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The Immigration Predicament by Priya Murthy, Manar Waheed

Daddy s Not-So-Little Girl by Dilnavaz Bamboat

A Cookbook of Memories by Kavya Padmanabhan

INDIA CURRENTS Celebrating 28 Years of Excellence

Help Effect The

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They work in our homes, care for our children and help sustain our work-life balance. What do you know about the regulations regarding domestic help? By Ritu Marwah


Passion and Paranoia facebook.com/IndiaCurrents twitter.com/IndiaCurrents Now published in three separate editions HEAD OFFICE 1885 Lundy Ave Ste 220, San Jose, CA 95131 Phone: (408) 324-0488 Fax: (408) 324-0477 Email: info@indiacurrents.com www.indiacurrents.com Publisher: Vandana Kumar publisher@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x225 Managing Director: Vijay Rajvaidya md@indiacurrents.com Editor: Jaya Padmanabhan editor@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x226 Events Editor: Mona Shah events@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x224 Advertising Manager: Derek Nunes ads@indiacurrents.com Northern California: (408) 324-0488 x 222 Southern California: (714) 523-8788 x 222 Marketing Associate: Pallavi Nemali marketing@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x221

“How do you write?” asked an audience member at a recent book discussion at Stanford. Tobias Wolff, professor of literature at Stanford and author of several books, picked up the microphone and responded: “I sometimes spend all day deleting semi-colons and then re-inserting them back.” The agony and ecstasy of writing, of formulating thought into words and then into sentences, from whence to paragraphs and chapters, with and without semicolons, is so overwrought and contradictory that everyone seems to ascribe a different evasive explanation to the process. “Write, as though there’s no tomorrow.” “It’s ok if you don’t write a single word. The important thing is to think about what you will ultimately write about.” “Don’t think too hard, just snatch an idea from the air.” “Read before you write.” “Write, and it will all fall into place.” These bits of non-specific advice I’ve encountered at writers’ workshops, book readings and literary forums. It is possible that there’s no one single explanation to the “how do you write” inquisition. There are answers that suit different moments, different personalities, different habits and different genres of writing. My own writing process is a function of my passion and paranoia. When I write, I’m

compelled by a sense of obsession, worrying about a phrase, anxious about a word choice, a comma placement, an intransitive verb. I’ve spent hours working the same paragraph; written a whole monologue in one sitting; and searched for my muse in unlikely places. Upon deconstructing Wolff ’s explanation, it seems to be cognate with the same compulsions that I’ve experienced. That which seems perfect before lunch I’ve often seen crumble into meaninglessness at dinnertime. A writer-friend recently remarked that she imagines I deliver a thousand words a day when I sit down to write. It’s true; I sometimes do, and then there are those days when I stare at the blank page waiting for it to come alive without my intervention. It was the wonderful writer Dorothy Parker who once said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” The writing process is neurotic. It’s filled with uncertainties and yet, once that beautiful idea is laid out and that perfect sentence is formed, and you’ve exposed a little bit of your soul, there is no turning back. Writing is its own reward.

Jaya Padmanabhan

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INDIA CURRENTS april 2014 • vol 28 • no 1

PERSPECTIVES 1 | EDITORIAL Passion and Paranoia By Jaya Padmanabhan

Southern California Edition www.indiacurrents.com

Find us on

6 | FORUM Are Anti-Tech Protests in San Francisco Justified? By Rameysh Ramdas, Jaya Padmanabhan

16 | YOUTH A Cookbook of Memories By Kavya Padmanabhan

28 | FINANCE Ukraine: A Powder Keg By Rahul Varshneya

10 | The Help Effect Domestic help and how they enable work-life balance By Ritu Marwah

22 | PERSPECTIVE Kuppamma’s Story By Rajee Padmanabhan 30 | IMMIGRATION The Immigration Predicament By Priya Murthy, Manar Waheed 38 | CURRENT AFFAIRS Too Close to the Sun By Sandip Roy 42 | DESI VOICES Statue Man By Roopa Ramamoorthi 44 | VIEWPOINT The Great Divide By Ras Siddiqui 60 | ON INGLISH Stop By For Chai By Kalpana Mohan 64 | THE LAST WORD Modern Day Slavery By Sarita Sarvate

