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A Bollywood Wedding in Las Vegas

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FROM THE PUBLISHER’S DESK Houston-based businessman Jugal Malani and his wife Raj pulled out all the stops to make their son Pankaj’s wedding to Avnie Patel in Las Vegas over the weekend of October 18 – 20 momentous and unforgettable. The couple, renowned for their altruistic hearts and giving hands, are generous donors to organizations benefitting the underprivileged, survivors of domestic abuse, and for the propagation of education among others, in the US, their adopted homeland, and India, the land of their birth. Having worked hard to realize the American dream, they had the means to ensure that Pankaj’s wedding (and daughter Nikita’s earlier nuptials in Houston in December 2012) were both elegant and tasteful. In doing so, they employed the services of a plethora of vendors in myriad industries, and helped buoy the economy while creating lifelong cherished memories not only for their children, but also for family and friends who were present to witness and participate in the festivities. HUM Magazine was privileged to be a part of the grand celebration. And so, what happened in Vegas… is lavishly detailed within these pages for your perusal! As the weather cools heralding the advent of the holiday season, we’re drawn inexorably into a tidal wave of parties, spiritual observances, family gatherings, and fun times. So, here’s wishing our readers a joyous Festival of Lights, Diwali. And to all, a very blessed Thanksgiving. Stay safe. Warmly,

Kalyani Giri Publisher





Los Angeles




When Pankaj Met Avnie


A Bollywood Wedding in the Bright City of Las Vegas


Revelry in the Skies Baraat on an Airplane








The Reception


Aloha Hawaii!

Public Relations Drew Wilson


Destination Rejuvenation

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


IFFH & ASTC Where Entertainment and Elegance Converge


Walking on the Clouds Bhutan - a destination devoid of distractions


Kalyanam: The South Indian Wedding


© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography


A Bollywood Wedding in Las Vegas


HUM Cover November 2013

team HUM Publisher/Editor Kalyani Giri Art Director Saqib Rana

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Contributors Ana Beaven Kamala Thiagarajan Loren Allardyce Priya Subramaniam Rathna Kumar Ratna Sinha Seetha Ratnakar Zeenat Kassam Mitha

Stunning Vistas, Song and Dance Under the Stars KALYANI GIRI KALYANI GIRI KALYANI GIRI







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when P Pankaj ankaj metAvnie

Meeting you was fate, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you was beyond my control


Avnie Patel bears a compelling resemblance to a very young Marisa Tomei. She’s quirkily cute in her mannerisms, delightfully bubbly, and just simply drop-dead gorgeous. Pankaj Malani is easy-going, chivalrous, and dashing. Born and raised in Houston, chances are that their paths may have converged as they had many friends in common. Fate’s calendar, configured by a capricious hand, deemed October 2011 suitable for the pair to meet, and so Avnie, 29, a physician’s assistant, and Pankaj, 33, the Vice President of Operations at Unique Industrial Products, were introduced by a mutual friend. After a year of courtship, Pankaj proposed and Avnie accepted. They decided on a destination wedding in Las Vegas, a city they both loved, with family and a select group of friends in attendance. What transpired was a spectacular celebratory three-day repertoire of events that dazzled guests and rendered a very blasé Las Vegas speechless with astonishment; the elephant-themed festivities included guests being transported from Houston to Las Vegas by a specially chartered flight; a lavish sangeet party at The Cosmopolitan under the open night sky; the bridegroom arriving regally at the Bellagio nuptials riding on an ornately decorated elephant; colorful turbans; the latest in designer Bollywood fashion; a Great Gatsby inspired reception with a profusion of flowers and pearls; and a towering wedding cake that resembled a Hindu temple. The union brought together two well-respected Indo American families in Houston. Philanthropist, business magnate, and CEO of Unique Industrial Products, Jugal Malani, and his wife Rajkumari, from the Marwari Maheshwari community, are Pankaj’s parents. Avnie’s parents are Sulochana and Shanker Patel from the Gujarati community. The Beginning The University of Texas (UT) in Austin is alma mater to both Avnie and Pankaj. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from UT, and a Master of Science Physician Assistant from the Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California. Pankaj received a Bachelor’s Degree in Advertising from UT and initially worked at a start-up company in New York. He moved back to Houston and got certification as a teacher and taught 4th – 8th grade in Houston area schools, and English in Argentina. “I enjoyed teaching, it taught me to be patient and I picked up organizational and leadership skills,” said Pankaj. He also indulged in travel and visited many countries intermittently before moving back to Houston to join the family business. Avnie completed her degree in California and returned home but was struck by how laidback Houston was in comparison to a very happening Los Angeles. When the couple met, they found they had a connection and started hanging out in the company of their coterie. “The first time I met Avie, I liked her vibrant personality. She’s beautiful,” said Pankaj. She was equally drawn to him. “When we had our first conversation I felt something special,” said Avnie. “He was sweet and genuine and listened to what I had to say. He made Houston fun for me and knows the coolest

places.” For their very first date, Pankaj asked Avnie out for coffee. But when she arrived at his place, he was taken aback to find her all dressed up and looking lovely. So he spruced up and instead of coffee, took her to dinner at Uptown Sushi - which would become their favorite restaurant. They got to know each other better; Avnie loves to socialize and has a passion for music, travel, and fashion. Pankaj plays a strong hand at poker; he’s also into basketball, table tennis, chess, and enjoys the company of their friends. Both are lifelong vegetarians raised within the Hindu faith. The Proposal Inevitably, the young couple fell in love. Pankaj knew early in the relationship that Avnie was the woman of his dreams and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Avnie was smitten enough to also envision a future with him. On several occasions during their trips to Croatia, Cancun, New York and Italy, Pankaj was tempted to go down on one knee and pop the crucial question. But being very sentimental and family-oriented, he wanted both their families to be present to celebrate with them when he proposed to Avnie. An avid strategist - think poker - by nature, Pankaj pulled out all the stops in arranging the perfect evening to propose. On November 3, 2012, Pankaj took Avnie to Uptown Sushi, the location of their first date. She looked ethereal in a taupe dress and high heels. He was dapper in a grey suit and tie. They lingered over an early dinner, and thereafter headed downtown to the symphony at Jones Hall. During intermission, Pankaj escorted Avnie outside to the curb where a sleek 1960s Rolls Royce with “Malani” plates awaited (he arranged for a friend to photograph those moments). He helped her in, and in the car she found an iPad with songs and video recordings of special and significant times during their courtship. The driver was given instructions to blindfold Avnie and transport her to the museum district’s Mecom Fountains, the periphery of which, Pankaj’s friends and co-conspirators had festooned with candles. Once there, Pankaj removed Avnie’s blindfold, and by the light of the moon and the flickering glow of the votives, Pankaj went down on one knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes. He took her across the road to the Hotel ZaZa, ostensibly to “freshen up”, but led her upstairs to the Rock Star Suite where their parents, family and friends were patiently waiting to offer their congratulations. It was a rousingly joyous party. There were signature drinks named for the couple, and a nacho bar and a bruschetta station. Later, Avnie and Pankaj celebrated with friends at the Roosevelt Lounge. As Avnie’s sister Kinnary, and Pankaj’s sister Nikita had had large weddings, the couple decided on a destination to celebrate their nuptials. So they brought Bollywood glamour, age-old Vedic traditions, and Indian hospitality, and added more luminosity to Las Vegas, the brightest city in the world. The honeymoon? Avnie and Pankaj chose to share their first days as man and wife basking in the sun and surf of Maui.

If I could chose between loving you and breathing I would use my last breath to say I love you.

November 2013

Photo: Mir Anwar


So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.


Las Vegas, Nevada. As we glide through the dark skies fringing the resplendence of Las Vegas, the glittering lights mesmerize like pixie dust scattered by a giant hand. It’s a city of fantasies and fairytales, where Lady Luck shrugs with mercurial indifference, making princes of dreamers, or conversely, leaving in her arch wake, vanquished hopes. It’s an indubitable playground for grown-ups; flashing neon signs wink and beckon sleepless patrons meandering in wonderment amidst plush hotels that lay claim to the strip like tiny cities all unto themselves. Veritable acres of slot machines, poker, baccarat, and blackjack games lure high rollers and intrepid thrill-seekers, holding them hostage to the promise of victory. There’s the upscale glamour of Tom Ford and Prada, worldclass entertainment, gliding gondolas, musical fountains, the luxurious and the seedy, and the universal beacon of international familiarity, The Coca Cola Store. It was in this magical city of quirky paradoxes that Avnie Patel and Pankaj Malani chose to exchange sacred vows of matrimony, surrounded by 570 guests that included family and friends over the three days of October 18 – 20, 2013. The young couple did briefly dwell on

formalizing their nuptials in Rajasthan, India, the home state of Pankaj’s ancestors, but that idea was summarily disabused of, as it wasn’t practical for their friends to attend. Instead, Las Vegas made perfect sense as one of their favorite and oft-visited cities in the world where they savored the high-octane nightlife and where Pankaj deals a strong hand at poker. Avnie and Pankaj envisioned the age-old Hindu Vedic traditions and rituals juxtaposed against the sophisticated, Italy-inspired Bellagio. It would take several trips to Las Vegas over the past year to work out the mindboggling logistics to realize their destination wedding; locations for the various events, meetings with wedding planner Tory Cooper, accommodations, transportation, food tasting with local caterers, and a seemingly endless list of orchestrations. Earlier an engagement ceremony in Hyderabad also doubled as a shopping expedition for an exquisite array of designer garments for the bridal couple and their families, and wedding jewelry from several cities in India. The attention given to the minutest details was impressive, right from the Save the Date cards that resembled nifty dark blue passports emblazoned with their chosen logo of gold elephants and couple’s initials, to the

A Bollywood Wedding in the Bright City of Las Vegas Las Vegas themed wedding invitations that arrived in embellished boxes…with poker chips fashioned from chocolate, and dice. Needless to say, the Houston Indian community was buzzing with what was predicted to be the wedding of the year. Everyone knew someone who was on that coveted guest list. Finally, October 18 rolled around. While most traveled on commercial airlines from Houston (where the Malani and Patel families reside) and from other cities all over the world, the Malanis chartered a flight that transported a group of 165 that included the bridegroom and family and close friends to Las Vegas. A handsome Pankaj arrived at the private airstrip on horseback accompanied by the feverish beats of the dhol wielded by festively garbed dhol players. Onboard, a vegetarian lunch was served, and the latest of Bollywood hit songs energized passengers and had them singing and dancing in the aisles for the duration of the trip. When the plane touched down in Vegas, a fleet of limousines was present to whisk guests away to the Bellagio where a Welcome Party/High Tea was arranged for 4.00pm. Through the marble foyer famous for its Fiori di Como, a ceiling embellished with over 2000 breath-taking Chihuly hand blown glass flowers, the wedding party wend its way to the Hyde Lounge to the reverberating staccato dhol. Classic English tea staples like wafer-thin cucumber sandwiches and scones with jam and clotted cream, along with a vast array of Indian snacks, tea, and desserts tempted the palate. The partially exposed rear area of the Hyde Lounge proffered a stunning view of the fabled Bellagio fountains with its white plumes of water that chased errant tendrils of mists to land softly on skin. After meeting and greeting each other over a leisurely tea, guests repaired to their rooms at the Bellagio to prepare for the sangeet, the evening’s very swank soiree, hosted next door at The Cosmopolitan. The high tea heralded the beginning of a celebratory weekend of revelry, a sumptuous wedding, prodigious hospitality, and the making of lifelong memories.

