Posts By Anindita

Context of Cultures: High and Low

On Edward Hall’s Context of Cultures: High and Low which basically classifies societies on the basis of interaction, communication, relationships. High-context cultures tend to rely more on context: references, old relationships, community. A lot is unsaid. What is said is flowery, indirect.  Low-context cultures have open, direct communications, based on specific rules that are accessible to everyone. Commonly, China, India, Brazil, Japan have been talked of as high-context and the US and Germany are examples of low-context societies.

This website comes with a neat little test to help you figure out whether you function better in high-context situations or low-context ones. I’m not sure how accurate the test is but it is fun.

Ruchir Sharma talks about India and Brazil as high-context cultures in his book Breakout Nations. 

“High-context societies believe deeply in tradition, history and favoring the in-group, whether it is one’s family or business circle, and thus they are vulnerable to corruption. If this description sounds questionable to businessmen or tourists who know Brazil and India as open, familiar and straightforward, that is because they’ve experienced only the low-context facade adopted by the outward-facing elites who need to deal in a clear way with foreigners. Everyone is welcome at Brazil’s Carnival or an Indian wedding, and they may even be made to feel like an insider, but the reality is that it takes decades to become a real part of these cultures.”

I think of times I’ve tried to ‘explicate’ India to foreigners. At one time, I worked as a ‘cultural fluent’ for a consumer research firm called Iconoculture. My job consisted of decoding Indians, categorized into tidy market segments of course, our particular triggers and responses. To them, India was a vast and mysterious place with its intricate coded meanings and these needed translation.

In classes at UCLA, I found myself saying, ‘No, I can’t put that in the screenplay; that would never happen in India’–and a moment later–felt the discomfort of generalizing, of ‘speaking for’. The question of representation.  But ‘outward-facing elites’ are often those who get heard, those who get to speak. At night, I’d stay up late, replaying conversations in my head. What had I left out? What had I mis-conveyed? Sins of omission.

Once, I hosted ‘Indian night’ at our place, aware of the ridiculous inadequacy of any such endeavor. I cooked Punjabi-ish food. There had been vague discussions about watching a Hindi movie. I couldn’t choose one. What would be appropriate, encompassing, enough? Personal faves didn’t make it. Lootera was too period, Queen too atypical, Kahaani too much of a genre movie. Finally, I decided to show a montage of trailers. Bits and pieces of upcoming Hindi films, collated to add up to something like a ‘fair’ picture. Of course, it wasn’t. I didn’t include a single Khan movie (the upcoming ones just didn’t appeal to me). It was at best a representation–in fragments–of my taste in Hindi films.

From this article: For Indians, the purpose of communication is to maintain harmony and forge relationships but we’re moving towards an LC culture, largely because of technology, trade, travel and television. Indians are more verbose and dialogue-oriented than other high-context societies like the Japanese, Chinese or Koreans, which also makes this move easier.

And another view on this whole thing and the danger of stereotyping.


The month has passed in a haze of allergens, family and paperwork. All the plans I made about personal growth/writing seem to be heading into the sea. I’ve declared it our ‘Indian Holiday’ and am curling up for movies and fatness. It’s so hot that staying upright in a chair seems effortful. Plus I’m strung out and struggling to breathe after Bangalore allergies.

Gills and dry land.

The week has been a blur. Water shortage. Vague plans for Bangkok abandoned. Heat. I want to shower more often but can’t because water comes only at certain hours. I want to write but don’t because I’ve lost some faith and am lazy in the heat, like a stupefied dog. I wait. I sleep a lot.





by jet lag and memory — the calibration of it. I’ve lived in Bombay twice, once for 21 years as a child, teen, young person; and once when I was pregnant and for the first two years of Amaya’s life. I left unhappily, both times, went to emotional lack and ill health. Bombay thus became that larger-than-life, ghostly presence, ‘the last place I was happy’. So now when I visit, my memories are bound up with transience / something in my life that did not last. I keep waiting to leave, to be thrust out in the allergen-ridden skies of Bangalore. This infuses a sort of panic in the way I approach the city. I rush around trying to gather it in my arms. It’s a project slightly doomed.

But this is also the first time Bombay no longer occupies that space. I have now been (am) happy elsewhere. This is possibly normalizing my relations with the city. I’m not sure yet how I feel about this. We like our gods and ghosts infallible, frozen.


