To Hope…

To Hope…(Shenandoah National Park, November 2021)

How did a whole year pass by amid covid and chaos? Seconds by seconds and minutes by minutes ~ time passed at its own pace~ unstoppable as it is ~ neither slow nor fast but at its own pace. However, it does feel like a whole year passed in a blink as we all lived through COVID-19 – grieving, thriving, and masking up ourselves and doing the best we could to survive when surviving has been challenged. And, by calling surviving a challenge, it definitely has been a challenge ~ to some a lot and to some very less. While we were lucky to get vaccinated and boosted, there are many in the world who haven’t and some of them include our relatives and close ones. And, how long this will last as the world continues to suffer through this pandemic?

Negative Covid Test 12.31.2021

Well, who knew we will reach nearly half a million positive cases this week here in the USA! What a scary thought? And, we are heading towards another year of uncertainty with this disease. Currently, I am in America where I cannot find a COVID test that is available even though I have symptoms that are similar to COVID-19 which were terrible but now I am improving. The systems are yet again overwhelmed and so are we. However, I could get an “At home” test that tested negative~ what a privilege to have. What a privilege it is to feel negative for COVID-19 while I cannot move out of the couch as I do not have any energy (except for typing, I guess) due to the FLU like symptoms. From reading COVID-19 symptoms over and over again to testing the fever with a thermometer every 30 minutes ~ this is giving me paranoia ~ of course.

To Hope~~ and to the flow

However, there are a few things that I am looking forward to in 2022 and I am grateful that I am alive. And, I hope that everyone has something to look forward to. Like I told to my girlfriends ~ 2022 is my year! This is my year of choosing self-care and self-love. And, I am looking forward to so much self-care and self-love and whatever that might look like.

Hope is my word for 2022! Here’s to Hope ~~~

12.31.2021 West Lafayette, IN

Return Taleju Bhawani’s Necklace to Nepal

Nepali version of this article was published in Kantipur Daily on June 13, 2021. This article was written on June 12, 2021

Taleju Bhawani’s Necklace on Display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Pic: Dr. Abhilasha Shresthat. 12.10.2021

At the moment, it is 10:30 PM in Chicago. I have just returned back to my hotel after watching a baseball game. I am tired but I can’t sleep. I am in shock and surprise and my heart is just going back to the Art Institute in Chicago where I found something stolen from my country, from my Goddess – openly displayed in pride to thousands of visitors. I found Taleju Bhawani’s necklace supposedly gifted by King Pratapmalla (r 1641-74) somewhere around the 17th century here in Chicago. This necklace which belongs to my Goddess Taleju Bhawani, which was supposed to be in Nepal– was here – in Chicago-in an open display to thousands of visitors who have no idea of the religious and spiritual value to me and many other folks like me.

Yesterday, after coming to Chicago after a two hours drive, we went directly to the Art Institute of Chicago. We had planned specifically to come here and specifically to see Taleju Bhawani’s lost/stolen necklace. As I entered the “Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan Art” section which was titled “Alsdrof Galleries”- my heart started throbbing and I started to tremble. Many tourists who were visiting were taking selfies with our Gods openly displayed. As I entered, a big statue of Lord Gautam Buddha was there, staying silent as the visitors took selfies. As I roamed around, my memories went back to Kathmandu~ my hometown ~ the city of temples ~where every street has Gods and Goddesses and temples. But this was not a temple, there was no holiness about this space, it was a museum and not a sacred space where our Gods and Goddesses reside and/or are kept with the highest belief and value.

I wanted to see the necklace. I found the necklace carefully curated inside a glass box. When I first took a glance at the necklace, I started to cry, my body started to tremble, and I was overpowered with emotions. I joined my hands together and kept on bowing down to my dearest Goddess Taleju Bhawani crying. I couldn’t see her necklace being displayed like this and started to bow down and pray. I don’t know if I was supposed to do this while there were a lot of onlookers but I couldn’t help myself. She is the Goddess of our Kathmandu valley. The marks of century-long vermillion powder were still there, signifying that this piece was worshipped as a part of Taleju Bhawani and probably worn by the Goddess herself or as noted in the description also by the then King Pratapmalla. There was a strange piece of information: “the gift of Alsdrof foundation” which made me google the foundation which doesn’t yield substantial information. How did they find this? From whom did they purchase this? Why did they decide to donate? How long did they keep this necklace hidden and why? All those questions came to my mind.

