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FROM THE PUBLISHER’S DESK When Houstonian David Raj was diagnosed with cancer about three years ago, he took the news stoically. He threw himself a 60th birthday and invited everyone to join in the revelry. A few months later, he was told that the prognosis wasn’t good. His wonderful smile belied the pain he was going through, while he continued to endear himself to all who knew him with his down-to-earth manner, grace, and altruism of spirit. On September 28, 2013, the Indo American community and all those whose lives he touched lost a friend. David, 62, breathed his last in Chennai, India, where he returned to spend his last days surrounded by family. In April this year, I had interviewed David; it was about a coffee house he’d started that would help charitable causes (article in May 2013 edition of HUM Magazine). Over the years he gave generously to organizations benefitting the underprivileged and indigent, abused women and children, and for education initiatives, and he made no bones about vociferously expressing his opinion that charity begins at home. “Many Indians send money to India, but for me charity begins where I live. If we don’t do enough in our own backyard, then there’s no hope for the future,” David said to me that day. A Vice President and Senior Financial Advisor at Merrill Lynch, David was also a skilled barista, an inordinately gifted guitarist, yet, more than all the collective hats he wore, he cared, he had a keen social conscience. David Raj lives on in the hearts of those who knew and loved him. He is so missed. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To honor the survivors of cancer, the cancer stricken, those we’ve lost to cancer and the loved ones that mourn them, we dedicate these pages to help raise awareness of breast cancer and the crucial need of funds to research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. To donate, visit October also heralds an auspicious month in the Hindu calendar when the female aspect of god, the goddess Durga and Her nine manifestations are specially venerated during the nine nights and ten days Navaratri. The observance is primarily significant to women who invite each other into their homes and celebrate the festival with prayer, music and dance, and of course, food. Traditionally in South India, the tenth day is Vijayadashmi, a felicitous day for the beginning of studies or lessons in any discipline. The November edition of HUM Magazine will be featuring destination happenings, and in particular, the traditional Hindu nuptials of Pankaj Malani and Avnie Patel which will take place in Las Vegas later this month. There will be travel pieces on unusual locales, customs and rituals pertaining to weddings, along with feature articles about Dia De Los Muertos and Thanksgiving, among others. We look forward to sharing that issue of HUM with you. Stay well. And safe. Warmly,

Kalyani Giri Publisher

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team HUM Publisher/Editor Kalyani Giri


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What I Love About


Correspondents Arjune Rama, MD Helen Buntting Langton Kamala Thiagarajan Nandini Bhattacharya Nalini Sadagopan P.G. Parameswaran, Md Priya M. James Tajana Mesic

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Although my great-grandfather first came to Galveston, Texas around 1886, and my family subsequently built a prominent retail business in Houston, I returned from a promising career working in New York City in the sixties because I believed Houston to be the city of the future. So rather than extol the attributes of Houston today, already so well-described by others in HUM’s previous editions — such as the world’s headquarters to the Petroleum and Petrochemical Industries, the world’s largest Medical Center, America’s #1 port in tonnage, the country’s greatest diversity of cuisines and restaurants, the wonderful centers of education, the world-renowned performing and visual arts organizations and entities, and our country’s first Space City — I’d like to explain on a broader scale why I love “my city”. Cities are interesting enclaves of individuals, sometimes quite homogeneous in race, culture, and social mores, and others extremely heterogeneous in their wide mix of the same descriptors. Sitting next to Mayor Richard M. Daley at a small luncheon a few years ago, listening to him extolling the diversity of his Chicago, I parried with Houston’s ethnographic mix: “33% Hispanic from Mexico, Central and South American nations; 22% African-American from the US, the Caribbean, and all over northern and southern Africa; almost 10% Asian over 125,000 sub-continent Indian and Pakistanis, the second largest Vietnamese and Iranian populations in the US, both mainland and Taiwanese Chinese, and others. Chicago’s diver-


sity, on the other hand, mostly consists of Western and Eastern European ethnicities. So which is the greatest in diversity, Mr. Mayor?“ He harrumphed and reposted with a smile: “I’ll have to think about that.” Our restaurants, places of worship and of entertainment, and support for all manner of sports, depict it well. We’re not easy on our teams. We like them to win, just as we do in our own businesses and sports lives; but when they are good, we are great, fans. It’s just that we have such a plethora of so many choices — the real embodiment of free enterprise — to chance what will be popular enough to succeed and what will be allowed to fail. If we don’t have it — that is, anything from sports to visual and performing arts — someone in our midst will say, “let’s go get it”. And because we’re willing to try anything, most often, it works. Houston doesn’t pretend to be something it is not, which is why it’s difficult for others to define it. It’s a competitive, rough-and-tumble city whose inhabitants don’t like others telling us who to be, what we should do, or what we can, or cannot be. It’s a production-oriented city, which means that quality and price and the essence of value, are more important determinants than glamour, glitz and glitter. Not that Houston lacks the latter; we have our share of that and more; but what survives and prevails in our city is value. Some have decried a lack of tourist attractions in the past, but we just kept on building our cultural organizations and buildings of which we could

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CONFERENCE CONFERENCE Dr.Dr.Penelope Frese Penelope Frese Saturday SaturdayOctober October26, 26,2013 2013 Houston Marriott Energy Corridor Houston Marriott Energy Corridor 16011 Katy Freeway Houston, TXTX 77094 16011 Katy Freeway Houston, 77094

Keynote Keynotebyby Dr.Dr.Frederick FrederickFrese Frese be proud, and ultimately it resulted in places other people wanted to see and visit. It was appropriate that Neil Armstrong’s first word from the Moon, the finale of our nation’s efforts to win the Space Race with the Soviet Union, was addressed to Houston. From the time our early City fathers formed the first federal, state and local public-private partnership to dredge the Houston Ship Channel — simultaneously with the Panama Canal — we have looked to the future and done it ourselves. It’s the way we were built. Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas were mid-continent distribution and “jump-off” points for railroads traversing North America from East to West and back; Burlington Northern, Missouri Pacific, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific all helped to create those cities that looked East and West for their identities. But one doesn’t “pass through” Houston. You come here with intent mostly to conduct business or a convention, but then to return to stay after so many visits. It’s just comfortable, suitable for so many people to make a good living and a good life for their families. It’s because they see that Houston is a welcoming city, where everyone has the opportunity to both “make it” and be accepted socially if they achieve and “give back” to the city. After a certain amount of time, it’s not just about the making of money, but being someone who has done well and gives back in one way or another to the city that helped to enable them to be successful. Houston’s inhabitants’ demeanor is a cross between the warmth of old Southern hospitality and Southwestern expansiveness, between “mi casa es su casa” and “let’s do some bidness together”, and always with a “can-do” spirit. Rather than “tried that before, didn’t work, so forget it”, Houston is a “let’s see if we can find another way to get there” kind of city. Yes, it’s hot and occasionally humid for a few months, but as my Dad used to say, “it’s the city that Carrier built.” We live here by choice, and more people are discovering the wisdom of that choice every year. We all just need to show our love by keeping our eye on the future by taking care of our city’s present. Robert T. Sakowitz hails from an iconic Houston family. His grandfather Tobias Sakowitz started the first Sakowitz store in this city in 1902. Robert ran the business, a chain of 18 stores, as chairman and CEO until 1990. Today, Robert Sakowitz is the CEO and president of Hazak Corporation, a consulting firm whose mission is to help companies big and small help themselves. Drawing on his many years of experience, he advises clients like Saks Fifth Avenue and IKEA about everything from store layouts and merchandise mix to advertising and marketing.

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Our Melting Pot on Parade BY BONNIE SHEEREN It’s that time again here in Houston — Halloween! Decisions abound! What costume will we wear on October 31st? Then, which will be the best and most fun Halloween parties to attend? In the midst of planning to have too much fun, it might be good to take a step back and appreciate how we arrived at this holiday. Between history and tradition, it’s a true example of how here in Houston, we come together to mix and match our backgrounds to create the flow of celebrations amongst our multicultural world. Approximately two thousand years ago, an ancient tribe called the Celts lived in the region of modern-day Ireland, Great Britain, and in northern France. The Celtic New Year begins on November 1st on our calendar. It marked the end of their summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter. This was the end of the growing season, the harvest being gathered and the hard work of cultivating crops was done. The festivities began on the night before on October 31st, when they celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in). At this point, their thoughts turned to the dearly departed family and friends. This resulted in the commemoration of the dead that continued through November 2nd. During this time, the Celts believed that the gap between the living and the dead was narrowed and ghosts of the departed could return to earth, and so, the seeds of our modern Halloween celebrations had been planted! Around 50 A.C.E. (After the Common Era), the Roman army conquered the Celts and occupied their territory. Not immune to the traditions and celebrations of Roman subjects across the Empire, the Romans took their February festival of Feralia, a remembrance of their dead, and their August festival of Pomona, goddess of the harvest, and moved them to the Celtic New Year with the celebration beginning the night before.


Apples mainly represented Pomona, the goddess, thus apples became a vital part of this time of year. Then in the mid 700s, after Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire, assimilation again occurred as the Pope Gregory III moved the day honoring the saints from May 13th to November 1st, which became All Hallows (All Holy Ones) Day. Thus, the night before was the eve of this religious observance and became All Hallows Eve, which was shortened to Hallow E’en or Halloween as we know it today. More of our traditions were added during this medieval period. Like the ancient Celts, All Hallows Eve was a time when many Catholics believed that the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest and that there was close contact between them. Thoughts turned to Purgatory, a Catholic belief that souls of the dead needed the prayers of those on earth to get into heaven. People, especially children, began to go door-to-door, asking for “soul cakes”, treats that they would trade for praying to help the dear departed achieve paradise. If the homeowners denied treats to the traveling groups, mischief followed — the beginnings of our “trick or treat” mantras that we all chant every year. In addition, dressing as saints to illustrate various aspects of Catholicism became common practice. Many of the saints had died as martyrs; St. Thomas More was beheaded, St. Lawrence was roasted, and St. Sebastian was riddled with arrows. The ghoulishness of the costumes reminded the celebrants that while there was tragedy in the world, there was also a way to laugh at death and hardship. The belief that evil spirits might also roam the earth creating havoc meant that dressing up as ghosts and devils gave medieval believers ways to address those fears while being safely surrounded by family and friends. In the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation suppressed

many of these celebrations, but in the main stronghold of the ancient Celts and in a strongly Catholic enclave, the Irish continued adding traditions to the mix. At this time, an Irish legend was told about a man named Jack who played a trick on the devil and was forever doomed to roam the earth with a burning coal in a carved turnip. He became known as Jack-o-lantern and the local populace, using not only turnips but also beets or other root vegetables, readily accepted this tradition. In the New World, the Puritans banned any sort of Halloween celebrations in New England, but the traditions continued in a muted way in Maryland and other southern states where some Irish had immigrated. Then in the mid1800s, the Irish famine brought a huge wave of immigration from that country and Halloween ďŹ nally took root in the US as a national celebration. Here the idea of dressing up as martyred saints, ghouls and goblins began to give way to masquerading as favorite characters. The lighted turnips and beets gave way to the abundantly available pumpkins. Yet, the idea of confronting scary things in comfortable surroundings was so popular that it continued almost unchanged.

Another addition to the cultural mix came from Mexico, where Spanish conquistadors and missionaries had brought Catholicism almost 500 years ago. The main celebration centered on November 2nd, the Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos where the graves of family and friends were visited and decorated, but the holiday begins October 31 and continues for three days. Always glad to add to the celebration, many of these traditions have also been welcomed in the US, especially here in Houston. While celebrations honoring and celebrating the lives of family and friends who have passed away were holidays in countries around the world, our pervasive western media has spread the fun of dressing up, trick or treating and Jacko-lanterns. Even Australia, where October 31st falls during springtime instead of the autumn, the party has spread to include that part of the world. Now that our whirlwind tour of how multiple cultures and groups all contributed to the much-anticipated revelry at the end of this month, have you given any thought to how you plan on celebrating? Aren’t the possibilities endless?