2 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

20 | BOOKS A Review of Teatime for the Firefly, The Grove of the Sun By Girija Sankar, Geetika Pathania Jain 23 | RELATIONSHIP DIVA Long Term Relationship Fizzling? By Jasbina Ahluwalia

7 | A THOUSAND WORDS Artists We Owe By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan 8 | ANALYSIS The Achievement Gap By P. Mahadevan

LIFESTYLE

18 | Opinion Daddy’s Not-So-Little Girl By Dilnavaz Bamboat

34 | Films Reviews of Highway and Lunchbox By Aniruddh Chawda, Geetika Pathania Jain

36 | MUSIC April Arias By Vidya Sridhar 52 | REFLECTIONS Lemon Pickles for Lent By Jojy Michael 54 | HEALTHY LIFE Motivation and Exercise By Richa Jauhari 56 | TRAVEL Africa: The Cradle of Humankind By Scott S. Smith, Sandra Wells 63 | DEAR DOCTOR Being the Best By Alzak Amlani

DEPARTMENTS 4 | Voices 5 | Popular Articles 26 | Ask a Lawyer 27 | Visa Dates

58 | Recipes

61 | Classifieds 62 | Viewfinder

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WHAT’S CURRENT

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46 | Cultural Calendar 50 | Spiritual Calendar


April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 3


voices Ghadar Memorial

Anirvan Chatterjee’s article (Rebel Legacy, India Currents, March 2014) was very well written and extremely informative. I am pleasantly surprised that the Ghadar movement still catches the interest of so many young people including prominent artists. Chatterjee brought out the true spirit of the movement, particularly its secular character. Present generation Indians probably need to learn from that. The secular character is all the more surprising when we consider that most of the Ghadarites were peasant folk, illiterate or only sparsely educated. India’s independence movement in both India and abroad (e.g. in England) was still dominated by the educated elite. It was only after the advent of Gandhi, a few years later, that common folk got intimately involved in the independence struggle. The Ghadar Memorial located in San Francisco (5 Wood Street near the crossing of Geary and Masonic) has the pictures of the many martyrs who gave up their lives for the cause. It is truly impressive. I believe the Memorial is open on Wednesdays in the morning. It is really worth a visit. I am really elated that Anirvan (son of a close friend) has alluded to me in very impressive terms in the article. Partha Sircar, Concord, CA

Forefathers’ Homeland

With the interesting idea of how freedom is subtracted “when the economics don’t add up,” Jaya Padmanabhan discusses the rights, protections and entitlements of immigrants across the world in her editorial (Freedom Subtracted, India Currents, March 2014). During the war of independence between the settlers and the British monarch, many British soldiers deserted their command and quietly hid themselves among the settlers. They were welcomed with hot soup and corn bread. They also became “legal immigrants” from former enemy combatants. The bulk of the so called illegal immigrants in the United States are Mexicans. Approximately a third of the present geographical entity of the United States was Mexican sovereign territory. Just look for yourselves at the city names, street names, the festivals, cuisine and all else dotting America today. We are now facing the reality of millions in this country categorized as illegals. The intensely polarized political climate prevents any legislative solution to their plight. We should perhaps remind Congress that just as the Mormon elders from the United States

4 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

were forced to flee to Mexico (1890s) due to the strict anti-polygamy laws in this country and later lured back with generous land and cash grants for resettlement, so should the present day Mexicans illegals be welcomed back because their ancestors were driven out of their hearths and homes by the U.S.Mexican war of the 1840s. At least on humanitarian grounds, minimum protections like access to health care, education and skill development in diverse fields of work should be provided to this segment. Most of them have come into their forefathers’ homeland across an artificial barrier stretching over two thousand miles. P. Mahadevan, Fullerton, CA

Flood Victims

The article by Rajee Padmanabhan (A Flood of Memories, India Currents, February 2014) made me go back 1978, the year I took charge of a bank in Chennai as Branch Manager. I joined in the month of August when the floods took place. The flood-affected low-income group residents were given shelter by the District authorities in various school buildings. The District Collector at that time convened an urgent meeting at her office of all bank officers representing their banks’ controlling offices in that district. I attended the meeting. After narrating the plight of the floodaffected people, the District Collector requested that the Bank representatives find ways to help out. Back at the bank, my staff and I got together and formed five teams, and after 5:30 p.m. we solicited donations from some of our customers. We purchased grocery items, vegetables, kerosene stoves, kerosene oil, candles and more with the money we collected and distributed it to the flood victims. We did this everyday for three weeks, till the residents shifted back to their homes. I am now 70 years old and Rajee has helped me remember these poignant experiences from my past and I thank her for this. V. Lakshmana Prabhu, Manasses,Virginia