I am going to Bangalore today. I don’t feel like I have a choice: our families and some of our friends live there. I’m expecting sinusitis and fog head to hit by day 2, take over by day 4. I expect that waking up in the morning will become the main endeavor.

We came up with a plan. That A&A would travel without me, go on ahead, and I would follow a few days later, to minimize damage. I couldn’t go through with it. The umbilical is still very strong.

— in every direction. I struggle to individuate. I regress to an immature self, awkward, out of place.  I can’t seem to escape psychological strangle holds. This leads to imagery of pythons when I dream of Bangalore. The city as devourer. Its pollen, noise and emotional fog. I’m overstating things in my head, I tell myself. I’m imagining fangs sharper than they are. It will be fine. Some of the worst years of my life. That can happen anywhere. I feel substance-less, like a wisp of air. Anybody can blow me away.

“In deep sleep man continues to be influenced by his environment but loses his world; he is a body occupying space. Awake and upright he regains his world, and space is articulated in accordance with his corporeal schema. What does it mean to be in command of space, to feel at home in it? It means that the objective reference points in space, such as landmarks and the cardinal positions, conform with the intention and the coordinates of the human body.” Tuan, Space and Place.

I feel like I’m performing myself, says Eddy Redmayne’s character in The Danish Girl.

In Bangalore,  I sit in cafes a lot, smiling.


Morning has broken outside the windows. Life seems benign. Or capable of being so. Onwards then.


March 5 is difficult

because it was my dad’s birthday, birth anniversary — the latter a term I don’t understand — anyway, it used to be, many aeons ago before he died at 56 of lung cancer — his birthday. He never celebrated it. He disliked us fussing about it and barely tolerated a birthday wish. As he grew older, he mellowed and allowed a meal out, a gift or two. I don’t know what made my father so resentful of the day he was born. I don’t know why he was so loathe to celebrate it.


On March 5, we bombed our own country.  The airplanes flew over Aizawl and well, bombed it.

“No one had imagined that the Union government would bomb its own territory. “It took us by surprise that the government had the courage to deploy jet fighters to bomb Aizawl that it dared not fly inside China or Pakistan,” said Remruata, a village council member. “Well, charity begins at home.”

The bombing caused colossal destruction with some reports saying Aizawl town had caught fire. Fortunately, only 13 civilians were killed.” (


The helplessness I often hear when the subject of Indian politics comes up. “But who?” There is anguish in this sense of no alternatives, these Faustian bargains. Well, I don’t know — maybe not the worst person? Here’s the thing: the world is imperfect. Pick the least bad person. Not so hard.

Turns out it was hard for India during the last elections.

Now two years into a regime, many realise it’s a mistake, that there is real danger. Even when they don’t admit it to themselves, especially when they don’t admit it to themselves. They shrug or diminish, say “what do they know?”, or recently re JNU, the more baffling–“they should concentrate on their studies”–because ‘studies’ is a hallowed, vaunted and vacant thing for some, rote and parrot, full marks.

“Did you come first in class,” my father unfailingly asked after every examination. “No,” I unfailingly replied.

These people should go back to their studies, an article says, grumpy. These people should go back to their books so they don’t disturb our universe.  (‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’ Eliot, but you know that.)

The students at JNU seem to be doing that. And it’s making people uncomfortable. I’ll admit : it makes me uncomfortable when I see young boys and girls engaged in something so grueling — and then I let the discomfort record itself and sink, and something else takes over. I don’t yet know what it is — hope, tentative. I’m not brave enough to say I want my daughter to be one of them. That would be BS and my dear blog reader, I don’t BS here. I want my daughter to have the safest, most peaceful, the happiest life that one can(not) even imagine.   However, that involves a free, just, non-violent society. And this is what these people seem to be fighting for. I’m not into hero-worship. I don’t do slogans. But even I can see that.


I can’t argue politics. Basically, I get bad-tempered. I brood into my iPad, would shout on the phone if the argument came up, have shouted. I’m not proud of it.  So in fatigue, if not wisdom, I’m trying gentler methods. Those haven’t worked so far. I’ve not changed a single person’s political stance. I’m friends (almost) exclusively with people who believe in the same things I do.


Towards the end, when my father was in the last stages of cancer, he celebrated things a lot. I don’t remember if he ate cake — he never liked chocolate and in fact, eating. But he went to Nepal. He always loved traveling and it was the last trip he took. It wasn’t for his birthday but I seem to remember us celebrating his birthday a little bit as well — my new husband, 24 and still very naive,  trying to figure out this strange new family, and us, my mother, my brother and I, wounded by the knowledge of everything changing / everything dying, eating cake, smiling.