Bonnie Sheeren has worn many hats over the years. She has been a publisher’s representative for Harper and Row Publishers, a medical video writer/producer and a public school teacher. She recently turned 50, and hopes to synthesize these experiences into writing projects.

October 2013

Of Falling Hopelessly In Love And Other Aspirations BY ARJUNE RAMA, MD I can’t remember when Kira and I met because I can’t remember a time when we didn’t know each other. We both attended the same school since pre-Kindergarten so we officially met at age four or five. However, it wasn’t until the tenth grade that I knew there was chemistry between us as we would smile wryly at each other when our science teacher would say something unintentionally hilarious. Our shared sense of humor showed me that we had an unusual bond which eventually led to us dating early in our senior year of high school. In just that short sliver of time at the end of high school I knew I was in love with her. I believe that one is in love when that other person makes you feel comfortable enough with yourself to be exactly who you are. Furthermore, I think that only when we can behave the way we want to without shame or doubt, we can truly love ourselves. In other words, one is in love with someone when that person allows you to fully love yourself. Just as I find it difficult to determine when our friendship changed into romance, I struggle to identify when romance slipped into love. However, there was a classic high school scenario during which I think that transition took place. In high school I loved driving by myself in my car because I could sing along to my favorite songs and fantasize about being that performer without having to worry about the judgments of others.

However, whenever I would drive with someone in the passenger seat I could barely squeak out a note for fear of sounding off-pitch or just plain annoying. For reasons I could never completely understand, I have always felt comfortable enough to sing in my full voice loudly around her. Perhaps it’s the honesty and openness with which she approaches the world that made me feel this way. Maybe it’s the non-judgmental attitude that she exudes that allowed me to feel free to sing without fear. Whatever the quality, I knew that Kira allowed me to do and feel and be the person I wanted to be. I knew I was falling in love. In the same way that I was able to sing without fear back in high school, today I feel just as empowered to speak my mind, to hold an unusual opinion, or strive for things just outside my grasp. She remains an inexhaustible source of support and a constant endorser of even my most ridiculous ambitions. Some women are kind. Some women are brave. Some women are intrepid. Kira is all of these things by her very nature. These elements, combined with that impossible-todefine-quality she possesses that brings out the real me, have kept me helplessly and hopelessly in love with her. Every day we spend together, no matter how quiet and small our experience may seem to others, I feel like I am singing at the top of my lungs.

Arjune Rama is a resident physician in psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. He can be reached on Twitter @arjunerama and Facebook ( 2013 October August/September 2013


Nina Davuluri Miss America 2013

Embracing her Ethnicity BY JAY KUMAR AIYER The recent “crowning” of Nina Davuluri as Miss America 2013 was a victory of sorts for the American melting pot, a concept rooted in a celebration of ethnic diversity that is so often talked about but rarely seen. Davuluri, a prospective medical student and the reigning Miss New York, is a sharp departure from the traditional notion an American beauty queen generally conjures. She is, simply put, not the typical blond haired blue-eyed pageant winner we have grown to expect. Beauty contests in general place a value on something we frankly shouldn’t emphasize — the physical appearance of an individual — a particular problem for women in our society. Women are judged by physical appearance by society, both in the U.S. and in the world. Social science has compiled a great deal of data that indicates income and social status is often reflected on societal norms of attractiveness. It would be inappropriate to dismiss this as something insignificant to the larger social construct of our nation. We have to acknowledge that much of our society remains driven by superficial notions of attractiveness. Our multi-billion entertainment and fashion industry is rooted in this sentiment, and notions of beauty dominate and drive our culture. The embrace of Nina Davuluri by American society marks a shift in the very standard of beauty and recognition that attractiveness can mean many different things. It is an embrace of diversity in the truest sense of the word. This victory was, of course, not without criticism. Social media was filled with hate-speech and racially charged language questioning whether this was political correctness run amok or a sinister plot against

October 2013

real Americans. Thankfully, the reaction against this was swift and decisive with condemnation against the attackers. We have grown somewhat accustomed to Indian-Americans achieving prominence in the U.S, but what makes Davuluri’s victory interesting is her full-throated embrace of her ethnic identity. For those of us who have grown up in the U.S., the prospect of Americanizing oneself to conform to the dominant culture is not unusual. Changing names, or creating an ethnically ambiguous persona is not unusual for many first and second generation Americans. Davuluri’s approach was different. She never seemed to hide or conceal her ethnicity. In fact she relished in it. For the talent portion of the competition she chose a Bollywood/classic Indian dance fusion that was more classical than music video. She spoke eloquently about her ethnicity and her hopes to be a representative for diversity. In essence, she embraced her “Indian-ness” We have to recognize the tremendous irony of Nina Davuluri becoming the first Indian American winner of the Miss America pageant at a time when she would likely be rejected as a potential Miss India because she was simply “too Indian looking.” One of the dirtiest remnants of colonialism and centuries embrace of caste division in India has been a celebration of light skinned complexions. Even today, Indian society is dominated by this predilection. India spends more on skin lightening products than it does on Coca Cola, with Bollywood actors and actresses shilling for these products. This self-loathing and self-hatred in Indian society seems to be continuing. Thankfully the folks in the U.S. seem to be moving past it. Finally, while I fully concede that her achievement is nowhere near the significance of an Indira Nooyi becoming CEO of PepsiCo or the election of Nikki Haley as Governor of South Carolina, it is nevertheless important for us to celebrate this victory for what it says about American society and our place in it. Congratulations to Miss America — Nina Davuluri!

Jay Kumar Aiyer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Education Researcher at the Jordan Leland School of Public Affairs at TSU. He also serves as the Interim Assistant Director of the Barbara Jordan Institute, a Policy Research Center and is an Adjunct Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law. He has written extensively on education and policy issues. He can be contacted at


Tradition, Glitz & Glamour

to Hallmark Special Day

“Then love knew it was called love. And when I lifted my eyes to your name, Suddenly your heart showed me my way.” —Pablo Neruda


Photo: Paresh Patel

Photo: Andrew Ng


When a debonair Pankaj Malani and the effervescent Avnie Patel first met two years ago, it was instant attraction. He was entranced by her candor, intelligence, lively laughter, and her undeniable beauty. She found his dashing good looks, excellent manners, and his calm demeanor rather charming. Yes, their hearts showed them the way, and the young couple fell gloriously in love. So when he went down on one knee and asked her to marry him, she was ecstatic. While gazing into his eyes through tears of joy, she said yes. The young couple wanted to marry in Rajasthan, the Indian state of Pankaj’s ancestors, but for purposes of practicality, decided against it as many friends wouldn’t be able to attend. They wanted something different for their special day that would truly reflect their fun courtship and the paradoxical lighthearted yet serious nature of their love. After consulting with Avnie and Pankaj’s parents, Sulochana and Shanker Patel, and Rajkumari and Jugal Malani, respectively, they decided to solemnize vows in a Vegas-themed wedding in Las Vegas, Nevada — the young couple’s favored destination. Replete with age old Vedic traditions, the Hindu marriage celebration that promises to be spectacular, will include the sangeet, wedding ceremony, and reception that shall take place at venues The Bellagio and The Cosmopolitan over the weekend of October 18 – 19, 2013, in the presence of 500 guests from Houston and globally. The Malanis have chartered a flight to transport 165 of family and close friends from Houston to Vegas. HUM Magazine had the honor of covering the extraordinarily beautiful December 2012 nuptials of Pankaj’s younger sister Nikita and her husband Atman Shukla, which was prominently featured in the January 2013 edition of HUM. We are privileged to be traveling to Las Vegas at the invitation of the bridal couple and their families to capture and document the magical wedding festivities of Pankaj and Avnie, which will be our cover story for November 2013. So, look out for the next issue of HUM Magazine, we can’t wait to roll the dice, shuffle the cards, and come up aces… and this time, because of exceptional circumstances, what happens in Vegas shall be revealed in HUM Magazine!

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” —Nicole Krauss

Pankaj Malani and Avnie Patel against the backdrop of The Bellagio, the venue for the wedding

Vegas-themed Save tha Date cards for the Malani-Patel wedding festivities

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hy p a r g o t o ns o ph i s a c c o for all

The Destination Wedding Making Memories in Unexpected Places BY DEEPI MEHTA With options infinite, and given the opportunity to fulfill her dreams at a destination of her choice, what would a bride choose for her wedding? Perhaps a picture perfect setting on a white sandy beach against a backdrop of turquoise waters, palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and a sun glowing orange in an afternoon sky. There is something undeniably magical about gazing into the eyes of one’s beloved and speaking vows that bind ‘til eternity, surrounded by nature at its best! And what, ideally, would be high on the bride’s parents’ wish-list but a stress and hassle free wedding, well within their budget. Increasingly, the answer to all this is the destination wedding, where family and friends of the to-be-weds gather, and settle in for the time of their lives. The options are manifold. One can choose an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean or Mexico. The ticket price generally includes airfare, all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, transfers, gratuities, water sports and regional entertainment. The all-inclusive packages are the most popular, as the cost per person holds no hidden surprises. For the more adventurous bride, the sky’s the limit… or rather, the length and breadth of the globe; there are exotic places like


Hawaii and Bora Bora, a chateau in France, a castle in Germany. The possibilities are endless. Often, particularly in the case of South Asian weddings, the challenge lies in where to draw the line when drawing up the invitation list. It’s a parent’s nightmare. They’ve got family and friends who would be offended if they’re not included. The bridal couple has their own list of friends. A destination wedding is the perfect way to limit the guest attending, as a destination wedding requires travel and a longer commitment of days needed to attend the wedding. So go ahead and invite everyone! Of course, only a limited number of very close family and friends will accept the invitation. This will make the events more manageable and streamlined. A destination wedding is also a vacation for the attendees. Aside from being present at the ceremonies, people tend make it a vacation for themselves, a nice way to do both. Guests pay their own way, occasionally partially subsidized by the family planning the wedding. The wedding party gets to spend quality time with guests rather than the few minutes that they can devote to a guest at a large local reception. In a large wedding the parents usually

invite their own friends but in a destination wedding the bride and groom get to create the invitation list to include those closest to both, who will invest time and money to come — a more meaningful experience for all. Both sets of parents can relax and leave all the arrangements to the wedding coordinator on site, which is a huge relief. An oft-held myth is that destination weddings are very expensive. This is not true, since a lot of resorts offer complimentary weddings. There is a resort for every budget, the very luxurious ones and also more moderately economical ones. While formal weddings hold meaning for many, linking them to the traditions of their ancestors and culture, others want their experience to be unique, with a ceremony and location that reflect their requirements. Even that could be accomplished — a traditional wedding with a flower-bedecked mandap and a local pandit to officiate the ceremonies. And yes, even traditional Indian cuisine can be arranged. One of the great examples of a highly successful destination wedding that I helped coordinate was that of Dr. Ravi Chundru and Madhavi Chundru, who chose a destination wedding over a traditional one in Houston. They stayed at the Sandals Resort in Jamaica and I was invited along with their 150 guests to join in the celebrations. Another popular wedding venue is on a cruise. For example, many ships sail from Galveston. The bridal couple can invite as many guests as they wish and hold the wedding on the ship, when it is in the port. When the ship is ready to sail, the guests disembark the ship and the wedding couple sails away on their honeymoon with or without close family and friends accompanying them. There are a few ships that permit the wedding ceremony while the ship is sailing in the waters in the Caribbean or Alaska. Yes, there are beautiful wedding chapels on some ships. It’s also a great way to combine a wedding and honeymoon. How do you find out if a destination wedding is for you? How do you choose a destination, a resort to fit your budget? Can you get on the web and plan this on your own? I would think not. Many people are used to booking air and hotels online. But quite frankly, coordinating a wedding is a more complicated matter. One needs a wedding coordinator who is also a travel agent who has all the needful details at their fingertips. Every couple has different needs and dreams. When inviting guests, you have to think not only your own budget, but also the budgets of the friends you are inviting. An experienced wedding coordinator would be best suited to help in doing the evaluations and give suggestions. Wedding coordinators/travel agents with experience can iron out the details directly with the resort/ destination and describe the requirements of the bridal couple, even up to finding a local priest to expedite the formalities of the ceremony, and making certain that all arrangements are made before the couple reaches the destination. Destination weddings are currently all the rage and aside from being a trendy alternative to the run-of-the-mill nuptials, can be practical, picturesque, and cost effective. Something to consider, when planning your own wedding, or that of your son or daughter. Deepi Mehta holds a Bachelors Degree in Microbiology from Bombay University and a Dietician Degree from Washington State University. She once happened to take travel school classes for fun, which spawned a travel agency that has been in business for 29 years. Travel Express is a franchise of Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Travel Leaders.