Vegetarianism and Water Shortage

Many thanks for the interesting article on California’s water shortage (Do We Relax Environmental Regulations during Drought?, India Currents, March 2014). Today, California is undergoing a water shortage. Agriculture is one of the largest consumers, if not the largest consumer, of water. Meat is said to be very water intensive. Thus, vegetarianism has great significance in this context. Mahatma Gandhi whose value is indisputable for all of the world, was a great vegetarian and respected animals when he said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be

judged by the way its animals are treated.” These days meat is produced from animals who are fed with hormones and antibiotics to enahance productivity. This leads to super bugs that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics. This is another reason to favor the Gandhian approach. Jayananda Hiranandani, Artesia, CA

Rained Out

What a wonderful piece by Dilnavaz Bamboat (Rain, Again, India Currents, March 2014)! I hate the rains from the very first drizzle down to the flood-causing deluges. Yet, I enjoyed reading this piece about a person who does love it. Idea Smith, online

Classism

I’m beginning to agree with Sarita Sarvate (Downton Abbey: Triumph of the One Percent, India Currents, March 2014). I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was in the minority! I watched the Downton Abbey series, and after a few episodes had that weird feeling that the British upper class-system was being retroactively packaged and justified, marketed to the masses—so I googled the much-trumpeted director Julian Fellowes— and, what do you know, he’s a representative of the House of Lords! His post-facto rationalization of cross-class, cross-gender, cross-color, misogynistic prejudices is laughable, and he has the chutzpah to pretend to find justice for the characters of Branson, the Jazz musician, and Carson ... So why can’t Fellowes faithfully record the crassness and cruelties of that era? Let’s admit that soap operas were never meant to provide eye-opening commentary about the social ills of the day, so look at it this way, PBS does have a strong Newshour show and does many worthwhile programs (POV, Nova) and the funds generated from the Downton Abbey series allows PBS to do these kinds of worthwhile projects—so maybe its American Marketing for you! Guest, online

SPEAK YOUR MIND! Have a thought or opinion to share? Send us an original letter of up to 300 words, and include your name, address, and phone number. Letters are edited for clarity and brevity. Write India Currents Letters, 1885 Lundy Ave. Suite 220, San Jose 95131 or email letters@indiacurrents.com.


India Currents is now available on the Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/IndiaCurrents/dp/B005LRAXNG Follow us at twitter.com/indiacurrents on facebook.com/IndiaCurrents Most Popular Articles Online March 2014 1) Closely Watched Things Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan 2) A Raja’s Pearl Kalpana Mohan 3) Rebel Legacy Anirvan Chatterjee 4) Undesired Desires Monica Bhide 5) Freedom Subtracted Jaya Padmanabhan

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forum

Are Anti-Tech Protests in San Francisco Justified? No, the protests are not justified

