GUILFORD — For most people, a life that involves splitting time between two places can be a headache. Consider the pain double if the places are situated at opposite corners of the globe, and a distance that takes an ensuing flight 21 hours to cover.
Yet radio jockey and cultural arts curator Vidhi Salla, of Guilford and Mumbai, does it with flair. Every winter, Salla and her husband make a trip from Vermont to India, and back, with their jet-lag far weaker than their passion to travel.
Salla, who is a radio jockey in Brattleboro’s community radio station WVEW, finds this bi-located life exciting. Coming from Mumbai, fertile ground for Bollywood cinema, she channels her film reviews to Vermont and beyond through her show, “Vidhi’s Bollywood Jukebox.”
But her connection to India transcends Bollywood. Her husband is a Hindustani classical musician, who travels to India for shows and training; and Salla, when in India, records her shows for air from her house. Recently, after receiving interest in Indian heritage from her community in Vermont, Salla has started hand-selecting and selling Indian handicraft items, such as bags, shawls and jewelry, under her umbrella brand name Vidhiism.
In the crowded trains of Mumbai and in the fields for community-supported agriculture in Vermont, Salla finds solace, and the places, like yin and yang, completes and weaves her life into one entity.
In a candid chat with Vermont News & Media, Salla spoke about how she balances her life between two worlds; pandemic flight experiences; how she identifies with both cultures; and if sometimes, the grass is actually greener on the other side.
Vermont News & Media: Right off the bat, how does it feel to call two places your home?
Salla: It’s bittersweet. I don’t like leaving either place when I’m flying back, but I also look forward to being in Mumbai and Vermont. I have also learned to cherish the best qualities of each place, and I seem to have a better perspective now. For example, if I find myself complaining about Mumbai summer, I remind myself about Vermont winters and vice versa.
Q: Tell us about your journey from Mumbai to Vermont.
A: I had not heard about Vermont until I met my husband, Joel Eisenkramer (we met in India). When I first came to Vermont, it was idyllic, and the warmth of the people really touched me. I immediately felt welcome. Joel suggested that I should have my own show at the local community radio station WVEW in Brattleboro, and that I might enjoy it. I took to it quite naturally. My weekly radio show, “Vidhi’s Bollywood Jukebox,” has now become a big part of my identity in both countries. … In fact, encouraged by my audiences’ interest in Indian culture, last year I also started a business of curating and importing handicrafts from India.
Q: Do Mumbai and Vermont each bring out different aspects of your personality?
A: Growing up and living in a bustling metropolis like Mumbai prepares you for a lot of challenges, because everything else seems tame in comparison. … Vermont taught me the value of physical labor: whether it’s stacking wood, gardening, building a fire or painting walls; I never thought I could do all these things. Living in Vermont definitely enhanced my cooking skills. Mumbai’s restaurants and takeout culture can spoil you, in a good way.
Q: As a Mumbaikar, what are the things that you miss the most about Mumbai when you are here in Vermont?
A: I miss my family, friends, the food and Mumbai monsoons. I terribly miss Mumbai’s well-connected public transport when I’m in Vermont. Sometimes I find myself wishfully thinking, “what if Vermont had autorickshaws?”
Q: What are 5 things you love about Vermont or living in Vermont?
A: The nature; a sense of community and solidarity … in Vermont, you can always find help for anything at all; outdoor summer events and music concerts; WVEW, the community radio; and community supported agriculture. We’re subscribed to an organic farm called New Leaf CSA. They have seasonal subscriptions of vegetables they grow, and we can go to the farm every week to pick up that week’s produce.
Q: How frequently do you have to commute between the states and India?
A: I travel to India for a couple of months every winter. My husband … is a musician. He plays Hindustani classical music and has been traveling back and forth to India every winter to play concerts and receive taleem (training) from his music teacher since 15 years even before we met. So, we both have strong ties to India.
Q: How was your experience of flying during the pandemic?
A: I was in India the whole of 2020, because my green card was under processing at the time. When I was finally able to fly back in April 2021, it was at the beginning of the delta wave, and everything was several notches tougher: getting tested, finding tickets and keeping myself safe.
Q: This to-and-fro between the destinations must leave you with frequent changes in your sleep cycle. How do you avoid jet lag?
A: It takes one week to acclimatize in either place. I find myself becoming more sensitive to Mumbai air and water after being in Vermont for a stretch of time. I don’t think you can really avoid jet lag, but a highly recommended remedy after taking a long flight is to make fists with your toes.
Q: With rising hate crimes across the country, how frequently do you feel conscious of your identity?
A: I have been fortunate that, because of the nature of my work, I’ve had the chance to actually celebrate my identity. However, it certainly is disturbing to hear each time a hate crime is committed in the U.S. I have traveled to several countries during my years as a travel journalist. In no other place have I felt more aware of my skin color than in the U.S.
Q: Speaking of identity, how do you balance between retention of your cultural roots and being a part of the melting pot of the U.S.?
A: I think the idea of “retention” of culture is problematic, because human society has evolved from interacting with and being influenced by each other. Being in Vermont certainly makes me feel more like a global citizen. That being said, I do miss speaking in Hindi when I’m in Vermont, and so I try to speak a little bit of the language on my show. Occasionally, I host episodes that are like mini lessons in Hindi with songs.
Q: Who has influenced you and your work the most?
A: Over the course of my career, I have read biographies of a lot of Indian personalities, especially connected with films. I admire the work ethics and artistic sensibilities of playback singers Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and lyricist Gulzar the most.
Q: Looking ahead, do you see yourself switching to permanently stay in either the U.S. or India?
A: I live and work in the U.S. and visit India to see my family and friends. Time and finances permitting, I would like to continue doing that.