Photo: Mir Anwar

November 2013

Š Krishna Giri Photography

Bridegroom Pankaj with his mother Rajkumari and father Jugal Malani


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© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography

Bridegroom Pankaj with father Jugal Malani, brother-in-law Atman Shukla, mother Rajkumari and sister Nikita Shukla

Revelry in the Skies Photo: Vijay Pallod

Baraat on an Airplane BY RATNA SINHA We were headed to Las Vegas on a chartered flight from Houston to celebrate the wedding of Pankaj Malani and Avnie Patel. As our cars screeched to a halt on the tarmac, liveried young men took care of our bags that were appropriately labeled Pankaj ki baraat. The splendor of this glamorous Bollywood wedding started on Friday afternoon, October 18, 2013, at the Wilson Air Center just north of Hobby Airport, an airstrip used by private airlines. The 165 “chosen people” of the Malani baraat were dressed as they would for an Indian wedding procession in India — suitably festive and ornamented. And why not? For the next few days the Malanis had masterminded an excellent


game plan: everything Indian and exotic would be done here on American soil. We were assigned seats on a private aircraft specially commissioned by Sentient Jet Charter for the Malani family. Muslin embroidered goodie bags filled with chocolate, nuts and cookies awaited us. Beautifully attired flight attendants in bright yellow and green silk churidar kurtas served a vegetarian lunch catered by the popular Houston restaurant, Maharaja Bhog, and masala chai. The guests were escorted onto the plane through an ornate gold-toned archway that proclaimed The Malani Family Welcomes You. The groom arrived on a white steed to the rhythm of the beating dhol, and amidst much dancing, was escorted onto the flight. What a plane ride that was! The stars seemed to be perfectly aligned, the weather gorgeous, and no bumpy air pockets as we danced around escorting the groom, Pankaj, to his fairytale wedding at the Bellagio!  It was indeed a magnificent beginning to a Bollywood style extravaganza that would follow.

Ratna Achari Sinha moved to Houston in 1997. She has worked at St. Xavier’s College, Bombay in her past life. Ratna has a Phd in English Literature, which is her passion. Until recently, Ratna worked as a high school teacher in Fort Bend Independent School District and gave up her job to travel the world with her husband, Bhuwan Sinha. When she is not traveling, Ratna loves to entertain, listen to music, sing, and hang out with friends

November 2013

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© Krishna Giri Photography

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Stunning Vistas, Song and Dance Under the Stars Las Vegas by night is, well… startling, profound in its power to magnetize. Add to that, clusters of women in ornate sarees, lehenga cholis, Anarkali costumes and shimmering jewelry, men in embellished sherwanis, and children in traditional Indian clothes at the front portico of the Bellagio, awaiting limousines to transport them next door to The Cosmopolitan. It was Avnie Patel and Pankaj Malani’s sangeet evening, and our hosts were Pankaj’s younger sister Nikita and her husband Atman Shukla. Some guests, reveling in the glitzy lights and gentle breeze, decided to walk across, attracting the curious attention of tourists thronging the busy street. The Cosmopolitan is youthful, sophisticated. Step in, and serendipitously, there’s an installation of a gigantic crimson stiletto-heeled shoe in the foyer. As we ascended the escalator to the Boulevard Pool located on the fourth floor, venue of the sangeet, an enormous chandelier cascaded ropes of sparkly faux diamonds from high above reiterating the larger-than-life tenor of Las Vegas. It was the auspicious happenstance of Sharad Purnima, and against the inky canvas of night, a full moon punctuated the sky. The city’s artful brio was revealed through the brightly lit towers, tall buildings, and marquees that seductively drew the eye to the strip’s

© Krishna Giri Photography


November 2013


Hosts for the evening, Atman Shukla and wife Nikita

© Krishna Giri Photography

© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography

latest in world-class entertainment. The multi-level pool area on the open terrace was transformed into a pleasure palace; a sea of tables, enlivened by rich brocade and jewel-toned tulle, inundated the space below a raised stage. Bolly-wood reigned as DJ Rocky spun the latest hits, while henna artists painted elaborate motifs on the hands of guests. Several chaat stations served crispy paani puri and piping hot vada pav and pav bhaji, popular street foods of India. Liveried waitstaff plied gatherees with the hotel’s namesake Cosmopolitans and ginger/jalapeno/tequila mojitos, while an open bar made drinks to order. Late night fare included Italian, Mexican, Chinese and Indian vegetarian entrees catered by The Cosmopolitan and local restaurant, Origin of India. The stars of the evening, Avnie and Pankaj, made a glamorous appearance wearing stunning purple/cerise/ silver ensembles by storied Indian designers Shantanu and Nikhil, as they danced onto the stage to the beat of the dhol. They joined the soiree below and were quickly surrounded by family and friends. Nikita Shukla and Megha Tejpal, sangeet program directors and Mistresses of Ceremonies for the evening, welcomed guests and bantered playfully as they invited mother of the bridegroom Rajkumari Malani to lead the women of the family in revelry with song and dance; thereafter it was the Malani menfolk’s turn led by Pankaj’s father Jugal Malani. Similarly Avnie’s parents Sulochana and

Shankar Patel and family added to the merriment on stage with lively dances. A hilarious musical skit detailing the bridal couple’s courtship culminated with Avnie and Pankaj dancing to Jay Sean’s Down. The sheer romance of it all, the theatrical lighting, the music, and Vegas’s sorcery proved irresistibly infectious; a mass exodus to the dance floor kept the DJ busy until the wee hours.

Š Krishna Giri Photography



© Krishna Giri Photography

© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography

© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography

© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography

Malani family & relatives

Pankaj & Avnie with the Patel family

November 2013

© Krishna Giri Photography

© Krishna Giri Photography


© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography

The afternoon of October 19, 2013, arrived and the excitement was almost palpable as family and friends of Pankaj Malani made their way down to the broad service area by the side of the Bellagio in preparation for the baraat – a procession that, according to North Indian custom, accompanies the bridegroom to the marriage venue. Men were fitted with traditional Rajasthani bhandini turbans and trailing scarves, and the ladies were handed delicate parasols, more decorative in intent than to stave off the timid sun. The bridegroom, princely in an ornamented cream and burgundy Rohit Bal sherwani churidar,


Without, in the end, your being, your coming suddenly, inspiringly, to know my life, blaze of the rose-tree, wheat of the breeze: and it follows that I am, because you are: it follows from ‘you are’, that I am, and we: and, because of love, you will, I will, We will, come to be. - Pablo Neruda

with hands decorated with henna motifs, was assisted onto a seat atop a finery laden elephant. The procession was preceded by a carriage with the DJ spinning Bollywood’s most popular hits, and heralded by the insistent clamor of the dhol; a colorful singing and dancing entourage trailed in the measured and regal gait of the elephant, drawing hundreds of onlookers as it meandered up the cordoned-off, curving driveway of the Bellagio. It was an unusual sight to behold even for Las Vegas, a city conditioned to expect the unexpected. Whimsically, the Bellagio fountains cued to join in the gaiety played Viva Las Vegas, Luck

© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography be a Lady and the overture of All That Jazz as the group passed by. When it reached the entry portico of the hotel, Avnie’s parents and family welcomed Pankaj and the Malanis to the wedding with sweets and gifts. Guests then gathered for a brief respite at the scenic and capacious Bellagio Grand Patio where an extensive feast of snacks and tea catered by the Bellagio and Origin of India awaited, with special desserts that were flown in from India especially for the occasion. Outdoors and under an azure afternoon sky, two elephants skillfully wrought out of flowers stood in silent sentry on either side of the marriage pandal. Showcased alongside embellished turquoise fabric panels, verdant trellises of greenery and a profusion of roses in shades of pink and orange turned the pink-carpeted stage area into a stunning bower. The bride arrived, adding to the fairytale magic of the afternoon, exquisite in a bejeweled red and cream lehenga and green choli by Indian designer Sabyasachi. Preceded by three tiny flower girls, Avnie walked gracefully down the center aisle which, in lieu of a red carpet, was a rectangular fiberglass case filled with pink and orange flower petals. She joined the man of her dreams at the pandal and under the solicitous yet joyful eyes of both sets of parents, exchanged sacred vows that would join them in matrimony. The ancient Vedic incantations by local Hindu priest Gopal K. Panchangam hung in the air as fragrantly as the scent of roses as Avnie and Pankaj exchanged flower garlands. To the rousing beat of the dhol, guests rose in unison to shower them with rose petals as Pankaj ceremonially affixed the mangalsutra (the auspicious necklace signifying marriage) around Avnie’s neck, making her his bride. Pankaj, who is from the Marwari Maheshwari community, and Avnie who is Gujarati, have certain customs indigenous to their communities; for instance, the white curtain that separates them at the beginning of the ceremony is common in the Gujarati and several South Indian wedding repertoires, but not to the Marwaris. The Marwaris tie the mangalsutra and apply sindoor, vermilion powder smeared in the parting of a married woman’s hair.

The Gujaratis only apply the sindoor. It was interesting to note how seamlessly the traditions were incorporated into this sacrament and differences were cherished, and celebrated.