Yes, the protests are justified

By Rameysh Ramdas

By Jaya Padmanabhan

an Francisco, long known as a liberal bastion that embraces people and cultures from around the world, has unfortunately had trouble accepting the recent arrivals of tech workers who work in companies like Twitter and Salesforce that moved into the city as well as those from Google and Apple, who have made the city their home while commuting to Silicon Valley to work. Protestors have filed the streets attacking Google buses, with profanity laden posters and vitriolic comments directed at these new residents. According to a recent Guardian article, a Google engineer’s home was targeted with fliers that he is “building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation” and alerting that “he is also your neighbor!” San Francisco Mayor Lee brokered a payroll tax waiver in 2011 that not only helped retain Twitter offices in the Market area of San Francisco, but also attracted other companies to move to the area. The payroll tax waiver incentivized Twitter to double their local staff. Thanks to Twitter and other companies that moved in, the once blighted area is now on a revival trajectory, with new shops and restaurants, creating service sector jobs and generating tax revenue for the city. The protestors’ ire at their new tech savvy ... these new San Fran- neighbors is misguided. cisco residents add not As the popular saying goes—“a rising tide lifts just to the vibrancy of all boats” and these new the city but also the eco- San Francisco residents add not just to the vinomic vitality benefitting brancy of the city but also all residents in the long the economic vitality benefitting all residents in the term. long term. It is estimated that the Twitter IPO created over 1600 millionaires, presumably, many who have made San Francisco their home. The state of California is expected to net a tax windfall of over $300 million from these tax payers. These residents are going to spend their money in procuring local services and products generating commerce and creating local jobs. As U2’s Bono said in a recent Georgetown University speech: “Commerce and entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.” Yes, rents may go up due to increase in demand for housing, but that needs to be addressed by increasing the supply of rental housing. Most rentals in San Francisco are covered by onerous rent control regulations that provide no incentive for potential landlords. A recent study by Jed Kolko, Chief Economist for the real estate site Trulia, points out that “Since 1990, there have been just 117 new housing units permitted per 1,000 housing units that existed in 1990 in San Francisco. That’s the lowest of ... all the 100 largest metros.” Nevada has dumped thousands of mentally ill homeless patients in San Francisco—with a heartless one way bus ticket—that SF city attorneys say will cost $500K to care of. Who would you rather receive San Francisco—the homeless or these tech workers? n

arc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, one of the companies that is the target of these protests, sympathized with the protesters when he declared that he was dismayed by the tech industry’s “stinginess.” According to Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, the new denizens of San Francisco need to be cognizant of the cultural norms of the community they are joining. With soaring rents and rising evictions, the anxiety that longtime San Francisco residents face seems to be entirely legitimate. According to RealFacts, a rental “data and analysis” website, the monthly rent in San Francisco soared 11.9% to $3,096 per month in the third quarter of 2013 while San Jose’s average rent rose 9.2% to 2,015 per month for the same period. As a point of comparison, Washington, D.C. rents within the city center average $1,984 per month. The have-nots are slowly being squeezed out of their homes in San Francisco. This disparity is on display when luxury buses trundle up and down clogged urban streets sharing Muni bus stops for pick-ups and drop-offs of tech workers. “It’s not that the buses are the problem,” explains Tom Plante, a Santa Clara University psychology professor, in a Mercury News story, “It’s what those buses represent that’s the problem.” It should not be the case that luxury buses elbow their way These tensions highlight into reserved spaces esthe growing gap between pecially marked for public Muni buses. those within and outside Indeed, San Franthe tech industry as well cisco is well-known as a liberal bastion, and the as new and old residents. haves and have-nots have always known how to get along and compromise. These tensions highlight the growing gap between those within and outside the tech industry as well as new and old residents. As start-ups have sprouted in this urban mecca, and as younger employees of companies like Google and Yahoo have begun to look at San Francisco as their home, it becomes imperative for the ethos of the city to be preserved. Sure, tech workers are as hard-working as others and sure, they have a right to go where they want, but like Benioff puts it, “If you’re coming to San Francisco, you’ve got to do better.” Any large-scale migration is bound to change the dynamics in a city. But, San Francisco also has the problem of age, size, insufficient resources and inadequate infrastructure. It’s a question of attitude. How are these companies and individuals giving back to the community that harbors them? Large paychecks and great perks come with big responsibilities. Technology leaders are beginning to realize that the solution lies in creating affordable housing and giving to public shools, volunteering at local charities, helping the homeless and bolstering infrastructure needs. With the billions of dollars in revenue, surely tech companies can show a little fellow-feeling? n

S

Rameysh Ramdas, an S.F. Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby. 6 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

M

Mani Subramani is on break this month. Jaya Padmanabhan is the editor of India Currents.


