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7 Myths That Need Broken for Pro-377 Indians

Read this post in Hindi

In 1861, the British created Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, criminalizing homosexual behavior. A century and a half later, our attempts to get rid of this archaic law have come to a naught. Most of my friends on social networks have had something to say about the situation, and very few of them have found the Supreme Court’s decision reinstating the anti-sodomy law deplorable. Some who find the decision correct are from a generation before me, who don’t surprise me that much, but there are many who are from my generation and some from the next generation – so called millennials. I do find myself to be the lone liberal in this group of conservatives, but there is a good thing to this — the conversation has started and it will only help bring facts to life and inform people and open their eyes. At least that is what I hope. I have myself had my share of reservations about homosexuals, so I cannot fault the naysayers completely. But as I have read up and got more information about the issues involved, my opinion has evolved into full acceptance of homosexual people. I hope the Indian public and policy makers keep an open mind, get informed and rethink their opinions.
I have not had time to watch the debates on the issue on Indian TV in recent days. However, people on social networks have been complaining about media’s “outcry against the SC decision”, therefore I assume the opponents of Article 377 have got some kind of a platform there. On social networks, however, supporters of the article seem to be having a field day. Following these conversations has brought forward a number of prejudices, preconceptions and misconceptions that people have about gay people. Since most of these people have a logical and scientific bent of mind, I hope for some change of hearts.
In this post, I will try to debunk 7 major myths that Indian people have about homosexuality.
1. Homosexuality causes AIDS
Yes, I have heard some people say this. But, as we all know this cannot be farther from the truth. AIDS is caused by transmission of the HIV virus which can be transmitted by many methods one of which is promiscuous unprotected sex, be it heterosexual or homosexual. Yes, anal sex (man-man or man-woman) is understood to increase the possibility of transmission of the virus. Hence among AIDS victims, MSM are in a greater percentage. However, if a homosexual couple is healthy and committed to each other, and has no exposure to the virus, there is no reason for their sex acts to cause or spread AIDS. So, if your worry is spread of AIDS, be an opponent of unprotected promiscuous sex, not of homosexuality itself. Encourage commitments in same sex relationships, not their criminalization.
2. Homosexuality is a mental illness
Yes, people claiming to be psychologists have told me that. However, American Psychiatry Association (APA) says it isn’t so. Now this association is not some club of western culture, but a group of educated physicians who have reached this conclusion after detailed research and studies. Forty years ago APA removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in their DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered a reference standard by psychiatrists and psychologists the world over). If you haven’t removed it from your list, it may be time to do so now. Even Indian Psychiatry Association has some interesting articles on the issue on their website, all indicating the same thing – that homosexuality is not a disease and nobody becomes gay of their free will. Who in the world would want to be a social outcast on purpose?
3. Homosexuality is unnatural
OK, what do you mean by unnatural? Something not happening in nature, or not intended by God? If you believe in God, then possibly this is how God made them (homosexual people), therefore who are we to judge them and not accept them as part of the society? There are 1500 species in nature who commit homosexual acts. If your argument is that sex between same gender does not produce children, then tell me what is the prime purpose of sex — expression of mutual love, enjoyment, or procreation? Out of all the sexual acts you have committed, how many have been with the purpose of procreation? Moreover, sex is not all that relationships are based on. Just like us, homosexual couples also have multidimensional relationships and sex is just one of those dimensions. If you don’t believe in God, then I expect you would not have such prejudices in the first place. If you do, I would like to hear from you in the comments box below.
4. Homosexuality is a Western malaise, and against our culture
If you ask me, I’d say it is the Article 377 that is a Western malaise, not homosexuality. This law was created by the British in 1861, and its inspiration must have been the Western prejudices not Indian culture. Now the British have left, but left us with their laws. Back in Britain they have even legalized gay marriage, but we are still wedded to their laws. In Hinduism, homosexuality is not as explicitly condemned as it is in Islam and Christianity. Hindu mythology has characters like Ardhanarishvara and Shikhandi. Khajuraho and other ancient temples are full of sculptures depicting homosexuality (see this page). What I want to say is that in ancient India many aspects of male-female sexuality were possible. On the other hand, in some Muslim countries, it is a crime even to talk about homosexuality. Even in Western countries, while gays are gaining more acceptance, custodians of “culture” are crying foul. So, whom do we want to emulate in India? Or do we want to keep our laws secular and not inspired by religious dogma? It is not a matter of aping the West, as some make it out to be. It is a matter of doing the right thing. Now if you would rather talk about Indian culture, let us talk about the practice of Sati, untouchability, casteism, etc. Are we not trying to get rid of all these evils? Then why not get rid of our prejudices against homosexuals too?
5. The number of homosexuals is negligible
This argument is used to justify that homosexuals do not need specific laws to protect their interests. This argument is faulty on many levels. Will you make laws discriminating against people who are blind, deaf, or left-handed if their numbers are small? Secondly, their numbers seems low particularly because they have to keep themselves hidden to escape social ridicule. Granted their numbers are much much smaller than those of heterosexuals, but they are not as negligible as Ahmedinejad claimed to be in Iran. In your school, in your office, in the train you ride, you may have come across people who are living double lives because they cannot come out. OK, let’s leave homosexuals aside and talk about hijras. Why does our society force them to live secluded lives and almost beg for their survival? Why can they not work in offices, schools? Are they responsible for their plight? Nobody wants to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender of their free will, nor can they change their sexual identity even if they wished to. Try to be in their shoes — what if you or I were in their place?
6. Same sex marriage reduces the sanctity of marriage
Well, this argument is not that common yet in India, because we are still stuck in criminalization of homosexual relationships. Same sex marriage is still a far cry from reality. However, as same sex marriage becomes more acceptable in the West, Christian fundamentalists keep complaining that this is changing the definition of marriage. Another faulty argument. It is not changing the definition of marriage for you. You can still marry whom you want and nobody is forcing gay marriage on you. But if gays are getting married to each other, how is that impacting you? How does someone else getting his right make the rights you have lesser? If you force a gay person into matrimony with a straight person, two lives will be ruined. In India, we may have countless such couples. So, we have no right to snatch others’ rights, particularly when their rights do not harm us.
7. If you allow homosexuality, what is next – sex with animals?
Lots of people talk about the “slippery slope” to incest and bestiality. But there is no logical reason to be afraid of that. First of all, advocates of rights for homosexuals talk about consensual sex, which is not possible in case of bestiality. Either way, laws should only concern themselves with rapes and forcible sexual encounters, and not define who one can have consensual sex with. On the other hand, if religious reasons are used to guide our laws, many other laws infringing on our personal freedom can be made.

