Get subscribed to our newsletter
Get interesting updates to your email inbox.
Renee Lynn is an Activist, Columnist, Published Author, and Founder of Voice for India. Renee Lynn was born and brought up in New Jersey. Best known for raising issues and awareness about India’s political and social issues, she is also the writer of the book India Stripped. She has witnessed a lot of cultures while travelling around the world, but Indian culture turned out to be the most life changing one. Dr. Munish Raizada got an opportunity to chat with her and get to know her better. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Dr. Munish: So, Renee tell me something about you. I know you live in New Jersey and how you got interested in India as such or eastern philosophy and I know you write a lot about India and on various social and political issues also. So, tell me the background of all this.
Renee: I like to travel. So, I’ve travelled around the world, so many different countries and there in my travels I was struck by India and just India’s culture, it’s people, you know, I love the Indian philosophy. It just blew me away compared to other countries because with all the other countries, I’ve been to even Japan, Taiwan, Australia all throughout Europe, you know all these countries in Europe in the far East Israel. They just don’t have the hospitality. They don’t have that great culture. It’s like when you arrive in India you have this distinct connection. It feels like a big conglomerate, like one big happy family you get that feeling when you arrive in India. Because a lot of it is the Indian people’s hospitality. You don’t find in any other country as you do in India and as a world traveler, it really struck my heart and soul and that’s why I’ve been to India 23 times because I’m really addicted to India.
I say I felt, definitely, some definitely some past life connections maybe. You know, it’s just amazing. The country is, it’s the best country in the world. I just love it. I know I sound biased but it’s the truth. Honestly all the countries I’ve traveled to, there’s no comparison to India. Its people, hospitality, its culture born on it’s just not India is an amazing country in just in love with India. So that’s how my love for India started.
Dr. Munish: When was the first time you went to India?
Renee: That was January 2009. That was my first trip and I went to Chennai first. I didn’t tour all through South India and went to Kerala which is amazing and beautiful, you know, all through Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry. Others are really, I cant think of the name…Auroville, Auroville is really beautiful. That was very different and unique.
Then from there, I took a trip to North India, and I went to Mumbai, Delhi, all through Rajasthan, so it was a great experience, my first time going to India.
I will admit the first time when I arrived in Chennai and I came out of the airport, it was like 11 o’clock at night and there was all these people around and I had to wait for my driver and I’m like oh my god, this is 11o o’clock at night, there’s no one in the airport and there’s all these people out here and they wait for foreigners, they love foreigners and the next day, I couldn’t wait to get outside and explore and people are just coming up to me and they’re like Namaste, namaste and touching my feet.
I’m a stranger and I’m like wow, you don’t get this in another country, like they see the god in you and they’re touching your feet, like this is the respect that they show, even to foreigners, it’s amazing! This love and respect is amazing! So, that was my first trip to India in January. I stayed there January and February 2009 and from there it didn’t stop. I’ve been going to India twice a year since then, one time I went three times a year.
Follow NewsGram on Facebook to stay updated.
Dr. Munish: Are you a practicing Hindu?
Renee: Yes I am, so actually I was learning Hinduism before I came to India. I was learning about Hinduism and Indian philosophy and I really took a deep interest in it and if you compare, um you know I was born a Christian, die hard Christian, I’ve been to a Baptist church kind off you know all the crazy radical Christians you know, different angles so, Hinduism is so esoteric, even though Christianity is so esoteric, but I thought this was logical and it was so interesting so I thought I should learn about Hinduism and the people are so nice and a lot of it I believe stems from Hinduism, because the love and the respect that they give, even to all living things, animals, nature, like they have this love and respect for all living things, and in Hinduism they try to practice vegetarianism, which they don’t do that in Christianity or Islam, but in Hinduism they do!
And It’s that the beautiful principles in Hinduism again I love and respect for all things that are living , it just blew my mind, so I wanted to learn more about Hinduism and I started learning about Yoga, I love Yoga, I always practice and preach to other people, you know, try yoga, it’s just amazing, like what it does to your body, it’s just amazing, so then from there I just, like everything has like a cycle, like it takes a snowball effect, so it was like that with me, slowly slowly, and I noticed that Hindus are the nicest people.
And it’s really sad but a lot of the Christian Ideology, like if you read their books, things they say, that Hinduism is evil, its demonic, they are worshipping all these gods and this one pastor, he was preaching hell, Hindus are born demonic, now that is really radical and crazy to say that Hindus are born demonic.
