Jefe's House
Jeffrey Stanley is a playwright, screenwriter, director, and occasional journalist. His plays include the semiautobiographical wartime drama Tesla's Letters, the southern fried dark comedy Medicine, Man his autobiographical comedy show The Golden Horseshoe: A Lecture on Tragedy and others. He is immediate past president of the board of directors of the New York Neo-Futurists experimental theatre ensemble, and his award-winning short film Lady in a Box, a satire inspired by the Terri Schiavo euthanasia case and starring Sarita Choudhury, has been licensed numerous times for international broadcast and distribution. Stanley has been a guest at Yaddo, a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College, and a guest lecturer at the Imaginary Academy film and theatre workshop in Croatia sponsored by the Soros Foundation. He frequently teaches at his alma mater the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, and at New York University School of Continuing & Professional Studies. He has appeared as a featured writer in The New York Times, Time Out New York and Hemispheres, and he was a senior advisor to Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies’ book on apocalypse movements The End That Does. Stanley holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Tisch where he studied under playwright David Ives, and a BFA from Tisch in Film & Television with a minor in cultural anthropology. www.brain-on-fire.com.

Author Archive

Teaching in Bangalore

by on Dec.03, 2018, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

bltlogoThrilled to be teaching a full-day playwriting workshop this week to members and friends of the Bangalore Little Theatre, affectionately called BLT.  I will also be seeing their latest play, based on the best-selling book The Emperor of All Maladies, as well as traveling with BLT to observe their theatre education program at some rural schools outside the city.

 

 

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CISF’s Daring Rescue in Bangalore

by on Dec.02, 2018, under On the Road, Pophood, Shaheb Cafe

Yours Truly with CISF Officer Ravindra Pratap

The Absent-Minded Professor with CISF Officer Ravindra Pratap.

This week I left Kolkata to spend a week in Bangalore working with the highly acclaimed Bangalore Little Theatre  (affectionately known as BLT) where I will catch some of their new plays, accompany them to a rural area where they do theatre education outreach to economically disadvantaged schools, and where I will teach a one-day playwriting workshop to BLT members.

My Indigo Airlines flight was on time, and finally during my flight I got to have one of my much anticipated Indian delicacies, the Indigo Airlines chicken junglee sandwich and a cup of Darjeeling tea. If you haven’t tried one, you haven’t lived. You think I’m kidding.

The trouble began after I landed at KIA (Kempegowda International Airport).  I grabbed a luggage trolley (always free in India; a lesson for US airports) and dropped my shoulder bag into the topmost rack of the trolley near the handlebar.  My two pieces of checked luggage arrived on the belt in no time. I tossed them onto the trolley and made for the exit while opening the Uber app on my phone.

Along the way I stopped at a small shop in the airport lobby, left my trolley near the shop entrance and took two steps to the counter to buy a bottle of water, all of which took less than 60 seconds.   I was soon outside pushing my trolley up and down the sidewalk, past the Subway, the Krispy Kreme, and a host of other colorful eateries that were primarily a mix of South Indian and US cuisines, looking for the blasted Uber pickup spot. I had already requested the car so I needed to hustle.

Only when I reached the Uber stand and started to load my luggage into the car did I realize my shoulder bag was missing.  I whipped the trolley around and walk-ran back toward the terminal.  Some wiseguy had lifted my bag right off my cart while I was buying water, I  fumed.   Where am I, Philadelphia?

I flagged down a security guard. “Excuse me, my bag has been stolen.”  After the struggle of going through the particulars in English (my broken Bangla is worthless here in the state of Karnataka where the native language is Kannada), he sent me to the airport’s Central Industrial Security Force control center.  The CISF is a branch of India’s armed police force and is tasked with guarding industrial and infrastructure sites, including airports.

The uniformed gentlemen were extremely helpful, and truth be told, they seemed a lot more optimistic than me about recovering my bag.  I was already grieving for not only the lost bag, which was an inexpensive but beloved souvenir from a Citi-Mart (think K-Mart) store in Kolkata, but also my laptop that I would need for teaching later this week, and my expensive prescription reading glasses that I would also

Indian film star Arpita with parachute-kaku.