‘Stupps,’ my daughter says, ‘I doing my own stupps,’.  I suppose we were all doing our own stuff by then.

From the weekend

We’re in the last stretch of wrapping up now, which is strange because we’re not actually wrapping up. Because we are applying for two different visas, the chances of something working out are not insignificant. We’re leaving everything as is, mostly. We stopped buying plants some time back but I transplanted the Poinsettia we got for Christmas. If it doesn’t work out, A will come back and sell+ship everything. Whoever comes next will enjoy the garden. (I hope.) For now, the house pretends we’re going on holiday.

We ate ramen for lunch in a small Noho restaurant, drove to Hollywood Boulevard but were exhausted at the thought of negotiating Pre-Oscar roadblocks, bickered but rescued our moods and went to The Last Bookstore. I bought a book of Yusef Kommunyakaa poems as a gift because we’re not buying books for ourselves at the moment. We have too many to ship as it is. For myself, I went to the little yarn store upstairs and bought yarn because that I can carry more easily. Madelinetosh DK, four hanks. A lady, perhaps in her sixties, was helping her daughter start a project. She advised me about yarn, showed me pictures of her projects. Her husband came in later and told me it was their anniversary. “and this is what she wanted to do…” with a smile. The family left, cozy. He seemed proud, even after all these years, or maybe pretending real good. I like to believe he wasn’t, that he was genuinely pleased to be with this slightly loud, very talkative woman who helps strangers in yarn shops choose their yarn, and shows them pictures of her shawls and caps. The kind of person that even hermit-like i start speaking to, because on a clear Saturday afternoon, a conversation with a stranger can be, easy. But the one i liked more is the quieter one–

The  woman who manages the shop, silver-hair in a bun, red kaftan, knitting something lovely and delicate in cream lace. She asked me why i was going to India: ‘Work or vacation?’ I told her. She said ‘that’s hard!’ and we moved on to talking about knitting versus crochet. She had to wind my hanks of yarn into balls using this contraption called a Swift. I left, giving her more time to do it and went back later. ‘Safe travels, anu,’ she said as i was leaving the shop, remembering both my name and my story. For a second, i had to catch my breath, get busy photographing something to sidestep tears at this random kindness.

Then we drove around some more, went up Mulholland drive, and finally ended up at a market cafe in Atwater Village. It was lovely—there was a live band—Jo loved it, was rapt, wanted to dance, didn’t want to leave. Casual conversations, books, hillside drives, music.

She wound the yarn for me using this:

The Last Bookstore, LA by Anindita Sengupta


At the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), David Altmejd‘s ‘The Egg’: it’s a prone human body, decomposing, which squirrels have appropriated as their home.

The Egg (2006) by David Altmejd. Credit:

The Egg (2006) by David Altmejd. Credit:

“I like the idea that actual meaning comes from matter. I like the idea that matter is intelligent. Some artists think that meaning comes before the object and that the object is a tool to communicate that meaning, but I don’t like that. I believe in the power that art has to generate meaning. I believe in the capacity of art to build its own intelligence. It’s not just an illustration, that’s very reductive.” (

Also, a roomful of Rothkos.


Yesterday, we went up Mulholland Drive again. Uncertainty is a wide lens. I keep wanting to see the tableau.  The city was shrouded in fog, the lights of Downtown hanging in the air, disembodied, ghostly.



Some things, I dislike finishing. Dislike is the wrong word. I’m wary of. Finishing is so final—the end of tinkering means the end of power.

I finally finished a crochet toddler blanket, which is to say I wove in the ends. It was really done for weeks but I couldn’t bring myself to ‘finish’. I typically betray/suspend pieces right before they’re complete, so I have a pile-up of crochet pieces in the cupboard with one little thing incomplete. That way, they’re never over. That way, I can still unravel, change, tinker.

I spend a lot of time unraveling things I make and making them again. Crochet is wonderful like that—much like writing, it allows you to endlessly undo, begin again, re-fashion. (I’m not getting into the Freudian definition of undoing, which is different = “a ritualistic effort to undo damage and reduce guilt over some action in the past.” Not sure that’s relevant to crochet but who knows. it’s true I started ‘yarning’ as A calls it, when our dog died. it’s true i felt guilty about his death because i wasn’t with him but it seems like a long shot and I’ll leave it to the therapy couch.)