This is how people, some pastors reach to the congregation what they write in their books, its just horrible, so I was like you know what, I said, this is so much hatred and you’re going to burn in hell forever if you don’t accept Jesus, like how it is in Islam, if you don’t accept Allah or Mohammed as your saviour, you’re gonna burn in hell, the same with Christianity, so there is so much hate there, like they make it look like god is revengeful, hateful and it’s not like that in Hinduism, its your own Karma and it really sets you free and it set me from a lot of anxiety that I was going in my life, feeling like I had to be perfect, I couldn’t do this, couldn’t say this, it gives the people a lot of depression and anxiety and that was another reason why I wanted to learn more about Hinduism and the oldest religion in the world, there’s no founder, logically it makes sense so that’s how everything started with me.
Dr. Munish: So, you said this you know, that how Christians were like, kind of ridiculing Hinduism, but is this narrative that criticising Hinduism by Christianity, is it a common narrative, in this country or elsewhere?
Renee: Oh, in the United States? Yeah because not so much do you get to say a catholic church, they don’t really have their sermons so to speak, it’s a little bit, it’s different, it’s a different approach. They read like some hymns from the bible, but when you go to like Pentecostal, Baptist, all these other branches, yes because I must have been to a hundred different churches throughout my life and that’s what they preach when they get on stage, the pastors they preach that you have to accept Jesus as your personal saviour or if you walk out of this building, if you’re gone, you’re gonna burn in hell forever and ever, so come up to the platform and give your life to Jesus Christ. Like this is how they preach even if you watch them on YouTube, I mean the hatred they have, they say it’s not hatred, they’re so in love yeah but they such horrible things about Hinduism and it makes me angry because, you know they say we’re not hateful, we love the Hindus, were just trying to save them from hell but in the meantime they call them demonic, they call them evil, they’re worshiping all these gods so, that’s how they preach and that’s how their books are. I know I’ve lived it my whole life and I’ve had books in the past that I bought where they’re saying Hindus are born out of their mother’s womb demonic, I mean it’s really horrible.
Dr. Munish: Tell me one thing Renee, I’ve also been living here in the United States for almost 17 years now, but I think you are in a better position to give me that perspective about how Buddhism, Jainism or Sikhism are offshoots of Hinduism? What is the take about these philosophies in the US, in general? Are they kind of indifferent to this? Are they just alert about it?
Renee: You mean that America’s predominantly Christian, you’re saying how do they accept Hinduism or Buddhism. Some people are accepting of it, not like the whole United States isn’t against it or non-accepting and they’re not all like Jesus Christ is their personal saviour. There are a percentage of people here that are, you know not Indians, say people like me who are Hindu or Buddhist, they’re not a big percentage but there is a small percentage and also then you have people here now that get into Yoga, they love Yoga but now they’re doing things like Christian Yoga because you can’t do Yoga like say the Hindu way, or like how its taught in India, so now they’re converting Yoga and they’re calling it Christian Yoga and they’re doing praises in the name of Jesus and then you have some other branches of Christianity saying you can’t do Yoga at all, that you’re letting the devil in and the devil is going to control you and the demons, you’re going to let in all the demons, so a lot of Christians here say no. They completely banned Yoga, you can’t do it because you’re letting in demons and this is a really big problem because a lot of people and it’s true, I was one of them years and years ago. The pastor used to say don’t do Yoga, so when I became a Hindu and started learning Yoga, it took awhile for me, I had to take baby steps because this is how they brainwash you when you don’t know any better, don’t do research and you start believing that so that’s what they’re telling everybody now that you cant even touch yoga, and I’m saying how crazy is that? So you’re doing like a downward dog and lets just say you’re not even listening to no Hinduism, no Mantra or something you’re just basically doing a downward dog or you know fish pose or a backbend or something in the yoga format, that’s demonic? Stretching your body? To me, it’s radical and it’s crazy and you have people like that, that scares the hell out of people that they won’t do it, it’s crazy! It really is crazy.
Dr. Munish: What is this radical view about yoga? Is it coming from the church or is it the general population also believes like that?
Renee: It’s really stemming from the church, the pastors, the deacons, the elders, people or even a lot of them have YouTube channels.
Dr. Munish: But is it wide prevalent? Is it wide prevalent? This kind of attitude by the church towards Yoga, is it widespread or is it just some fringe elements talking about?
Renee: Oh is it just just the white people you’re saying? I’ve seen people, I have seen one church I went to, Chinese people, people from different countries that are living here even said that they converted out of that and now they don’t like Chinese people, they get acupressure or acupuncture. The one with the needles they say that is demonic, don’t even go near that. I remember some Chinese guy, years ago, saying that he had a business here, doing acupuncture and he gave it up because later it was revealed to him that it was demonic. So he stopped doing it. And you hear this from other foreign Americans, from different countries that don’t do acupuncture no more, they don’t do yoga, it’s like Jesus came to them and showed them that it’s from the devil, the roots where it started from is demonic so…yes not just like the occasions here, the majority of it is yes, but there are people, I’ve seen them in here and from other different countries that has realisation that it’s the devil and it stands from demonic roots. So yeah…
Dr. Munish: Moving to the topic of cow and cow worship, i have read your articles and comments about you know, you adore, how much you care about cows and cow worshiping. So tell me a little bit about this, how you got so much interested because here, I mean if you talk like this that cow is something to be worshiped, people definitely you know like, they give you a very surprising look at that, because here cow and beef is eaten.
