Who was the first Indian actress to act in an American Film?

Who was the first Indian actress to act in an American Film? No, she was not Persis Khambatta or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan or Freida Pinto. Nah, Merle Oberon or Anna Kashfi (Marlon Brando’s wife) were technically India-born British actresses! Then, who was she?

My search took me to an old newspaper report from India News Bulletin (Issued by the Embassy of India in Washington, Dated January 11, 1950) and I found an unexpected answer. She was Radha Sri Ram, who played an important role in well-known director Jean Renoir’s classical film The River in 1948.

Radha Sri Ram was not some unknown entity, rather a revered one in India. She was the president of the Theosophical Society from 1980 until her death in 2013. But her brief contribution to cinema, had been forgotten.

Early in 1951, Radha Sri Ram married Raymond Burnier, a Swiss photographer, and became Radha Burnier. Raymond had come to India in 1932 to photograph temple art, and met young Radha at BHU in Benares. It seems like Raymond Burnier played a great role in introducing her to cinema and that’s how Jean Renoir discovered her for his film, The River.

“Mrs. Burnier played a major role in the well-known director Jean Renoir’s classical film The River (Le Fleuve), based on Rumer Godden’s novel. The film was made in only five months, and was released in 1951. The producer, Kenneth McEldowney, made four trips to India in a year and a half, trying to cast the role of Melanie, because most Indian women were not permitted by their families to perform in a film, especially in a role that involved a kiss.”

“When he met Radha, he was skeptical until he saw her dance. He said – She was magnificent. She is like a goddess.”

His wife Melvina wrote, “I never knew a goddess could have such a delightful sense of humor, such honest intelligence, such understanding of people and still be so young.” Her family’s broad-minded view of culture permitted Radha to accept the film role.

Shortly after her marriage, the Burniers travelled to Beverly Hills, and then to New York with the Renoirs.

The film was well received and was influential to several Indian and American filmmakers.

During this time she met some famous people such as Charles Chaplin, with whom she shared a meal. Rahdaji was offered to participate in movies produced by Hollywood but declined the offer.”


Jean Renoir once remarked about her – “Outside of beauty or talent there are unknown reasons which make a man or a woman fit with the camera; I call them “screen animals” and I more and more believe that Radha is a screen animal.”

Unfortunately, Sri Radha’s marriage did not last and her screen career ended as well. Soon, she got involved in many cultural, educational, and spiritual activities and organizations and emerged as a leader in those fields as well.

Well, I have always loved unearthing and researching old newspaper reports to know about old forgotten entities and their stories. And the latest venture has been well worth the effort. I am sure this research will help in setting the records straight about the first Indian actress in the US.

(Images courtesy Google)

Happy New Year 2022 in Vintage Style

I wish you the brightest and grandest year of all. Have a fabulous 2022!

This vintage card from India took me down the memory lane. It is addressed to a certain Ramniklal and sent by Hiralal, who clearly seems to be a businessman. The card is in Hindi, English as well as in some other Indian language and has the image of Goddess Saraswati. The year is not mentioned but seems to be from around mid 1900s.

Years ago, around the New Year time, before messaging and internet took over, we would painstakingly write messages on cards and post it to all our relatives.

My mother drew beautiful floral patterns and my father would write the addresses in his beautiful, neat handwriting. It was a yearly ritual to give and receive New Year greeting cards.

We would receive calendars, small gifts, post cards and greeting cards during – little tidbits which we could touch, feel and preserve.

The world has changed and so have we! Our messages and replies are instant. There is no waiting time anymore, there is less anticipation and excitement. Years ago, I would feel bored by waiting to send and receive stuff. But now, I miss that feeling of anticipation.

I am grateful to 2021 for bringing back little normalcy to our lives. It was a great year as compared to 2020. And on the last day of the year, this vintage card brought smiles and lovely memories! Great, isn’t it?

Here is wishing you good health, wealth and laughter in the year 2022. May you be your highest self!

(Image courtesy Google)

10 Magical Minnesota Winter Pictures

As Minnesota puts on a magical white snow-dress for Christmas, here are some beautiful pictures for you to enjoy the holiday season! These pictures are also a reminder that unexpected, amazing things can happen to you during this time of the year!

Enjoy the winter wonderland pictures from around my place and gear up for great beginnings!

Holiday lights enchant the child in us.