As long as something is continuous, time feels like a string. When I end something, the air feels hollow.

I do this with books too, the ones I read and the ones I write. Which is probably why I rarely submit individual poems. To submit is to admit I’m done, at least for the moment.


I finished the second proofs of Monsters and Fables, my next book of poems, and sent them to the publisher. The book may be out in a couple of months. That’s the aim anyway. I’m jittery, brittle but heading to a place of indifference which helps me deal. In a  few months, I’ll look at this book and feel entirely disconnected from it. I traveled to Los Angeles with no copies of City of Water. Not a single one. My classmates were baffled, probably thought I was lying about having a book out–“you didn’t carry a single copy?” I couldn’t explain it.


So here’s an interesting art project to do with crochet and undoing: Amy Stacey Curtis in Maine made Undoing (2012) by crocheting for an hour everyday, for a whole year. The resulting blanket was 72′ x 9′  and during the installation, viewers were invited to unwind the single string of yarn and place it in a 9′ clear box. By the end of the show, there was no blanket, only yarn. A vast empty space, a glass box, a heap of yarn. From this book: “Every stitch undone was a reversal of Curtis’ time and an eradication of her concerted effort.”


And the other morning in the garden, ladybugs — three or four different pairs — mating on the Pennisetum.


A poem in One

Issue 8 of One is out and a poem of mine ‘Monsters’ is in it. You can read it here: One –

It’s been a quiet, frustrating week in other ways. I’ve been distracted and trying to read and trying to write, and instead obsessing about limbo status, un-settlements, entertaining a four-year-old who’s got used to pre-school, and curiously, how much I dislike holi pictures. So this was welcome.

I’ve also finally edited the Death Valley pictures and put them up here.






Thoughts on letting go

1. From Ross Gay’s poem ‘to the mistake’, which is in his collection catalog of unabashed gratitude.

“I am lecturing on the miracle
of the mistake in
a poem
that hiccup or weird
gift that spirals
or jettisons
what’s dull and land-locked
into as yet untraversed i.e. cosmic”

This made me think of wabi sabi. “Wabi sabi embodies the Zen nihilist cosmic view and seeks beauty in the imperfections found as all things, in a constant state of flux, evolve from nothing and devolve back to nothing.” (Andrew Juniper in his book Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence.) I crafted a neat little poem for my second book while thinking of wabi sabi. It was too neat, it talks about letting things go, and making it rough and all that, but it’s precisely laid out with every little word in place. I put it at the beginning of the book because I hope the ones that follow it will do something else, something more.

2. Living between places is antithetical to hoarding.  I’m a collector of spices, yarn, books, vintage jars and bottles.  I have spices I will never use. I will not finish my stash of yarn before I leave. An immigrant life described not as sunlight or dreams, but as ‘all that yarn I bought and won’t get to use.’ A psychiatrist once told me the mind creates decoys. Faced with something it doesn’t want to face, it creates little fires to put out elsewhere. As the plane leaves LA, my mind will be on the Wool of the Andes worsted. Color: hollyberry.

3. If I was struggling into a notebook, what would I be struggling with? The word seems to be at the surface today. The struggle to swallow down spice. Blood burst in the throat. The struggle to sit.

There are bird sounds. I saw a white butterfly sit on a parsley plant. The parsley is struggling to hold its place because a Broccoli plant, unwise-layed, is also threatening to sit on top of it. As an experiment, I’ve stopped tending the garden. How will things grow in my absence. Just fine, thank you, it says to me. Everything in the garden is going to seed. It’s beautiful.

4. We lost our car in the desert. It broke. We never repaired it–the cost of repairs being more than the cost of the car–we left it there in a garage owned by Rusty whom I never met. We got $100 for it and drove back in a rented orange car. It’s the beginning of this next phase, we said, of learning to let go.

It was just a car. Curiously, I kept thinking of our dog as we drove back. Cars are not pets. Cars are not pets. Yet, that silky black nose. That soft underbelly where the beige fur went all white. 

People react differently to a child dying. Some never leave the house where it happened–they believe the child lives there. Others leave the house overnight, bags boiling with grief. After our dog died in LA, I wanted to leave the city. When I had survived the loss, I wanted to stay. Not because he had died here but because there was something in the place that had allowed me to live anyway. By live, I mean enjoy things.

(I’m not saying a dog is like a child.)