Our Dream Wedding

The wedding of Dr. Ravi Chundru and Madhavi Chundru took place at the Sandals Beach Resort in Jamaica a decade ago. Deepi Mehta helped arrange the memorable nuptials

“We wanted the focus of our wedding to be more about the two families that are being united through our marriage,” said Dr. Ravi Chundru. “Our Sandals team reached beyond our expectations from constructing a beautiful custom mandap right on the beach, to custom food venues which included local and Indian cuisine with a Jamaican flair. Group and individual activities were organized to bring the families and friends together and young and old were able to party through the night at various dance clubs on the resort property. We met a local Hindu priest living in Kingston who beautifully officiated our wedding with all the important traditions that made our parents happy. Our parents were also very happy to see this happening without having to lift a finger because the Sandals team along with our travel agent, Deepi Mehta, took care of all the details. With over a 150 people in attendance for four days and with a splash of old tradition the whole event was priceless. Although our focus was the unique experience, surprisingly we spent much less than a grand traditional Houston/Indian wedding. Everyone got to know one another and we left with a lot of great memories. Our tenth wedding anniversary is coming up and we can’t wait to visit Jamaica again!” added Dr. Chundru.

Khators Make Generous Donation to University of Houston Funds To Benefit Tier One Scholarship Endowment University of Houston President Renu Khator and her husband, Suresh, associate dean in the UH Cullen College of Engineering, have contributed more than $100,000 to establish the Renu and Suresh Khator UH Tier One Scholarship Endowment. With matching funding, the endowment was augmented to $200,000, giving new energy to the University’s prestigious Tier One Scholarship Program. The extraordinary program will allow the University to offer as many as 200 new merit-based scholarships for outstanding freshmen each year — fulfilling Khator’s commitment to devote UH’s premier educational resources to student success initiatives. Established through an anonymous $7 million donation, the program was bolstered by a challenge Khator issued to the UH community, in which new scholarship contributions (of $25,000 or more) are matched dollar-for-dollar. Creation of a powerful $14 million


scholarship endowment is well within reach, as generous donors have helped move the University within $500,000 of achieving the match goal. While a recent media profile noted Khator enjoys a “celebrity’s welcome” when she steps into a UH classroom and that students “flock to her like adoring fans” when she walks

across campus or attends a UH athletic event, it’s what she does behind the scenes that often earns her the greatest affection from students. The University’s Tier One Scholars, upon learning of the Khators’ donation, say it provides additional motivation to grow academically and personally.

“President Khator’s generous donation only proves her commitment to the students and to building this University,” said Roya Zamani, a biochemistry senior. “To know that we have a chancellor and president who is so supportive of this Tier One class of students is a strong source of motivation for us to do our best and to make her proud.” Waqaar Diwan, a business and pre-med senior, said the Khators’ support is no surprise. “I believe the Tier One Scholarship has provided me with the opportunities for a complete education — from on campus living and research opportunities all the way to study abroad opportunities,” Diwan said. “Without all these aspects, I would not have had

the opportunities to go to medical school. “The Khators truly seem to care for the University of Houston and its students. I have so much respect for Dr. Khator, as she leads the University of Houston into the future and continually elevates its goals.” Each donor gift to date was vital in helping the University attract the 181 Tier One Scholars currently on campus, said Paula Myrick Short, senior vice chancellor/senior vice president and provost. The gift from the Khators “provides additional cache, boosting recruiting efforts that could result in even more of the best and brightest students choosing UH over other institutions,” she said.


The Indo American Charity Foundation 2013 Board of Directors, standing from left) Jawahar Malhotra, Abhijit Gadgil, Mahendra Jain, Murthy Divakaruni (President), Ramesh Cherivirala, Prem Cholia, Ajay Jain, and Surender Talwar. Seated from left, Anu Bala, Alpa Shah, Kamala Raghavan, Vanitha Pothuri, Ritu Raju and Anjali Sharma

We Live Here, We Give Here 25th Annual IACF Gala Raises $220,000 to Benefit Pivotal Humanitarian Causes The Indo American Charity Foundation (IACF) pulled out all the stops and eloquently reiterated its catchphrase We Live Here, We Give Here, by raising $220,000 for local philanthropic causes at a grand annual gala banquet held on September 21, 2013. The event, held at the Hilton Americas, drew a capacity audience from the diverse local communities who also celebrated the organization’s 25th year since its inception in 1988. Murthy Divakaruni, President of IACF, lauded the Indo American community’s generosity over the years, and told gatherees that funds will be channeled towards education, the wellbeing and safety of women and children, the underprivileged, for disaster relief, and health care initiatives. Non-profit beneficiary partners include Asians Against Domestic Abuse, Daya Inc., Houston Area Women’s Center, SEARCH, Star of Hope, Teach for America, UNICEF, and Meals on Wheels/Interfaith Ministries, to name a few. Serving as honorary gala chairs were Manmeet Likhari, Nidhika Mehta, Leena Shah, and Nandita Parvathaneni. Dr. Vinod Bhuchar, a founder member of IACF, told of the birth of the organization; saddened by the desperate plight of a patient who ate dog food for sustenance, he gathered together a


few friends from the Indian community and began to raise funds for the underprivileged and poverty stricken. The first meeting held at Maharaja Restaurant, with Bhuchar’s fellow founders Vijay Bhuchar, Prita and Biki Mohindra, Rasika and Ramesh Dhekne, Anita and Arvind Bhandari, Neelima and Manoj Vakil, Madhu and Bhupat Vachhani, Manju and Satish Jhingran, and Sunita and Suresh Moonat in attendance, garnered $10,000. Over the years, IACF has gained recognition and respect as an innovative force in fundraising for humanitarian causes. During dinner by Daawat Caterers, guests were privy to a fashion show with models walking down the ramp attired in resplendent Indian ethnic wear created by Houston-based designers Noureen Dhanani, Simran Rihal, and Almas Tejani. Singers Mahalakshmi Krishnan, a rising star vocalist both here and in India, and Deep Bhattacharya regaled the audience with a music program. Ramesh Cherivirala will succeed Divakaruni as President of IACF for 2014.

October 2013

Anjali a divine offering

BY Vasundhara Kambhampati The trained dancer must not only have grace and elegance, but also the leap of an Olympic hurdler, the balance of a tight-rope walker and panther-like strength and agility… All this and more was showcased by renowned dance exponent Guru Dr. Rathna Kumar’s gifted and talented disciple, Anjali Chikkula, on August 17, 2013. Anjali regaled the B.F. Terry High School auditorium with her captivating abhinaya (art of facial expression), grace, tidy and crisp Kuchipudi. The evening’s performance


was a celebration of the Kuchipudi dance form and a treat to the eyes of art lovers. The audience relished the authentic and rich presentation of dances accompanied by a highly acclaimed and talented musical ensemble. The musical team comprised Guru Dr. Rathna Kumar on nattuvangam, vocalist Srikanth Gopalkrishnan, N.K. Kesavan on mridangam and B. Muthukumar on flute. Srikanth enthralled the audience with his extraordinary musical virtuosity and his mellifluous and divine voice that often carried them to another world. Kesavan, a well known and highly popular percussionist mesmerized the audience with his brilliant innovations on

Sabdam set to Mohana Raga. This erstwhile popular and traditional number was revived by Dr. Kumar specifically for Anjali’s solo dance debut. Quicksilver and scintillating, and fleet-footed are the words that can best describe this dance. Anjali displayed extraordinary skill and good command of the technique and vachika abhinaya, an integral part of Kuchipudi. The use of the curtain when entering the stage was another nod to the traditions of Kuchipudi. The part of Sutradhar (story teller) kept the channel of communication with the audience open, to create an emotional experience through stylized dramatic expressions, rasa and bhava. All of the dances choreographed for

the Rangapravesam emphasized Anjali’s wonderful ability to portray her characters with ease and complete sincerity. Anjali actualized her Guru’s vision of Mother Goddess particularly well in Sundari Nee Divya Rupamu, a Tyagaraja Swami composition, where she portrayed Devi in different forms. She was very apt in her abhinaya as Kaali. It was an elegant and action packed energetic performance from start to end with superlative support on percussion by Kesavan. The pièce de résistance, however, was the traditional Saint Narayana Teertha’s Bala Gopala Maamuddara Krishna, Tarangam in Mohana Raga. The portrayal of Lord Krishna’s infancy to adulthood featuring various episodes from his birth

Photos: Krishna Giri

mridangam. The soulful flute of Muthukumar at times transformed the auditorium into Brindavan. The tone for the evening’s beautiful performance was set with G.N.Balasubramaniam’s composition of Vara Vallabha Ramana, an item in praise of Lord Ganesha, immediately followed by C.R. Acharyulu’s Mandodari

October 2013

to his victory over his evil uncle Kamsa were beautifully choreographed by her Guru and well justified by Anjali’s graceful rendition. The rhythmic complexities presented in the second half of the dance with the feet on the rim of a brass plate while balancing a pot of water on the head displayed the discipline, control and command over the dance form achieved through 8 years of rigorous training with her Guru. Many of the traditional components of Kuchipudi Tarangam such as movements while poised cross legged on the brass plate and the intense and rhythmic Jathis with simultaneously balancing the pot of water on the head, were a treat to behold. Anjali’s agility was evident in Ravana’s Shiva Thandava Stotram, choreographed by Dr. Rathna Kumar. The energetic nuances of Shiva poses along with Srikanth’s mastery of the phonetically complex Sanskrit verses, and the dramatic beats of the percussion instruments enhanced the piece, laying bare the pain and agony of Ravana — emphasizing a moment of rare humility in the storied life of the demon king. The aesthetic evening ended with the thillana and mangalam. The thillana, in Raga Sankarabharanam, was rhythmic elegance. The rendering of this very old and rare piece had a very significant place in the evenings performance as it was performed by Dr. Kumar at her own Rangapravesham in 1967 — a matter of pride for Anjali. Through the recital Anjali was applauded for bringing out the beauty and natural elegance of the Kuchipudi art form. The event captured the parampara or continuing tradition of Kuchipudi which her guru is famous for. It was a very proud evening for Anjali’s guru, parents and family. Congratulations Anjali, on your debut solo performance and may this be a small stepping stone for all your future endeavors. Anjali is a sophomore at Dulles Math and Science Academy. A dedicated and accomplished student, she looks forward to further pursuing her interests in Kuchipudi dance and Western Classical violin along with her academic interests.

Vasundhara Kambhampati is a lover of the classical arts who trained for several years in Carnatic music. She has a degree in Plant Biotechnology and works as office manager at her husband’s medical practice.