It is extraordinary how light dazzles when it interacts with darkness.

Sunset and snow make magic together.

Sometimes, we are so busy running to the next that we skip the wonders of now.

A picturesque house against the colorful sky.

Behold the blushing snow maiden!

Sky is an amazing canvas, creating masterpieces every moment!

The scenery changes when it snows!

Strings of illuminating light and a clear path for the joyous traveler.

Silent night, peaceful night, all decked up in the holiday spirit.

Hope you liked the winter photography of Minnesota. Which is your favorite photo?

Old Reports on Vivekananda’s Visit to Minneapolis in 1893

We all know that Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago made the world take notice of him as a great spiritual master. But his amazing tours and lectures around Midwest and visits to Minneapolis in November and December 1893 are relatively unknown.

While going through old newspaper articles, I learned that Swami Ji was referred to as Vive Kananda or Kananda by most American newspapers. These articles throw light on how the ‘learned Hindoo monk’ was perceived in the West. He was said to have caused a ‘sensation in cultured circles’. He was described as ‘strong and regular featured man of fine presence, whose swarthy skin made more pronounced the pearly whiteness of his even teeth. Under a broad and high forehead his eyes betoken intelligence’. Almost all newspapers remarked on his excellent English and oratory skills that mesmerized the audience.

According to ‘Vivekananda Abroad A Postcard Pilgrimage’, Swami Vivekananda arrived in Minneapolis on November 21, 1893 after taking the night train from Madison, Wisconsin. In a letter to Ellen Isabelle Hale, whom he addressed as ‘Mother’, the great Swami ji wrote with delight –

I am still in Minneapolis. I am to lecture this afternoon, and the day after tomorrow go to Des Moines. The day I came here they had their first snow, and it snowed all through the day and night, and I had great use for the arctics.  I went to see the frozen Minnehaha Falls. They are very beautiful. The temperature today is 21º below zero [F], but I had been out sleighing and enjoyed it immensely. I am not the least afraid of losing the tips of my ears or nose. The snow scenery here has pleased me more than any other sight in this country. I saw people skating on a frozen lake yesterday. I am doing well. Hoping this will find you all the same, I remain, Yours obediently,

Ellen Isabelle Hale had gifted the water-resistant Arctic shoes and Vivekananda had come to Minneapolis at the invitation of Rev. Henry M. Simmons. 

A Minneapolis Tribune reporter chatted with Swamiji on November 23 and wrote, “He had read Longfellow’s poem far over in his Indian home in Calcutta, and he was delighted to have visited the scene of the legend.” Swamiji was referring to Minnehaha Falls (meaning “Laughing Water”) which was immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem ‘The Song of Hiawatha’.

The next day, Minneapolis Star reported the Swamiji’s discourse on 25 November 1893, where he talked about Brahminism.

“Brahminism” in all its subtle attraction, because of its embodiment of ancient and truthful principles, was the subject which held an audience in closest attention last evening at the First Unitarian Church [Minneapolis], while Swami Vive Kananda expounded the Hindoo faith. It was an audience which included thoughtful women and men, for the lecturer had been invited by the “Peripatetics,” and among the friends who shared the privilege with them were ministers of varied denominations, as well as students and scholars.

Vive Kananda is a Brahmin priest, and he occupied the platform in his native garb, with caftan on head, orange colored coat confined at the waist with a red sash, and red nether garments. He presented his faith in all sincerity, speaking slowly and clearly, convincing his hearers by the quietness of speech rather than by rapid action. His words were carefully weighed, and each carried its meaning direct.

He offered the simplest truths of the Hindoo religion, and while he said nothing harsh about Christianity, he touched upon it in such a manner as to place the faith of Brahma before all. The all-pervading thought and leading principle of the Hindoo religion is the inherent divinity of the soul; the soul is perfect, and religion is the manifestation of divinity already existing in man.

The present is merely a line of demarcation between the past and future, and of the two tendencies in man, if the good preponderates he will move to a higher sphere, if the evil has power, he degenerates. These two are continually at work within him; what elevates him is virtue, that which degenerates is evil. Kananda will speak at the First Unitarian Church tomorrow morning.”

Swamiji’s second visit to Minneapolis

Swami Vivekananda returned to Minneapolis to give a lecture on the evening of December 14,1893. This time he was hosted by Dr. William Watts Folwell, who had been the first president of the University of Minnesota from 1869 to 1884. 