a thousand words

Artists We Owe By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

T

his month, Kathputli Colony, a neighborhood of Shadipur in Delhi, is slated for demolition. The Delhi Development Authority has sold the land on which KC’s residents live to a real estate developer, who has plans to build a condominium and shopping mall. Meanwhile, Raheja Developers has been charged with building the transit camps where KC’s nearly 3,000 families are supposed to live. In February, two days before the relocation was supposed to begin, the Times of India reported that there were still no bath fittings in community bathrooms, no proper water supply, and spotty electricity. At time of writing in early March, over a dozen families had already been relocated to the transit camps. Bulldozers were being used to intimidate residents. The DDA and Raheja have promised the artists proper flats eventually. Time will tell. Perhaps this would be a minor news item—just another slum in the developing world cleared in the name of beautification, progress, and the bottom line—if not for the unique population of puppeteers, acrobats, balladeers, magicians, artisans, and folk artists who call Kathputli their home. For Kathputli is not just any colony. It’s Salman Rushdie’s magic moving slum. And it’s home to a band of artists whom Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi once called India’s “foremost cultural ambassadors.” In 1980, Salman Rushdie published Midnight’s Children, which went on to win the Booker (and Booker of Bookers) and inaugurated a new era in the writing of the English-language Indian novel. Indeed, Rushdie’s linguistically innovative, magical realist treatment of India’s birth into nationhood was so influential that multiple generations of Indian Anglophone writers are still struggling to surmount the moniker of “Midnight’s Children’s children.” But few people know that the magic that infuses the now canonical novel was actually the province of a living community in Old Delhi, and that the magician’s slum in which Saleem Sinai takes refuge with Parvati-the-Witch and Picture Singh (The Most Charming Man in the World) is an actual slum that was subject to “clearance” during the Emergency of the 1970s and which then, having managed to avoid being “disappeared” by Sanjay Gandhi’s/Major Shiva’s goons, re-appeared close to Shadipur bus depot. Rushdie’s magicians are the magicians of Kathputli Colony. In 1985, thanks to an agreement between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Ronald Reagan, there was a major Festival of India in the United States, which featured nearly 800 programs in 44 states in 140 cities. Many of the major programs of the Festival were organized and hosted by the Smithsonian, including “Aditi: The Living Arts of India” at the National Museum of Natural History and “Mela! An Indian Fair,” both of which included the participation of folk artists from India. These artists were mostly members of the “Bhule Bisre Kalakar (Forgotten and Neglected Artists)” collective, who at the time were living as squatters in Shadipur, but who had garnered the support and attention of influential activists in India, including designer Rajeev Sethi, a major force in the conception and execution of the Festival. Indira Gandhi was assassinated before the festival came to fruition, and so it was Rajiv Gandhi’s responsibility as Prime Minister to attend the festival, where he called the folk artists “India’s foremost cultural

ambassadors.” Gandhi’s ambassadors were the artists of Kathputli Colony. Rohan Kalyan, a professor of International and Global Studies at Sewanee, has in recent years conducted ethnographic research in KC as part of his work on urban dispossession and slum re-settlement in postcolonial India. An old kathputliwalla, Mohan, recounted to Kalyan his memories of performing for President Reagan and Prime Minister Gandhi on the White House lawn during summer 1985. Rajiv Gandhi directly addressed Mohan and his fellow artists, assuring them that they “would always have a place in Delhi, that unlike other slum clusters in the city, their homes in Shadipur would always be protected from redevelopment and demolition by the state.” Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture at the Smithsonian, recalls that there was more than one promise extracted from the Prime Minister, who also pledged to the artists and another one of their champions, Maura Moynihan, daughter of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the revocation of beggary laws affecting folk artists. In reality, however, and as the New York Times reported in October of that same year, the folk artists went back to “living in squalor … looking for work and facing an uncertain future.” Over the course of the next three decades, numerous efforts were made to settle the artists in more permanent circumstances. In 1995, the Delhi Development Authority granted some land to the artists; plans were drawn up for a residential and cultural center that would include homes, artistic facilities, workshops, cooking areas, and even a library. But corruption, lack of will on the part of local politicians, a scandal concerning a cabinet minister and petroleum contracts, and prejudices against folk art derailed efforts by Sethi and the artists to bring the plans to fruition. Today, the artists of Kathputli colony are no longer “forgotten” but they are still neglected, marginalized, and subject to the development schemes of the post-colonial (perhaps more accurately neo-colonial) state. They have an NGO now, called “House of Puppet: Education Welfare Society,” which has its own website and Facebook page. Google it. There are YouTube videos as well, and pictures galore. These are the descendants of Saleem Sinai’s saviors, the living, breathing children of Midnight’s Children. These are the descendants of the artist-ambassadors who not only demystified India for a generation of Americans, but also inspired the creation of a National Cultural Festival, various regional cultural centers, and the Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Corporation back in India. And there is yet another reason for us to pay attention to the story of Kathputli Colony, another debt we owe these folk artists who are being violently removed from their homes. In 1987, when Arvind Kumar conceived of the publication that would become our very own India Currents, he was specifically inspired by the Festival of India. n Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 7


analysis

The Achievement Gap M. Night Shyamalan and the American public school education By P. Mahadevan