Anyway, there is no end to arguments and counter-arguments. What I am trying to say is that people who are against rights for homosexuals are on the wrong side of time. Future generations will fight these laws and sooner or later these draconian laws will end, just as Sati practice and untouchability ended. Also pay attention to the fact that the Supreme Court has not basically justified the law, but has said that the law needs to be changed by legislation. This is technically correct, but there is not much hope from the Parliament here. The highest court in the land has lost an opportunity to correct a historical wrong.
To some extent, one can be thankful that such laws are not enforced as strictly as they are in Muslim countries. But still, the existence of such laws means that the Police can keep asking for bribes for yet another act which should be legal. It also means that LGBT people will keep facing problems in getting jobs, housing, getting married, adopting kids, and so on.
With this hope that in near future all LGBT people will get full rights, I sign off and welcome your responses.
Oh, one more thing. Even though Article 377 is considered an anti-homosexuality law, it does not meet even that objective properly. It only outlaws sodomy, which means on one hand it does not outlaw lesbian relationships, and on the other hand it does outlaw anal sex between legally married man and woman, which carries a ten year imprisonment as punishment. Therefore, it is not just a matter of annulling this ridiculous law, but of ending the discrimination against homosexuals as a whole. Yes, in our society PDA makes many people uncomfortable; therefore both types of couples should limit their intimate acts to the privacy of their homes and bedrooms. Our conventional society deserves at least this concession.