From left, Anjali’s parents Yugender Chikkula and Indu Tuppera, Guru Rathna Kumar, Anjali Chikkula and her grandparents Nanda Kumar and Jaya Lakshmi

Above: Anjali and her guru Dr. Rathna Kumar, along with lighting director Venugopal Josyula, and orchestra members B. Muthukumar, N.K. Kesavan, and Srikanth Gopalkrishnan At right: From left, Anjali flanked by therasella dancers Riya Mandalapu, Ravali Bhavaraju, and little sister Akhila Chikkula

BY DAWN LEW As the fourth largest city in the country, Houston is a destination point for people from all over the world. Our international airport, bus stations, and busy interstate highways bring tourists and business travelers alike to attend the many major sporting events and national conventions each year. But what’s less known about Houston is the fact that it is also a destination city for another type of industry — the commercial sex industry. On any given day in Houston, boys and girls, and women and men are repeatedly bought and sold for labor and sex. They are victims of commercial exploitation, also known as human trafficking. Victims of human trafficking come from all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds, as do their traffickers. International sex trafficking victims brought to Houston end up working in residential brothels, cantinas, massage parlors, and tea houses, while international labor victims often work as domestic servants and migrant farm workers. American citizens and legal permanent residents also fall victim to this crime. Domestic sex trafficking victims are trafficked out of truck stops, hotels/motels, and sexually oriented businesses including strip clubs, cabaret lounges, massage parlors, modeling studios, and over the internet. Domestic labor trafficking victims may be forced to sell magazines or other goods door-to-door. Although the paths that lead domestic or international victims to fall victim to labor or sex trafficking may vary, the suffering and exploitation they experience are similar. The following case study provides a true account of a domestic trafficking victim from Oklahoma: Erica was a typical 17-year-old American high school teenager who was raised in a very religious household. One day, when her adoptive mother discovered birth control pills in Erica’s dresser drawer, Erica came home from school to find all of her clothes and belongings neatly piled on the front porch. Erica moved in with her boyfriend and began waiting tables after school to help pay the rent. One of Erica’s coworkers at the restaurant mentioned that she could make more money working one weekend at a local strip club than an entire month waiting tables at the restaurant. Erica began dancing at strip

clubs when she ultimately met the man who would become her trafficker. The trafficker told Erica about a business opportunity to invest in a start-up company. The money she earned from dancing would be invested in a business, making her partowner of the business. She dropped out of school and traveled with him throughout Texas and other states to dance. He kept telling her she could make even more money and help get the business off the ground sooner if she engaged in prostitution. After several months, her trafficker finally wore her down and Erica began sleeping with men for money. Her trafficker kept all of the money she earned. Erica was given excuse after excuse by her trafficker as to why they needed more funding before they could open their business. Eventually she tired of the idea of starting the business. After a failed attempt to run away from her trafficker, he severely beat and raped her. It was then that Erica realized she had to escape or he would ultimately kill her. Erica was eventually able to run away from her trafficker after several years of exploitation. Today, she is back in school and hopes to one day become a chef. Although Erica’s traumatic experience is similar to many other trafficking victims in the U.S., her story is unique in that she was able to escape. For every one victim that is rescued in the U.S., there are hundreds of other victims still on the streets. Texas has taken an aggressive approach to combat human trafficking. Texas was the second state to pass an anti-trafficking law in 2003 and has since passed a comprehensive set of anti-trafficking laws that are among the most progressive in the country. Although these comprehensive laws impose harsh penalties on traffickers and provide restitution for victims, they can only be impactful if they are utilized. Traffickers continue to hide in plain sight in our community, as do their victims. The legal tools to combat human trafficking in Texas have been created, and it is now time to focus on utilizing these tools to ensure that traffickers are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Likewise, it is critical to put rehabilitative services into place to allow victims to heal and move forward with their lives. Texas is in many ways a national leader in the anti-trafficking fight, but there is still much more work to be done to eradicate this terrible crime from our state.

Dawn Lew received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from UC Berkeley in 2002, and her law degree from Boston College Law School in 2006. Through her course of study as well as her work and volunteer experiences in law school Dawn knew she wanted to dedicate her legal career to working on issues affecting the health, safety, and welfare of women and children. Dawn moved to Houston in 2007 and joined the staff of CHILDREN AT RISK in 2008. She is licensed to practice law in both California and Texas.

October 2013

Photos: Jit Biswas

Worshipping Durga in the Heart of Texas BY PARTHA SARATHI CHATTERJEE As the seasons change and summer gives way to cooler fall weather, this city’s Indian community gears up for the special time of year that primarily revolves around the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. Durga embodies Shakti or power and is worshipped as the one who helps her devotees overcome obstacles and win the fight against evil. Durga Puja, or prayers, is an annual Hindu festival in South Asia that celebrates Durga over six days that are observed as Mahalaya Sashti, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashta-


mi, Maha Navami and Vijayadashami. The dates of Durga Puja are set according to the traditional Hindu lunar calendar and the fortnight corresponding to the festival is called Devi Paksha, the Fortnight of the Goddess. Devi Paksha is preceded by Mahalaya, the last day of the previous fortnight Pitri Paksha, meaning Fortnight of the Forefathers, and ends on Kojagori Lokkhi Puja — the worship of Goddess Lakshmi on Kojagori Full Moon Night. Simultaneously, Navratri is also festival dedicated to the

worship of the Hindu deity Durga. The word Navaratri in the Sanskrit language literally means nine nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped. The tenth day is commonly referred to as Vijayadashami or Dussehra. As in India, Navratri is celebrated in Houston with Daandiya and Garba events, where several generations of revelers dance in synchronised movements until late at night. The Durga Puja festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. Thus, the Durga Puja festival epitomizes the victory of Good over Evil. Houston’s Durga Bari is the preeminent temple of Durga in North America, with people from surrounding cities and states making the pilgrimage here to participate in the festivities. As in previous years, head priest Dr. Bishnupada Goswami, assisted by a team of volunteer assistant priests, will perform the complex rituals that include invocatory and ceremonial practices

along with Vedic chants. Puja organizers have planned top notch entertainment, from Rabindrasangeet exponent Jayati Chakrabarti, to electronics gold-medalist turned music composer and artist Anupam Roy, and Jasraj Joshi, the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa competition winner. A bazaar-like atmosphere will recreate India in the Bayou City, with food stalls and a shopping plaza selling Indian clothing and the arts and crafts of India. There are also special events planned for kids. On the last day, there will be the immersion of Durga into water, a much-anticipated event of the annual ceremony. Thankfully, the many communities in Houston enjoy cultural diversity like no other city in the US, we embrace and celebrate differences, and we are eager to learn and to share our unique heritages. All are welcome to participate at Durga Bari and get the blessings of the Divine Mother.

Partha Sarathi Chatterjee, former President and Founding Trustee of Durga Bari, is a volunteer assistant priest at Durga Bari. A graduate of IIT Kharagpur, he is also helping organize IIT 2013 Global Conference, leading the marketing and publicity efforts. Chatterjee is a Director with SunGard Global Services, focusing on the energy and financial practices.


Dancing Hybridity

India Enthralls an American Dancer


The experience of living as an American exchange student in an Indian home in Mumbai during the summer of 1968 set events in motion that have transformed my life. As a young student, it was natural to soak up everything that was put before me in my three-month stay as part of the Mehta family. Manipuri dance, Ajanta cave frescoes, Fatehpur Sikri and the ragas of Ravi Shankar all made indelible impressions. What no one could have predicted was the way they shaped my career path. As a choreographer, my India-infused works have been performed all over the world. As co-founder of the Indo-Ameri-


can Arts Council, I have raised the proďŹ le of Indian arts in New York; while the tours I organized of Purush: Expressions of Man, Jhaveri Sisters, C.V. Chandrasekhar, and Mallika Sarabhai, have reached across the US, the Battery Dance Company, the institution I founded in 1976, has performed in 17 Indian cities — an achievement no other American dance company can claim. I had the opportunity to return to India as a Fulbright Lecturer 23 years after my teenage experience. M.S. University in Vadodara was my host institution and when I met Professor C.V. Chandrasekhar, Dean of the Music College, I discovered a kindred spirit. Though he was not at all familiar with Western mod-

ern dance, he recognized the musicianship in my choreography. When I saw his Bharata Natyam choreography accompanied by his own musical compositions, the entry was easy — the access to emotion immediate. To a young American, the sounds of Indian music had been puzzling — so very different from the Western compositions I had studied. After repeated listening coupled with meetings with Indian musicians, my appreciation grew. Gradually, these melodies and rhythms began to awaken emotional, visceral responses. Each time I have worked with Indian or Indian-inspired music, a coincidence was responsible for making the opportunity seem natural. One day, when thinking about music for a new production, I bumped into Badal Roy on the street in New York. Badal Roy was one of the first Indian-born musicians to play American jazz with luminaries such as Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis. I asked if he would compose a score for a new production — Seen By a River — inspired by simple vignettes that I had observed while in India. Badal composed short rhythmic sequences chanting the bols and drumming patterns on the table while I experimented with movement. This was a perfect way for me to begin breaking the ice. The completed work was performed many times in the US and on tour across India. The next step was far more ambitious. When in Kolkata at a dinner hosted by friends of Badal’s, the hosts’ daughter sang two songs by Rabindranath Tagore. I was stunned by the songs and astonished to learn that Tagore had composed thousands more. The result was Songs of Tagore, facilitated and accompanied by Samir and Sanghamitra Chatterjee, a husband and wife team of musicians deeply devoted to Rabindra Sangeet, who had moved to New York just months before. Both Seen By a River and Songs of Tagore, the latter with the esteemed Houston-based danseuse Dr. Rathna Kumar in the soloist role, were performed in Houston at the Kaplan Theater, and produced by the Anjali Center for Performing Arts. Two years later, I picked up a copy of Nordic Sounds magazine. In it, I noticed reference to a Finnish composer who had won a music contest with a composition whose title sounded suspiciously like the Tamil language. It developed that this composer, Eero Hämeenniemi, was the same age as me; had been an exchange student to the US the same year I had gone to India. After his studies at the famed Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, he had begun an annual pilgrimage to India where he had earned the trust, friendship, and mentorship of some of





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Chennai’s most worshipped musicians. He had been commissioned to compose a score for the Helsinki Philharmonic with five Carnatic percussionists as the soloists. This unique work, Layapriya, was given one performance at the Helsinki Concert Hall. Unfortunately, though audience response was rapturous, the complication and expense of bringing such forces together again made this a singular live performance. Luckily, Finnish radio had made a recording and Eero presented it to me with the invitation to choreograph it. This work has had over 100 performances including one at the Miller Outdoor Theater in

Houston, again presented by the Anjali Center, and another on a floating stage especially erected on the waters of Salt Lake in Calcutta. Over the past several years, Battery Dance Company has presented programs by leading Indian dancers at our annual Downtown Dance Festival, which the New York Times Chief Dance Critic Alastair Macaulay has deemed a “highlight of New York’s dance season”. In this way, I hope I have been returning at least in a small way the myriad and magnificent gifts that India has given to me!

Jonathan Hollander is one of the outstanding choreographers of his generation and has taken a leadership role in international cultural exchange and social activism. He founded Battery Dance Company in lower Manhattan in 1976 and has choreographed over 75 works that have been presented by the Company in more than 60 countries. He has established arts education residencies in New York City public schools, and has served in Fulbright positions in India and Malaysia. He has received leadership awards in the US, Germany and Poland and is a frequent keynote speaker for the State Department, Aspen Institute, Asia Pacific International Dance Conference, among others. He is co-founder of the Indo-American Arts Council and a founding member of Lower Manhattan Arts League. The Bangalore Times, Times of India, thus raved about his production Layapriya: “Charged on a Battery! Dance lovers were treated to the intricacies of Indian classical dance integrated with western ballet. Hollander is no stranger to Bangaloreans, as is also his 25-minute marvel Layapriya. This ‘poetry-in-music’ never fails to touch the right chord.”