Recognition of Vendors Wedding Planner: Tory Cooper Photography: Mili Ghosh Videography: A&A Video Travel & Hotel Arrangements: Pankaj Assar of Fourway Travels & Justin Rhoane of Bellagio Plane Charter: Sentient Jet Media: HUM Magazine, Houston, Texas

tor of Catering & Banquets. Tori Chivers. Bridal attire: Sabyasachi Groom’s attire: Rohit Bal Caterer’s: Bellagio & Origin of India Elephant: Have Trunk, Will Travel DJ: DJ Rocky

SANGEET: Venue: Cosmopolitan Blvd Pool Lori Foit, Director of Catering & Conferences Bride & Groom Attire: Shantanu & Nikhil Jewelry: Parikh Jewelers, Kolkata Decor: MGM, Nick Robinson, Event Manager Caterers: Cosmopolitan & Origin of India Sangeet Program Directors: Nikita Shukla & Megha Tejpal DJ: DJ Rocky

RECEPTION: Venue: Bellagio, Grand Ball Room Bride’s attire: Shantanu & Nikhil Groom’s attire: Nick Lopez, Houston Decor: Nick Robinson, Event Manager, MGM Caterer’s: Bellagio & Origin of India DJ: DJ Sharad, New York Masters of Ceremonies: Atman Shukla & Viren Patel Special Recognition to Unique Industries Team: Himanshu, Stephen, Basri, Sailaja, Venkata, Sudhakar, Shreeram & dance teacher Lalita.

SHAADI: Venue: Bellagio Harvey Stern, Executive Direc-

November 2013

The Reception

Š Krishna Giri Photography

Love, because of it, tie me to a purer movement, to the grip on life that beats in your breast, with the wings of a submerged swan, So that our dream might reply to the sky’s questioning stars with one key, one door closed to shadow. - Pablo Neruda


BY KALYANI GIRI “We’re thanking god for making our dreams come true. Our family has waited for a long time for Pankaj to get married,” he said to ripples of laughter. “Avnie has a very special place in our hearts,” he added, with obvious affection for the new addition to the family. He thanked family and friends, and colleagues and staff at his company Unique Industrial, for helping with arrangements; he feted wedding planner Tory Cooper whose efforts “made everything look so easy”. The wedding cake was a showstopper; the young Malanis cut a 10-tier cake created in the shape of a Hindu temple by Bellagio pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury. Catered by the Bellagio chefs and Origin of India, there was a sumptuous symphony of a feast for guests to enjoy. Needless to say, the party went on until the early hours with tunes spun by DJ Sharad from New York. The weekend was a triumphant tour de force arranged meticulously by Pankaj and Avnie, with the support of their families. Mention must be made of the inordinate generosity of Raj and Jugal Malani, who went out of their way to make Las Vegas a veritable home away from home for their guests, where every need was anticipated and fulfilled with large-hearted hospitality. For those of us blessed enough to have been privy to both the unique and tasteful weddings in their family, that of daughter Nikita with Atman Shukla in December 2012, and son Pankaj with Avnie, we’ve been spoilt enough by the memorable experiences to eagerly await the next big celebratory event in their lives… perchance, the birth of a grandchild?

© 2013 Mili Ghosh Photography

Pankaj and Avnie Malani’s wedding reception at the Bellagio Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas on the Saturday evening of October 19, 2013, was a celebratory toast to their future together as man and wife. The themed event inspired by The Great Gatsby, reiterated the opulence and romance of the parties as illustrated in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus. Scintillating chandeliers like necklaces of pearls cast a muted golden glow over the ballroom’s foyer, as superlatively dressed guests eddied around sipping exotic drinks and grazing on hors d’oeuvres that included an impressive array of vegetarian sushi. Inside the ballroom, it was a visual wonderland; tall goblet centerpieces on tables teemed vibrantly with roses and those ubiquitous cascades of pearls. Stunning in a teal gown with a fitted muted gold bodice by Shantanu and Nikhil, Avnie epitomized elegance as she and her dashing husband — in a gold tuxedo and bowtie by designer Nick Lopez — entered the ballroom to electronically simulated fireworks on stage. The newly-weds looking blissfully in love opened the dance floor to one of their favorite songs, Rihanna’s We Found Love. Masters of Ceremonies for the night Atman Shukla, Pankaj’s brother in law, and Viren Patel, Avnie’s cousin who’d flown in from the UK for the nuptials, did a commendable job of expediting formalities. They began by announcing the arrival of both sets of parents, Rajkumari and Jugal Malani, and Sulochana and Shanker Patel. Courtesy of official videographers for the weekend, A&A Video, a presentation projected onto two large screens, offered adorable vignettes into Avnie and Pankaj’s love story with excerpted highlights from the Vegas events that led up to the reception. It was funny, entertaining and heartwarming in its candor, and told of trust, respect, and hope for a future built on bedrock of forever. “We can converse, she’s very intelligent, but we can still talk about nonsensical things. When we first started hanging out as friends, I liked her energy and positivity,” Pankaj was heard confiding onscreen. To which Avnie responded endearingly, “He makes me feel very safe.” Friends of the bridal couple spoke glowingly/or humorously roasted them. The bride danced with her father to Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely; in his comments for the evening, Shanker Patel lauded his daughter as being a “caring, energetic, special, and warm girl”. He thanked the Malanis and told them that he was proud to share with them the honor of having Pankaj for a son. Jugal Malani and wife Raj were both emotional and overjoyed.

November 2013

PARADISE! BY DR. RATHNA KUMAR It was an exciting prospect – going all the way to Florence, Italy, to attend my friend’s daughter’s wedding! I asked my friend, ‘why Italy’ (because she and her daughter live in Bangalore and the groom-to-be, a Londoner, was working in India! And her answer was, ‘the kids wanted to get married in a beautiful, historical and off-beat place’. Wow, I thought, how much fun it would be if a member of my own family also chose some far off exotic place to get married, a place I had never visited before, of course. And lo and behold, as if I had rubbed a magic lamp and a genie had popped out to grant my wish, it came to pass! For many years I had dreamt of visiting the much touted


paradise on earth, Hawaii, captivated by photographs I had seen in the National Geographic and videos on the Discovery Channel. But somehow the powers that be did not smile on my dream, and soon it faded into the farthest recesses of my mind. Until my older son Chetan, an adventurous and free-spirited young man, ended up working in Maui, met a lovely young second generation Japanese girl by the name of Miya Takenaka, and fell for her, hook, line and sinker. He brought her to Houston to meet her prospective in-laws, and she must have approved of us, because she accepted his proposal! Chetan told us that they were planning to get married in Maui and wanted all of us, including his grandmother, grand-aunt, uncles, aunts,

© Krishna Giri Photography

A Wedding in

Miya Takenaka & Chetan Kumar

November 2013

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and cousins, to be present at this most momentous event in his life. Needless to say, it being the first wedding in our family, all of us were thrilled and excited. My mother’s joy knew no bounds – her first grandson was tying the knot! Soon the women in the family were busy planning the trip for each of their own families, because, in my opinion, women are better planners! Email went back and forth as to where to go, what to see, where to stay, and what to take. My mother, aunt, younger son, family friends, two younger sisters and two younger brothers and their families flew in from India, Washington, DC, New York, California, Houston, Dallas, and Boston. We all set out from our respective cities and landed in Honolulu one beautiful summer day, and instantly fell in love with the beautiful land. It was the first Hawaiian experience for all of us, and we could not stop admiring the exquisite beauty of the island, flowers in riotous colors and luscious green plants and trees everywhere, and always, not too far away, the sapphire blue ocean with its white surf and gently lapping waves, looking exactly like a picture postcard! A visit to the Oahu beach and Kona are a must while in Honolulu. The breath-taking sight of the fiery lava flowing from the mountain into the blue ocean is truly “a sight to dream of, not to tell” (to steal a line from Coleridge)! After a thoroughly fabulous introduction to the wonders of Hawaii at our very first stop, we flew to Kauai, the Garden Island, perhaps the most beautiful of all the Hawaiian Islands, with its additional attraction, for us, of the extraordinary Shiva Temple built on a mountain, with a lovely waterfall, and what one usually associates with Shiva, rudraksha and bilva trees, growing aplenty in a faraway land! We were welcomed with warmth and given a special tour of the temple, a devotee’s dream that had turned into such a marvelous reality. The unhurried pace of life on the island was a welcome change for us big city dwellers with our frenetic activities that seldom allowed us time to enjoy nature as we were able to do during our Hawaiian sojourn. Finally we all landed in Maui, with excitement building up every moment about the impending marriage. We rented suites in a nearby resort place and soon made ourselves at home. In between eating out we decided to cook in our kitchenettes, pleased with our decision to stock our suitcases with dhal, chutney powders, spices, and a rice cooker! Were we smart! For the majority of us, and especially for my octogenarian mother and aunt, who were all vegetarians, our South Indian palates craved for rasam, sambar, curd rice and pickle every now and then. The tropical island was rich in vegetables and fruits and we thoroughly enjoyed them, especially the mangoes that India is so famous for. Somehow they all tasted better too. But perhaps that was our imagination, because by then we were thoroughly enamored of Hawaii. We visited the Needlepoint Mountain and the ethereal Haleacala Crater, where we watched the sun rise from down below, as if from the entrails of the earth! We held our breaths, afraid that the magic of the moment would be broken with the slightest sound, and the silence felt almost palpable! A visitor broke into a native song about the sun, and though we did not understand the words, it was a very

© Krishna Giri Photography

Newlyweds Chetan & Miya with their groomsmen and bridesmaids

moving moment. Someone else chanted a poem, and as the hitherto silent crowd started dispersing, staring back at the sun that was now climbing higher into the heavens, Surya driven by his seven white horses, I thought of Aditya Hridayam and the beautiful Hindu paean to the Sun God. It was indeed a most spiritual experience, and one that cannot be replicated. We took in other famous sights of Maui too, the youngsters went scuba diving and swam in the ocean as many hours as possible, the adults took long strolls along the sandy beach, went to local shops and bought trinkets, and in the evenings we lived it up, tasting various Hawaiian drinks and sharing plenty of laughs. One night sixteen of us went Karaoke-ing, and we sang so loud that Maui must have reverberated with the sound of our collective voices long after we had landed back in our home towns! The wedding day arrived. It was a trifle warm, but my mother and aunt insisted on wearing their ‘pattu’ (silk) sarees and their gold jewelry, exactly as if the wedding were taking place in India. Their argument – ‘it is our grandson’s wedding and we want to look good’. That precious moment – two grand old ladies looking resplendent in their finest silks, with the radiant bride and groom flanking them on either side – was captured in one of the most memorable photographs of the wedding. Soon we were all gathered on a quiet stretch of a gorgeous Maui beach. There were about fifty to sixty of us, no more. That was how Chetan had always wanted it – to be married in the presence of family members and closest friends only. He looked so happy, and it brought a lump to my throat as I remembered the baby that I had held in my arms the day he was born! Now he was a man on the threshold of a new life, as a husband ready to start his own family soon. Miya looked lovely, dressed in an ivory dress highlighted by

mauve and purple (our favorite colors) jewelry. And against the famous Maui sunset, with the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and the silhouette of undulating mountains as the stunning backdrop, and a very pleasant Justice of Peace giving the most meaningful message, our handsome son Chetan married the princess of his dreams, Miya Takenaka, and we welcomed a lovely new daughter into our family. Mr. Shoji and Mrs. Mutsuyo Takenaka were the personification of Japanese graciousness, and Miya’s and Chetan’s Maui friends were friendly, funny, and very nice. The Reception was actually a luncheon the next day, held on a famous golf course, in a wonderful restaurant that served the best and most unusual salad I have ever had in my life. For entertainment there was a local dancer who got four of Chetan’s groomsmen, including our son Kedaar, to wear grass skirts, etc (!) and perform the Hula. Chetan got to do a solo, to many hoots, catcalls and encores! It was a fun afternoon, with much laughter and roasting of the bridal couple. After much dining, wining and dancing, it was time to leave. We returned to our suites, packed and left together to the airport, and within an hour of each other took our separate flights home, reluctant to leave so much beauty behind. For a brief time we had come under the spell of Hawaii and felt like inhabitants on the Land of the Lotus Eaters, making us lazy and euphoric. It was good while it lasted, but it felt good to be back in our real worlds, back to our respective jobs. We owe it to Chetan and Miya for having brought all of us together for a wonderful occasion. We spent so much quality time together as a family that I suggested that all of Chetan’s eligible cousins should choose some unusual destination locales for their weddings. Thanks to my son I finally got to see my dream vacation spot, the magical and exquisitely beautiful island of Hawaii, a veritable paradise on earth! Mahalo, Chetan and Miya!