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Law, Sausage and the Apple

Foxconn, Shenzhen, ChinaIt is said that if you love sausage and respect the law, you should watch neither being made. Now here is something that will make you add your favorite Apple gadget to the list of your dear things that you would rather not watch being made. Actually, this applies not just to the Apple devices but most gadgets you use.
This story from This American Life on National Public Radio brings to light the conditions in the factory in China that makes most of the gadgets we use. According to Wikipedia, Foxconn manufactures products for most electronics companies – from Acer and Apple to Toshiba and Vizio. Do listen to this story. Download it to your Apple iPod and listen to it on your way to work, or wherever. But do listen. What is special about this story is the way it is told by a “worshipper belonging to the cult of the Mac”. He uses innovative methods to get the story out of Foxconn, the enigmatic factory that makes “most of our crap”, and where workers are treated such that “Week after week, worker after worker has been climbing all the way up to the tops of these enormous buildings and then throwing themselves off, killing themselves in a brutal and public manner, not thinking very much about just how bad this makes Foxconn look.”

I strongly encourage you to listen to the story by clicking the “play” button above, but you can also read the transcript here, which is not the same as listening to the inimitable Mr. Mike Daisey.

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Google TV 3.1 – A Critical Review

Last Wednesday (7-Dec-11), Google TV announced on its blog that “all units of the Logitech Revue™ will begin to receive an over-the-air (OTA) update of the new Google TV software”. This update was much awaited and several weeks later than the update was announced for the other Google TV device – the Sony. Anyway, my Logitech Revue got its update yesterday (10-Dec). However, so far the software has not really lived up to its expectations — Google could have, and should have, done a much better job. Anyway, here is a detailed review of what works better and what got worse on Google TV 3.1. For the record, I tested it on a Logitech Revue (with a regular keyboard), hooked to a 51″ Sony Bravia LCD, connected to Comcast cable.
What Got Better:
Let me first talk about what got better. The interface definitely looks much better. When you press the “Home” key on the keyboard, you get a nice toolbar at the bottom of the TV screen.

This toolbar contrasts with the vertical sidebar in the last version, which did have its advantages that I will come to later in this post. Anyway, the first icon in the toolbar is the “All Apps” icon. The second icon is the “Live TV” icon. It is the third icon “TV & Movies”, which is the best feature, and perhaps the only better feature, of Google TV 3.1. This brings up a list of all movies and shows available — currently on live TV, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and so on. You can also change the time from “Now” to a future time and see what is coming up.

Google TV 3.1

Another great addition is the Android Market. However, other than some games, there was not much of my interest. I am sure this opens Google TV up to a large improvement in coming days and weeks.
What Got Worse:
Earlier the “Home” screen had access to almost everything — Applications, Bookmarks, Spotlight, Chrome, and so on — all in the left sidebar, which is now gone. Now, when you go to the “All Apps” screen from the home toolbar, it only brings you to the Apps. There is no more easy access to Bookmarks.

Google TV 3.1

Since all my favorite online video sites were on “Bookmarks”, I need an easy way to get there. Unfortunately, the only way to get there is by opening Chrome, pressing the “Menu” button on the keyboard and choosing “Bookmarks”. The favorites key on the keyboard should have taken us there. Also there seems to be no way to delete existing bookmarks.

Google TV 3.1

Also, the earlier version of the software had an easy way to close a window — press the “Menu” key and choose “Close Window”. Now there is no easy way — you need to keep backing out of the window until you get to Home screen, or press “Menu” key, click on Windows and then click on the “X” next to the current window. Not user friendly at all.

Google TV 3.1

What Stayed the Same (or didn’t get better):
The online TV works as well as it did, as long as it is not blocked. The following picture is from NDTV, a TV channel streaming online from India. All such channels in my bookmarks work fine.

Google TV 3.1

Also, other channels accessible via Google Chrome (e.g., youku.com, vimeo.com, etc.) work fine and offer a lot of content.
“Spotlight” is described as “TV Optimized Websites”, but doesn’t live up to its name for most items listed under it. Well, the website interface is optimized alright, but the content is not made available for Google TV in all cases. Look at the following screenshots from TBS, TNT and Sidereel. The interface is fine, but there is no content to watch. On TNT, there is an option to log-in to your cable provider account, but clicking on that option gets you nowhere. So much for “TV Optimized”.