I

t has become fashionable to blame the shortfall in scholastic achievement on American public schools. We are often privy to soundbites from talking point memos prepared by self interest groups. Comments such as: inefficient teachers, attention deficit students, obsessive parents, sink hole for budgeted funds, teaching to pass the tests and, of course, teachers’ unions. The root of all troubles, say some, are the unions. This is similar to the reaction, anecdotally, of a shipwrecked sailor who gets washed ashore somewhere. He quickly walks up a country road, sees a pedestrian and accosts him. “Sir, is there a government in this country?” “Yes, we have a government in this country,” says the native. The sailor promptly asserts. “Then I am in the opposition.” From a totally unexpected source comes a contrarian finding: screenwriter, director and producer of films, M. Night Shyamalan, one among the Indian diaspora in the United States. “What everyone knew just wasn’t so. American schools are not failing,” he states in his book, I Got Schooled, published by Simon and Schuster in 2013. Shyamalan, apart from having produced and directed several films in the last few years such as Signs, The Sixth Sense and Lady in the Water, reveals his continuing interest in education with full support from his wife, Bhavna Vaswani, a professional psychologist. The cost of the study was borne by an ad hoc foundation funded by Shyamalan himself.

The PISA Test

The most important international test for educational performance is Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for fifteen-year-olds given every three years all over the world. Among the 34 countries who participate in the test, the United States scored below average (26th rank) in mathematics in 2012; about average in reading

8 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

States don’t meet the PISA baseline Level 2 proficiency in mathematics.

The Poverty Link

(17th rank), and average in science (21st rank). The top performer in mathematics is Shanghai-China with a performance that is “the equivalent of over two years of formal schooling ahead of those observed in Massachusetts, itself a strong-performing U.S. state,” according to the Organization for Co-operation and Development (oecd.org). It is interesting to put everything in context. United States is the third wealthiest nation in the OECD test group, which is borne out by the fact that the United States spends $115,000 per student as compared to the Slovak Republic which spends $53,000 per student and is ranked about the same as the United States. Furthermore, parents in the United States are better educated than parents from most other countries, yet over one quarter of fifteen-year-olds in the United

Demographics show that twenty percent of the United States student body attend inner city schools. They come from low income families at poverty levels exceeding ten percent. They pull the ratings down to statistically unacceptable levels. Eighty percent of our schools, therefore, are not failing. This means that the achievement gap problem is not staggering and focused remedies can be attempted for that segment. I am not belittling the problem. Young students in this category are most probably hungry during the entire school day. That is a shame anywhere, especially in the richest country of all. You may recall a few months ago (Jan. ’14) a shameful incident occurred at a Utah elementary school when two school officials picked up the lunch plates from a whole group of students while they were eating their subsidized lunch and threw them in the trash. Some of the youngsters, allegedly, were late in paying their subsidized dues. The author has addressed other contributing issues to failure in the school system such as: class size, teachers’ unions, inefficient or unmotivated teachers (estimated to be about two percent only) and teacher tenure. Every one of these has been dismissed as inconsequential or minimal in the larger perspective. In his book, Shyamalan presents five key steps to be taken to reduce the scholastic achievement gap for American students.

Shyamalan’s Five Step Solution

Remove the roadblock of inefficient teachers. Teachers in this category should be evaluated thoroughly and fairly before termination. They might turn out to be extremely good in some other line of work. This step by itself is


P. Mahadevan is a retired scientist with a Ph.D. in Atomic Physics from the University of London, England. His professional work includes basic and applied research and program management for the Dept. of Defense. He taught Physics at the Univ. of Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram. He does very little now, very slowly.