Rathna Kumar is a world renowned dancer, teacher and choreographer and the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Government of India’s highest award for Excellence in the Performing Arts, the 2010 Sangeet Natak Akademi Puraskar. Kumar is the Founder-Director of the Anjali Center for Performing Arts, Texas’ first Indian dance institute, and Artistic Director of Indian Performing Arts Samskriti.


As the cradle of ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy and a myriad other ancient therapies, India embraces the mind-body connection like never before‌

November 2013

BY KAMALA THIAGARAJAN It was nearly dawn as pink and honey shadows clung to the beauty of the beach front at Taj Exotica, Goa. It was out of impulse that I had signed up for a yoga session, but I noted with surprise how many guests had had the same thought. I never expected two dozen people to turn up this morning — awakening so early on holiday. In fact, we were all a part of the same yoga class — a mix of beginners and experts — that was quietly in progress on the refreshing sands. Before we began, we were given saline water, a drink which is said to cleanse the intestines, chest and stomach. “On a physical level, this will alleviate chronic respiratory and digestive problems,” says our instructor. As class progresses, the instructor lifted his hands and arched his back in salutation to the sun. Everyone follows suit, steadily, as though in synch with a silent primordial rhythm. Imitating the slow practiced ease in which they moved and stretched, I could feel the tension melting away from my bones. The air around me felt crisper and I began to breathe more deeply. With every breath, I became intensely aware of my surroundings. At the end of our brief half hour session, I had never felt so alive or more ready to greet the day! The intense mind-body connection of yoga is at once apparent, even to a beginner. India became the birthplace of yoga when ancient mystics and seers who lived in the mountains of Rishikesh, Himalayas, discovered a way to connect to the source of life within us. It was a journey that dates back many thousands of years, marked in sacred scriptures such as the Patajali Sutra and the Vedas, the ancient Indian sacred texts that date as far back as 322–185 B.C.  In fact, every healing therapy practiced in India can be traced back to a few thousand years, with a rich and ancient history that is inextricably interlinked with religion, science and literature. The origins of Ayurveda, often touted as the fivethousand year old health science, can be traced back to the year 3500 B.C. Its non-invasive nature and the use of natural


oils and herbal powders to promote wellbeing saw its popularity soar. Ayurveda is also linked to naturopathy — a healing science that untapped the potential of herbs for healing and rejuvenation. In today’s fast food culture, the healing potential of naturopathy is intense, leading to its gaining popularity across the globe. Spas in the Land of Holistic Healing Today, perhaps because of the rising awareness of health and well-being, even within the country, or because of what experts believe to be the slick packaging and marketing of profound ancient wisdom, no one can deny the fact that Indian spas have come of age and the wellness industry is now a booming hotbed of opportunity — looking ahead toward phenomenal growth, despite a sluggish economy. A sentiment echoed by ayurvedic specialist, Dr. Prasanna Kakunje, also the managing partner of the Spambiance consultancy (http://, a company that helps set up spas in luxury hotels, resorts and wellness retreats across the country. “500-700 new spas have been established (including hotel and day spas) over the past 5 years in India,” says Dr Kakunje.  Kerala certainly is the most successful state in India to have consistently cashed in on its ayurvedic wellness heritage. Tourists from all over the world are more familiar with this destination when compared to others, a fact that cannot be credited to aggressive marketing alone. The government has remained vigilant in monitoring spa practices, one of the reasons, experts cite, behind its success. The Department of Tourism, Kerala has established a new Green Leaf certification to enable tourists to identify the most qualified authentic Ayurvedic Spa (Source: Ayurveda Health Centres Classified by Kerala Tourism Riding on the wave of this trend, new nerve centers for wellness are now emerging across the sub-continent. And

The Raviz, Kollam (Kerala)

unlike the usual luxury spa that one would encounter in the west, these retreats are popular for their ability to package and present ancient wisdom in measured modern doses. “There are now more innovative, luxury-oriented and creative spas in the market. Treatments on the (spa) menu vary from place to place. For example, in Kerala, mostly Ayurveda treatments are offered as individual experiences or as wellness packages or therapeutic programs. Most of these will be aimed at weight management, arthritis treatment, stress management and other chronic illness management,” says Dr Kakunje. “But the newer, more modern spas across the country have a range of international treatments. They offer western massages like Swedish massage or eastern massages like Thai massage, Balinese massage along with body scrubs, herbal wraps, facials, hot stone massage, hair spa, beauty ranges (facials, waxing, pedicure etc). Hotel spas offer de-stress programs that include full body massages, Shirodhara, meditation sessions. Detox plans can include 1-2 weeks of internal cleansing while performing an ayurvedic therapy called Panchakarma.” Today, there are many places that one can visit across the sub-continent to experience that perfect combination of ayurveda, yoga, a healthy vegetarian gourmet meal, rest and refreshing vigour.  Here are some of the most professionally run and unique wellness retreats across the country. 

dic retreat that appears as if it has been frozen in time. Acharya Pulak Ranjan Shukla, a yoga instructor who is a protégé of Himalayan Masters, believes in yoga as defined by Lord Krishna in one of Hinduism’s most sacred books, the Bhagvad Gita. “Shree Krishna in the 17th verse of the 6th chapter of Bhagwad Geeta mentions how we attain the knowledge of yoga,” he says enthusiastically. “‘yukta aahara viharasya, yukta chestasya karmasu, yukta swapna va bodhasya, yogo bhavati dukhha’ — The sorrow-destroying yoga can be attained by one whose lifestyle is appropriate, whose eating, living, working, enjoyment, rest is all in balance.” Through a regimented diet and lifestyle plan, guests experience the ‘satvik’ way of life and are introduced to ‘yukta aahaar’, a tasty vegetarian diet, which makes use of minimal oil and spices, using seasonal ingredients.

Satvik Sadan, Himalayas On the foothills of the Himalayas, in the heart of Nature and surrounded by the beauty of stillness and calm, the Satvik Sadan ( is a yoga and ayurve-

Taj Jiva Spas Across the Country Taj spas across the country are ideal ways to unwind. Connected to the luxury hotels (The Taj Group) across India, Jivas spas are meticulously clean, run with great focus on

Ananda in the Himalayas Another destination spa located in the wild heart of the Himalayan mountains is the immensely popular Ananda ( Offering over 80 body and beauty treatments, the Ananda most marks a successful marriage between the practice of the traditional Indian ayurveda as well as the more Western and contemporary healing modalities. It offers one healing experiences that are truly global in a very cosmopolitan atmosphere, while still retaining its Indian mystique and charm.

November 2013

Photos: spambiance

Kadavu Resort, Calicut, Kerala comfort and well-being. If you’re looking for a yoga break that couples luxury with family activity, head out to one of the Taj Jiva spa properties across the country. You can be assured of trained experts and a culturally rich experience. The Taj Spas practice the Bihar school of Yoga — a holistic form of yoga that integrates the physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions equally. There are several levels of asanas you can avail of here — ranging from a basic asana for beginners to more advanced forms for experts. One can also plan one’s entire stay around their yoga classes, while the spouse and kids find plenty to keep themselves amused with around the resort. Ayurveda Retreat, Coonoor Registered with the Yoga Alliance, USA, the Ayurveda retreat in the hilly region of Coonoor offers excellent educational and therapeutic courses in yoga. Ideally located amidst lush tea gardens, surrounded by miles of forests and greenery, this retreat offers a range of yoga, meditation, ayurveda, acupressure and reflexology treatments. One can practice yoga in a circular Yoga Hall overlooking a valley. Another lovely aspect about the ayurvedic retreat is the fact one is a part of a much smaller and personalized group of guests. There are both beginner and advanced classes one can take in yoga throughout the year — including a six-and-a-half week certified teacher training course. “Certification meets rigorous international certification standards set by Yoga Alliance USA with whom we are registered with. In addition, we have international recognition of ISO 9001 certification process by TUV NORD Germany,” says the Director of Yoga and Meditation, Dr. Senthil Kumar MD, PhD. The centre itself has been certified by the Director of Siddha

and Medical Officer, Government of India for its genuine and traditional services under the Indian Medical Act. The center also specializes in customizing asanas and poses for each individual’s body type and ailments and offers de-addiction treatment from alcohol, smoking and even drugs using ayurvedic therapies.  Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry Situated in a secluded street in Pondicherry, one of the smallest states in Southern India, with vestiges of French rule, the Aurobindo Ashram is a yoga retreat like no other. Aurobindo follows the principles of “integral yoga” (integrating the mind, body and spirit, to bring about a transcendental experience) and goes about it in a rather disciplined way — yoga here is practised with the purpose of restoring vigour and livliness, of freeing one from one’s own vices and providing a healing liferestoring energy. Everything is planned well in advance, including the kind of food you should eat and the structured activities that fill your day; on the whole, the entire yoga retreat will leave you feeling refreshed and revitalized. Not surprisingly, the emerging spa destinations that are currently set to mimic Kerala’s success story are Haridwar in the North and Pondicherry in South India. The Indian government is expected to announce policy initiative to develop wellness tourism in these regions further. Meanwhile, tour operators continue to link up with spas, to provide the tourist with the much anticipated wellness break.   As India gears up to become the next major wellness destination, the industry is constantly engaged in the business of rejuvenation and renewal.

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.