Google TV 3.1 Google TV 3.1
Google TV 3.1 Google TV 3.1

Then there is the already existing problem of major online TV resources, like Hulu and major TV networks, blocking its content from Google TV. Google 3.1 brings no solution to this issue.
My cable provider is Comcast/xfinity. I can log-in to the Comcast website to watch content online on my PC. This I consider as paid content, because I am paying for access to Comcast. However, when I try to do the same thing on Google TV, it brings up a message asking me to install Microsoft Silverlight. Obviously, there is no way Google TV is going to allow me to install this add-on, and who knows if that is the only missing link.
Maybe it works better on Dish Network, but it is not worth switching TV providers. In fact, I want Google TV to get me closer to cutting the cord, but right now I am nowhere near it.
Fortunately, I bought my Logitech Revue recently for a measly hundred bucks, compared to the earlier price of $300, so I think I am getting my money’s worth with whatever I am able to watch, but Google is not coming up to its expectations, where Google TV is concerned. Why is the “Beta” sign not where it belongs most?
All said and done, as I figure out easier ways of getting things done on Google TV, and get used to the interface, and as more items become available in the Android marketplace, I am still looking forward to a great experience with Google TV.

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Guzaarish – 100 Gram Film

guzaarishSanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish is on Netflix, and I just watched it. I felt better having watched it at home because in a theatre I would have walked out feeling cheated. The movie does have its plus points and I will come to them, but one big plus was that it was mercifully less than 2 hours long.
Bhansali excels at showing opulence in his sets, and there is plenty of that in Guzaarish — limitlessly high ceilings and tall curtains. If you are looking for fantasy, if you are looking for great cinematography, if you are looking for opulent sets, this movie is for you. There are also some great performances, particularly the one by Hritik Roshan, who plays a quadriplegic named Ethan Mascarenhas. The theme (of euthanasia) is serious and thought-provoking, but has not been treated right. If you are looking for some realism in a movie like I usually do, then stay away from this one.
Instead of doing a full review of the movie, I will just quote from some reviews it has already got in the media, particularly the ones I agreed with, then I will list the things that irritated me personally.
On the Reuter’s website the reviewer calls Guzaarish slow death. The reviewer goes on to say,

Everything else, like Aishwarya Rai’s make-up, seems fake and loud, and puts you off. The emotions, the set design, the dialogues, Hritik Roshan’s beard are all out of this world, residing in some alien planet that only Bhansali inhabits.
I’m from Goa (where the film is set) and I can assure you, I don’t know of too many Goan women who wear Victorian skirts, have elaborate hairdos and bright lipstick, all the while nursing a paraplegic man. Actually, I don’t know if women anywhere do that.

Anupama Chopra says on her review on NDTV:

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has positioned himself as Hindi cinema’s poet of pain. His movies are operatic and highly melodramatic. But over the course of six films, the worlds Bhansali creates have become increasingly sealed off and removed from any known reality. So even though the characters in Guzaarish ostensibly live in Goa, the milieu isn’t one that you would recognise.
This fantasy would be effective if the writing was more organic and the emotions felt more authentic but Bhansali never gives us a chance to invest in these people.

Coincidentally, The Hindu reviewer Sudhish Kamath also calls Guzaarish “slow death” (there should be a copyright on public insults). This is what Kamath says about the movie:

We are talking about a glossy, surreal, picture-perfect set put together by four production designers, not one of them capable or smart enough to figure out that such a character who has been living out of a wheelchair for 14 years would probably need a disability ramp in the house, especially if the character prefers to stay under a leaky roof on the first floor.
Before you try to milk the audience for sympathy and manipulate a serious issue like disability for tears and melodrama, how about understanding the special needs of such a character to live with dignity?

And then, there is this awesome video review of the movie from, who else, NDTV-Hindu. Do watch:


