Sandip Roy's Dispatches from Kolkata

Wednesdays at 7:35am and 4:45pm

Sandip Roy, former host of Your Call and  New America Now, is back on KALW, bringing you a little bit of the story of the new India every week – a letter home from his other home.

A lot has been written about the changing India, says Roy. But reporting about a changing India is one thing. Living in it and dealing with a country where newspapers are still being launched instead of folding, Internet rumors spark mass exoduses, and cricketers advertise skin-whitening creams called Fair and Handsome is another thing.

Sandip Roy’s "Dispatch from Kolkata" can be heard Wednesdays at 7:35am and 4:45pm during KALW’s presentation of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

On December 8th the Indian Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 of the Penal Code making sex against the order of nature a crime again. But India seems to have changed, without their Supreme Court.

The Sound and Fury...

Dec 11, 2013
Sandip Roy

India is always noisy but being in Delhi in the middle of an election campaigns means it’s just noisier. Waaay noisier. For two weeks all I have heard is election noise... 

I smell onions!

Dec 4, 2013
Sandip Roy

It's election week in New Delhi and politicians are in a soup. An Indian onion soup to be precise. Onion prices have been so high the opposition party has gleefully plastered pictures of Onions on billboards and bus stands to remind the voters where it’s hurting.

Hell at Tehelka

Nov 27, 2013

When violence against women was big in the news in India, an investigative magazine called Tehelka did an explosive sting operation. Its reporters went undercover to 23 police stations around Delhi and got cops talking about rape.  The results were shocking. Most cops were happy to blame women for wearing skirts that don’t cover them fully. For having a drink.  For going out with a boyfriend and his friends. Real rape they said was rare. And those who  were really raped would never complain anyway. This year the magazine produced a special issue on sexual violence

The Magnetic Manna Dey

Nov 20, 2013

Immigrants often feel much lonelier mourning the far away death of someone who was dearly beloved – a writer, an actor, a sportsman. But a singer is different. In the days before the Internet,  singers were the only parts of our growing up that we could carry with us into small towns across America. They were portable. They came on cassettes, the plastic covers cracked by the weight of our journeys. 

Beyond All Boundaries

Nov 13, 2013

Do you find the sport "Cricket" to be baffling?  As the documentary Beyond All Boundaries , the definitive Cricket documentary, can help. In fact, it's easier to relate to than you might think. Sandip Roy takes to the pitch.

Gulabi Gang screens at the Third I San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival on November 9 at the Castro in San Francisco and November 16 at the Aquarius Theater in Palo Alto. Filmmaker Nishtha Jain will be at both screenings.

For other films and more info visit

Beware the Bhoots!

Oct 30, 2013

Sandip Roy is haunted in India.

Sandip Roy discovers the long lost sounds of Indian Music!

Unbearable Durga Puja

Oct 16, 2013
Sandip Roy

A mother goes back to her parents once every year with all her children. That sounds like hardly the excuse for five days of city wide festivities. But that’s exactly what happens during Durga Puja in Kolkata.  Because This is no ordinary mother. It’s the ten-armed mother goddess Durga coming back to visit her home with her four children. And Kolkata shuts down to welcome her back.

Modi the Magnificent

Oct 10, 2013

Elections are next year in India.  But Narendra Modi, the man who wants to be the next prime minister of India is holding his first major rally in the nation’s capital. Everything is outsized about it. The mammoth audience. The three levels of security the press has to go through. The one hundred foot tall cut out of the man towering over the crowd – welcoming or menacing depending on your point of view.

I Love You Box

Sep 25, 2013

Love in India is often over the top. In the weekly magazine Open I read about a 30-year old lawyer in the town of Patna. He leaves I love you notes for his girlfriend written in blood. But he doesn’t slit his wrists to do it because  he says one needs to be innovative, not stupid. So it’s a little surprising to find a Hindi film making a splash with a love story so low key, so subtle, one can hardly call it a romance. The lovers don’t meet. They just exchange notes in a lunchbox. Real handwritten notes . About life. And food.

Miss America's not fair enough... for Indians

Sep 18, 2013

Her name is Nina Davuluri and this Indian American is the new "Miss America."  Indians are of course in a self-righteous lather about the blatant racism expressed on twitter recently, but here’s the ugly truth. Nina Davuluri can be Miss America. But she could never be Miss India. Or even Miss Indian-American Fremont. She’s just too dark

Remembering Sushmita

Sep 11, 2013
Sandip Roy

Teacher's Day

Sep 4, 2013
Sandip Roy

September 5th is always Teachers Day in India. That means no studies, little song-and-dance programs in classrooms and  gifts of sweets for teachers.