Where Entertainment and Elegance Converge BY KALYANI GIRI At times thought-provoking, comedic, intense, or just simply a kaleidoscope of human emotions at their most fundamental, art imitated the twists and turns of real life when the 5th Annual Indian Film Festival of Houston (IFFH) lauded 100 years of Indian Cinema and India’s enduring passion for fantasy on celluloid. Held fittingly at the elegant Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) premises in the museum district, the festival drew a diverse and chic gathering of movie aficionados and supporters through October 4 – 6, 2013, beginning with an opening night soiree and culminating in a VIP cocktail party and awards

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Lead actor Ajay Gehi recieves Best Feature Film Jury Award for The Good Road from IFFH Founder and Artistic Director Sutapa Ghosh

ceremony. In their remarks at the awards function, IFFH Founder and Artistic Director Sutapa Ghosh and ASTC Chairman Charles Foster articulated their excitement at the new partnership and collaboration between the organizations; previously, screenings and festival events were held at the Studio Movie Grill and the Hotel Sorella at City Centre. The dynamic Ghosh told attendees that the mission of IFFH is to build up the film arts community in Houston and pull this “first rate city” to the forefront in creating and appreciating cinema arts, and to spread awareness of Indian culture through movies. She announced that as of 2014, IFFH would be offering scholarships to students interested in pursuing studies in fields related to film and television. Out of a vast repertoire of films in all genres submitted to the festival, only seven were hand-selected by a team of judges for screening at the ASTC’s state-of-the-art auditorium. Included were three feature films — Goynar Baksho (The Jewelry Box) directed by Aparna Sen, The Good Road by Gyan Correa, and Celluloid by Kamaluddin Mohammed; two short films, Silvatein by Arati Raval Pandey, and Afterglow by Kaushal Oza, as well as two documentaries, The Golden Hour by Jessica McGaugh and Roma Sur, and When Hari Got Married by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. The Good Road won the Best Feature Film Jury Award, and actor Ajay Gehi who had a leading role in the film was present to receive the award and lent star power to the evening. The Best Documentary Film Jury Award went to The Golden Hour, and Afterglow bagged the Best Short Film Jury Award. IFFH also recognizes community leaders and humanitarians who distinguish themselves in Houston by service to the community and through social activism. This year, Charles Foster was the recipient of the IFFH Leadership Award. The IFFH Philanthropy Award was presented to Omana and Samuel Abraham, owners of Abrahams Rugs. Serving as Mistress and Master of Ceremonies at the awards night were Channel 26 anchors Rashi Vats and Jose Grinan whose witty repartee and personal anecdotes delighted the audience. Rhythm India, and the company’s creative and vibrant Artistic Director Arzan Gonda through dazzling medleys of dances peppered between presentations in the program, proffered glimpses of Bollywood. Caterers at the film festival included Straits Restaurant and the Great W’kana Café.

November 2013

Sutapa Ghosh, IFFH Leadership Award recipient Charles & Lily Foster, and Atul Badwal

Parents of Sutapa Ghosh, Prabir Kumar & Reba Ghosh (3rd from left), with emcees of the event, Rashi Vats & Jose Grinan

Gordon Quan & wife Sylvia


Nandita Parvathaneni with IFFH Philanthropy Award recipients Omana & Sam Abraham

Amey Prakash and wife Monica

Lance Livingston & Carolyn Farb

Consul General of India Harish Parvathaneni, Nandita Parvathaneni and Ajay Gehi

Roma Sur & Jessica McGaugh

Ajay Gehi (center) with Sneha & Naushir Merchant

Cody Soutar & Jonathan Blake

Kusum Sharma (right) and friend

Hon. Harish Parvathaneni & Nandita Parvathaneni with IFFH board members (from left) Jose Grinan, Amey Prakash, Sneha Merchant, Sutapa Ghosh, Atul Badwal, Omana Abraham and Krishna Giri

November 2013

Jholnolhori peak - Chelela

Confluence of Pho chu and Mo chu

Photos: Seetha Ratnakar

Top of the world - Do chula

108 Chortens

Walking on the Clouds

Bhutan - a destination devoid of distractions BY SEETHA RATNAKAR Picture perfect is the only way to describe Bhutan. With a majestic backdrop of mountain peaks silhouetted against a blue sky canvas and waterfalls cascading through verdant valleys, it is a haven of peace tucked away in the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is regarded as one of the last Shangri La-s in the Himalayan region because of its remoteness and spectacular terrain. Every which way you look, you see a breathtakingly beautiful panorama that stretches to eternity. A flight into Bhutan’s national airport at Paro is considered a flight into fantasy. Bhutan offers a kaleidoscope of timeless images from the past that exude a feeling of tranquility. The serenity of the Paro valley is in striking contrast to the frenetic pace of modern city life. Accentuating the natural beauty are the traditional wooden houses that dot the hills. Everything moves at an unhurried pace including the Paro Chu and Wang Chu rivers that meander through the valley. Even the tourist attractions like the Drugyel and Kichu Monasteries, Paro Dzong and the National museum have a laid back feeling about


them. About an hour’s drive along a thickly-forested road, is the botanical paradise, Chele la (pass), at an elevation of 3,988 meters. It is considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan and provides a stunning view of its highest peak, the sacred Jhomolhari. It is an exhilarating experience that literally makes you feel on top of the world. Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan is a larger city and the hub of commerce and governance. Surprisingly, there are no traffic signals and the policemen direct traffic like conducting an orchestra. Thimpu offers a variety of sight-seeing attractions like the Memorial Chorten built in memory of the 3rd king of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuk; the Thimpu Dzong, the Folk and Textile museum; the Takin (Bhutan’s national animal) reserve; and a massive bronze Buddha Dordenma Statue gilded in gold, measuring 51.5 meters height, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The Do-Chula Pass en route to Punakha provides a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range and forms a majestic backdrop


Jholnolhori peak - Chelela

House in Bhutan

108 Chortens

for the 108 Chorten memorials. The Punakha Dzong situated at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers in Punakha, is the second oldest and second largest Dzong in Bhutan. Its majestic structure is one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture and culture. Bhutan is a unique country that has retained its distinct national identity. The soft spoken people with smiling faces proudly speak the national language and wear traditional costumes. Even the marketplace that sells ethnic souvenirs like Buddhas and Taras, resonating prayer bowls, good luck wooden

Market place - Paro

dragons and traditional Bhutanese outfits is a reflection of its intrinsic culture. It is rightly called the land of happiness as progress is measured not by the popular GDP but through the gross national happiness. Almost sounds like Utopia. Here the silence is enchanting. And that speaks volumes about this quiet little retreat which has become a popular holiday and honeymoon destination in recent times. Perhaps it is for this very reason that people come here, to commune with nature, to enjoy the harmony within and without, with each other, or simply take a walk in the clouds.

Seetha Ratnakar is a media person who has been associated with Doordarshan, the official Indian television network, for over 37 years. She recently retired as the Assistant Station Director of the Chennai Kendra. Her area of specialization has been directing programs on dance, music and documentaries on subjects related to Indian culture. She now lives in Chennai, India and works as a freelance film director and artistic director for major dance productions. She also writes articles on media and travel.

November 2013


The South Indian Wedding BY PRIYA SUBRAMANIAM Imagine a gorgeous bride, resplendent in all her finery, being carried in a wicker basket? Or a fun-filled tussle between bride and groom, where they try to crumble spicy fried snacks on each other’s heads? Or, a wedding setting, where the father of the bride is seen worshipping the groom’s feet, in belief that the groom is an incarnation of the Supreme? Some esoteric, some ingenuous, but mostly quite meaningful, South Indian Hindu wedding customs have a unique flavor. South India, comprising the four states of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, share several common traditions of marriage. The origin of these rituals lies in both the Hindu scriptures, as well as in beliefs that certain practices usher in good luck and prosperity. Some rituals stem from the practice of child marriage thousands of years ago. These were in demand in those days when elders had to keep the prepubescent bride and groom entertained even as the ceremonies ran their course. Other wedding observances are believed to ward off the evil eye. And yet others help break the ice between the families of the bride and groom. In general, all wedding customs are believed to usher in auspicious beginnings for the newly married couple.  Some of the common rituals across all of South India are: • Ganapathi/Gouri Puja or Sumangali Prarthana - invoking gods and ancestors for blessings • Homam - conducting the ceremony in front of fire, worshipped by Hindus as a God


• Kanyadanam - bride’s father giving away his daughter’s hand to the bridegroom • Mangalasutra - tying of the sacred thread by the bridegroom around the bride’s neck • Saptapadi - bride and groom taking the wedding vows with seven circumambulations around the sacred fire • Gruhapravesh - formal entry of the bride into her husband’s house  Variations in the practice and sequencing of wedding sacraments are aplenty amidst the four southern regions. Let’s begin with the traditions of the Tamilians. The wedding eve or Janavasam is the ceremonial welcome of the bridegroom by the bride’s family. Unlike his North Indian counterpart who rides a horse during this ceremony, the Tamilian Mapillai (groom), sits in a flower-adorned convertible, surrounded by relatives. In the past, he was thus taken around town in procession, to provide a voice to anyone that had an objection to the marriage. An opportune moment to uncover a hidden lover or infirmity, perhaps?  The wedding morning starts with the Kasi Yatra ceremony. The young lad plays the part of a dejected Brahmin, who would rather seek spiritual pleasures than the worldly, and is ready to take up sainthood. Just as he embarks on his pilgrimage, the bride’s father cajoles him, offering his daughter in marriage, and suggests the lad fulfill worldly duties in her company. The

histrionics of this ceremony, followed by a playful exchange of garlands between bride and groom, are supposed to ease cold feet and foster goodwill amongst the two families. The oonjal ceremony that unfolds next has the hero and heroine engaged in gentle swaying on a swing. Surely, this was a keepsake custom in the days of child marriages! This ritual also connotes that the couple is bound by one chain just like the swing, and would stay together amidst life’s vacillations. Post-wedding, some Tamilians indulge in Nelangu - a session of fun, song and dance, where the bride and groom are cheered by their respective families to win games such as find the ring in the pot, or crumble papadoms (fried snacks)! Similar merriment is enjoyed by the people of Karnataka. An interesting twist to the ring-finding game amongst Kannadigas, is the game of Okhli. The groom’s ring is hidden inside a pot filled with colored water. The bride and her brother are given three turns to find it. Friends and cousins go crazy as water splashes everywhere! Prior to the wedding, the Kannada bride participates in a haldi (turmeric) ceremony, where female relatives smear the medicinal spice on her body. It is believed that this ritual, while rejuvenating her skin for that beautiful bridal radiance, also preps her skin to anticipate the touch of her husband after the

marriage. Bride and groom are bonded together with the Dhare Herdu ceremony, in which the bride’s father places the groom’s hand on his daughter’s. The Telugu bride is the one whose maternal uncles carry her to the nuptials in a bamboo basket. The underlying belief being, that any gift is best offered in a platter or bowl. So also, the bride is presented as a gift to her in-laws! Most Telugu weddings are in fact, conducted at midnight or early mornings, as the community considers that auspicious. Again in the times of child marriages, slumbering young girls, too drowsy to walk the journey, were thus carried from their village to the marriage ceremony by their uncles. A significant event of this wedding is the Jeelakarra-Bellamu ceremony. The couple is asked to place a paste made from cumin seeds and jaggery, on each other’s head, to symbolize that their union is indestructible, and will stand in good stead in bitter and sweet times. Both Telugu and Kannada families participate in Kasi Yatra, like the Tamilians. Another commonality amongst all the South Indian communities is the prominence and support of the maternal uncle for the wedding. Like in any typical Indian wedding, the marriage is of two families, not just the bride and groom!