Anyway, now that I have milked some well-published reviewers for their opinions, let me explain the holes I personally found in this story, which completely lacked credibility in my opinion:
1. The arguments made in the movie are childish. Except for the one scene where the sarkari lawyer is made to get into a box, the film’s makers have not thought of one convincing argument that would
justify the protagonist’s guzaarish (request) for euthanasia. Ethan is living a good life for a paraplegic. He can afford full time servants, a large house, owns a radio show, has a lovely lady taking care of him, can still teach and create magic, has a fully functional brain. This is much more than can be said of real life paraplegics. His desire for euthanasia suddenly comes from nowhere one fine day after 14 years, with no apparent and immediate reason. When he presents the argument on his radio show, even a group of paraplegics (the “quad squad”) vote “no” on his proposal. Then what arguments does he present that sway the public opinion in his favor? NONE! His ex-lover is the only one who speaks in his favor “because she loves him and understands how he feels.” This may make sense for one or two or six people who personally love him, but is not enough to create so much public support that there are people standing with placards outside his house when there is a court hearing there. No placards are shown against his position.
2. Regarding the magic (the protagonist’s profession), it is not clear if he is actually supposed to be performing magic or just trickery. Half of the movie has the viewer believing that he is actually performing magic (he can make it rain, teach magical spells), but then there is the scene of the sabotage/accident when it is shown that it is obviously the trickery. Then in the last scene he is able to pull a trick on his pupil (the Draupadi sari miracle) when neither his arms nor his legs are working. Was that magic or was that trickery? If he was that functional then why die?
3. Paradoxically, talking about euthanasia makes more sense when the person is not able to even make that decision. People who are in perpetual coma, are brain-dead, people who live like a vegetable, and so on, like the Terry Schiavo case, or the more recent and relevant Aruna Shanbaug case. People
who have just their limbs non-functional can do much better than die. Quadriplegics participate in paralympic games. Nobody makes that argument in the movie. I have personally seen paraplegics swim, and have seen them do much more on film. If you are only as disabled as Hritik Roshan is shown in the movie, such a wish to die would be termed as plain suicide. Thankfully the judge doesn’t allow it in the movie, but the arguments in favor or against the case could have been made more convincingly. After all, that was the point of the movie. Wasn’t it?
4. In the last scene, Sophia (Aishwarya) decides to kill Ethan (or “help him die”) but before that she “marries” him. It looks like this criminal agreement to kill Ethan is also made known to all friends because there is a farewell party for him — with the understanding that after the murder she is going to jail. Does not make a lot of sense. Does it?
5. Towards the end, so many elements are introduced in such a haphazard way that they make no sense except direct the story to its intended end. The way Aishwarya’s husband appears out of apparently nowhere, his sudden mistreatment of her, her divorce, then marriage, the leaking roof in an otherwise magnificent house over which the magician who can make rain has no control — all these elements make for good fantasy, but not much realism that is needed for such a serious topic. The healthy sixty-something-looking mother (Nafeesa Ali) has to not only not hear her son’s shouts for help, but suddenly die peacefully for no apparent reason, as if she was in her nineties.
6. The setting shown in the movie is Goa, but not much in the movie looks or sounds Indian. Even Omar’s name is pronounced in a foreign way — Omaar.
It doesn’t help the movie either that it is reportedly a copy of an award winning Spanish move “The Sea Inside“. To quote the Indian Express reviewer,

If the director were entirely honest, he would have had a line saying it was, at the very least, “inspired by”, but then who in Bollywood is, unless they are held at gun point by the studios the films are being stolen from?

Well, I can go on and on about this movie, but let me also acknowledge that lots of people have immensely liked the movie and they must have their own reasons. There are also some rave reviews online. I guess some people like fantasy, some like sci-fi, some like cartoons. I go for realism. Give me “Peepli Live” any day, even if I am the only person in the theater — which was the case when I watched the movie in a DC area theater last summer. Classy stuff? Not for me. I liked the “100 gram zindagi” song in the film though, but that also summed up the weight of the movie for me.

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Kashmir Is Too Small For Azadi

[हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें]
Headline on CNN about Leh floods: Death toll from Kashmir flooding rises to 112
Correction: Leh is not in Kashmir. There was no flooding in Kashmir.
A Vaishno Devi Pilgrim: I just returned from Kashmir. Things are peaceful there.
Correction: Jammu is not in Kashmir. There is no jehad in Jammu.
A University of Texas Website Article: refers to the 1999 war in Kargil, Kashmir
Correction: Kargil is not in Kashmir. It is in Ladakh province.
One of the frequent gripes that Kashmiris have about people from mainland India is that they don’t understand Kashmir and Kashmiris. That is true to a large extent. One of the myths that needs to be broken is that “Kashmir is J&K”, because it is actually only a small part of it – 6.98% to be exact. Even the saying that “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India is one” is not correctly worded because Kashmir is not the Northernmost part of India; Ladakh is. And if you believe in the official Indian map, then Gilgit and Aksai Chin are the Northernmost parts, none of these being part of Kashmir. Kashmir is well South of the Northern tip of India, so it is geographically a natural part of India. Even Azad Kashmir or PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) is not Kashmir. In this blog post I will explain why this discussion is important, considering the existing imbroglio going on in the Kashmir valley.