Indian film star Arpita with parachute-kaku.

need for teaching.  But worst of all I would be losing parachute-kaku.

You see, the day before I left for India back in September I had tossed “parachute man,” one of my seven-year-old son’s toys, out the 2nd floor window of my Philadelphia apartment, videoed it floating down to the parking lot, and sent it to him as a final goodbye.   I also brought the toy with me to Kolkata where I renamed him “parachute-kaku,” (Bangla for parachute uncle), which my son and I got a kick out of.

Parachute-kaku traveled with me everywhere. It became a running gag between my son and me to send him pictures of parachute-kaku at various historic sites, in cafes, sitting next to me in taxis, and posing with friends and family in Kolkata.  This man-about-town had been spotted with Swami Vivekananda, been seen pandal-hopping during Durga Puja, gone shopping at the South City Mall, had hung out backstage with stars of Kolkata’s native jatra theatre scene, and even met a Tollywood star.   Parachute-kaku was getting me into all of the right places. When he wasn’t hobnobbing, he lived in my shoulder bag…

Forget everything else I had lost. The laptop could be replaced. My glasses could be replaced. Parachute-kaku now had historical provenance.  How would I break it to my son that the toy was gone forever?  I was admittedly too embarrassed to tell the CISF guys, with their sidearms and berets, that parachute-kaku must be retrieved at all costs, so instead I focused on the laptop. Anyone could understand that.

One of the guards told me they would make some calls and also check the restrooms, and that likely someone who grabbed the bag would steal the contents and dump the empty bag someplace. If I was lucky, I might at least get that bag.

Another officer, Mr. Ravindra Pratap, was more reassuring.  “It’s not stolen,” he told me.  “People don’t steal bags at this airport.”   He struck me as the kind of guy who made sure that kind of thing didn’t happen, at least not on his watch.  I told him it was entirely possible that I had left it in a restroom, or on the plane, or that it had even fallen off the cart someplace, but that I really didn’t think so.  Nonetheless, if they could check everywhere I’d sincerely appreciate it so that I could get it off my mind, stop wondering, fill out some kind of theft report for my records and complete going through the Five Stages of Grief, starting with Denial and ending with Acceptance. I was still stuck on Bargaining.

They told me to sit tight for another 15 minutes.  I was dying to go back inside and retrace my steps myself but this wasn’t allowed. Airport security is tight in India.  Once you’re out of the building, you stay out of the building unless you have a ticket for a departing flight. So there was nothing I could do but plop down on my luggage, count my many blessings, and enjoy Bangalore’s balmy weather.  I texted my best friend in Kolkata to just to vent and get a sympathetic ear.  I pinged my contact at the Bangalore Little Theatre, the actor, Mr. Abhishek Sundaravadanan, to keep him informed about my delay. I let him know I’d need to borrow a laptop in order to show a few Powerpoint slides and film clips when I taught my workshop in a few days. Next, I started looking for laptop sales on amazon.in.

Parachute-kaku at Radindra Sarobar lake.

Parachute-kaku at Radindra Sarobar lake.

Finally, Officer Pratap came outside and found me to let me know the bad news that they hadn’t found it. He and his colleagues let me know that if I wanted to, I could take the long walk from the terminal to the Airport Police station (a separate branch from the CISF), fill out a report, and then they’d send me back to the terminal with an officer who would sit and watch the airports CCTV footage with me.  I weighed this for a few moments.  The loss was eating away at my entire day and I still had an hour ride to get into the city before meeting Dr. Vijay Padaki, Convener-Trustee of BLT, later that evening.  I had already faced that parachute-kaku was gone.

Still, maybe I’d need some kind of proof later. I wasn’t even sure why but something told me to get a record of the lost bag.  So off I trundled toward the police station with my trolley and luggage. One thing I learned on this journey is that the sidewalks in India are not wheelchair friendly, and thus not luggage trolley friendly, so I spent a lot of time backing the cart off of curbs, losing and repositioning my luggage, and then popping wheelies to get the trolley back up onto opposing curbs while avoiding speeding taxis.