The major question in my mind however was still: Why is Taleju Bhawani’s necklace here? What is this necklace doing here? How did this necklace end up here?

Taleju Bhawani Temple in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic: Dr. Abhilasha Shrestha

While being overwhelmed with emotions, anger, confusion, I contemplated the Temple of Taleju Bhawani (picture above) which opens only once a year for the public. Every year on the day of Navami, I would go to Taleju Bhawani mandir to worship her, to feel her power, and to get a transcendental experience. However, one can never see the idol of the Goddess (at least I never saw one). I was told that only the essence of the Goddess is brought on display in the form of a Kalash. Taleju Bhawani herself resides at the Dashain Ghar which isn’t open to the public and she lives in the human form as the Kumari – the living Goddess of Nepal.

In my other interaction with respected Priest Uddhavman, I had asked him “since you are the major pujari, please tell me how does the Goddess looks, how is she like, what form is she in” and he had replied, “the Goddess is a Bindu, a point and here I give you this point in the form of tika from my hands that have touched the Goddess.” This sentence has never left my life. Though Pujari Ji might not remember my name, he changed my perception of religion that day. The Goddess is within me always, all the time. Hence, since then I have always felt a spiritual connection with the Goddess but this sentence reaffirmed it.

Yesterday, to see the necklace of the Goddess, her property, her gift – stolen, ripped off from her, sold, and then “gifted” to a museum and displayed to thousands of onlookers – broke my heart. I felt helpless as I remembered Uddhavman Pujari Ji’s words as I shed my tears. While my question was answered, I was seeing her necklace to be exposed and to be viewed by everyone who may not have a spiritual connection like I do, who may not have the same beliefs that I do, and who may or may not care that stolen pieces should never be in public display – and it should be returned.

Yesterday, Taleju Bhawani invited me to tell the world that her stolen piece is here. I, my phone, technology, the internet all of us in combination, we became a medium to communicate to many people back home that it is the time that the Art Institute in Chicago should return this piece.

Taleju Bhawani wants her stolen property, her gift, her necklace back. The Goddess wants to go back.

I appeal to the Art Institute of Chicago, to help our Goddess return her property home. Help return a stolen necklace to our Goddess.

Updated:

On December 10, 2021, I visited the Art Institute of Chicago Again and I found that even after raising our voice six months ago, the necklace was still there. It wasn’t a surprise but even with raising our voice against it, we were unheard. After my tweet, there was so much discussion about how it should be returned. Even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had tweeted that they sent a request to the US Embassy and the concerned department. However, the necklace was still there. Hence, I would like to do another appeal of returning the necklace to Nepal.

Return Taleju Bhawani’s Necklace. Picture by Dr. Abhilasha Shrestha. 12/10/2021 at the Art Institute of Chicago

In Blake’s World ~~

I want to write today ~ but not my academic paper that needs to be written but about horses, sheep and hills ~ they call those mountains here. I share my solace with these animals here in Blacksburg.

I just heard a ding from pomodoro timer but I am ignoring it. I have no reason specific for that but I am just loving how I am listening to music and arranging the pictures of these horses. I never get tired of these horses and I hope I will never do so.

Blake is the white horse in this picture and she is the horse with whom I am most connected to. For me she is Taleju Bhawani’s Bahan ~ straight from heaven. She is heavenly because she transcends the boundaries of material world and connects me with the Divine Devi ~ the Goddess. On Tuesday, I hugged her and cleaned her stall and she allowed me to do so. She didn’t complain, she just let me be and welcomed me in her stall. I secretly used to feed her carrots but I don’t do that anymore. I also fed her delicious grasses. She makes me forget the world and all the worries. I never had any such connections with any animals before I met Blake. I also share this passion with my other horse loving friend who has inspired me to take horse riding classes.

In Blake’s world, there are many of her horse friends, siblings, foals, and other pregnant mares. Horses have varied personalities. Some are so kind like Willie, Del Fino, Story, even Dragonfly. Some are a little angry, demanding, but inherently they are so lovely. The barn life is another fish bowl for me, and I am just an outsider but I am loving every moment that I can have in Blake’s horse.

Pictures: All pictures are taken by me and are under my copyright etc. Use of this picture without my permission isn’t allowed.