Priya Subramanian is an alumnus of the Asian College of Journalism, Bangalore (subsequently moved to Chennai). She worked as a copy-editor in The Indian Express, Bangalore, before moving to the US. She is currently working as a recruiter with an IT company in Houston, and freelances occasionally. Also a trained Carnatic singer, she enjoys performing with the Govinda Radhe music group in The Woodlands, TX.

November 2013

The Remarkable Splendor of


BY ZEENAT KASSAM MITHA The beauty, artistry, and history of henna dates back thousands of years. Due to its many purposes, henna is considered a symbol of love, good luck, and security from evil. The art of henna painting on the body is customarily practiced in marriage rituals, in periods of happy occasions, and during a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone’s life. Henna comes from the plant lawsonia inermia which produces the leaves that make the dye in shades of red and brown. The plant is found in places such as Egypt, North Africa, India and parts of the Middle East. Once it was realized that henna had a cooling effect, painting skin with henna or placing it on hair as a dye offered a way to cool down body temperatures. This enhanced the uses of henna. For beauty, henna is adorned on hands and feet of Indian brides. The henna is made into a thin paste called mendhi, which allows for creating ornate or floral intricate designs. It is put on 24 – 48 hours before the wedding on the bride, and it can last from one to three weeks, depending on the strength of the mendhi. The bridal party, female family members and friends take part in decorating their hands with mendhi and welcoming the good luck, associated with henna, for the bride. Historically, over 5000 years ago, it is said that the Egyptians were ahead of their time when it came to beauty and personal cleanliness and saw the cosmetic value of this dynamic plant. They used henna as a hair dye to highlight their hair, decorate their hands and feet, and paint their fingernails. Henna is similar to a semi-permanent tattoo. When archeologists found mummies dating back to 1200 BC, there was still the stain of henna on the Pharaoh’s nails and hair. Today, henna is used in a similar manner in parts of Africa, India and the Middle East as an inexpensive way to carry on the tradition began by the Egyptians. Pregnant women in Morocco decorate their ankles with henna as a sign of protection throughout childbirth. The designs are more geometrical and are passed down for generations. In Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq, simply using henna is a sign of good luck. Henna has also been used on textiles to color silk, animal skins and wool. It is also used for animals to dye the manes and hooves of horses.

In the 19th century in Europe, the aesthetic movement connected women to henna, through its support for literature, fine arts, and music. For example, in the late 1800’s Adelina Patti, the famous opera singer, is attributed with promoting the use of henna in Europe. Cora Pearl, Parisian courtesan, dyed her hair red, inspiring the application of henna for the hair, and she was often called La Lune Rousse (the red moon). Elizabeth Siddal, the wife and muse of artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti had naturally bright hair. She was portrayed by Rosetti in many paintings that emphasized her flowing red hair. Red hair became a fetish for artists and it is said that young women with a carefree inclination began tinting their hair with henna. Artists such as Gaston Bussiere, Evelyn De Morgan, Frederic Leighton, Frederick Sandys, along with many other Impressionist artists, further popularized, through their paintings, henna-dyed hair and young free spirited women. Through growing interest in Eastern cultures, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, henna gained admiration amongst the younger generation, in the western world. For example, Lucille Ball popularized the “henna rinse” as her character, Lucy Ricardo, called it on the ‘I Love Lucy’ television show. Today, in the United States, we see henna almost everywhere: at cultural events, in the mall at henna tattoo parlors, and at local ethnic grocery stores, simply purchased over the counter. However, in the west, the idea of using henna is fairly new, and over the past decade, it has been used mostly as an art for individuality and self-expression. The application methods have also gone more contemporary. Henna is also thought of as therapeutic and an opportunity for self-expression, to get in touch with one’s inner self. Today, western countries practicing henna as body art also use Japanese and Chinese art designs. Japanese symbols are known to be one of the most requested designs for henna. For example, The yin yang sign is one of many design options that are widespread and prevalent in henna tattoo parlors and at henna themed events. Many professional henna artists today work from patterns drawn from many cultures and introduce their work with a present-day, unique angle that makes the design their own. The splendors of henna are universal.

Zeenat Kassam Mitha is the Founder of Sweetwater Specialty Consulting, LLC, and a Lecturer at The University of Houston-Downtown. She is a well-known supporter of education, culture, and the arts in the Greater Houston area. Mitha is on Mayor Annise Parker’s Initiative, Citizenship Month Committee, a member on the Board of Directors of the Literacy Council of Fort Bend County, as well as Vice-Chair for Membership at The Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce. She is recognized for her many contributions to the Greater Houston community, but particularly for her work as The Associate Director of External Affairs at Asia Society Texas Center where she took great initiatives to build relationships with the Greater Houston business community and the Greater Houston cultural community. HOUSTON DALLAS NEW YORK




Drew Wilson Managing Partner

River Oaks Center 1964 W. Gray, Suite 200 Houston, Texas 77019 Telephone: 1-800-216-2907 Mobile: 713-725-8983

Elephants and Turbans and Sarees..

Grand Gala Ball Raises $1.96 Million for MFAH 40

Chairmen Windi and David Grimes

Photo: Jenny Antill

Photo: Richard Carson

Pershant and Nidhika Mehta

Gary Tinterow and Sima Ladjevardian From Left: Peter & Anne Brown, Rima Paralkar, Vimla & Ajit Paralkar, Divya and Chris Brown

Photo: Richard Carson

With a profusion of resplendently adorned guests, marigolds galore, and an elephant on the South Lawn to boot, mystical India was resoundingly revealed when the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) hosted their Grand Ball 2013: INDIA! at the Caroline Wiess Law Building on October 4, 2013. The event, chaired by Windi and David Michael Grimes 11, drew a diverse and lively crowd of 530 socialites and philanthropists who stepped out in Indian regalia, raising a record-breaking $1.96 million to benefit the operating budget of the MFAH. Guests were greeted by servers bearing wine and the Indian brand of Kingfisher Beer and ushered up a purple carpet to the Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery where they got to meet and mingle while perusing ancient works of art from India. The Events Company created an opulent atmosphere in the Cullinan Hall, which included an inverted pyramid of pink fabric and golden marigolds cascading from the ceiling. Marigold bouquets, glowing candles, and colorful sarees decorated the 55 tables. City Kitchen’s dinner menu reiterated the theme of India, beginning with a quail korma with spicy cashew sauce, tamarind vinaigrette, and edible flowers. Following was a traditional Indian thali served with baskets of naan. For dessert, guests indulged in a chocolate chai torte with pistachio crème anglaise. The David Caceres Orchestra provided the soundtrack for the evening, and a special performance by Berkeley-based Bollywood dance troupe Ishaara enchanted the crowd. As the evening came to a close, the North Foyer of the Caroline Wiess Law Building was transformed into a “pillow pit,” featuring an authentic Indian swing and a live monkey. Major underwriters to the event included Nancy and Rich Kinder, Anne and John L. Marion, Palmetto Partners, Ltd., Fayez Sarofim, Diane Lokey Farb, Cherie and Jim Flores, C. Berdon and Rolanette Lawrence, Cornelia and Meredith Long, Beth Madison, Manmeet and Prithvipal Likhari, Nidhika and Pershant Mehta, Suresh and Renu Khator, Hugh and Carroll Ray, Beth Robertson, Lillie Robertson, Pat Breen, Anne and Albert Chao, Rosanette and Harry Cullen, Anne and Charles Duncan, Margaret Alkek Williams, Jeanie Kilroy Wilson and Wallace S. Wilson, among others.

Photo: Richard Carson

.... Oh My!

November 2013

The Day of the Dead BY ANA BEAVEN

The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico can be traced back to a pre-Hispanic era, when people kept skulls and displayed them to symbolize death and re-birth. In Mexico, November 1 is to honor children and infants, deceased adults (and the BIG parties!) are honored on November 2. Growing up in a foodie household, where awesome cooks gather constantly to show their repertoire in new and old dishes and whose matriarch’s birthday, of all days is on November 2nd, has been a lot of fun and a cultural experience. It is more than anything, the perfect excuse to have delicious food with family and friends. Mexico has 18 gastronomical routes, and one of the favorites is “Altar del día de muertos” (literally “Day of the dead


altar”). This route concentrates on the food from the state of Michoacan, where ingredients like Pescado de Pátzcuaro (white fish), Charales (smelt), boquerones (anchovies), avocado, juicy pork carnitas and many others create traditional dishes that delight all senses. Corundas, Uchepos, Sopa Tarasca, Sopa Purépecha, Tamales de harina, Aporreadillo, Huevo blanco en escabeche, Pollo placero, Enchiladas Morelianas, Chupiro or Caldo de charal to name a few dishes. The desserts and drinks include Chongos Zamoranos, Morelianas, Capirotada, Charamuscas, Flan Moreliano, Nieve de pasta de Pátzcuaro, Pan de muertos, Rompope, Charanda, Agua de obispo, Agua de chocolate de metate, Tamales de zarzamora, Atole blanco and Licor de

Enchiladas Morelianas.