My old teacher and school prefect Father Camille Bouche would have found little favour with today’s parents.  A pink-faced Jesuit priest from Luxembourg he spoke English with a heavy Gallic accent. He smoked incessantly, stubbing out his cigarette as he walked into class, sometimes dropping ash down our collars. He used his cane liberally.

First Post

Radical Skeletons

Aug 21, 2013
Sandip Roy

It turns out that a community best known for winning spelling bees also has some radical skeletons in its closet. Anirvan Chatterjee and Barnali Ghosh who live in Berkeley curate the South Asian Radical History Walking Tour.

Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour:

Dark and Beautiful

Aug 14, 2013

India’s obsession with fair skin is legendary. The matrimonial ads have their own complexion code pyramid. There’s fair and lovely at the top. Then the glowing wheatish complexion. Then medium complexion apparently unglowing. Those who don’t mention complexion at all are just assumed to be dark. You routinely hear someone described as pretty even though she’s so dark. Actress Nandita Das tells that she’s used to it now.

Purple bag nostalgia

Aug 7, 2013
Sandip Roy

Nostalgia today is no longer reserved for the disappearance of things we feel had been around forever. Or perhaps it’s our notion of forever that has shrunk - from 163 years for the telegramto 13 to 5. The MusicWorld store  was not even a decade old.


Sandip Roy

She was just the Park Street rape victim. The woman who went to a nightclub in Kolkata in February 2012 and was tossed out of a car in the dead of night, battered and gang raped.  

Recently the Park Street rape victim did something almost unthinkable in India. Suzette Jordan revealed her identity.


Monsoon season

Jul 24, 2013
Sandip Roy

There’s a word for it in English. Petrichor – the essence of rocks. But it just doesn’t do it for me. Call me a nostalgist but I still like the Hindi phrase saundhi mitti for that heady smell of the first fat drops of rain on summer-parched earth.

Sandip Roy

The telegram was 163 which I guess is a fine age to finally give up the ghost. The last telegram went out somewhere in India on Sunday July 15. Order No. 111-23/93/T-II (Pt. IV) from the government finally put the poor thing to its rest.  A rather dry bureaucratic way to end a very colourful life....

Elderly respect in India

Jul 10, 2013

Mandela's long goodbye

Jul 3, 2013

In his long goodbye, Nelson Mandela is also teaching us something. That no matter how much we want to hold on to something or someone, sometimes we have to let them go. To let go of Nelson Mandela is perhaps the greatest gift of gratitude the world can offer Mandela at this point.

Sandip Roy

In the last couple of weeks the state has been rocked by reports of brutal gang rapes. Sandip Roy takes us to the rally against the violence in College Square.


Jun 19, 2013
Warner Bros.

In India Man of Steel is just another superhero story. All action. 3D glasses and popcorn. But whether you watch in English or dubbed in Hindi Superman remains very American - a symphony of red, white and blue – streaking through the sky defending life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


But watching it in a theater filled with excited Indian families, it felt like there was a hidden message inside the movie  – It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Super-immigrant!

Revolutionary Optimists

Jun 12, 2013
The Revolutionary Optimists /

Whenever I hear the words film, slum, Kolkata my heart sinks a little. Whether it’s an Oscar winning documentary or a feature film, it always feels a little queasy – the poor as the object of pity.

A Eulogy for He and She

Jun 5, 2013

Award winning Indian Filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh died suddenly at the age of 49 last week. At a time when rising acceptance of alternative sexuality in India has meant increasingly hard-coded labels — lesbian, gay, MSM, bisexual, transgender — Rituparno blurred all the boundaries with his androgyny. “It is for me to decide whether I will stand in the queue for men or for women or neither of the two,” he once said.

The Great Bachchan

May 29, 2013

For most of the world, The Great Gatsby is a film by Baz Luhrmann starring Leonardo di Caprio. For  India, it’s the film that marks the Hollywood debut of Bollywood’s biggest superstar, the seventy-year old Amitabh Bachchan.

The Pressure Is On

May 22, 2013

After the Boston bombings we confront the newest marker of the dangerous other – Beware the pressure cooker.