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Nandita Parvathaneni, with Sushila Mathew, Vice President of the Ikebana Houston Chapter

Fostering Friendships Through Flowers Ikebana International Honors India’s Rich Traditions BY KALYANI GIRI The Ikebana International Houston Chapter 12 kicked off their 56th year by showcasing the culturally rich traditions and the arts and crafts of India. The luncheon event, Arts of India, hosted on September 2, 2013 at the home of the Consul General of India Hon. Harish Parvathaneni and his wife Nandita, drew a diverse group of women, many Ikebana club members. Holding court in the hallway was an exquisite flower arrangement embellished dramatically with peacock feathers, created by Sushila Mathew, Vice President of the Ikebana Houston Chapter and an accomplished teacher of the art form in the Ohara style of Ikebana. Also adorning the entryway was a rangoli, ephemeral ground art fashioned out of colored rice by Daksha Nagar, Nita Pundit, Aruna Patel, and Dipali Modi, devotees from the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Stafford. The program began with an invocatory Indian classical dance presentation by young artistes Amani Parvathaneni and Shreya Bhadriraju, students of the Anjali Center for Performing Arts. President of the Houston Chapter Barbara Crowe along with Sushila welcomed gatherees and thanked Nandita Parvathaneni, also a member of the Ikebana Houston Chapter, for hosting the event. Thereafter, the minimalist, yet striking essence of Ikebana flowed and took glorious shape under the deft ministrations of Shirley Bludau of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana, who devised a stunning fall arrangement out of umbrella papyrus, bird of paradise, a green-tinged chrysanthemums, and

chicken wire, in a tall brown pottery urn. Next, guests marveled at the intricate skill employed in the threading of flower garlands by the BAPS team; they used fresh flowers kept moist by damp paper towels, and quilting needles and cotton thread for the best results. The BAPS team told guests that in India, roses and jasmine were used all year round, but in Houston, seasonal flowers were used. They added that in Kashmir, brides are adorned with flower jewelry in lieu of metals. Nandita Parvathaneni spoke of the pervasive presence of flowers in India’s daily rituals. “In the multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual mosaic that is India, flowers occupy a central role in all rites of passage — from birth, marriage to death. In Hinduism, every flower has a particular association with specific deities and energies and used to propitiate them and seek blessings. Flowers are God’s gift to mankind. They remind us of what is pure, elevating and transcendent in nature, and indeed, in our lives. They connect us with nature and the divine.” Ikebana International started in Japan in 1956. Its members are dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and other countries through ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging. Ikebana International boasts over 8,000 members and is found in more than 50 countries. India hosts 5 different chapters in all. One of the largest chapters is in Hyderabad, India.

October 2013


Kamal Hassan’s

Solitary Splendor in the Culture of ‘And’ BY NANDINI BHATTACHARYA

I’ll start with a culinary metaphor. We Indians, with all our diversity, and our differences, are essentially a culture of “and” Here’s a Euro-American menu: **Salad. Or soup **Main Dish (some meat and potato variant) **Dessert Now, here’s an Indian menu: **Rice and chapatis or puris **Relishes and chutneys: Sweet ones and sour ones and sweet and sour ones **Pickles: Spicy and mild and dry and moist **Vegetables done three different ways: Fried, stirfried, and creamy **Daal one and two: a dry version and a fluid version **Entrée: a meat dish, and a fish dish, and an egg dish (This is, admittedly, a North/East Indian version of a dinner menu; in the south, there are similar abundances, what elsewhere might be considered “excess”) **Dessert: Yogurt, multiple sweet dishes And I forgot to mention, at the very beginning there is also the papad, or the savory wafer. And finally, in case you have not already bloated yourself to the point of extinction, coffee or tea. What this means is that when an Indian entertains or is entertained, each category — be it fish, flesh, grain, dairy or vegetable — is not a comfortable monad. No item in it is supreme ruler of its category, but is always surrounded and enhanced by


its fellows. The category is not fulfilled unless there are multiple items jostling within it, each ready to co-exist with the others or to step in for the one that fails to give complete satisfaction. Linguists talk of syntagms versus paradigms, that is, words and structures that depend on one another to create the meaning, versus structures that stand in for and reproduce one other. In the language of traditional Indian hospitality, the syntagm of the meal is conceived as a series of paradigmatic structures within the established category of dishes, joining hands with their fellows in the category. When the host(ess) cooks the Indian meal, one of the prevailing questions is “And? What else?” An entity is not in itself complete, it always affords the possibility of an inclusion, of “another [similar] one,” so that the full meaning of the meal emerges through this interwoven syntax of food. Everything is understood as being completed only by the other things that are linked to it by “and.” Enough of the culinary metaphor; let us now proceed to movies. So, imagine a film culture and film audience that is routinely used to seeing a French actor, a Hollywood actor, a Chinese actor and an Indian actor in the same film, comfortably jostling together. Possible? Yes. Likely? Not much. Frequent? Not at all. Now think about Indian films. Here too we are the people of “and.” In Indian cinema there has been a long history of cosmopolitan and intercultural exchanges, especially of actors and actresses. We have the South Indian, Bengali or Gujarati actor making a highly successful career in Hindi films. They also come from Bhojpuri cinema, Marathi cinema, from Malayali cinema. And vice versa to a certain extent. This leads me to think about one such phenomenal, talented and charismatic actor who has reminded us many, many times of the richness and

diversity of the cultural palate and palette of the “and.” Flashback, 1981. Film, Ek Duje Ke Liye (We Are Made for Each Other). Actor, Tamil heart-throb Kamal Hassan. It was the remake of his Telugu-language film, Maro Charithra by K. Balachander, which earned him his first Filmfare nomination in the Hindi language category. But audiences nation-wide went wild with Ek Duje Ke Liye and the film earned Kamal Hassan a National Film Award. Not since the Hindi film Bobby (973) had there been a comparable event in the long history of the Indian “teen love” film, though this one ended tragically. Later, Kamal Hassan appeared in Mani Ratnam’s 1987 film, Nayagan. He received his second Indian National Award for this performance and Nayagan was nominated by India as its entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards in 1987. It was also included in Time’s AllTime 100 Movies list. Hassan has won several Indian film awards, including three National Film Awards and numerous Southern Filmfare Awards. He is also known for having starred in the most number of films submitted by India in contests for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film. World cinema knows Kamal Hassan; Indian cinema loves Kamal Hassan. A dancer, writer, polyglot, director, magician and musician, he is a man of many moods, talent, and worlds. He is not a “Tamil actor,” but a veteran of Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam films, and the only national icon who holds more than 18 Filmfare Awards. He has said, “I haven’t got a degree. So, I’ve never stopped learning. When you get a degree, and wear that square hat with tassels on it, you think you’ve done it and you lean back. There is a certain amount of complacency that comes with achievement. What you perceive is achievement. When you don’t, when you are insecure all the time, that’s when you constantly forage for knowledge in the extramural dump.” For 53 years he has reminded Indians that they are the people who are always thinking not in terms of “or,” but of “and.” Nandini Bhattacharya is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. She has written scholarly books and essays on colonial and postcolonial writing, and is recently the author of a book on Indian cinema (Hindi Cinema: Repeating the Subject [Routledge, 2012]). Being a lover of contemporary Indian English literature by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Amitav Ghosh, Arvind Adiga and Jhumpa Lahiri, she is turning her energies also to repeating her passion for writing in the creative genre.

October 2013


a Unique Festival with an Inspiring Message

BY CHITTOOR RAMACHANDRAN Ever since the first White House Diwali lamp was lit by President Obama in 2009, it piqued much curiosity across the world from many who wanted to know more about Diwali, the festival that is celebrated annually by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some sects of Buddhists. The word Diwali evolved from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning “array of lamps”, and symbolizes victory of light over darkness, an analogy used by the ancient sages of India for the triumph of wisdom over ignorance. While age-old Diwali is the best known Indian family holiday celebrated primarily by Hindus, some regional variations do exist in the way it is celebrated. Naturally, one may notice that the traditions practiced by Hindu diaspora far from their ancestral homeland may also show some differences. However, the significant message this unique holiday conveys is far-reaching and inspirational.


Diwali falls on the new moon night (amavasya) in the Indian calendar month of Ashwin (October-November). Therefore Diwali does not always coincide with Western Gregorian Calendar. In 2013, the first day of the five-day celebration begins on November 3. I recall my childhood excitement in listening to two interesting legends behind Diwali. In northern parts of India, the legend is that it was on Diwali day that Sri Rama’s coronation took place after his jubilant return to Ayodhya from Lanka after vanquishing Ravana in Treta Yuga (epoch). The second legend is mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana. It narrates the story of Narakasura, an evil demon king who had managed to acquire supernatural powers. He conquered and reigned over both heaven and earth and terrorized everyone. Sri Krishna (in Dwapara Yuga) put an end to the tyranny on Diwali

day by killing Narakasura and rescuing women from captivity. Celebration of Diwali thus became a commemorative event to rejoice the liberation from Narakasura. Honoring Sri Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, is also a tradition on Diwali day. Mythological stories in ancient Hindu literature effectively aid in drawing attention towards spiritually enriching messages in a comprehensible manner. The basic theme of these two examples is to reassure that righteousness always prevails. One will notice numerous ways of Diwali celebrations wherever Indians live. In many homes, lamps are lit to welcome the virtuous Sri Rama and to extol his heroic deeds. Jains observe Diwali to honor the holy knowledge of Mahavira, Jainism’s venerated saint. The spirit of Diwali pervades both urban cities and rural villages. In villages cattle are adorned and worshipped by farmers, and cows are offered special reverence as the incarnation of the Goddess. One can also find bustling marketplaces in the cities as people exchange gifts and purchase new clothes and house items. Prayers for happiness and prosperity for the coming year abound. I still remember those days when I was growing up in a tradition-rich family in a tradition-rich village in South India. The day of Diwali began with Ganga snanam before sunrise. Taking an oil bath on Diwali is equivalent to taking a dip in the sacred waters of river Ganges that originates from the holy feet of Mahavishnu to wash away sins. The sequence of scenes still appears before my eyes: prayer in front of the shrine, wearing new clothes, bursting fire crackers, eating delicious sweet treats

and sumptuous meals. It was after many years that I realized the relevance of the lines of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that I would repeat after elders: Tamaso ma Jyothirgamaya (“lead me from darkness to light”). Diwali is symbolically an appeal for wisdom. A compelling passion for religious and social traditions has been migrating in individuals who leave behind families back home in India. This was especially strong several decades ago when communication with distant family was difficult. In those days, it was a necessity for people with common interests to organize celebrations of special days like Diwali to satisfy their nostalgia and to inculcate in their young, the cultural traditions of their ancient heritage. Annual Diwali celebrations with dinner and talent shows became essential events of Indian cultural organizations in every town. Over a period, Diwali became a symbol of heritage and pride amongst the people of Indian origin and it has grown into a day of bazaars, cultural festivals, and high profile entertainment events in many US cities. As Diwali 2013 approaches, may the underlying message of Diwali — “Erase ignorance with knowledge” — enlighten each one of us and help us see the world as one family (vasudhaiva kudumbakam), as perceived by the age-old sages of India. In the midst of festivities, let us also take a moment to remember the less fortunate and do our share to alleviate their difficulties in any possible way. Wishing you a Happy Diwali.

Traditional Diwali Sweets and Savories Recipes These recipes are obtained from two distinct Indian traditions: Rajastani Diwali Goodies (contributed by Subhadra Surana) and Palghat Brahmana Deepavali Palaharam (contributed by Shantha Balasubramanian and Pankajam Ramachandran ).