Once inside the police station, I waited patiently while the officer in charge handled another complainant.  On the wall behind them, I spotted a big sign marked “Rogues Gallery,” to which about two dozen passport-sized photos of bad guys were attached.  I wondered what they had all done to make the airport arch-villains’ list. I imagined one of them being the thief who made off with my bag. I wanted to get that guy.

When it was my turn, I sat down casually explained the situation to the officer in charge, an older gentleman with a kind face.  He was strictly business, and didn’t seem particularly impressed with my crisis.  “But you have the rest of your luggage?”

“Yes, it’s right over there,” I said, pointing to my trolley waiting just outside the door.

“You have your passport?”

“Thankfully,” I said, tapping my shirt pocket.

“You have your money?”

“Yes, thank God,” I said, patting my front pocket.

20181203_083828He stared at me over the top of his reading glasses.  I saw where this was headed.  Why go through all of this trouble just for a laptop and a pair of glasses?  I was too embarrassed to tell him about parachute-kaku, and about the fact that I didn’t want to let down my son, so instead I said, “I understand that it’s gone. I just want to fill out whatever form you have so I can prove it was stolen in case I ever need it back in the US.”

He handed me a blank sheet of paper and a pen and began dictating a letter for me to write down, word for word.  They would need this signed letter in order to process my complaint of a lost bag.  The day was ticking away but I had come this far, so I proceeded to slowly write as he recited in a thick accent:

To the Commandant,

CISF
KIA Bengalaru

Subject: Loss of My Bag

“Now write down exactly what happened,” he said.  So I began.  On 2nd, December, 2018, I arrived in Bangalore on Indigo flight 6E-345 from Kolkata where I work as a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar. The flight arrived at 12:20pm.

At that moment his desk phone rang. An officer sitting next to him picked it up. She said a few things into it in Kannada and then handed it to him. He said a few more things into it, then hung up and looked at me.  “They found your bag. The laptop is still inside.”  My jaw dropped.  By this point I couldn’t help but laugh at the good news, and the irony of the timing.  I dispensed with the letter, thanked the police offers profusely for their help and hopped up to go, thinking only of parachute-kaku.

“God has smiled on you because you are a nice man,” said the lead officer.

I pressed my palms together prayerfully and said a final “Namaskar” on my way out.  I wheeled my trolley back through the zooming traffic, up and down high curbs to the terminal and the CISF counter. Officer Pratap and the others were all smiling at me as I approached the window. We all started to chuckle.  They had found my bag on the floor near the luggage belt. Somehow in grabbing my two checked bags and placing them on the trolley I apparently knocked my shoulder bag into the floor, or perhaps another passenger did it inadvertently and I hadn’t noticed. Who knows?

Most importantly they reunited me with my bag and with You Know Who. He was safe and sound nestled inside right where I had left him.

I told the CISF Officers that in the US I never would have gotten such attention, and that I could imagine a security guard pretending to look for five minutes, then giving me a Lost & Found number to try on my own in hopes the bag turned up. Here, it took a little longer but it’s because they were actually looking, actually contacting custodial staff to ask if they’d seen it, checking with the shopkeeper where I’d bought my water.

They were proud of their jobs, and prouder still, I think, that their bag theft record at KIA remains at zero.

 

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

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Teaching in Kolkata

by on Oct.30, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

ILEAD_INSTITUTE_LOGO_400x400

Dear Kolkata Friends,

Please pardon the intrusion but I thought perhaps some parties here would be interested in the two-day screenwriting workshop, with a focus on short screenplays, that I’ll be teaching in Kolkata on 24th and 25th November, sponsored by Bichitra Pathshala and ILEAD Kolkata. Please see the two links below for full details including cost. If you have any questions, please comment below.

http://brain-on-fire.com/Poster.pdf

http://brain-on-fire.com/Form.pdf

thanks,

Jeffrey Stanley

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.
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Meet Pallab Mukherjee

by on Oct.08, 2018, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

“You can see the place is very beautiful. It was made by my uncle, Pallab Mukherjee.” – Swakhar Mukherjee

Click above to watch my impromptu, on-the-fly tour of Gitanjali.