Thirteen Years of this Space! Happy Birthday Blog

It has been 13 years and over a decade that I have established this space for me and for myself. Back in 2008, I didn’t know that the world in general and my small world in particular will change this much. What an ordeal we have faced together, oh dear Blog! Looking back at an imaginative twenty year old me, created this space and named it “The Coffee House Revival.” This was and has been a room of my own, a space of my own, and something that I can say my own ~ my blog. It has allowed me to share, grow, and create a path for my PhD. Thank you, WordPress for existing and allowing women like me to excavate freedom. It still feels like a dream on what I have become today and how this blog created a path for me. I have grown with this blog and I know I owe to many people who read me, liked my blogposts, and encouraged me to write more. I wish I had done more, I wish I had kept on writing. But then life took many turns in this one decade and more. I decided to move through many jobs including getting a PhD. It feels very different to think of myself as Dr. Sweta Baniya who is now an academic, a researcher and has locked her poetic, imaginative, and dreamy self away. I wish to get back to it. I noticed that the last post I made on the blog’s birthday was three years ago, it felt like I had stopped celebrating the existence of this space in my life. I feel I have forgotten how much this space meant to me back then, and for many many years.

Picture of dark pink tulips
Picture of Tulips from Floral Library in DC

I do believe on this space and the path it created for me. I know I don’t post much or the posts are small enough, forgettable, and I barely write. Trust me when writing is a whole job, I feel like getting a break from it. Though in my head I do have so many things I want to write, share, and tell to the people and I know I have space to do so but I don’t know what stops me to do so. I guess I don’t have time is the most cliched excuse but I think to be honest, I think I have forgotten myself, my love for writing, expressing, and my desire to do so. The pain for that loss is unbearable to me but this pain comes as flashback on various moments. I do think, I want to go back and revive this space somehow and go back to various moments and memories in my life to make them alive. But I don’t want to make promise that I can’t keep. Once the semester starts then the pace of life changes quite a bit. That has been happening with me for past five years as I started my PhD journey and finished one and to start another again as a Professor now. It seems like past five years were a dream that I dreamt for long time. Well, don’t we dream and imagine good things more than bad things? But what is the value of good if there were no bad. In this mixed bag of life, the balance of good and bad things we face, suffer through, and finally emerge from maybe creates who we are.

Picture of lily leaves at Lily Pond in Chicago
Picture of lily leaves at Lily Pond in Chicago ~ sadly there were no lilies

The WordPress itself has changed quite a bit and the technology that continues to change around us. I feel privileged to have been engaged with technology for past decade and more and it has shown me so much. However, I agree that the fast pace of life, the importance and addiction to emails, the addiction to phones and this desire to know and be part of the whole has never been so stressful as before. Amid this, I still try to find myself, who am I, my voice through various expressions, research, writing, and maybe photographs that I took all the time on my phone. I think the allowances provided by various media to be able to share and express, and to be able to get a quick feedback and thumbs up, and replies are the ones that made the presence of the blog less endearing. But I remember how much I loved when people read and commented on my blogpost, it gave me great joy in my life, it made me feel seen, heard, and appreciated. Then I put that part on hold for many years. As you can see, I haven’t written for many many years or I have written very few posts that don’t really tell my story, experiences, and my voice that much.

For past year, we have lived in a global pandemic. We have lost so many many of friends, families, and loved ones. The way it started and the way it is now is completely different. Amid all this I think survival is the most important, safety is most important, and keeping all of the lost ones in our memories alive is most important. They didn’t deserve this~ no one deserved to die from this virus. I hope and wish so much that this will pass soon. And, it will pass soon!

Finally, I don’t know if I will be able to commit so much time to write~ but I really wish I will write more and keep on using this space for something good.

Happy Birthday, Coffee House!! Happy 13th anniversary!

New Beginnings

What a year we lived through! With the Global Pandemic Covid-19

Prophetstown State Park, West Lafayette, 2020

As days blend together and become weeks and to months and to a whole year ~

Where we tread into the unknown with little knowledge and fear ~

With the most scariest emotion fear ~ we lived by while

We bid farewell to all the loved ones who went to another world into another space

Where we could never touch them but relive together with them with the memories we have made

As we navigated how to stay safe, keep on living, and keep on having hopes alive

Through our phones, laptops, and let’s not forget the hours of zooms

As we intertwined within the objects to reach to our lovely humans across time, space, and geographies

We lived through this!