Rajastani Diwali Recipes

Gujjias Ingredients: For pastry shells: 1 cup plain flour (maida) 1 tbsp. ghee water to knead For Filling: 1 cup khoya 1 tbsp. poppy seeds (khuskhus) 1 tsp. cardamom powder 1 tbsp. crushed almond 1/4 cup ground sugar 1 tbsp. grated dry coconut flakes 10 to 15 raisins Ghee or oil for deep frying Khoya: Can be bought commercially or made at home. Take one cup of full cream milk powder. Add one tbsp. of ghee and knead into loose dough with

water. Microwave for two minutes stirring every 30 seconds or till the texture resembles crumbs. It burns if overheated. Cool and crumble to give uniform crumbs. Method • Mix flour and ghee well • Add enough water to make soft pliable dough • Keep aside

• Roast khoya to a light pink by stirring continuously over low heat • Cool and break in fine crumbs with fingers • Mix all other ingredients to khoya • Check for sweetness. Add more sugar if required • Make small (4“) rounds of dough, not too thin not too thick • Place 1 tsp. filling in one half of round. • Fold over the other half, sealing in the mixture • Seal edges by twisting or pressing together with a fork • Make all in the same way • Deep fry in hot ghee or oil on low till light brown on both sides • Drain and cool completely before storing

October 2013

Malai Ladoo

Ingredients: 1/2 cup condensed milk 250 gram paneer (cottage cheese) 2-3 drops kewra essence 1/4 tsp. yellow food coloring chopped almonds & pistachios for garnish Paneer: Put 1 3/4 pints of full cream milk in a pot. Bring it to a boil, and when it starts boiling, add lemon juice or diluted 1 tbsp vinegar/water slowly while stirring and when milk starts curdling, turn off the stove and cover for one or two minutes. Strain using muslin cloth and wash well with cold water and hang the paneer with muslin cloth for few hours to drain all the water. Method: • Mash paneer • Add condensed milk and paneer in a non stick pan (kadai) and cook on slow flame, stirring continuously • Cook till thick and leaves the sides • Add essence and remove from flame • Mix well. • Pour on plate • Cool. Make ladoos by forming dough into small round balls • Sprinkle powdered cardamom and decorate with chopped almonds and pistas

Badam Seera (Almond halwa)

Ingredients: 1/2 cup coarse wheat flour 1 1/2 cups almond powder 1 cup sugar or to taste 3 cups water  1 tsp. cardamom powder  1/4 tsp. saffron strands crushed 1 tbsp. warm milk  1 1/4 cup ghee  8-10 blanched almonds chopped length wise Home made almond powder: Soak 2 cups of almonds for 4-6 hours or overnight. Remove the skin and dry the almonds.

Grind blanched almonds to a powder Method: • Dissolve saffron in milk and keep aside • Melt ghee in a large heavy pan • Add flour, stir-fry for 2-3 minutes • Add almond powder, stir fry till golden and fragrant • Take care to stir continuously • Add water, stir and cook • Add sugar, and cook further, stirring gently • When ghee starts to exude, add cardamom and saffron • Stir, and pour into serving dish • Garnish with chopped almonds • Serve hot

Mitha Khajas (Sweet crisp puris)

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cup plain flour 1/2 cup jaggery  1 cup water  1/4 tsp. cardamom powder  1tbsp. roasted sesame seeds 1 tbsp. ghee  Ghee or oil to deep fry

Method: • Heat water and jaggery till it dissolves • Strain and cool • Mix cardamom powder and ghee in flour • Knead flour with jaggery water • The dough should be stiff but pliable • Break into approx. 20 parts, use dry flour for dusting lightly • Knead each with palm and roll into 2 inch round puris • Make many tiny slits with knife or fork on each on both sides • Keep them aside on a clean cloth for an hour or so to dry a bit • Deep fry in hot oil or ghee on low flame till light golden in color. Do not over fry • Drain and cool • The khajas will become crisper and firm as they cool • Store in airtight container after cooling

Masala Khajas (Spicy crisp puris)

Ingredients: 2 cups gram flour 1/2 cup plain flour  2 tsp. red chilli powder  1/3 tsp. turmeric powder 1/2 tsp. ajwain (carom seeds) 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds 1 tbsp. coriander leaves very finely chopped 1 tbsp. oil  salt to taste Oil to deep fry Method: • Mix both flours together and make a well in center • Add all other ingredients, except oil to deep fry • Mix them well in the flour • Add enough water to make a soft, pliable dough • Divide dough into 20-25 parts • Knead each with palm and roll into 2 inch round puris • Prick on both sides with a fork • Allow to dry on a clean cloth for 25-30 minutes • Deep fry in hot oil till a light browning appears • Do not over fry as they will get darker and crisper on cooling • Drain and cool completely before storing Optional: • Finely chopped fresh fenugreek can be added instead of coriander • Can be made with plain flour only without making it spicy (Yellow Khaja) • Can be made with plain flour omitting chilies and turmeric powder (White Khaja)

Chittoor K. Ramachandran Ph.D. is a medical research scientist by profession. He currently resides in Pearland, TX. During the four decades of his stay in the US, he has been actively involved in promoting the artistic and cultural heritage of India.


FourCs that Compel People to Attend Conferences BY PRADEEP ANAND A friend asked me: Why should I attend the IIT 2013 Global Conference? I said: It depends. It depends on what motivates you in life. Such as?: he asked. I replied: It depends on the FourCs that motivate you. Forces?: he asked FourCs, as in the number 4 and C as in the letter C. FourCs. Ah!: he said and pleaded: Pray, do tell me about the FourCs that compel people to attend conferences. Well: I continued: there are those people who attend a conference because they like the First C of the conference — Content. It’s my alternate word for Knowledge. So you can call the First C— (Knowledge) Content. The best among us are constant learners. They have an in-built radar for garnering and gathering new knowledge. Some of the best minds in the world, including a Nobel Laureate, are converging on Houston and this gathering will attract those (Knowledge) Content seekers. So, what’s the Second C?: my friend asked. The second of the FourCs is Career Opportunities. There are those who are motivated by developing their careers, which, as we all know is a combination of not only “what we know” (Content) but also “who we know”. Any professional in the Sustainability, Technology, Education, Energy and Life Sciences/Health (STEEL) sectors would have the opportunity to not only learn from the best minds but also meet them and meet colleagues, superiors and recruiters from these industries. Likewise senior executives, founders and owners of companies have a great opportunity to meet and attract some of the best engineers and scientists in the world. The conference offers a risk-free, non-threatening environment to evaluate and

recruit engineers and scientists, that too at the lowest cost. It’s a great place to either develop one’s own career progression or help someone else’s career development. I continued without pausing: The third of the FourCs is Camaraderie. People go to conferences to meet colleagues and rejuvenate old friendships. They also discover new allies and relationships that are based on common experiences. And when two friends and like-minded South Asians meet, it’s time to socialize and party. Social networks are as old as human history. Thousands of years ago, we discovered that we needed the strength in numbers to survive. This insight turned into a trait that, over several millennia, created societies built on social interactions, and rules for maintaining harmony. We are not called social animals for nothing. We, especially South Asians, like to meet people, converse, communicate and party, in a spirit of camaraderie. And now my friend couldn’t stop me. I continued relentlessly: The fourth of the FourCs is internal to the individual; it is Conscience. People attend conferences because their conscience tells them to do so. Conferences with altruistic purpose ignite in people a consciousness that transcends known boundaries around the individual and the self. Such conferences educate and inspire people to move out of their comfort zones, into zones that help them reach greater heights. (That’s one of the many outcomes the IIT 2013 Global Conference aspires.) Wow: said my friend. And asked: Are there any more Cs behind why people attend conferences? I replied: Yes. However it’s personal. To me, the additional Cs are Charity and Community but then, for you, you need to develop that list through self-discovery. Come to the IIT 2013 Global Conference and discover them for yourself. Pull yourself out of your comfort zone and create a new you, to build a better world.

Pradeep Anand is president of Seeta Resources,, a consulting firm that helps business leaders cope with change, resulting in accelerated growth. He is the author of An Indian in Cowboy Country: Stories from an Immigrant’s Life.

July 2013

Kublai Khan RedeďŹ ning Old Concepts

A Xanadu of Gastronomical Delights BY KALYANI GIRI Alan Lee


It’s a typical blistering summer afternoon in our fair city. The car park at the Carillon Shopping Center on Westheimer in the Westchase area is deluged with lunch seekers ostensibly making life and death choices about their sacred midday meal. I snag a parking slot and step out into the unforgiving heat, shivering with relief as I push open the heavy wooden doors of Kublai Khan, home of the Crazy Mongolian Stir Fry, where the air conditioning is restorative and bliss inducing. I take in my surroundings; a life-size terracotta warrior stands enigmatically to the side of the doorway, vigilant of those sweeping into the trendy restaurant. Nautical knotted ropes entwined around sturdy pillars give the room an anchored-down edginess. Engaged in conversation or seated solitarily on comfy beige/black couches and chairs, diners wield chopsticks and spoons as they pore over steaming bowls or platters. Drifting

on the air the fragrant sizzle of meat and vegetables tossed in spices on the hot grill tantalizes. Perched on red barstools at the fully stocked bar, a couple of men, ties loosened and shirt sleeves rolled up, are relaxing with a Friday afternoon beer. Large screen televisions mounted above the dining and bar areas give the eatery a high-end, quasi-sports bar tenor. Alan Lee, manager of the establishment that opened nearly two years ago, steps forward to greet me with a welcoming smile. He’s a career chef whose family of restaurateurs emigrated from China to New Orleans when he was 12 years old. Lee moved to Houston 15 years ago, and worked at other area restaurants

before joining Kublai Khan, a franchised chain in this city owned and operated by Kevin Zheng. Alan takes me on a tour of the 4,500 square foot premises that offers a not-so-new concept; the client is encouraged to grab a bowl and fill it — as per choice — from a vast array of meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, spices, and sauces, which is then stir fried by in-house chefs and served with the client’s choice of starch. It’s a family-friendly environment and children enjoy the freedom of customizing their own bowls, Alan says. Diners also have the option to order the Mongolian hot pot, a simmering cauldron of lightly spiced broth, into which they can dip and cook raw foods. Several of the 16 sauces offered are gluten-free and all locations offer Halal meats. While the idea itself isn’t unfamiliar in this city, Kublai Khan has redefined it to an art form. Owner Zheng along with Alan have capriciously introduced unusual couplings of ingredients to spice and sauce blends that energize the taste buds. The result is unerring, judging by the popularity of the place. The bill of fare is replete with specialty sushi made to delicious order, an extensive offering of starters and whimsically named entrees, and a kid’s menu. The bar is no less intriguing with libations destined to delight in the lofty ilk of Khan’s Mongolian Gatorade, which is concocted from everything but actual Gatorade and wildly popular, Alan avers. Kublai Khan carries varieties of imported Asian beers from Japan, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Thailand, and Singapore. Saké, both hot and cold, also play a starring role on the repertoire. A mouthwatering range of desserts is available, from Tempura Cheesecake, Lemon Mascarpone Cake, and yes, funnel cake topped with vanilla ice cream. Why funnel cake, I ask. “I wanted to bring in the fun element of New Orleans and funnel cakes are the closest you get to New Orleans beignets,” Alan says. He works long 13-hour days and enjoys coming in early and preparing the soup of the day. While his parents and most of his family moved here in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his artist brother Gary Chun Lee adamantly refuses to leave New Orleans. Which gives Alan the reason to revisit when he can. “New Orleans is exciting, but Houston is normal,” Alan says smilingly. Both Kevin Zheng — who’s owned and operated restaurants for the past 18 years — and Alan are sticklers for tidiness, Alan confides, and the staff is mindful of this and ensures that the restaurant is run with optimal cleanliness. The food bar is constantly monitored, cleaned regularly and replenished only with the freshest of produce. The restaurant does entertain in house parties, family gatherings, and other events. On such occasions, Kublai Khan closes its doors to accord guests their privacy. Kublai Khan staff is also equipped to cater off site too, if notified in advance. Surrounded by a plethora of choices, from French or Italian cuisine to Indian or Thai food, what would be the reason that diners would choose Kublai Khan, I ask Alan. “This is a healthier alternative to most, as guests are choosing from the freshest ingredients what they want to eat at very reasonable prices. We’ve got outdoor tables, which is really pleasant when the weather cools,” says Alan. “We’ve also got a very Zen attitude. People can come in, hop onto a barstool, nurse a margarita all evening, order a meal if they wish. It’s just more laidback,” adds Alan.