5. I’ve been reading about surrogacy.


It has been raining

and the garden is all wet. I woke to the sound of the lawnmower–or what I thought was the lawnmower–and struggled up, horrified. Louis who wields the machine is not mindful of spinach seedlings or fledgeling succulents. Louis is too busy to be so mindful of every step he takes. So I like to take out the weeds by hand and cut the grass with shears, and let the garden grow wild when I don’t have time. But sometimes Louis comes when I’m not looking. He’s very diligent and cheerful and well-meaning.

Rain is such a rarity here. I work so well when it’s raining that I’m almost sorry when the sun comes out. Sometimes, I sit in a dimly-lit room, blinds only half open and play rain sounds on my computer. A lot of people do this which is why Youtube is full of ‘ambient rain sound’ videos and there is an app that allows you to listen to rain sounds while working.

It wasn’t Louis with his lawnmower so everything is fine.



Fuschia Plant

Fuchsia Plant




In the desert, we don’t know our names

It’s been eventful. We went to Death Valley and I was suitably overwhelmed by the salt, wildflowers, snow, sand and ‘lowness’ of the place. Death Valley is below sea-level and the sense of constantly traveling on land that once wasn’t land hung over me as we traveled across the miles of it. Lots has been said about the magnificence of the place — it’s all true. It’s surreal. It’s majestic. It made me sad.

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Yes, I reminded myself of the diversity of life, and the yellow wildflowers were coming up in many places. Apparently, there will be an explosion of them this year.

Then we got stuck in the desert. We were driving to the ghost town of Ballarat and on a washed-out stretch of gravelly dirt road, our car made horrible noises and died. It was just past noon, the sun in the sky. Things I thought of: bread, cheese, bananas (food in the car); water (six small bottles); knitting, books (entertainment for me); crayons (entertainment for my daughter). We settled in to hail passing cars. There was one every half hour or so.

We stopped three or four, asked them to contact a ranger. They assured us they would. We took it on faith. Nobody looked keen to give us a lift. We didn’t ask. We decided if help hadn’t come by 4 pm, we would. We took turns guesstimating how long help would arrive in. I aimed at knitting 12 inches before help arrived, then 18 inches.  Our almost-four-year-old tried to sleep in the backseat. I had washed her face and neck with water and taken off her jeans. She was ok.

Help arrived at around 4 pm, about an hour before sunset. The cop (turned out this was actually outside park limits and not in the ranger’s area) said there had been three or four calls about us. He bumped the car to the side of the road, called a tow truck, gave us a lift to the nearest desert motel. Cell phone signal–aha! We drank beer and ate a lot of fries. We let our daughter make a meal of fries and ice cream.

It was after dark when the tow truck arrived and we drove back to the same spot to pick up the car. The desert was silent, we passed no cars for miles. I don’t remember passing any but maybe I missed the one or two that I did. Or maybe there really were no cars. Sam, the driver of the tow truck, turned up the music and jigged about. He sounded annoyed when my daughter was chatty. I shushed her. We sat in silence, except for the music, for two hours, bumping along, the towed car hulking behind us. When we reached Ridgecrest, a town with lights and shops and grocery stores, I laughed nervously. Even Sam seemed to thaw. “We even have a Hilton,” he said.

Here is a far scarier story about Death Valley.

And from this article:

“It’s important for people to know that only a tiny portion of Death Valley has cell phone reception,” search and rescue coordinator Micah Alley wrote in an e-mail. “GPS units are not only fallible but send people across the desert where no road exists.”

Over the past 15 years, at least a dozen people have died in Death Valley from heat-related illnesses, and many others have come close. Another hiker vanished last June in Joshua Tree National Park. His body has not yet been found.

These are not just stories of unimaginable suffering. They are reminders that even with a growing suite of digital devices at our side, technology cannot guarantee survival in the wild. Worse, it is giving many a false sense of security and luring some into danger and death.

Transplants, Essays

A lovely short essay by David L. Ulin on the California Incline here:

Transplants have to stay somewhere for a while to make it theirs. For me, the Incline has become a shabby-chic monument to this idea. Now it is closed for reconstruction, and I worry about what will be left when work is done. Will it still resemble the landmark I invested with weight, the road I drove with my children? Will I recognize it, recognize my memories, or will all that be erased? Southern California, its critics like to insist, is a landscape of forgetting, but I no longer believe this to be the case. Rather, like the Incline, it is a landscape of association, in which the connections we make, our attachments, are what render us native.

And a rather hefty list of the 100 best Articles and Essays of 2014 and 2015.