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DIVIDED WE FALL: a story that remains relevant.

In September of 2001, I wasn’t certain about what to do with my life; I knew I had to return to California to help my mom out after my dad died, and I was still interested in music, but I didn’t have a plan beyond that. For a month before heading west, I lived in a great apartment in Central Square, not far from India Pavillion, just south of Mass Ave. I’d pass the diverse populace of Central Square on the way to the T, including a man wearing a turban walking to his work at India Pavillion–I vaguely recalled the turban signifying that he was a Sikh. What a Sikh was, I wasn’t sure, but I did know that India Pavillion rented awesome Bollywood films and had spectacular samosas.

On the 11th, I spent the morning in shock in my work’s conference room, barely able to believe what I was watching. In the days that followed, I wrote on the Harvard Krokodiloes listserv about the need for tolerance, Arab-Israeli dialogues (the images of Palestinians and Egyptians celebrating filled me with sadness, not anger)…the need to do something. My friend TH Culhane took these few emails and ran with them, forming a group of musical ambassadors who did shows across the Middle East. I didn’t know what to do except to make sure that I waved hello to the Sikh man as he walked to work–no doubt he was getting nasty looks from people, or worse, I thought. Sometimes I would walk by the mosque on Prospect Street and…I don’t know…think good thoughts. Watch for vandals. I heard some mosques had been vandalized. That’s all I did. It was vaguely benevolent, but I was too immature, too distracted, to really understand compassion at that time, I think. In early October, I packed for the move back to Los Angeles, grateful that I was driving, and Central Square and that final month of idyll and trauma was replaced by a different life on the West Coast.

Years later, after I had finished my film scoring classes at UCLA, I saw an advertisement for DIVIDED WE FALL: AMERICANS IN THE AFTERMATH, a documentary about hate crimes against Sikhs and Muslims after 9/11. I immediately responded with a impassioned note; all that I had wanted to do in 2001 came bursting back out of me, and I spent hours reading up on the Sikh religion and on the filmmakers. To my amazement, they replied to my message. Soon enough, I was in a small editing suite with Valarie Kaur, who had taken time off from her studies at Stanford to follow the stories of the people affected by the 9/11 backlash, and Sharat Raju, who was adding to her footage and helping to shape the stories into a proper narrative. We talked for a while and watched some footage, our combined enthusiasm growing. Doubt seized me for a moment. “I haven’t done this before,” I hedged, wondering what it took to score a film. Sharat chuckled and said, “That’s okay–we haven’t either.”

It was magic after that; they assembled their cut and I scored it. I did my best to match the tragedy of the stories–I was writing music for real, actual deaths and had to give the dead the utmost respect. The film explored the deep irony that Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims due to their turbans–an article of clothing that Muslims do not wear, save for, unfortunately, certain religious leaders such as the Ayatollahs, and even so, they aren’t Sikh turbans. This incredible case of mistaken identity and the deaths that resulted in it was rescued and transformed by Valarie’s message of hope and unity; she truly seized the moment to spur thought, dialogue, compassion, which is an amazing achievement.

For the premiere, we drove to Mesa, Arizona, where Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first hate crime victim, was murdered just days after 9/11. We screened the movie to an audience that included his family members and members of the Mesa-Phoenix interfaith community. Since then, DIVIDED WE FALL has screened all over the world and won many awards, and Valarie has spoken on behalf of the Sikh community, and how American unity has to be given more than lip service, countless times. Valarie, Sharat and I have remained good friends and have worked together since, and the circles have expanded–my wife has had another Sikh filmmaker, still in high school, come to talk to the kids at her school; Valarie has started her own interfaith activism group, Groundswell, and I have gone from a sort of cautious, ignorant, disconnected benevolence towards someone with a turban to walking into a shop and saying to myself, ‘ah, the 11 Gurus, with Guru Nanak at the top. The owners are Sikhs,’ and smiling because I know their faith to be welcoming, and because I no longer see them as other.

However–the hate that is in America didn’t go away just because the movie ends on a note of hope. One tends to believe in movie magic; if this documentary just reaches enough people, we think, it will really change things. We can get lost in that rosy glow, and then one gets word–in my case, I got it from Valarie–that a gunman has entered a Sikh place of worship (a gurdwara) and shot and killed people. 11 years later, another shocking, deadly hate crime. Has anything changed? Have we learned anything?

Well, I’ve noticed that something that has changed. National news is talking about the crime, and talking about Sikhs. It is sad that people, myself included, only seem to learn about Sikhs when they are murdered, but they are learning, and listening, and responding. Many of my friends on Facebook are discussing this crime and share their disbelief and outrage in the crime and in the colossal stupidity that people are shooting Sikhs because they think they are Muslims. Sikh Americans are Americans. Muslim American are Americans. Just as we cannot mistrust Japanese Americans in 1951, or 1941 for that matter, we cannot condemn whole ethnicities, faiths, communities because of the actions of a few extremists. If we do, we are divided. If we see ourselves as the same, then we are united. Something has happened in the last eleven years; I don’t know where it came from, but we are more united now, and we are talking.

DIVIDED WE FALL remains relevant today; in a way, that is tragic, but at the same time, we have to seize the opportunity to talk about the divisions in America. Only by talking about them can we dissolve them. They thrive in ignorance and wither in the light of rationality and compassion. We must talk. We must stand with Sikh-Americans. We must stand with Muslim-Americans. We must stand with African-Americans, and American Africans, and Mexican-Americans, and Vietnamese-Americans, and Filipino-Americans. We must look at any immigrant group and say to ourselves: you are not the other, and let the hyphen and prefix fade away and just see Americans. And we must say it, over and over again, and really mean it–not in jingoism, not as us-versus-them, but in true solidarity and kindness, and make it come true: United We Stand.

Inaugural Post: State of the Studio, August 5th

Hello–this post may or may not self-destruct in 30 seconds, as I’m still figuring out WordPress blogging. Here’s what’s happening in my studio these days.

1. I have a locked cut of a short film, “Red Top”, to score in the coming week. Really looking forward to bringing music to this story of a girl and her friend–well, let’s keep the plot a secret.

2. Next up, a song for a really great producer/creator’s documentary; I wrote a little skiffle-like tune that my friend Paul and I will record. More details when it’s done!

3. On the heels of that, with the same producer and a great director, Talora Michal, I’ll be scoring FOUR CORNERS, a feature documentary that explores attitudes in the United States minus the politically charged spin with which they are usually clouded.

4. Additionally, I will score the awesome action-martial arts dark epic BEAUTY AND THE BLADE, written and directed by pal Ron Santiano.

Whew! That’s enough for right now, eh? I doubt it. I’ll accumulate more projects and things presently. My eternal gratitude to everyone who has believed in me so far.