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Farah Pandith, the Kashmir Connection

News! Now US State Department has an office of Special Representative to Muslim Communities (SRMC), and Hillary Clinton has appointed Farah Pandith as its head. So, who is Farah Pandith?
According to the State Department press release,

Pandith, a Muslim, immigrated to the United States with her parents from Srinagar, India. She has said that she sees her personal experience as an illustration of how Muslim immigrants to the US can successfully integrate themselves into American society. She grew up in Massachusetts with a diversity of faiths, ethnicities and perspectives.

Farah PandithSo, Pandith is of Indian Kashmiri origin, coming from the same region as this blogger.

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Don't Get Your Hindi Tattoo Wrong

Update 7/21/2015:
Due to shortage of time, I am unable to devote time to replying to comments on this blog post. Sorry, the comment box is now closed.


victoria tattoo on david beckham's armBritish soccer star David Beckham has his wife Victoria’s name tattooed on his forearm. But it is spelt wrongly. I am not sure if the error is intentional, but it looks like “vhiktoria”. So, if you have decided to get a Hindi tattoo, or are in the tattoo business, make sure you get a good translation or transliteration (as the case may be) for your planned tattoo.
If you have a Hindi tattoo question, ask it in the comment section of this blog post and I will answer your query for free in the same section as soon as possible. My answer will be in text form. You should copy the text to Wordpad, and increase font size to 20+ to see the image correctly. Make sure the font is “Mangal” or “Arial Unicode MS” or any other Unicode Devanagari font. It is your responsibility to have the correct font on your computer and to copy the text correctly. If possible, send me a picture of your tattoo and I will put it up here. For example, see the pictures of Hindi tattoos that readers of this blog got after asking for translation here.
freedom = स्वतन्त्रता, courtesy Mary ___ Scorpio = वृश्चक, courtesy Corey
Before you ask, please read the following:
1. Computer translations (Google, Bing, etc.) can sometimes be very good, but sometimes very bad. Therefore do not get yourself inked based on a computer translation.
2. Do not ask me to verify if a translation you got from the computer is correct. Just ask me what you want translated. You can check it against a computer, but don’t come back and ask me why it is different. I am a native speaker, and I will do my best to give you a good translation. However, I will be happy to verify another native speaker’s translation for you.
3. Caution about proper nouns like names: If it is a name you want transliterated to Hindi, let me know how you pronounce it, particularly if it is a name not common to English speakers. Hindi is written in a phonetic manner, so I must know how you pronounce it. After I give you the Hindi version, double check with somone who can read Hindi.
4. Please do not ask about translations in languages or scripts other than Hindi. I do not know Sanskrit, Gujarati, Marathi, etc.
5. Do not call Hindi Hindu. Hindi is a language, Hindu is a religion.
6. I do this free of cost as a service to the language I love. Don’t write me long paragraphs to translate. A word or two, even a line or two are fine. Be prepared to wait a day or two (sometimes more, if I am traveling) before you get your answer.
7. Here are some commonly asked tattoo words and phrases. These get asked so often that I decided to include them here. Check here before asking:
Peace = शांति or शान्ति (different spellings for the same word), pronounced Shanti
Freedom = आज़ादी or स्वतंत्रता
Be the change = परिवर्तन बनो
Be the change you want to see in the world = वह परिवर्तन बनो जो संसार में देखना चाहते हो
Never a failure, always a lesson = नाकामी कभी नहीं, सबक हमेशा
Power = शक्ति, pronounced Shakti
Strength = दृढता
family = परिवार
faith = आस्था
hope = आशा
Some phrases/sentences that are frequently asked, but don’t translate well into Hindi:
Be at peace, not in pieces.
Carpe Diem
Important Disclaimer: This service is provided with no warranties and no acceptance of liabilities. While I will do my best to answer your query correctly, do verify it from another source before getting a tattoo.