October 2013

Masters of Lustre With their luminous beauty, pearls certainly make the best gifts, but to ensure that your purchase is an excellent investment option as well, you’ll need to be wary of market realities. Here’s a guide that will help you steer clear of potential pitfalls in your quest to secure the perfect pearls…

BY KAMALA THIAGARAJAN Pearls are incredibly versatile and come in an array of sizes, shapes and colors. While your choice will be eventually dictated by personal preference, keep in mind these key factors while making your decision.  Know Your Pearl Type — Freshwater or Cultured?  Natural pearls occur quite by accident, a design of nature in which an irritant finds its way into the shell of a mollusk (oysters and clams) in the wild. The mollusk secretes a protective layer called nacre (mother of pearl) which eventually transforms into a pearl. However, in order to cater to the rising demand for pearls worldwide, pearl farms have sprung up that mimic this natural process. The irritant is artificially induced and the pearls are carefully cultivated.  “All pearls that are sold in the retail market today are cultured pearls unless otherwise labelled as natural,” says US based pearl expert and retailer Kevin Canning who runs While there is little difference between cultured and natural pearls, the latter can be incredibly expensive. For most people, cultured pearls are perfectly acceptable. Saltwater or freshwater pearls are the kinds of cultured pearls available today, depending on where the pearl farm is based and the kind of surroundings the mollusk has been raised in. So which would you choose? “Saltwater pearls are typically, but not always, more expensive,” explains India Rows, founder and president of the Pearl Girls, a pearl company based in Athens, Georgia. ( “This is a reflection of their high production costs, though, and not necessarily of their quality. Chemically, (both varieties) are very similar, except that freshwater pearls have a slightly higher amount of manganese. When you look at the way they are cultured, there are


many differences. First, the water is different, freshwater versus saltwater. Saltwater farms rely on sea planes and boats, many technicians must be housed in remote locations, the waters must be patrolled and guarded. Freshwater farms are easier to maintain. Freshwater pearls are, without a doubt, the closest to natural pearls. They are almost 100% nacre. This means finding a truly gorgeous strand of round, freshwater pearls is a miracle of nature. Freshwater pearls only come in white, mauve and pink colors. So, for the pearl connoisseur interested in black pearls, Tahitian pearls are a good choice. (You can also opt for) creamy yellow or silvery white, South Sea pearls. Saltwater pearls offer more variety in natural colors than their freshwater counterparts.”  Going beyond Grading  Experts agree that unfortunately, unlike diamonds, there is no internationally accepted standard grading system for pearls. You may have heard of the AAA-A (where the better the quality of the pearl, the more A’s it acquires) and the A-D system (also called the Tahitian system). “A grading system is only as good as the company that employs it, and what A-AAA means to one (dealer) will be completely different for others. The A-D system was developed and is employed by the government of Tahiti and does follow some loose standards, but those grades are rarely exactly applied by wholesalers and retailers. Reputation of the pearl dealer is much more important than the grade,” says Jeremy Shepherd, pearl expert, CEO and founder of, USA. So how would you ensure that you’re not cheated while purchasing your pearls? “Choose a reputable, trustworthy supplier that you can be open and honest with and who has the knowledge to answer your questions”, says Rows. 

Buying the Best If money is no object and you’re looking for the most expensive variety, opt for Australian South Sea pearls. They’re the Rolls Royce of the pearl industry, says Geoffry Levy, pearl expert and dealer, ( “The fewer the spots (or blemishes) a pearl has, the higher its value. However, some marks can add to the uniqueness of a pearl, rather like the birthmarks on a human being.”   Understanding Nacre  The thickness of the nacre (secretions) will eventually determine the luster and durability of your pearl. So how do you judge this when you’re not an expert? “Understanding nacre thickness is very important when buying saltwater pearls,” says Rows. “Because saltwater oysters are nucleated with a shell bead, you want to ensure you are buying more than just that shell bead. The problem is, some pearls have minimal nacre (or pearl material) on top of that bead. One trick to check nacre thickness is blinking. If you turn the pearl or necklace under a light, sometimes you get a glimpse of the shell bead within the pearl. It ‘blinks’. It is almost like the pearl is winking at you. If you can see your pearls ‘blink’, I’d advise avoiding them, because these pearls will last only 7-8 years before the nacre peels or wears off.”  “There are many akoya pearls (originally from Japan, these are the classic white pearls) on the market today that are what we refer to as “short cultured,” says Shepherd. “Instead of leaving the pearls in the shells in the water for one to two seasons, they are harvested after just a few months. The nacre is extremely thin and the pearls will likely peel within a very short amount of time. Often pearls with thin nacre will have a chalky appearance. When held in the light and spun between the fingers, it is also possible to see the lines of the nucleus through the nacre. For lasting durability, South Sea and Tahitian pearls are the best. While these pearls do have a bead implant, the

Photos: Kevin Canning

nacre is typically very thick and very strong. Akoya pearls rarely have more than .5 mm of nacre, while Tahitians must have a minimum of .8 mm, and South Sea often have nacre thicker than 2 mm.” Beware of Mixed Necklaces When pearls are strung, there is a possibility of a dealer mixing low-grade pearls with high-grade pearls in hopes of selling at a higher profit. “You can find substantially lower grade pearls near the clasp ends and higher grade pearls near the middle,” says Shepherd. “This is also something professional buyers must watch for.” If you’ve purchased strung pearls from an unknown dealer, you might want to get them appraised by an expert to check if each pearl is of the same quality.  Do’s and Don’ts Some Do’s and Don’ts — Handy tips for the purchase and maintenance of pearls.  •Don’t buy pearls on Ebay. In all probability, what you see on screen, isn’t what you’ll eventually get and you’ll be unable to judge the nacre thickness from a screen shot.  •Do wear your pearls often. The best way to maintain your pearls is to wear them, says Kevin Canning. “The natural oils on our skin are good for pearls and help to keep them lustrous. It’s important to follow the old adage “pearls should be the last thing you put on in the morning and the first thing you take off at night”. Apply your makeup, hair spray and perfume before putting your pearls on as the chemicals in these products can damage the nacre of your pearls. Occasionally, its a good idea to give your pearls a gentle cleaning with a damp soft cloth and lay them out to dry. Avoid storing them in dry places like a safety deposit box as this can cause the nacre to dry out and become brittle.” Based in Madurai, South India, Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist with over fifteen years of writing experience. She has contributed to newspapers and magazines all over the globe and has been published extensively in over ten countries. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Reader’s Digest, American Health & Fitness,, Emirates Woman, The Diplomat, Kuwait this Month, among others. When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, this coffee addict loves writing about health, lifestyle and adventure travel. Catch her on twitter at @kamal_t.

October 2013

The Importance of Comprehensive

Immigration Reform

and What it Means for the Indian/Indian American Communities BY CHARLES C. FOSTER 2013 may likely be a historic year for the possibility of passage of the first major comprehensive immigration reform legislation since the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, which was of extraordinary importance to the Indian community as proposed by President John F. Kennedy and ultimately passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The 1965 Act abolished the National Origin System. This legislation was steered through the U.S. Senate by young U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy. The 1965 Act made possible large scale immigration from Asia in general and India in particular that previously had been impossible under the quotas imposed upon the Eastern Hemisphere in 1923 based upon the national make-up of the U.S. according to the 1900 census. At the time of the 1965 Act, the annual quota for Great Britain would have been 65,000 and the annual quota for India would have been 100. The 1965 amendments went into effect in 1968. Subsequent to 1968, as a practical matter, irrespective of origin, one could only immigrate based upon either a family preference petition filed by an immediate or close relative who was a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident or by an employer that could prove the unavailability of qualified, willing and able U.S. workers. The same time, elimination of the National Origin System necessitated the development of a viable temporary worker program, primarily with the H-1B classification, at that time for aliens of distinguished merit and ability, and the L-1 classification for intracompany transferees. Since few Indian nationals had any close immediate U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident relatives, large scale Indian immigration occurred almost entirely based upon visa petitions filed by employers. Given the fact that preferences


and quotas were heavily weighted toward those individuals who were professionals with either a Bachelor’s Degree or an advanced degree, it is not surprising that the Indian and Indian American community is one of our more prosperous communities, again given the fact that a high percentage of Indian nationals in the United States who immigrated based upon their professional job skills and qualifications. While the 1965 Act was a vast improvement and there have been subsequent amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act, there are still many deficiencies. When then Governor George W. Bush ran for President of the United States in 2000 and subsequently became President, I had the opportunity to work for him as his principal policy advisor on immigration and President Bush developed and supported the broad principals of what has come to be known as comprehensive immigration reform. The word “comprehensive” means all the key issues that must be addressed together to be effective. In early 2001, we were optimistic about the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, but the terrible tragedies of September 11th not only fundamentally changed the world in many ways, but also ended any prospects for the passage of good immigration legislation. At that time the country was primarily focused on security concerns, particularly as they related to the entry of foreign nationals into the United States given the tragedy of 9/11 and Congress was in no mood to expand legal immigration or provide viable legal options for the large number of individuals who resided and worked in the U.S. in undocumented status. There was a major effort by the Bush Administration in both 2006 and 2007 to again pass broad-based comprehensive immigration reform, but the legislation ultimately failed first in the House and the

Senate by a few votes and then with passage in the Senate ultimately failed in 2007 after Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in the 2006 election. The Republican majority then, much like today, was not in the mood to pass legislation that would provide substantial benefits to the large undocumented population. While the prospect of the passage of comprehensive immigration reform is at best unpredictable, a number of developments have resulted in the most favorable conditions for passage of comprehensive immigration reform since 2001. The U.S. Senate is controlled by the Democrats, who in general have been more supportive of same. In fact, under the leadership of the so-called “Gang of 8” — 4 Democratic U.S. Senators, Chuck Schumer of New York, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Mike Bennett of Colorado and Richard Durbin of Illinois, and 4 Republican Senators, John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and newly elected Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona — passed SB 744, a broad-based comprehensive immigration reform legislation in June 2013. This legislation, as passed by the Senate, provides not only a long complex path to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens who have either entered illegally across our southern border or who entered the U.S. and overstayed their status (an estimated 40% of the total), which would include many Indian nationals as well. It also significantly expands the quota for H-1B specialty workers from 66,000 per year to a cap that fluctuates between 115,000 and 180,000 based on a market escalator formula and most significantly it not only greatly increases immigrant visa quotas for the highly

skilled in order to reduce the significant backlog, but it also exempts aliens with a Master’s Degree or higher in the STEM fields from a U.S. university from both the cap and the Labor Certification requirement. In fact, the backlog today for professionals from India who seek to qualify through their employer based upon a job offer that requires at least a Bachelor’s Degree is approximately 10+ years. Even those individuals who are being sponsored by employers for positions requiring at least a Master’s Degree face a backlog of approximately 5+ years. Under legislation passed by the U.S. Senate, backlogs as well as the per-country caps would be eliminated and employment based visa numbers would be increased. Now the House of Representatives under Republican control must do its part and the Republican leadership recognizes it is critical to do so for the future of the Republican Party in presidential elections. The House Judiciary Committee has already passed a number of separate bills that deal with key issues essential to any reasonable comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The House Judiciary Committee has yet to take up any legislation to deal with the status of the large undocumented population or the so-called Dreamers, but there are still signs that the House of Representatives will pass a sufficient series of bills for them to go to Conference Committee with the Senate bill, which could ultimately lead to the President of the United States signing historic immigration legislation before the end of the year. If and when President Obama does so, Indian nationals should greatly benefit by comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, more than at any time since the 1965 Immigration Act.