According to Minneapolis Journal on 15 December, 1893 – “A Witty Hindu: SWAMI VIVEKANANDA ENTERTAINS ANOTHER LARGE AUDIENCE. He is of the humorist order and his quick replies and witty sallies rarely failed to evoke applause.”

 The Minneapolis Tribune, also reported on 15 December“Swami Vive Kananda, the Brahmin priest, was greeted by a packed house last evening at the First Unitarian Church, when he appeared before his second Minneapolis audience. Vive Kananda is a bright, quick witted talker, ready at all points to attack or defend, and inserts a humor into his speeches that is not lost upon his auditors. He spoke last evening under the auspices of the Kappa Kappa Gammas of the University, and the audience embraced a large number of earnest thinking men and women, pleased to be enlightened upon the “Manners and Customs of India,” which was his chosen subject. 
Robed in his native garb, with his hands for the most part clasped behind his back, Kananda paces back and forth the narrow platform, talking as he paces, with long pauses between his sentences, as if willing that his words should sink into the deepest soil. His talk is not so weighty that the frivolous mind may not appreciate some of his sayings, but he also speaks a philosophy that carries gravest truth. . . .”

I am so glad to know that Swamiji visited Minneapolis long back to impart the Vedic wisdom of India and enthrall with his impressive demeanor and unique, philosophical teachings – something the West had never heard before. Also, I have a feeling that the blessed Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis will mean so much more to me, considering the great master walked around the area more than a century back.

(Images courtesy Google. Thank you vivekanandaabroad.blogspot.com)

Covid is on the rise in MN, yet again!

Pay heed, Covid is rising again, especially in Minnesota! I wasn’t paying much attention to it until I went to a nearby school as a substitute and found many kids were sick at home or recovering from Covid. It felt like deja vu, similar to events that happened in 2020, only children were not affected then.

Students in my kids’ school have been sick as well. Luckily, the vaccines for kids are here and many kids above 5 have got their first shot.

According to The Guardian, “With medical authorities struggling to get adult vaccination rates above 60% nationally, the states first to experience the onset of winter – Michigan and Minnesota – lead the country ‘by a significant margin in recent cases per capita’.”

The Covid is surging in not only Minnesota but in 38 US states and Europe as well. And now is a great time to get fully vaccinated or take the booster shots (the effect of vaccines begins to wane after 6 months), if you haven’t already. Progress on vaccination continues, but around 60 mn Americans age 12 and older remain unvaccinated. With unpredictable outbreaks and strains like the Delta variant, things could get worst.

Wherever you are in the world, this post is just to give a heads up about the status of the pandemic in Minnesota. One thing is for sure about this pandemic, we cannot get too comfortable around it. We have to be on our guard and keep up the efforts to beat the invisible enemy. God willing, we will have the enemy under control by next year. Stay safe and healthy, dear friends, and do mask up & get those shots!

Image courtesy Google

A Happy Diwali Message to You!

Happy Diwali

This #Diwali, may you and I turn towards our inward light and walk on an illuminated path!!!

…A path cleaned up through self-observation, lit up with diyas of hope and decorated with rangolis of creativity….offering fireworks of laughter, sweetened with challenges of life… and leading us towards our highest Self.

#HappyDiwali to you and yours.

(Image courtesy Google)

Autumn Pictures and Quotes

Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go…. ! It’s that time of the year again when every leaf turns into a flower, and there is a tinge of gold everywhere. Here are some gorgeous pictures of nature around me. And a few inspiring quotes to make you smile!

Life fails to be perfect but never fails to be beautiful.

Autumn writes her own poetry we are merely observers!

Notice that autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature.

Autumn the greatest show of all times!

Keep going, everything you NEED will come to you at the perfect time.

(Quotes courtesy Google, Photography by hubby)

Small Things #33 – What’s the meaning of HAND?

A while back, I asked my kids to write something interesting. I felt the children were being too comfortable with digital writing and ‘dear old’ handwriting was taking a backseat. After a little protest, they finally agreed.

So, the older one decided to write a letter to his cousin sister telling her about his summer vacation while the little one began to write the story of a dog.

After giving a long lecture on cases, grammar and punctuation to the older one, I turned towards the little one. He was frantically editing his work to escape my lecture. I took his copy and read the story of the dog-

One day a small dog was HAND when he saw something.”

