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Journey to the Top: Indian Origin Alka Sharma shares her inspiring story of tightening Indian roots in US

From being an actor, dancer, poet, radio jockey, freelance writer to a painter, Alka possesses multitude of talents

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Mandi Theatre group. Image source: Alka sharma
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Superlative in her own way, she is a renowned figure in the field of Arts and culture. With the Community Service award, Best EmCee Award and Best Radio Media Award in her bag, she has been tightening the Indian roots in the USA through dance and theatre. She is also one of the notable members of the Indian community living in Chicago, USA. From being an actor, dancer, poet, radio jockey, freelance writer to a painter, this woman possesses a multitude of talents.

She is Alka Sharma and her journey to the pedestal where she stands on today is astounding and inspiring in the true sense of the term. In an exclusive interview with the reporter Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram, she opens her heart out about her radio channel, Mandi theatre group and shares some word of advice for youngsters living abroad.

Alka sharma

Karishma: You are indeed a master of all trades! Founder of Mandi Theatre Group, channel head of Radio Spice Box, a dance teacher and a doting wife. No journey to prominence is easy but today our readers would love to know about yours. Let’s start with your time in India, your home away from home.

Alka: Thank you. I’d like you to note that unlike many girls born in Indian cities who are surrounded by prejudices, I rather had a simple upbringing. I did my schooling from a Hindi medium school in Jamshedpur, Bihar. My interest in the theatre of arts wasn’t innate, as a matter of fact; I went on to finishing my Post Graduation in Computer Applications from Delhi. The magic began in this beautiful city, where I later joined Shree Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra to learn classical dancing. During this time, I was also called in by the famous Aakashwani radio channel to do a segment for their shows called ‘Samiksha’ and ‘Yuvavani’. However, destiny had other plans and soon I was married and I moved to America.

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Karishma: Journey to the top. A lot of girls dream but fail to achieve that height. How did you find a way out of these tough situations?

Alka: After I moved to Chicago, things were depressing for a while as I was not able to zero in on any particular direction, several years went by as well. But, one fine day, I read about a budding radio channel in Chicago called ‘Chann Pardesi’ looking out for new talents to join them. I immediately called them and the rest, as one says, is history.

Karishma: Radio Spice box started as Chann Pardesi in Punjabi and Gurbani back in 2012. Today, the same channel has more than 50,000 listeners per week. Making a radio channel reach this applaudable height of success is a feat. Could you shed some light on your role in Radio Spice Box?

Radio Spice Box

Alka: As I was saying, one positive move can shape up a lot of things in your life. I made a call 5 years back to Sarwan Tiwana and Darshan Basraon, founder/director and MD of Chann Pardesi respectively. They looked at my background with Aakashwani radio and trusted me with my idea to start a Hindi radio channel. Today, after 3-4 years from its name change to Radio spice box from ‘Chann Pardesi’, we are the only radio channel in America broadcasting not only in Hindi but other regional languages such as Gujarati, Bangla, Bhojpuri and Marathi. We have around 14 volunteers contributing to our shows from all parts of the world to help create a phenomenal 24*7 broadcast show for our listeners.

Karishma: Would you like to share some words of wisdom for Indian kids living in the States?

Alka: There are just a few things I’ll like them to remember. Living away from our heritage doesn’t necessarily mean that we forget them. Hindi is our national language and shying away from speaking our own language degrades the value of our country. Visit Japan or China and look at how they respect their ancestral language. I wonder why we don’t hear anyone counting in Hindi, why is it always one, two, three and not ‘ek’, ‘do’, ‘teen’. In my opinion, music is the best way to get this point across. Let me add, music and dance. Dance is the way I teach my students things they wish to learn about the Indian legacy.

Karishma: Even though you stay in the U.S, your roots still belong in India, which is very well proved by your words. Please share some details about your dance group named ‘Amrapali dance group’?

Alka Sharma: My group consists of kids who come to learn Bollywood style dancing. What makes me happy is that they are also very inquisitive and eager to learn Hindi. We’ve also performed for the U.S consulate.

Karishma: Coming to your multitude of talents- your contribution as an actor and a dancer in the Mandi theatre group reminds the audience about some great Indian classics and help them re-live it. Can you tell us how the Mandi theatre group came into being?

Alka Sharma: A lot of good theatre plays were performed in Chicago for years but I saw that all of them were performed in English and with that thought, we founded the Mandi theatre group, a small way to preserve India’s theatrical tradition. We meet once a week and practice, I write plays, direct and act in them. It is a team effort.

Karishma: How has your journey in the Hindi theatre been so far?

Alka Sharma: It’s been beautiful. Last year, in 2015 itself we had 8 performances. One of the plays that I’m very proud of is ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’; it was a tribute to a Great Indian Writer, ‘Premchand Ji’. Part of the proceeds generated from this play were donated for the welfare of Senior Citizens to the NGO, HelpAge.

Karishma: What social issue does your theatre group cover apart from promoting India’s theatrical culture and art or Diaspora?