Navigating the ambivalence with resilience and diligence

And, here we are a year later~ stronger like never

Cheers to the new beginning and the new year

West Lafayette, Indiana 01.01.2021

Wishes & Dreams

Some Deja Vu.

Some reflections.

Some dreams lost.

Some dreams gained.

Some wishes fulfilled.

And.

Some that remain

~ Puerto Rico, 2019

Waiting for.

the night.

to fall.

and.

dreams to.

knock on.

Flying away with the dreams.

Some day.

I try to fly.

to catch some dreams.

to search here and there.

and.

continually fly.

West Lafayette, 01.02.2020

One Summer Day in Life of Queen Anne Lace

Queen Anne Lace swaying in the cool summer breeze~ Lafayette, IN 

 

Like Queen Anne Lace looks at the cloud~ Lafayette, IN

 

Who’s tallest? ~ Lafayette, IN

Ode to Gulmohar / Flamboyan Trees

Like these leaves

You

Make me fall in love

Over

&

Over again

Bayamon, Puerto Rico

And, my cheeks

blossom

like these orange leaves

when I heard you

calling my name

Bayamon, Puerto Rico

 

I fall

Like these leaves

Over and Over Again

Everywhere

Note: All pictures were taken by me in wonderful summer in Puerto Rico. 

Screw New~ I want my Old me!!

My Ama said: You seem to have lost all your confidence~ you were very different when you were young~

I think this sentence at the end of this year, is changing my whole perspective on life. Screw new me, thin me, better me, I want myself back, the old me, the courageous dreamy ambitious energetic and happy and confident me.

Often times, I have been so much busy judging my past life and experiences as well as struggles and trying to focus on the present in the hope of a good future that I think, I have stopped listening to inner-most self and my own inner voice that led me to become who I am today.

When Ama told me that, I tried becoming defensive and told her- all graduate students are like this, we are depressed and we have imposter syndrome. Years back, I didn’t have that or if I had, it was very less. I am someone who battled my way into some really awesome work in Nepal, among toxic people, toxic environment, and moreover really difficult personal life.

But, wasn’t Grad school above everything for me? It was something for which I left my decade-long career, my identity, lifestyle, everything behind~ it was and is still my passion. But why did it cost me my confidence? Why my well-being?

I think this is because I don’t know how to do Grad-school. This is because my research on grad-school and imaginary things presented on the fancy websites and happy faces of the students weren’t enough. This is because I am a first-gen Graduate student in my family of four and my mentors back home had overconfidence in me I think things would be easier for me.

Grad school can be fun! And, I think these two and half years have been the best phase of my life in terms of the things I always wanted to do: study and write and teach.

Years back during my teenage days, Ama and I would talk and dream of a life full of books, writing, and teaching. And, right now, I am living our dream and she is so true, I might have lost some of the confidence because I believe in others more than myself. I have been harsh to myself, I have been pressurizing myself like crazy as my BFF says and thus, I have suppressed who I am to become the idealized me and it has cost me to lose my confidence.

So, screw that idealized me! I want myself to be back~

12.28.2018

Fairfax, VA

Secret ~ No More #RageAgainstRape

Secret,

That’s how it started

And, was supposed to end.

Subsumed,

Deep in the corners of my heart

Your thumbprints all over my skin

Was supposed to be the “secret”.

You made me the in-charge

Of keeping your deeds over my body a “secret”

Your “secret”. You made it my “secret”

Made me believe that

it would shame me – not you

it would shame my family – not you

it would make me lose everything – not you

Your audacity

On believing that~ I will keep an eternal silence amazes me. 

But, I stand up to break the silence

I always knew it~ It wasn’t my fault

I always knew it~ It wasn’t supposed to be a secret

And, my voice ~  will make you lose everything not me

I stand to display your thumbprints to everyone

One by one,

Everyone will know it

Once~ it is secret no more

it is your shame- not mine

This poem is written for all the survivors of sexual assault and any kind of gender-based violence. And, against all the perpetrators!

 

#metoo #RageAgainstRape @RiseAgainstRape #JusticeforNirmala #Justiceforallrapevictima

 #Speakup #Listentosurvivors #Lovesurvivors