Today I went to interview the accomplished film and jatra theatre director Pallab Mukherjee, whose rehearsals for the Rajdip Opera I’ve been observing, at his home in north Kolkata. That, and an interview there with the playwright Brahmamoy Chatterjee, went off without a hitch. The surprise was that the theatre and film director, Pallab Mukherjee, also runs an NGO (non-governmental organization, aka, a nonprofit charity) called Gitanjali across the street from his home.

Gitanjali.

Gitanjali.

It was founded in 2011 as a nonprofit social welfare society which cooks and delivers hot meals to nearly 6000 at-risk children at nearly 35 schools across central and south Kolkata.  The organization employs 65 to 70 workers.

Gitanjali also produces numerous cultural programs including dance, music and theatre throughout the year. During Durga Puja, they do cultural programs daily and lead clothing drives.

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Gitanjali is an urban oasis.

The organization gets some funding from the West Bengal state government but the bulk of the operation runs on private donations.
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Pallab Mukherjee

Film and theatre director, and head of Gitanjali, Pallab Mukherjee

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

 

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Big Night in North Cal

by on Sep.30, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

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Yours Truly with Jadavpur University’s retired film professor Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay who brought me here tonight and has been helping me a lot in my research.

I went to a panel discussion this afternoon held at the Gandhi Seva Sangha (basically “Gandhi Service Club,”) a nonprofit charity in northwest Kolkata, to hear a lecture on one of my research subjects, filmmaker Hiralal Sen, and his cousin, the prolific writer and folklorist Dinesh Chandra Sen. I had been invited by my new friend, retired Jadavpur University film professor Sanjoy Mukhopadhyay who is a walking encyclopedia of Bengali film history and an expert on Hiralal Sen.

IMG_0340

The Gandhi Seva Sangha with posters of Hiralal Sen (left) and Dinesh Chandra Sen promoting the day’s lecture.

My intention was to lurk in the audience, take notes, shoot video of the speakers and get their remarks translated later (my Bengali is vastly improved but I’m not that good), but they had other plans for me.  I was shocked sitting in the audience at the start when the host took the lectern and announced my name. It caught me completely off guard. He then announced me as an honored guest and Hiralal Sen researcher from the United States who would be making a formal statement (excuse me?) and joining the panel onstage (why did no one tell me this?  I would have dressed a little better.)

I was humbled to be in the company of such esteemed Bengali film scholars and felt like a complete dilettante in their presence.  Then just before we started, they asked each panelist to rise one by one and presented each of us with a scarf the color of the Indian flag, a personalized trophy and several books as gifts.

I should point out too that the Gandhi Seva Sangha, as a nonprofit charity, kicked off the event with a very special awards ceremony.  Each of us panelists were given envelopes containing financial aid awards to hand to deserving high school students in the area as their names were called and they came up onto the stage.

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Acharya (means teacher or professor) Dinesh Chandra Sen Research Society India, the group that organized this event.

I have no idea how they got a trophy made with my name on it so quickly when this event was planned on their calendar far in advance of my arrival in India.  It had to have been a last minute job, for which I am in their debt.

20180930_201442

I can’t complain about my misspelled name. I’ve mangled many a Bengali name over the years so I had it coming. Karma, you know.

I’m never at a loss for words so the speaking part was easy for me when my turn came. I greeted the audience and told them a little about myself in Bengali, then explained my research goals and my long interest in Hiralal Sen.

I was humbled and honored by the experience, and I also met a lot of scholars who came to me afterward offering to help me find the things I’m after.

What a terrific night.

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Work Begins

by on Sep.24, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

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Soumya Sankar Bose and Shyamal Dihidar

 

Yesterday the work began in earnest with my  interview of actor-director Shyamal Dihidar who’s been doing Jatra theatre since age 10. I met him through his nephew (also pictured) Soumya Sankar Bose, a Kolkata-based art photographer.  His uncle was kind enough to take a train 150km into the city for the interview which I held upstairs at a corner table of the cafe at the Oxford Bookstore.

