know at that time, with the idea to explore how race is perceived visually through garment and skin color and how intimately tied the body’s relationship to place is. I donned each of my barely used saris and worked with Lois to produce photographs that show me overtly performing difference while exploring and embedding myself in the landscape of Milwaukee. We titled this work Reaching Across 5 1/2 yards / 8497 miles. It spoke to both the length of the sari fabric and the distance between my place of birth and the place I live in now. Over the next year and half we traversed Milwaukee’s pocketed and  segregated spaces and experienced each other’s personal sanctuaries and the city’s public places of power. The result is a visual quilt of photographs that reflect different facets of Milwaukee.

Nirmal walking in Milwaukee, “overtly performing difference.”

Throughout this journey, Lois and I had many conversations- on her childhood memories of Milwaukee, on religion, identity, politics and art. We were walking by the Milwaukee Riverwalk one day and came across the American history engraved on its boardwalk. This led to discussions on how each of us understood this history, mostly written by white men. The burden of America’s violent and racist history weighed heavy on us as we discussed the Muslim ban, riots in Charlottesville, Standing Rock protests, police brutality against African Americans, border walls, shootings at Sikh Temple of Wisconsin and Olathe Kansas in addition to other racist incidents against people of color. I made a rubbing of the history engraving onto 30 meters of organdy fabric which then became a prop for another body of collaborative work with Lois. We titled this work that included 12 performance based photographs, What is Recorded / What is Remembered.

The rubbing of engraved American history on an organdy fabric sari.



We expanded this work by reaching out to our friends, diverse women of different ages, races and sexual orientations involving them in a performance based three channel video work. It was magical to see how generous and willing they were to perform with us not knowing what the end product may look like.

The circle grew even larger with the production of an audio archive that not only included the women we invited to perform but also community members we admired and respected. This is an ongoing project that explores how each of us contend with history- personal, national and global and includes our hopes and fears for the future in addition to how we have come to understand what being American is.


All this may sound confusing –  with subjects that are vast and complex, but it all comes down to the personal, the self and moves outward to the community like ripples. We hope that our work is the pebble that causes those ripples. What was an impulsive act of reaching out to a stranger in a desperate need to understand and build something together, has led to a special friendship and incredible learning. I have come to understand my community better, to gain comfort through human connection, learn from wise and knowledgeable women, listen to the hope in young people’s voices. These are the intangibles that are behind the work. We hope that you may feel these intangibles, invisible as they are, filtering through the exhibition and for those of you far away, perhaps through the images and links on our websites.

It takes courage to reach out to a stranger who is different from us. To have conversations that are uncomfortable and new, but if we approach it with a spirit of inquiry and learning, we may realize that we all have the same fears and concerns. You never know what might come of that interaction.

No art can be shared without the support of space and visibility. We are incredibly grateful to The Warehouse, John Shannon and Laura Sims Peck at Guardian Fine Arts to generously host this exhibition at their 4000 square foot pristine gallery space. A space large and generous enough  to hold this work and share it with Milwaukee.

On Belonging
opens March 8th and will be up till May 31st,
The Warehouse, 1635 W. Saint Paul Ave., Floor 1, Milwaukee, WI 53233

Opening reception is on March 8th, 5-8 pm
The gallery is open by appointment Monday – Friday. Please call 414-252-0677 or email info@thewarehousemke.org

Nirmal Raja
Lois Bielefeld


Aircraft or the body?

When you take up a big task or a project which is going to take up your mental and physical time, you should be discreet about how you use your energy. Viveka means to be aware and take steps to wisely use the resources. But what are the resources and where are they located? They are the mind, body, the physical space around you, the breath and sleep. These are all connected. How are these connected?


If you are sleep deprived, how will be the state of the situation?
How is your mind when the food you eat is either less or more?
How is breath connected with energy? One question leads to another and you see there is a pattern to this connection.


Let’s look at each of the resources individually and as we do that let’s use the analogy of an aircraft to represent the physical body. There are all kinds of aircraft and different levels of care that is required for each of them. The level of care and caution that is given to a two seater, a passenger aircraft and a fighter plane is different based of the use they have. Whatever be the type and need of the machine, we give it the fuel that it needs in the right quantity and right quality.

You don’t substitute diesel for petrol or you don’t put extra fuel in a two seater because you fancy it moving faster- you cannot do that. Similarly, we give our body the right quantity and quality of food. Not too much not too less.

Taste has types, tamasic, rajasic or sattvic.