(Morelia is the capital of Michoacán)

membrillo. All of these hail from the wonderful state of Michoacán, where the Day of the Dead tradition is known all over Mexico. Michoacan’s beautiful lake of Patzcuaro hosts the most amazing celebration for Day of the Dead. Floating food offerings with flowers, candles and photos seem to inundate the lake. Cemeteries welcome musicians of all sorts and big parties join to pay their respects to the deceased. It is a magical night where traditions, both pagan and religious, blend together. You can imagine my quest to know and understand all the food that such an important date represents and how it always translates into family gatherings. A Day of the Dead altar called “Ofrenda” is usually arranged on a table at home. The table is draped with white cloth, and includes the deceased’s favorite foods, drinks, photos and all or some of the following: Candles: to welcome the spirits back to their altars. Cempazúchitl flowers: (similar to Marigolds) symbolize death. Their strong fragrance also helps lead the dead back to their altars. Petals can be sprinkled on the floor in front of the altar, or along a path from the front door to the altar, so that the spirits may find their way inside the house. Incense: so the scent also guides the spirits back to their altars. The most common is Copal incense, which is the dried aromatic resin from a tree

native of Mexico. Salt: that represents the continuance of life. Pan de muerto: (“bread of the dead”) which is a symbol of the departed. Sugar skulls: which are symbols of death and the afterlife Fresh fruit and corn Last year, we had the first party to celebrate Day of the Dead at Cuchara. We set up a beautiful ofrenda to honor my great aunt Lupe and let people bring photos of their deceased to add to our altar. We baked the traditional “Pan de muertos” (bread of the dead) and prepared delicious items for our guests. I dare to say it was the first time Houston saw a party like ours. Aztec dancers saluted the elements with their conch shells and played their drums as they danced to the cardinal points in our dining room, which was decorated with skulls and lots of flowers. We had a giant puppet representing a “dead” person amongst us, almost 200 guests in Mexican costumes, kids selling Day of the Dead art, a makeup artist to create our “Catrina” look, a DJ and the best of times! It is really important to keep the beauty and authenticity of Mexican traditions alive to show them to other cultures. Cuchara is all about that. We are Mexico City in Houston. Our party will be on November 2, 2013 from 7.00pm to midnight.

Ingredients for 6 people • 3 oz of fresh ancho peppers and 3 oz of dried ancho peppers • 2 breasts of chicken, shredded • 1 oz apple vinegar • Black pepper and salt to taste • Desired amount of fresh onion • Desired amount of garlic cloves • 3 or 4 tortillas per person • 1 head of lettuce • Oregano • 3 potatoes • 3 carrots • 4 oz olive oil • Mexican sweet cream • Cotija cheese • Pickled serrano peppers Process: • Fry the peppers in olive oil, put them in the blender with garlic cloves, onion, pepper and a pinch of oregano. Add salt to taste and bring that paste to the pan • Potatoes and carrots must be peeled and cooked. Boiling them in water with a pinch of salt is enough. Cut them in little cubes • Add a small amount of chicken broth to the pepper paste to make it less thick • Submerge the tortillas in the paste and fry them in oil • Stuff your tortillas with the shedded chicken and add some more of the pepper paste on top. Cover with potato and carrot cubes • Put shredded lettuce on top • Add a drizzle of the Mexican sweet cream and Cotija cheese • On the side, put a pickled serrano pepper Enjoy!!!

Ana Beaven was born and raised in Mexico City. Planning to have a career in visual design for retail, she moved to Houston where she had to cook the recipes she missed so much as she couldn’t find any Mexican food that made her mouth water. She worked in a restaurant as a favor to a friend for a month. She loved it so much that she stayed on for 6 years. As her passion for restaurants grew she met her partner, Charlie McDaniel, another avid food and restaurant lover and decided to open an authentic Mexico City Bistro, Cuchara, and show Houston what her native food and traditions are all about.

November 2013



There was once this very lovely girl. She thought of herself as an ugly duckling, though, and was reputedly frequently sad for the life she imagined ahead of her. She was embarrassed by her family background — especially her mother’s — as a professional performer and singer, and she longed, they say, for a life of modest averageness. She wished she could be a doctor or a teacher, things that were not likely to happen. Those things did not indeed happen, and there was a long journey ahead of the girl before finding happiness. But find it she did, and at least some of it was the happiness, the joy of being one of the most celebrated Hindi film actresses of all time, and one of the best beloved actresses of the “golden age of Indian cinema,” the nineteen-fifties. I am speaking of Nargis Dutt, also known as Mother India! A paradox of communal crossing, not at all surprising in the world’s largest multi-ethnic democracy, Nargis was a Muslim woman who was chosen to represent the traditionally “Hindu” mother-goddess-nation. Born Fatima Rashid in 1929, Nargis was not only selected for this role, but wildly acclaimed and celebrated by her audience. To this day, Mother India is THE classic epic of India’s post-independence moment. She appeared as a child actor in the film Talash-e-Haq in 1935, but her first serious appearance was in the film Taqdeer (1944), by Mehboob Khan, her director in the future Mother India. Scandal haunted Nargis; her Muslim antecedents as well as her illegitimacy as the daughter of a Muslim courtesan and


a Hindu father were well known. Supposedly also, her own life was inflected with many layers of stories of abduction and betrayal; allegedly, her mother had not only made her available to act in films for her friend Mehboob Khan, but had “sold” her to a wealthy Muslim prince. Perhaps this is apocryphal, but indubitably well known is the story of her decade-long romance with Raj Kapoor, the blue-eyed darling of Hindi cinema since the late forties, and his subsequent decision not to leave his wife for her. Together they had made films that remain timeless classics: Barsaat (1949), Andaz (1949), Awaara (1951), Shree 420 (1955), and Chori Chori (1956). Immortal romances, immortal melodies, incomparable acting, plentiful glamor and sheer chemistry — Hindi cinema has hardly seen another pair of actors who have managed to bring all this to life on the silver screen. Then came Mother India (1957), Mehboob Khan’s magnum opus, the icon of Indian nationalism in Indian film history. Nargis played Radha, abandoned by her disabled husband and left to feed and raise four children in village India devastated by the rampages of an unscrupulous and lecherous moneylender, Sukhilala. The ultimate triumph of this story belongs to the peasant and the woman of village India, who survives famine, drought, assault and — as always — abandonment, to one day become the revered mother of postcolonial India. The ultimate triumph of Nargis is the delicate aplomb with which she played a range of roles in the film, beginning as a lissome and shy teenage bride and ending as a wrinkled and greyed

o’s a R ish

Satish Rao’s


old woman who is adored by all for having had the courage to sacrifice her own delinquent son to save the “honor” of her community. No one who sees the PURE VEGETARIAN INDIAN CUISINE film will ever forget the near-final scene of the story — remembered by the old woman herself as the diegesis of the film — where Radha/Nargis/Mother India raises her rifle to shoot her disaffected son Birju, played by a young and handsome Sunil Dutt, so that she can prevent the abduction of a village Dallas: belle by him and his lawless band. Hillcroft: A happier ending befell the “mother-son” 5959 Hillcroft, Houston, 35 Richardson Heights Village pair in real life; Nargis and Sunil Dutt married after TX 77036 713-334-5555 Richardson, TX 75080 - 469-330-1600 Mother India was filmed, and their engagement was apparently suppressed before the film’s release for fear that it would muddy the film’s reception. It is said that during the filming Nargis was in danger of being burned alive due an accident at one of sets, but Dutt saved her, leading to gallantry and romance. Some readers will recognize in this episode the seed of the hilarious scene in the recent Om Shanti Om (2007); where, Shahrukh Khan’s character as an extra has a fantasy moment of doing the same thing for his unrequited love, the film’s beautiful heroine, who barely notices his existence, however. Nargis gradually gave up acting as most Indian actresses then and now do after marriage, concentrating on domestic life and eventually a social activist career. Considered one of the greatest actresses of Katy Sugar Land Indian cinema, Nargis was diagnosed with cancer at the end of her life. She sank into a coma on May 3551 Highway 6, 943 S. Mason Road, 2, 1981, and died on May 3, 1981. Her absence at the Sugar Land, TX 77478 Katy, Tx., 77450. premiere of her son Sanjay Dutt’s debut film Rocky on May 7, 1981, where one seat was kept vacant for her, was a nationally famous event. Nargis was more than an actress, a personality, a celebrity, or a memory. She was a style. When I Dallas Houston teach films with her in it, my American students invariably fall under her spell and start comparing her 5959 Hillcroft, 35 Richardson Heights village to Hollywood greats. She usually emerges ahead Houston, TX-77036 Richardson Texas, 75080 in the comparisons. No wonder that she remains a cherished memory for Indian cinephiles: gossamer, enigmatic, and yet sparkling.


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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.





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The Gift of


A Mother Gives Thanks for a Very Special Child BY LOREN ALLARDYCE On March 5, 2009, I lay in a hospital bed, nine months pregnant and waiting to meet my first born. The pregnancy was simple and even through the hot summer, I never felt uncomfortable. I could not imagine her face or her hair, but I knew she was bound to be born with brown eyes like her daddy and light skin like her mommy. As her birth finally arrived, and she was extracted from my womb, I heard her first, struggling breath. Her slightly mal-shaped head from traveling the birth canal seemed so far from me as oxygen didn’t quite pull through her throat as I had hoped. She was immediately placed on oxygen and a code was called. I don’t know what that code was, but I knew it was not normal. Shortly thereafter, she caught her breath and I held her for the first time. There was an eerie feeling as I gazed upon her golden face, yet she did not look as I expected. Although I did not know what to expect, it was still far different than imagined. The staff pediatrician came into our room and informed my husband and I that our daughter likely has Down Syndrome. He could not be positive without genetic testing, but he had seen enough babies in his career to know his diagnosis was likely correct. We demanded genetic testing. Blood was drawn and questions were asked. We told the geneticist that our family had no history of any genetic issues and this was unlikely the case. We did not see, or rather we did not choose to see, those features so commonly associated with the genetic disorder. We saw her narrow eyes as typical and her big toe that was slightly adrift from the rest of her toes to be as tightly drawn together as any of our toes. But I kept staring at her almond shaped eyes. I could not get that phrase out of my head, “almond shaped eyes.” A common and likely the most telling feature of a person with Down Syndrome are their “almond shaped eyes.” I kept staring into those almond shaped


eyes, all the while telling myself, “She cannot have Down Syndrome.” “This is not a possibility.” “I am not meant to have a child with special needs.” As our daughter lived in the NICU for feeding issues, we patiently waited. I continually asked my husband, “Do you think she has it?” He would answer so calmly, “No, I don�t think so.” I would question my parents, “Do you think she has the traits of a person with Down Syndrome?” My parents would respond, “No, she looks typical.” Except for those almond shaped eyes. I could not stop staring at those eyes. I became fixated on them. I loved them so much. The left eye never quite opened as widely as the right eye, but it was so charming. I felt like she was winking at me and saying, “Mom, it’s going to be okay. You�re going to figure this out.” As expected, but undesired, our daughter did, in fact, have Down Syndrome. I sobbed. I ached. My entire body felt concave. I kept seeing our bleak, cumbersome and alienated life ahead of us. I did not even speak of it. I would let people meet her and never discuss her diagnosis. I let people believe she was typical. If they assumed, they never asked. Only once did a woman say to me, “Oh, she has Down Syndrome,” with a sense of excitement in her voice, “My best friend has a grandchild with Down Syndrome and she is so wonderful.” I almost felt offended she asked. How could she just assume? Early intervention began almost immediately and therapists were regular visitors at our home. They helped Aila crawl, walk, eat, draw and every other milestone that comes so easily to typical children. I watched my daughter become agitated as we constantly rocked her back and forth on all fours so that she would crawl properly. It was so important for her brain development. A seasoned and respected Occupational Therapist was at my house and said, you need to get Aila on the waiting list at