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Shyamal Dihidar and Yours Truly

The Canon EOS Rebel T6 video camera and tripod that I brought with me paid off. And many thanks to Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design for lending me a Zoom sound recorder for 3 months.   Also many thanks to Oxford staff for taking it upon themselves to turn off the store music while I was recording.

 

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

 

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Rabindra Bharati University

by on Sep.20, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

Yesterday I got a tour of the Drama Department at my Fulbright host institution, Rabindra Bharati University. I will teach a workshop or two here later. Click the first photo below to see the slideshow of this incredible, well-appointed performing arts program.

Girish Chandra Ghosh
Girish Chandra Ghosh
First, the head of the Drama Dept. took me on a tour of the facilities. Um, no, that's not him. This is a portrait of Girish Chandra Ghosh who was a renowned 19th century Bengali playwright.
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Othello
Othello
As with the Ghosh portrait, the posters lining the main hallway are dedicated to Bengali theatre during the late 19th and early 20th century as artists were struggling to find their own post-British identities. Here is a tribute to an all-Bengali production of Othello, a radical and financially risky act at the time.
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Macbeth
Macbeth
Ditto this production of The Scottish Tragedy.
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Hariraj (adaptation of Hamlet)
Hariraj (adaptation of Hamlet)
An adaptation of Hamlet into the Bengali language.
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Hariraj
Hariraj
Closeup of Hariraj photo.
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Department Head Shubhashis Halder
Department Head Shubhashis Halder
My tour guide, Professor Shubhashis Halder
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Costume & Puppetry room
Costume & Puppetry room
The place is a hive of activity with surprises behind every door.
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Set Design class
Set Design class
These students were kind enough to pose for me.
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Set Design room
Set Design room
Busy students in every room.
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Department of Drama
Department of Drama
Main hallway.
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TV studio
TV studio
The video production classroom.
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Video production classroom.
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More of the main hallway.
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Outdoor amphitheatre
Outdoor amphitheatre
The department has an outdoor amphitheatre that also serves as a student hangout.
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Amphitheatre
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Freshman orientation
Freshman orientation
The proscenium stage was being used this day for freshman orientation.
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Freshman orientation banner.
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Tagore
Tagore
Naturally there was a portrait honoring the school's namesake, Rabindranath Tagore.
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Sculpture department
Sculpture department
Student work outside the Sculpture building.
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RBU campus
RBU campus
Main road through campus
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More of the campus. Lots of green space.
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Signs pointing the way. It's like a little town!
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Campus map
Campus map
A beautifully laid out campus.
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More green space
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I love that one of the theatres is named after 19th century prostitute-turned-stage star Noti Binodini.
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And even more greenery.
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Beauty everywhere you look.
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The Drama Department is housed in this building along with other arts-related majors.
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Makeup class
Makeup class
This is out of sequence but these were students in the Makeup studio who were kind enough to pose for me.
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Graffiti
Graffiti
I loved this graffiti about rage on back of one of the doors.
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"Ahindra Theater Workshop"
"Ahindra Theater Workshop"
The department is named after its founder, Ahindra Choudhury.
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20180919_142310.jpg
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Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.
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The Magical Island of Weirdos

by on Sep.15, 2018, under Pophood

weirdos proof

The uncorrected proof has arrived! The boy wanted to write a chapter book this summer. He stuck it out through 10 chapters. I served as mentor/editor and bad illustrator but the story is fully his own. He wants to give out autographed copies for the holidays and wants it to look like “a real book.” I’m self-publishing a small quantity to make that happen. What a hoot! This is just a teaser.

weirdos3

weirdos proof2

 

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I’m not a card guy but…

by on Sep.01, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

…I was strongly advised to take business cards for this thing.

biz card frontbiz card back

 

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It’s a Fulbright Family Affair

by on Aug.27, 2018, under Film/TV, On the Road, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

IMG_20180826_105731_94420180826_105236

One of a kind custom t-shirt made to order by a merchant on etsy.com.

#the_fulbright_program

#india

 

Mine is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the Department of State.

 

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