Alka Sharma: Our mission revolves around strengthening the role of ‘Traditional Indian Theatre’ in the arts community of Chicago area. Amongst our productions, one of the plays called ‘मटकी छाप पर मोहर लगायें’ (Matki chaap par mohar lagaye) was solely based on water shortage faced by many parts of India, it was a political Satire based on Shard Joshi’s short story.

Karishma: Our readers would love to know what’s in store for Mandi now? Are there any future projects or goals set in stone?

Alka Sharma: This brings me to the official announcement I have been meaning to make through Newsgram. Our Mandi Theatre Group will very soon hold Chicago’s first theatre festival showcasing the work of eminent playwrights of India. That’s right, I have been working on its press release and I assure you the theatre festival will be the first of its kind Chicago has seen.

Karishma: So Alka Ji, who stands behind this successful image?                                           Alka: Definitely not, I have a list of people to thank but amongst them, I would like to especially thank my husband Rohit Sharma, it’s due to his support that I took a few life-changing decisions and my mother CK Sharma, who has been my inspiration throughout.

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Karishma: Our readers want to know what does RJ Alka Sharma love to do in her leisure time?

Alka Sharma: (Laughs). I have always been an avid photographer. I capture everything beautiful from a water droplet to a whole field filled with snow. Adding to that, my home in Chicago is filled with oil paintings. These are the ones, I painted during my hard times and I still pursue painting whenever I find the time.

– by Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram. Twitter: @BladesnBoots

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Belling The Cat: The Difficult Relationship of India with Turkey

The land of the Whirling Dervishes, where the compassionate views of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi have cast a lasting shadow, is India’s forbidden fruit

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Turkey and India's relationship is very rocky. Pixabay

By Tania Bhattacharya

  • India and Tukey share a bad relationship
  • There are numerous reasons for it
  • Some of the reasons are as trivial as they can get
Ms. Tania Bhattacharya

When the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, passed away on the morning of the 10th of November 1938, months before the world broke out into war, a Turkish lady in the streets of Istanbul commented to a reporter covering the tragedy, lamenting “Turkey has lost her lover. Now, she must marry and settle down”. The incident is mentioned in Irfan’s Orga’s ‘Phoenix Ascendant’, a comprehensive biography of Mustafa Kemal Pasha.

National heroes are lionized almost everywhere among native communities; but Ataturk and his younger contemporary Subhash Chandra Bose, enjoy a kind of veneration among their people, that even hardened jingoists elsewhere, would not be caught doing. Subhash was an admirer of Ataturk and was determined to meet him, until the British overlords of India, put a spanner in the works. That was not all. In his ‘Glimpses Of World History’, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, made glowing references to Mustafa Kemal, calling him a progressive head of state with the singular objective of emancipating the women of his country. Indeed in Turkey, Kemalism is the byword for progressiveness and the radical intellectual approach.

India and Turkey have troubles due to Kashmir as well. VOA

The trajectory of Sultanate ridden Turkey, and post-colonial India have been analogous, but with a few exceptions. Both countries started out with a prominent Socialist outlook, and statesmen who could navigate the complex waters of international one-upmanship to establish their nascent independent territories into positions of respect. Ataturk did this by having the humiliating Treaty of Sevres, scrapped and Nehru hoisted India to the enviable position of the leader of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement).

Both men encouraged the scientific temper and set their respective countries on the path of western style democracy. India and Turkey are both Constitutionally Laic, Socialist Republics, with elected governments at the helm of affairs. Both states have successfully produced indomitable women heads of state; Indira Gandhi in India, and Tancu Ciller in Turkey.

However, barring the temper of the Constitutions of the two countries, there have been dichotomies which cannot be missed. The Indian state has an army that has never displayed an interest in the legislative functioning of its polity, maintaining a respectful distance from political upheavals. On the other hand, the Turkish military has tried to usurp power multiple times, in that country. The first three times it attempted to do so, it successfully affected a regime change. The years were 1960, 1971, and 1980. A fourth rumbling from the uniformed men was heard in 2016, but was immediately suppressed and extinguished by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some insiders and whistle blowers have claimed, that the coup was an eyewash, that was perpetrated by Erdogan’s moles present within the military. After all, the only person who benefitted from the crackdowns, was Erdogan himself.

India’s north-western neighbour, has been a major roadblock on the path to India-Turkey relations. Right from its inception, Pakistan has been a firm ally of Turkey. The roots of this friendship go deep down and can be found embedded in the Khilafat movement of the sub-continent during British times, when Indian Muslims had banded together to oppose the abdication of the last Turkish Sultan, and with him, the position of the Caliph of Islam. Turkey supports Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, something that has always troubled the Indian upper echelons, which wants to steer the relationship between their nation and Turkey, ahead.

Where Kemalism had impressed itself upon the elite masses of Turkey, with its accent on westernization, President Erdogan has managed to ride the votebank of the working class, with his emphasis on political Islam. He, unlike his other civilian predecessors, has not only managed to hold on to his position, but has also been successful in reinforcing it and becoming the master of all he surveys.