The Rise School of Houston. In my usual fashion, I Googled the school to see pictures of children with Down Syndrome learning with typical children in a unique and highly focused environment. As my husband and I toured the school, I saw successful children and a group of adults and teachers who loved teaching them how to be successful. Today, my daughter, Aila is in her third year at Rise. She is thriving. She is four years old and her vocabulary is too large for me to count. She counts to 12 flawlessly and knows every color, including magenta. My typical son also attends the school. One characteristic I often hear about James is the fact that he is so in tune with others feelings around him. He is aware of someone’s sadness or happiness and he is there to comfort when needed. He has learned tremendously from The Rise School,

but he is also becoming a more empathetic and sensitive person through his experiences. There are so many things in life to be thankful for, but I am thankful for pioneers. I am thankful for those who came before my time who fought for our children. I am thankful for those who saw more than a disability in children with genetic conditions or other special needs, and felt there was an opportunity for them to be successful in life. I am thankful for so many patient and persistent teachers who love to see children learn. But, I am mostly thankful for Aila. She has brightened the eyes of many people and she will be the first one to give out a big hug. She can see a child crying and rub their back and say, “It’s ok.” I am thankful for Aila who has truly taught us what life is really all about.

Originally hailing from Indiana, Loren Allardyce has a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Ball State University and a Master of the Arts in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan. Since moving to Houston in 2003, she has worked for the Original Carrabba’s and currently works in the home office as the Assistant to the Director of Operations. Loren is married and has two children, Aila (4), and James (2).


Complementary Medicine


BY P.G. PARAMESWARAN, MD STRESS REDUCTION Stress of short duration is actually helpful in improving one’s performance, to stay motivated or move away from danger. But when stress becomes chronic, it starts causing deleterious effects on almost every system in the human body. Hypnotherapy teaches one to learn relaxation techniques and save oneself from the ravages of stress. (Please see the July issue of HUM magazine for an article on stress) ANXIETY AND PANIC REACTION Anxiety arises in the mind out of one’s thoughts. It is the thought of a potential danger, not the actual danger that produces the symptoms of anxiety. Unrealistic self-assessments can keep one in a state of constant alarm. Extreme anxiety results in the symptoms of acute stressful reaction like palpitations, sweating, fear and feeling of helplessness. Hypnotherapy can teach one to practice instant relaxation techniques to overcome a panic situation. Obsessive, compulsive disorder (OCD) seen in over anxious people also responds well to hypnotherapy. SELF-ESTEEM AND MOTIVATION Self-esteem is essential for psychological survival. Without some measure of self-worth life can be enormously painful, with many basic needs being unmet. Judging and rejecting oneself causes enormous distress and pain. One tends to avoid situations that could aggravate self-rejection. It becomes difficult to meet people or to interview for a job. Consequently one takes fewer social, academic or career risks and is reluctant to seek help or solve problems. The major causes of poor self-esteem is from judgemental parents, fear of failure and perception of physical self. Hypnotherapy helps the person to develop a positive outlook and attitude of oneself. It trains the person to stop the self-rejection. It also motivates the person to set specific goals for success and gives suggestions to achieve the same.


NATURAL CHILDBIRTH Labor and delivery instead of being a fulfilling and positive event is always associated with anxiety and pain needing anesthesia or drugs. Delivery under hypnosis has the following benefits. Reduces or eliminates fear of labor Reduces or eliminates reaction to pain Gives the woman control over the birthing process Produces pervasive relaxation Minimizes or eliminates need for medications Helps to control uterine contractions Shortens period of labor Increases positive emotions during the birthing process Promotes speedy recovery ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE Students at school or professionals in all walks of life, some time or other have to face examinations or interviews to advance in their career. Poor time management along with poor study habits often lead to poor performance. Poor concentration leads to poor memory and along with fear and stress guarantee failure. Drugs and alcohol can contribute to the negative performance. All of these learning problems can be minimized or eliminated through the use of hypnotherapy. SPORTS PERFORMANCE Several star athletes and sportsmen have been quoted as saying how they visualize every move, doing everything perfectly and winning, before they enter any competition. One sports psychologist says that 80 to 90 percent of an Olympic athlete’s performance is in the mind. This involves using imagination and thought processes that will support and reinforce one’s physical skills. Visualizing agility, coordination, concentration, confidence and good technique along with eliminating negative thoughts of failure and a winning attitude will lead to a successful performance. Hypnotherapy can greatly enhance one’s athletic performance.

HYPNOTHERAPY FOR HEALTH PROBLEMS We are reminded of the fact that mind and body are inseparably linked by the numerous physiological problems resulting from subconscious thoughts and emotions in our daily lives. Hypnosis has numerous medical applications for functional and psychological improvement. A study of twelve adult subjects with fracture, reported from Harvard Medical School suggests that hypnosis may even be capable of enhancing both anatomical and functional healing. CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM Palpitation from anxiety or panic attacks can be controlled with hypnosis. Hypnotherapy in conjunction with diet, exercise and medications can achieve better control of high blood pressure by facilitating relaxation, calmness and freedom from feelings of stress and anxiety. Hypnosis can increase blood flow to areas with diminished circulation by relieving spasm of blood vessels facilitating healing and relief of pain as in Raynaud’s disease. GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS The gastro intestinal system is very responsive to emotional influences. All of us are familiar with such idiomatic expressions like “I can’t stomach that” and “it is my gut feeling.” Anxiety can lead to spasm of the sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus causing the feeling of “a lump in the throat.” Frequent desire to urinate and to evacuate the bowels is often seen at times of stress and anxiety. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects about 10 to 15 percent of the population in this country. Studies using hypnotherapy in patients with severe IBS or refractory to medical treatment showed a dramatic and significant improvement in abdominal pain, abdominal distension and bowel habits compared to psychotherapy. Hypnosis has been reported to help control gastrointestinal bleeding. RESPIRATORY SYMPTOMS The most common psychosomatic disease of the respiratory system is asthma. Anxiety can precipitate an attack and the respiratory distress can get worse with anxiety. Numerous published reports confirm that asthma patients including children can benefit from hypnotherapy both physiologically and psychologically. Hypnosis can help modify the personality factors predisposing to anxiety that often causes hyperventilation, repetitive coughing or hiccoughs. OBSTETRICS AND GYNECOLOGY Pregnancy can bring about profound psychological changes requiring emotional support. Hypnotherapy can control symptoms of morning sickness and irregular uterine contractions. It can also assist with symptoms caused by emotional imbalance that upset the normal hormonal regulation of menstrual cycles and during menopause. SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION Emotional factors play an important role in sexual dysfunction in both males and females. Impotence in men and fertility problems in both sexes can often be effectively addressed with hypnosis.

NEUROLOGICAL CONDITIONS Hypnosis is useful in differentiating functional from organic problems in conditions like tremors, hysterical convulsions and paralysis. Hypnotherapy may be helpful in rehabilitation of patients after a stroke by assisting in the use of remaining abilities to their maximum. Hypnotherapy can help improve memory in situations where a student has difficulty in concentrating, focusing and retaining what has been learnt. A technique known as posthypnotic amnesia (PHA) shows that the hypnotic state actually influences brain activity associated with memory. DERMATOLOGY A strong connection exists between emotional factors and changes in the skin. Chronic skin disorders like urticaria, eczema, neuro-dermatitis, psoriasis, alopecia areata and rosacea are all associated with anxiety, anger and distress. Hypnotherapy not only helps relieve these psychological symptoms but can also have a beneficial effect on the disease. Warts though caused by viruses often respond to hypnotherapy. CANCER Nausea and vomiting in anticipation of chemotherapy often develop in patients undergoing cancer treatment. Hypnosis is useful as adjunctive therapy in cancer patients to decrease anxiety, pain and minimize the side reactions of chemotherapy such as suppression of appetite, nausea and vomiting INSOMNIA About 30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia such as difficulty in falling asleep, staying asleep or nonrestorative sleep, in spite of adequate opportunity to sleep. About 10 percent of adults have insomnia that is severe enough to be termed a disorder, causing distress or anxiety or daytime impairment. The deep trance state of hypnosis can cause a smooth transition from the wake state to one of sleep. Practicing self-hypnosis to overcome insomnia can save a person from getting addicted to sleep medications. DENTISTRY Hypnosis not only can help overcome anxiety and fear associated with dental procedures but also can be used as anesthesia. It can also help reduce bleeding during dental surgery. HYPNOSIS FOR PEDIATRIC PROBLEMS Children are almost universally good hypnotic subjects. Childhood fears, school phobia, exam anxiety, enuresis, speech disorders, dyslexia, sleep disturbances, nutritional problems, thumb sucking, nail biting and character disorders are some common problems that respond well to hypnotherapy. SPECIAL TECHNIQUES Certain hypnotic techniques like age regression and past life regression may be employed to help uncover traumatic past events that seem to influence a person’s life. This often leads to a realization that one need not allow past events to control present life situations and enables the person to overcome certain limiting blocks.

November 2013

MYTHS ABOUT HYPNOSIS There are several myths about hypnosis. • Will I lose control? No. You never lose control. You get hypnotized because you are in full control to follow suggestions. • Will I be made to do things that will make me a fool of myself – like quack like a duck? Never. That may be done in stage hypnosis for entertainment. Therapeutic hypnosis is medical hypnosis that is done for therapeutic purposes. • Will I give away secrets while under hypnosis? No. You will never say things that you don’t want to share with others. • Will I wake up after a hypnotic session? Yes. You are only in a deeply relaxed state (trance) and not unconscious. Therefore you will always wake up after a session.

• It is against my religion? Hypnotherapy has no connection to any religion and does not interfere with one’s religious convictions. • Does hypnotherapy have any side effects? Hypnotherapy has no side effects when performed by a qualified therapist. • Can I hypnotize myself? Yes. Essentially all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. You can always practice self-hypnosis by following the post-hypnotic suggestions given by the therapist. In summary, hypnotherapy when used by a trained professional is a very effective therapeutic tool applicable to a multitude of psychological factors contributing to or aggravating medical conditions and to physiological situations not amenable to conscious control. Hypnotic effects are real.

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

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HUM Magazine November 2013  
HUM Magazine November 2013