Renee: Yeah so, even when i was a kid, i just always loved cows but i used to eat beef, years ago. But when I started learning about Hinduism, Indian Philosophy and all that, I became a vegetarian. It’s weird, it’s like it grosses me out. And then here, I read an article several years ago, how people here, like cows, give so much love, they are such smart emotional animals. To butcher them up is just sickening. Actually any animal is sickening. But the cows, they give us so much milk and other products to nourish us, and to just butcher these animals.
Ugh….when i go into a food market, and when you see meat or packaged in the refrigerator, in the freezer it grosses me out. I can’t stand it. Even if i go to a food market and not just beef, even pork or chicken, it is disgusting. These are precious beautiful animals, I feel they should all have a chance to live. Especially the beautiful cow. You know, everything it gives to us, and love. And they’re just butchering it.
It’s like, for the western world it’s nothing, they don’t look at it like the people in India do. And even thousands of years ago, you guys were practicing that. So it’s just amazing. I just love how the Indian people worship the holy cow. I loved it when I was in India, it crosses the street, everyone stops at the holy cow. I just think it’s so beautiful.
Dr. Munish: In India, frankly speaking, when people talk about cow worship and all that, people walk that. I mean, particularly the educated, young generation they look at all this scenario with a little bit of walking attitude. What’s your take on that? Do you sense that attitude in India too?
Renee: Oh you see, especially a lot of people in bollywood, the liberal type crew, yes? They do mock Hindus, they mock Hindu Gods, there’s a lot of discrimination and it just blows my mind because India is 80% Hindus but nobody says anything. When Eid comes around , Islam festival, they butcher and torture these animals in a lot of pain and suffering and there is blood everywhere. That’s acceptable you know. But you make fun of a Hindu that’s loving a cow. Caring for it, loving it, you may get mocked
I honestly don’t know why these people discriminate against Hindus, mock Hindu Gods. I honestly don’t know but i think that they have no respect for Hindus and Hindu Gods. And these bollywood stars, they just come around and mock the Hindus and the Hindu Gods. I just think that this is very disrespectful.
Dr. Munish: Doesn’t it get covered under freedom of speech, I mean they’re just talking about that, what’s wrong with that?
Renee: Yeah i know. I can’t think of the situation right now but there is quite a lot of fuel if a Hindu were to say something, Freedom of speech is communal you know. But if a Christians says something, or a Muslim says something then you know it’s fine. But if a Hindu says something, it’s communal.
This is discriminating against Hindus. And there are majority in if they do something, they always got to say it’s offending me, it’s offending me. It’s so unfair, it’s so wrong.
That’s why I always take to Twitter mainly and I tell everybody that we have to stand together. This is so unfair, what they do to the Hindus.
(Part-II of this interview will be up on NewsGram.com very shortly. Stay tuned!)
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,
Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Cricket fans can now book the ultimate experience with the official accommodation booking partner for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Booking.com. The T20 Pavillion, a bespoke cricket-themed luxury stay that transforms the Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotel and Residences into a classic cricket stadium.
The suite offers guests an all-inclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience during the India vs Pakistan ICC Men's T20 World Cup match on October 24, 2021, packed with quirks and luxuries that is sure to satisfy even the biggest cricket enthusiast. Additionally, as a part of the experience, guests will also have the exclusive opportunity to meet Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor at The T20 Pavilion.
The booking window that opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021 and check-out on October 25, 2021. | Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
For one night only, guests can soak in the energy of a roaring stadium to enjoy the epic match on a life-sized screen while seated on comfortable sofas -- just like the luxury box seats at the stadium. They can also head to the locker room (dining room) next to the field (living room) to have some energy drinks, just like a cricketer would do or head to the bedroom, transformed into a net practice area. It's got the field, the pitch, the locker room, pitching nets and cricket memorabilia infused in every element of the room.
The booking window opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021, and check-out on October 25, 2021. The T20 Pavilion is priced at Rs 6666 only in honour of all the great sixes smashed at the T20 World Cup. The T20 Pavilion can accommodate up to four guests. Cricket fans can visit the website or mobile app to book this cricket-inspired stay. (IANS/ MBI)