Terrorism is yet another problem between the two countries. VOA

Turkey remained unaffected by the Arab Spring revolts that have shaken the Middle East since the April of 2011, with the latest victims being Yemen and Iran, which is a testament to its stability. But, as India has watched from the sidelines, this crucial NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member, has shown its back to democracy by embracing a new shade of totalitarianism in the form of the Turkish President’s office, stifled the opposition, dissolved protests from dissidents, and has sought to deal with the Kurdish problem in a much harsher way than previous governments.

Turkey being Asia’s gateway to Europe, a member of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), and a developed nation by many estimates, is crucial to India as not only an economic partner, but also a comrade among the fraternity of the Islamic states, with whom maintaining good relations is vital to India’s interests. During the Cold War, Indo-Turkish bonding had been left in suspended animation due to a conflict of interests; as India was a founding member of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), while Turkey was firmly in the Allied Camp, in the Western created and controlled NATO setup.

In the 21st century, India and Turkey have produced two unexpectedly hawkish point men, who seem to share a warm personal rapport with each-other. While India’s Prime Minister Modi, started out in life as a tea seller, Turkey’s Erdogan used to sell lemonade at a train station. Born and raised in humble circumstances, the two men have shown some resolve in bettering their bilateral ties. The year that Modi was indicted for his indifference to the carnage of Gujarat’s Muslims – 2002 – was also the same year that Recep Tayyip Erdogan made himself visible on the radar of Turkish politics.

Also Read: How a young Astronomer from Turkey turned into an Islamic State Fighter

Despite the co-incidental sweet spot though, India and Turkey are unable to capitalize on the opportunities afforded to each-other. Among the thorny issues that need to be tackled, are:

  1. Trade
  2. Kashmir
  3.  FethullahGulen
  4. Terrorism

1.Trade between India and Turkey, is to the tune of 6.4 billion, but India accounts for a much smaller percentage of Turkish imports than other countries, especially those from within the European Union, from whom Turkey buys goods. There is an enormous potential in investing in infrastructure via construction, as Turkey can provide its assistance to India over the matter.

2. On the Kashmir front, Turkey currently favours Pakistan’s stand, though not openly discouraging India. As an ombudsman in the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), it is imperative for India, to get Turkey on board over Kashmir and make that country sympathetic to our stand on the issue.

3. FethullahGulen is a spiritual Sufi Turkish leader, who presently lives in exile in the United States. He used to be a formidable political figure in the power corridors of Ankara, and was a close aide of President Erdogan. A one-time imam in Turkey, Mr. Gulen was an associate of Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) and continues to preside over an empire of charitable institutions that provide education and low-cost housing to the needy, globally. Many Gulenist institutions function in India and have never caused a friction with the Indian state. However, during President Erdogan’s last Indian visit, which took place on the 1st of May 2017, he had insisted that India close down all Gulenist outlets, as they were instruments of sedition against his government. India refused to do so and looked upon the directive as amounting to interfering with our sovereignty, since any such decision could only be taken by our own authorities. Fethullah Gulen was accused of masterminding the military coup that took place in Turkey in the July of 2016, albeit without sufficient evidence. The coup itself, and the crackdown on it, was the bloodiest in the history of Turkey, but for the very first time, it was successfully contained by the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Spiritually and philosophically, Mr. Gulen’s views are more feminist and reconciliatory than the pro-hardline views held by Erdogan.

President Erdogan of Turkey.Wikimedia Commons

4. During the day long meeting between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Modi, the former pledged full support to India in its fight against terrorism, but cherry picked on the issue. Erdogan’s primary concern was to help India in our war against the Naxalites, which is a Left-Wing secessionist movement in this country. As an Islamist Right Winger, the Turkish President’s anti-Naxalite stand was predictable. However, he evinced no particular interest in the incidents of cross-border terrorism that India has had to suffer. Pakistan and Turkey are close international allies, especially since Pakistan is the world’s only nation that supports the Turkish created entity of the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). Turkey has suffered numerous terrorist attacks ever since the inception of the Turkish Republic in 1923, that were carried out by the PKK, an outlawed, armed Kurdish, political resistance group.

The reason why Turkey is important to India, is due to the reality, that Turkey is West Asia’s most important state, geographically, politically, and militarily. Situated at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, this much-misunderstood country, has been knocking on the doors of the EU (European Union) and if it resolves its Human Rights record pertaining to the Kurds, and the Ottoman Genocide, it might very well become the only Asian nation to be an EU member state. As a leading member of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Turkey’s support to India is vital for the latter to gain traction within the community of the Muslim world, since currently only some Gulf nations are friendly with us. Turkey is a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) member, and its military prowess within that body is substantial. It is the only progressive, and secular (though these are increasingly being eroded), developed nation in West Asia, with a stable political climate. India, being the country with the second largest Muslim population, it is imperative, that the two nations develop closer ties and lasting bonds, if they can lessen the distance between themselves.

The land of the Whirling Dervishes, where the compassionate views of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi have cast a lasting shadow, is India’s forbidden fruit. It can only be hoped, that political wisdom, farsightedness, and reciprocity, will allow the Indians to lay the foundations of a unique friendship, with the West Asian colossus of Turkey.

Tania is a freelance writer with a Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies who has a wide range of interests.