Charles C. Foster is the Co-Chairman, FosterQuan, LLP, a well-known immigration firm. Foster currently leads the Greater Houston Partnership Task Force on Immigration Reform, a nationwide effort to secure sensible immigration reform legislation that meets the needs of the business community, families, and our nation’s economy. He is the founding Chair of the State Bar of Texas Immigration & Nationality Law Section. He also serves as Honorary Consul General for the Kingdom of Thailand. Additional service activities include: Board of Trustees of The Asia Society and Chairman of its Texas Center; Board Member of the Greater Houston Partnership and its Executive Committee; Member of the Executive Committee of the Houston International Festival; Member of the Board of Directors of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the International Institute of Education – Southern Region, Neighborhood Centers, Inc., InterFaith Ministries, and the Houston Ballet. Long recognized as a national expert in U.S. immigration law, Foster has served as senior policy advisor to both Presidents Bush and Obama during their Presidential campaigns and has testified before both the U.S. House and Senate Subcommittees on Immigration on a variety of occasions. Foster is best known for his role in helping ballet performer Li Cunxin stay in the United States over the objections of Chinese Communist Party officials, which was memorialized in Cunxin’s autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer and later in a film by the same name.

October 2013

Complementary Medicine


BY P.G. PARAMESWARAN, MD Hypnosis is an amazingly effective tool to bring about desirable changes in one’s lifestyle, and as a complement to other orthodox therapies. Mind and body are inseparably bound together. Several research studies have been published about the application of hypnotherapy in disorders in which psychological factors are thought to be contributory. There is enough clinical evidence that indicate hypnosis may influence a number of physiological mechanisms not readily amenable to conscious control. Hypnotic effects are real. Brain imaging technologies like functional MRI (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) demonstrate that hypnotic suggestions influence brain activity, not just behavior and experience. Hypnotherapy can be used in a variety of settings — from physicians’ and dental offices to emergency rooms, outpatient clinics and even operating rooms. Hypnosis can even be lifesaving in certain situations. Hypnosis used for therapeutic purposes is called hypnotherapy. The term hypnosis comes from the Greek word “hypnos” meaning sleep. Hypnosis causes deep relaxation — both mental and physical — a trance state. A person in a deeply focused state is unusually responsive to suggestions of ideas or images. The hypnotist does not control one’s mind but teaches the person how to master one’s own state of awareness. This can be effectively employed to effect changes in one’s bodily functions and psychological responses. HISTORY OF HYPNOSIS Hypnotherapy is almost as old as man’s earliest attempts at healing. Throughout history, almost every culture has used trance states in rituals and religious ceremonies. Present day practice of hypnosis starts with an eighteenth century Viennese physician named Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), who is considered to be the “father “ of modern hypnosis. Mesmer believed that illnesses were caused by an imbalance in the magnetic fluids in the body and used magnets and trance states. That trance state came to be known as mesmerism. The Medical community called his techniques unscientific and it fell into disrepute until the mid 1900’s when a Psychiatrist by name Milton Erickson started using hypnosis in his practice. In 1958, both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association recognized hypnotherapy as a valid medical


procedure. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has accepted hypnotherapy as a treatment for chronic pain. HOW DOES HYPNOSIS WORK? During hypnosis, both the mind and body are deeply relaxed. The conscious mind becomes less alert and the subconscious mind more focused. Research done studying the electrical activity of the brain (EEG) during hypnosis shows that lower frequency waves which are tied to dreaming and sleeping are more prevalent than higher frequency waves, which are tied with alertness, thus indicating a very relaxed state. The left side of the brain, which is associated with logic and reason records less activity than the right side of the brain, which is associated with creativity and emotion. This causes the subject to be highly suggestible. In a study using fMRI, the changes in the brain revealed that the subjects experienced the same level of hypnotically induced pain condition as the physically induced pain condition. (Nature Reviews/ Neuroscience) PROCESS OF HYPNOTHERAPY During hypnosis, the person is directed through a series of relaxation techniques using mental images. This is followed by suggestions intended to change behaviors and relieve symptoms. The therapist may teach self-hypnosis so the person can reinforce what is learnt during the session. Each session lasts an hour or more and most people see results within four to ten sessions. Any person can be hypnotized as long as he or she is willing to get hypnotized. Some people respond faster than others and about 10% may not respond at all. However, most people who seek hypnotherapy wanting to effect life style changes will respond to hypnotic suggestions. Some may need multiple therapeutic sessions to effect the desired changes. Children old enough to follow suggestions (9-12) are easily hypnotized and results can be seen in fewer sessions. CONDITIONS THAT CAN BE TREATED WITH HYPNOTHERAPY Hypnotherapy can be effective in a wide range of psychological and physical disorders. It is a powerful tool for exploration of causes, modification of attitudes and diminution of

symptoms. In physical problems, hypnotherapy can aid greatly in the management of pain and other symptoms. Psychosomatic disorders unresponsive to traditional treatment can benefit from hypnosis and for some psycho-physiological disorders, it may be the treatment of choice, ADDICTIONS Hypnotherapy is very effective in overcoming addictions in motivated individuals. According to contemporary psychoanalytic view, addiction to any substance is a defense against anxiety. Addicts abuse nicotine, alcohol, drugs or even food to protect themselves against overwhelming anxiety and other painful emotions such as loneliness and depression. A common acronym in addiction circles is H-A-L-T, meaning Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. These emotions lead to vulnerability and subsequent substance abuse. Repeated use of an addictive substance is seen by the brain as a nice reward, leading to further and more frequent use. The addictive substance actually causes physical changes in some nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. After a while, the body’s tolerance increases and the user has to increase the dose to get the same pleasure. Once tolerance increases the risk of addiction is much greater. This cycle of addiction to any substance can be treated successfully by hypnotherapy alone or along with other methods of rehabilitation. WEIGHT MANAGEMENT — FOOD ADDICTION Many who are over weight have tried many diets, only to find that once they stop dieting, they gain back all the pounds that have been lost and even more. If a hormonal cause for weight gain has been ruled out, one has to inquire into the reasons for overeating. People overeat for various reasons: •As a reward or for entertainment •When anxious or to overcome grief or to negate an unpleasant experience •When depressed or when needing love •Past experiences during childhood Hypnotherapy helps to overcome the above reasons for overeating and change their lifestyle by motivating to eat healthy and exercise. SMOKING, ALCOHOL & DRUG ADDICTIONS Most people have quit smoking or drinking alcohol several times only to start all over again. Hypnosis is a very effective tool for motivated smokers to quit smoking in a few sessions. For those addicted to alcohol or drugs, hypnotherapy

if not effective by itself, may have to be combined with other methods of rehabilitation. GAMBLING, SHOPPING & SEXUAL ADDICTIONS Hypnotherapy can be successfully used to treat these and other similar addictions. PHOBIAS Most people are born with some natural fears such as fear of snakes, spiders and excessive heights. If the phobia does not interfere with a person’s emotional, social or work life, then it may not require any treatment. However, if the fear forces one to do things the hard way (like, while on the freeway, having to take an exit to avoid driving on an overpass or having to travel by road to a far away city for fear of flying), treatment may be necessary. I cannot think of a better treatment than hypnotherapy to overcome one’s phobias. PAIN CONTROL People suffering from severe chronic pain are victims of a resulting cycle of emotional and physical symptoms such as anxiety, anger, depression, fatigue and insomnia. Regardless of the cause or location of pain, one would want to eliminate or diminish the severity of pain. Several medications and even certain invasive procedures like nerve blocks or steroid injections are available for pain control. However, none of them are without side reactions. Hypnotherapy is so effective for pain relief that it has been used as the sole anesthetic for surgical procedures in the past and is now getting popular in certain hospitals in Europe. James Esdaile, (1808-1859) a Scottish surgeon working with the East India Company in India, used hypnosis as the sole anesthetic to perform numerous surgeries at the ‘mesmeric’ hospital in Calcutta. Using hypnosis for surgeries has benefits of avoiding cardiovascular and respiratory complications associated with general anesthesia, in addition to the cost savings. Preoperatively, hypnotherapy can allay the fear and apprehension associated with surgery. It reduces postoperative pain, nausea and vomiting and help early ambulation and recovery. My own interest in hypnosis was kindled by the claims of a retired family physician, who had performed all surgical procedures including C-sections under hypnosis in a small Michigan town as no anesthetist was available at that time. I myself have performed minor office surgeries solely under hypnosis. A recent newsletter from MD Anderson hospital in Houston reported the use of hypnosis to eliminate the anxiety and fear of certain investigative procedures. To be continued.

P.G. Parameswaran, MD., MS., Mch., is a general and thoracic surgeon trained in India and the United States. He has been in practice for over 35 years. A firm believer in total wellness, he took further training in acupuncture, hypnotherapy, yoga therapy and energy medicine. He has used these complementary techniques in his practice and has helped many patients achieve optimal health and well-being. Dr. Parameswaran has been conducting bone marrow donor registration drives throughout the Houston area for several years and is responsible for increasing the number of potential bone marrow donors in the South Asian community. For more information, please visit his website Dr. Parameswaran can be contacted at 832 755 6687 or by email at

October 2013


to your child…

then read with your child!

BY BONNIE SHEEREN Every so often, there will be a news story, a public service announcement or another celebrity conferring Good Parent status on those who cuddle up with their children and read to them. Then, the deluge of an avalanche of data, studies and statistics to say our progeny will be CEOs and rule the world, if we just rely on Good-night Moon, Winnie the Pooh or Charlotte’s Web. While the experts want to lather on kudos for reading every night, overall, it is a very special magical time when we can share these books with little ones and there’s really no need to tie this to future triumphs. Yet, these days slip quickly through our fingers and after that? The reading gurus fall silent on the next step, especially since it’s not as cozy as the first one, or as rewarding, but to get to the final phase, ah, there’s the payoff. During early grade school, there are some clever books like Squids will be Squids, George and Martha and of course, the works of the eternally amazing Shel Silverstein. The tween

years are the times that parents have to wander in the wilderness to get to the Promised Land. After early grade school, parents now find themselves with children rapt about the release of the latest Harry Potter-esque or Twilight series-wannabe book. There is an occasional oasis such as The Hunger Games, but a refreshing literary experience is rare. Scan these books quickly to stay up with the latest tween craze and to keep the lines of communication well maintained for the coming teen years. Trust me, it’ll be good down the road. It’s the next step where the parents get their reward for so many years of patiently encouraging their children to read. Thanks to Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, our children are required to read a huge array of classics from all genres and cultures. Now, here’s the huge secret dividend for parents! In our busy lives, there’s hardly any justification for reading these masterpieces of literature. But for our children, no sacrifice is too great, of course, anything to help them. Last year, my daughter and I went on a boat with a tiger (or was it a tiger?) in the Life of Pi, to ancient India for Siddhartha and then continued to ancient Greece for Antigone. We traveled to New Mexico for Bless Me, Ultima and to Nigeria for Things Fall Apart. I revisited my high school years with Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and Orwell’s Animal Farm to compare my adult reaction to these books versus teenage thoughts. And there was poetry (ah, the luxury of poetry) as a part of last year’s curriculum. All this abundance of literary riches classified under the guise of “helping” my child. This is where it all gets interesting. Major works of literature ask the truly difficult, challenging questions that will reconfigure our view of the world from now until the day when we are no longer able to pick up a book. Moreover, as soon-tobe adults, our children are vitally interested in existentialism, even if they don’t know that’s the name of their newfound exploration of the depths of human experience. This is how we can join our children on that journey, using these books as our lodestar and sparking discussions beyond, “What did you do at school today?” Something incredible can happen with these connections with our children as they go forward into their adult years. They can take parenting to another entire plane of existence, and make it bearable to let them go out into the world. Read to your children when they are little. Read with them as they grow. It’s the best thing a parent can do. Bonnie Sheeren has worn many hats over the years. She has been a publisher’s representative for Harper and Row Publishers, a medical video writer/producer and a public school teacher. She recently turned 50, and hopes to synthesize these experiences into writing projects.


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