Rajasic taste is when you eat for taste alone and hence don’t know when to stop. Sattvic taste satiates the mind and body. The food nourishes the body and makes it available for optimum use. Sattvic food keeps the body free from disease and dullness, the less the digestive system has to process the better it is for the physical body which will be available for a variety of endeavors. Food then is one of the resource.

Sleeping recharges our cells and calms the nervous system. With too much sleep and with too little sleep we are not giving our best. An over used aircraft and an aircraft rotting in the hanger, both are not of any use.

There is no fixed standard measure of time that one must sleep. Each body is different and has different sleep requirements. We need to strike our own balance.

Breath, is addressed last with a definite purpose. It is the link between the body and mind; memory and intellect. It’s like a kite and a thread, the kite is controlled by the string and we use our breath to navigate our mind. Keeping the connection with the body to the mind, via the breath is what keeps a balance. Moving away from the roots or disconnecting due to the changes in the breath, causes immense pain in body and mind and reduces our capacity to give our best.

The practice of yogasanas and meditation brings in the balance. Using the aircraft well and giving them a rest in the hangar make for a long lasting and productive machine. Living wisely leads to high productivity, you don’t fall ill often. You don’t feel sluggish when you are expected to be giving your best.

With a little effort in maintaining the breath, to bring the mind to the NOW, to come back to the source is meditation

by Meena Waghray

how we feed our families


“…food sits at the intersection of biological or material and symbolic aspects of human life. Food is essential for life because we need its energy and nutrients as biological creatures. But the nature of our humanity lies in our social practices, and thus our ability to sustain ourselves involves more than nutrients. What we eat is a “sign of membership, social status and spiritual worth. Eating the same food as others is a mark of belonging… The practice of feeding a family involves, meeting, what Stone calls “communal needs” which include “community, solidarity, a sense of belonging; dignity, respect, self-esteem, and honor; friendship and love” .

(Stone, 1988)

Food is a social act, in essence, it is about sharing and belonging. The very nature of cooking then starts with pots and plates, meant not just for a singular consumer. Eating alone however, is not an anathema but the process of cooking and eating has come to mean a bit more than sustenance and hence the challenges of sustenance eating. The contradiction is within the logic of food- you have to eat together as humans but you have to eat within your limits.

At this time of thanksgiving in the United States and the onslaught of food-voices and choices from every possible avenue- it is a nice reminder to put things in perspective and to register this holiday for what it is.

the inevitable dawning of common sense

The physical body over the mental- which comes first? Is it the chicken or the egg? Or is it easier than that? I practiced the mental well being for far too long and got hit by the lack of the physical care that was needed. Hence the effort to get to the core of it and understand how both are connected.

The inevitable dawning of common sense

For a number of years for me, the refining of the thought process to understand a social problem (as a sociologist) was to me a far critical issue to work towards. It has become my default setting for the longest time I could remember. The idea of “seeking help” was not an option to fix this lack of understanding- if it came about. I always knew that the most nonsensical of the problems has a solution, if only one reads more about it or finds ways to newer understandings and the truth as I seek it would unravel in front of me.

The mind-body connection, or the physical-body problem in the form of high BMI, is a new one that life has dealt in a fashion that now cannot be ignored. This is a warning sign of what’s more to come soon. On the other hand, the lack of a right mind-set that makes you look like a dim-wit in a certain circle, like your class mates in the Sociology class, was a warning sign. I clarified my ideas and concepts by reading more and more, to arrive at an understanding that not only made me “wise” but also got the grades I was looking for.

The physical body however, took a while to give me the warning sign and working to fix that is what this dashboard or a thesis is about. Contact our editor to contribute to the dashboard as a writer.

medical records

I came across this note from reading Atul Gawande’s articles since the early 2000’s in the New Yorker Magazine. It took a while to fully understand the details of what he was writing until I fully understood the complicated way in which the healthcare system worked. It worked (or rather it did not work) because keeping ones health history intact and in order (book, bag, thaila, file) is a challenge and this catches up with you when some important elements of diagnosis are needed for treatment.

I was always in desperate-awe of the fact that doctors primarily went with physical diagnosis and less on what the patient was describing, almost brushing away the details as nonsense. This left me with a feeling of not being heard or a hypochondriac who never could stop talking about her health. Then I chanced upon one of Gawande’s articles where he describes how he treated a person’s actual problem by going back to his notes as described by the patients and noted and to things that were not the standard procedure. The doctor found that the small details that are built up in the patient’s medical history are a key to understanding their medical problems better. It is important to listen to the patient and pay attention to the details and it is helpful specially so in some critical diagnosis.

In this day when carrying one’s health history and carting it between doctors is such a nuisance, it makes sense to use a good electronic data maintenance system that works well.