“What is the meaning of this? I don’t understand the sentence.”

“Mumma, what’s there to not understand?

“What’s this HAND doing in the middle of a sentence?”

Mumma, it means the small dog was HAVING A NICE DAY (HAND) when he saw something. There was no space to write so I used short form. You understand short form, right?”

This was hilarious and the older one gave a thumbs up to lil bro. I told him short-forms are not acceptable in formal writing.

But would it be acceptable in the future? I thought.

English is changing so much, digital texting language may become more acceptable in formal English by the time my kids grow up. Good or bad, I don’t know (IDK).

Although many are not happy with the changes in the English language, some linguists say kids, far from destroying English, are innovating and enriching the language. This adaptability is the greatest strength of English. Words change forms, names becomes ACRONYMS and best of all English takes on local flavors. Don’t you agree?

This episode also made me realize – I need to keep up with the new lingo of this generation before I start receiving lectures.

Well, G2G at the moment, will BRB soon! LOL.

Image courtesy Google

The Man Who Sold Happiness – A Bedtime Tale

Story of a man selling happiness at a village - stories by shivangi

One day, an old turbaned man arrived at a colorful, bustling bazaar in India. He set up a signboard at a corner – I Sell Happiness for Two Paise.

Many dismissed him as a con man, but a lot came out of curiosity. A man selling happiness was rare! “Hmmm, happiness for two paise? Can you show me happiness?” One mustached man said sarcastically.

“Sure, come sit by me”, said the happiness seller. By now, a small crowd had gathered to see the “tamasha”.

The customer threw two paise at him. The seller took out a carved mirror from his “potli” and put it in front of the man. The customer’s face contorted at first, and then he burst out laughing.

“Bravo! It’s strange, but he does sell happiness!” The customer announced.

Bedtime Story - Graphics of a man selling happiness - stories by shivangi

Another customer came, and he went away laughing too. Some customers smiled, some laughed and, many rolled on the ground with laughter. Everyone thought the happiness seller was a magician.

One little orphan boy watched the seller from far, and thought – “The mirror seems magical, but what does it show?”

By evening, the crowd around the seller lessened, and he noticed the boy.

“Son, do you want to buy happiness, too?” he called out. The boy nodded but explained, he had no money.

“Well, I can always barter,” the seller said.

“Seller, I have just hardship and sadness to offer!” said the boy.

“Well, no harm in offering that to the magical mirror. Let’s see how it conjures happiness for you,” the seller said, kindly.

The boy sat and offered his hardship and sadness to the mirror…

What ensued was laughter… unrestrained laughter… from the child! His infectious laughter came from his pure heart, and soon, it spread all over the village. No one knew why everyone else was laughing.

Bedtime Story - Graphics of a boy experiencing happiness - stories by shivangi

The happiness seller had no idea the mirror could give THAT kind of happiness. After the boy stopped laughing, he asked – “Son, I am amazed. I am 100 years old now but I never saw anyone experiencing such BLISS! What happened, tell me?”

The boy smiled and said, “Dear seller, thank you for this great opportunity. Let me explain the reason.

The first man’s happiness came from jealousy. The mirror showed his enemy falling into the ditch. So, he laughed. The second man’s happiness came from ambition. He saw himself traveling to a new land and earning wealth. So, he laughed.

Everyone’s happiness came from something they wanted – their desire! They got happiness in the same proportion.

My happiness was based on the act of surrender – of my hardships and sadness. I let go of my burden, stress…and what stayed in me was …nothing…just peace. This inadvertently filled me with ecstatic laughter. The mirror showed me so free and joyful, and I laughed. And it spread everywhere.”

The turbaned man folded his hand and said – “My child, a divine being told me I will meet my successor here. And I found you! All my life, I sold happiness, became rich but never understood it. Today I saw it. So, will you be my companion in spreading real happiness…?”

The boy smiled and nodded.

The next morning, people from far and wide rushed to the bazaar to buy a fresh dose of happiness. Who doesn’t want happiness for two paise? What they didn’t understand was the priceless truth – real happiness does not come from what we GET but what we LET GO of…

Villagers desperately searched for the happiness seller. But he had already left with his successor.

Happiness Quote - Stories by Shivangi

Story & Images – @storiesbyshivangi