Every other Indian youth dreams of going abroad. There’s something (other than the opportunities) in those foreign soils that few of them wish to come back. If at all they do, they bring the foreign accent and ‘swag’ along too.
However, nothing goes on without exception, no matter how fewer they may be. Today, we’re talking about one such girl, Ankita Mishra who’s of Indian origin stood firm to defend Indian culture and beliefs.
It all started when she found the pictures of Indian deities in the washroom of a pub. She was as disgusted as you’re now but chose not to digest the humiliation. She wrote an open letter that you can read here.
“To Whom it May Concern, (that should be everyone!) Oct. 3, 2018
As a queer woman of color with a hyphenated identity in 2018 America, I am used to silencing my voice in the service of keeping peace in public. However, after posting about my experience at House of Yes this weekend on Facebook and Instagram I feel pushed to approach you directly. I trust that House of Yes is a venue where I might actually be heard, and where change for the better can occur.
I came to the Endless Summer last Saturday, Sept 29. Being a resident of Brooklyn for over a decade, I frequent House of Yes whenever I can after my bartending shifts up the street. I have had too many beautiful moments here to recount: dancing at the Pride after-party with my partner, for instance, taking her to a show as one of our first dates as a couple, coming here with friends to relax and feel free and dance. I used to take Silks classes with Anya Sapozhnikova back in the Maujer Street days and have always been so invested with love and admiration at the growth of House of Yes. I have always been annoyingly proud and vocal about how much affection I have for this club, your mission statement, and your intentions for revolutionary inclusive programming.
I was not proud on Saturday night. I was there with a group that had ordered a bottle service table to the side of the bar and because of the high price they were paying, I had the privilege of accessing the private bathroom behind the DJ booth by the stage. You know the one. At first, when I reached for toilet paper from the dispenser, it did not register that I was looking at Mahadev. Slowly I raised my eyes to take in the room and noticed all of them– Ganesha, Saraswati, Brahma, Shiva, Radha and Krishna, Lakshmi, and inexplicably right above the toilet, Kali. I was inside a temple but it was all wrong– I was wearing shoes, I was peeing, and my ass was out.
It is unfortunate that the ripples of colonialism have such long-reaching waves. I am Indian-American. I have been in this position before, countless times. I used to be a Teaching Artist at the Rubin Museum of Art, where I was constantly confronted with microaggressions and a lack of power and ownership over my own culture. Fighting misconceptions and the misuse of my culture is a daily- no, minute by minute battle. But to be faced with such blatant cultural appropriation when I was relaxed, a little drunk, and surrounded by people I felt championed by was too jarring to ignore.
Let’s say, the person reading this is confused. I have spent so much time in my head breaking down how to explain why this is so wrong. Here are some bullet points:
1. Cleanliness and purity are obsessive rules in an Indian household. Around Indian deities it is a very basic form of respect, one that you learn as a child. You cannot present a flower to a god after having smelled it– you cannot wear shoes in a temple. Peeing, shitting, throwing up and all other activities that happen in nightclub bathrooms would also go under the category of uncleanliness.
2. Hinduism does not believe in eternal damnation. It has not also, conquered, traumatized and converted whole civilizations and countries as part of its mission. It does not have the same history as, for example, Christianity. There has never been a “Reformation” period in Hinduism. I cannot speak for every South Asian/ South Asian descendant on the planet, but I have not seen the same level of angst and irreverence towards its icons. There is no “Piss Christ” art piece equivalent, no cultural Satanic movement that battles each of its innumerable goddesses and gods. Therefore the same rules that apply to Christianity simply are not applicable to Hinduism. You cannot impose your own punk and subversive cultural standards on another religion. It is just another form of misinterpretation and desire to control something that is not yours.
3. Hindu, Buddhist and South Asian culture continues to constantly be exploited through Western capitalism in the name of spiritual awakening and sexual exploration. Our culture is not a ticket to your self-discovery. India was under colonial rule for 200 years and I, frankly, am tired of how uneducated America seems to be about that. Do you think you would even be in that yoga class if it hadn’t been perfectly packaged for you to consume?
4. Maybe someone thought it would inspire “instant enlightenment” one night on the dancefloor. Wrong. Tantric Buddhism is different from Hinduism and at any rate, ya got those deities wrong.
5. I only saw this because it was a private bathroom reserved for those customers paying over $600 for a bottle of Grey Goose. I imagine that clientele is used to dining at Buddakan on a regular basis and does not even fully take in the fact that an entire ancient culture and religion is being reduced to a playscape for their vices and routine board meetings.
6. I have spent 3 days (now 4) thinking of every angle that could have led someone to make this tone deaf mistake. The point is, no one took even a fraction of that time thinking of how it would make someone like me feel. As I sat on the toilet, I thought “Is it possible that my culture is again being dehumanized and treated like an accessory of white culture, here on Jefferson Street?”
I am going to go home to my parent’s house in November to celebrate Diwali, a holiday commemorating each deity featured in your bathroom. This is an active religion, practiced today. My true desire is to see the bathroom taken down. My parents would not have had the courage to stand up for what is right, but I as their daughter, do. Your mission statement is one that touts inclusivity, positivity, and safety. Please don’t make me lose faith in the ability we all have to right some wrongs and truly hear each other out.
If you made it to the end of this letter then I thank you for being open and receptive.
Can you figure out how much sense she makes? Her questions were so hard hitting that the designer of the toilet took the pain of coming up with an apology in the answer to her letter. And here’s what the designer has to say.
My name is Kae Burke, I’m Anya’s partner as a co-founder/creative director at House of Yes and I am the one that created, conceived and made the deity bathroom. I am fully responsible for making the tone-deaf and completely ignorant decor choice.
I am sorry for not taking the time to fully understand and research the deep history of the culture I was inspired by before using it to decorate. I feel awful that you had to experience this type of cultural disrespect at House of Yes of all places.
I hear you loud and clear and the tone-deaf appropriative/offensive bathroom will be dismantled and redesigned ASAP. To be transparent, the soonest I can take it on is right after Halloween. If you insist, we can put paint over it until then.
I read every word of your email (twice) and I wanted to thank you for taking the time, being bold yet informative in your writing and also trusting us in that you would be heard.
If you’d like to discuss over the phone I’m reachable at —————–
Thank you again,
Not all those who booze in pubs late in the night are poor at culture. Some shoulders carry both simultaneously.
“I have seen both of my parents accept their subservience to white American culture my whole life, never asking to take up space or be respected for it. So now as their hybrid daughter, I do it for them, and I hope to god(s) there are others like me who will.”, with b this Ankita signs off from the interview to the Brown Girl magazine.
Well, nobody would like to see his/her deity holding toilet paper in hands. It’s okay to be modern and open-minded as long as you don’t murder someone’s faith or religious sentiments for its namesake.
Kudos to Ankita for her guts!