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not the road to achieve excellence, however Find the right balance of leadership. The team leader in the school, the principal, should be able to inspire confidence by words, deeds and examples among his/her team of teachers so that their productivity per hour increases. The principal should no longer to be considered an operational manager but an instructional leader. Get regular feedback. Data which is defined as objective evidence of the benefit or failure of a program or methodology such as test scores, graduation rate, college admission rate and so on should be carefully analyzed to find out if one is following a blind or right path to improvement in scholastic achievement. Control school size. The Melinda Gates Foundation found that school size is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating the desired learning environment. Shyamalan’s finding is that a school size of about 400 to 500 students is a lot more desirable than one with a thousand or more. The main reason for this is that a principal will find it a lot easier to aggressively visit and supervise the smaller number of classrooms. Large schools suffer from lack of close supervision. The length of the school year. The number of instruction days on the average in American schools now is 180 days at between six and seven hours per day. Based on several studies, the recommendation is for a school year to be between 200 and 220 days at seven hours a day. Shyamalan concludes that all five of these key guidelines have to be adapted in a systematic way—not some, but all—in order to make noticeable improvements in reducing the achievement gap. Of the fifty schools across the country that follow these guidelines and have shown improvement, eleven are from California, fifteen from Texas and thirteen from New York. At least 65% of the students in each of these schools are classified as poor and are qualified to receive subsidized lunch at school. Shyamalan may possibly be simplifying the problem to fit his 5-point strategy, yet his solution does sound reasonable and is fodder for the ongoing education debate. n

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The Help Effect Domestic help and how they help sustain the work-life balance By Ritu Marwah

Preparing for a party: Nalini Krishnan with Sonia Morales

In an era of excess, it was always believed that hiring of domestic staff was a sign of having arrived, a status symbol, a way of separating the wealthy from the less so. But these days, with relentless work schedules and tiresome chores always awaiting attendance, it might just be the case that domestic staff are easing the burdens of even the middleclass. Here is a look at how both the hirers and the hired keep the kitchen fires burning.

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nce, when no one was looking, a tear dropped into the soup boiling on the stove. My frustration went up in steam, mocking me as it swirled up and out through the spinning exhaust fan of the range hood. Growing up my mother had impressed upon me the benefits of being a career woman. She had made it clear that she wanted better for me than what she was used to: slaving at the stove. But she had set impossibly high standards on how to raise children. I recall that all the meals she served were fresh

10 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

and hot off the stove. Our household was very careful about spending money. We saved on travel—we hardly did any. We saved on clothes—no designer wear for us. We saved on transport— we took the bus everywhere. We saved on eating out—my mother was a fabulous cook. But having a domestic helper in the house was non-negotiable. A lady came to clean the house like clockwork at 6.30 am. I would open my eyes to see Channo reach under my bed with an Indian broom and whisper “good morning” with a toothy grin. She was

a village lady with a drunk for a husband and four children who were around my age. We were her family during the day, so that she could feed the family she went to at night. A sizzling drop of oil jumped off the pan and landed on my hand making it sting. Here I was, Miss-Work-Hard-At-Your-BooksComputer Engineer, in my California home chopping tomatoes and letting my onion tears mingle with my tears of frustration. The drop of oil would leave a mark for me to stare at when I typed out my marketing plan for the dotcom startup where I worked.


Running out of the house to work with two children invariably meant leaving the house in shambles. Returning home at 6 p.m. to a house that a hurricane had run through in the morning, I was faced with the task of feeding a hot meal to hungry, tired children. It was a recipe for disaster. I had shunned the cans of tomato and frozen meats that would have made life easier and was trying to live up to my mother’s standards of a clean house and a nutritious meals for the family. It was getting close to impossible without help. My spouse was largely MIA (Missing in Action), tired or traveling. Tensions on the division of work at home were mounting. Battle lines in the war on the domestic frontier were being drawn. “Was getting help worse than getting a divorce?” I thought begrudgingly.

Kashmir and her Punjabi Recipes

It was about that time that Kashmir, wearing a pink salwar kameez, gold hoops in her ears, and ballet flats on her feet walked into our lives. She had come to cook us traditional Indian fare. A parent at my son’s kindergarten class introduced her to me. Kashmir had been cooking for them for a few years by then. They had gotten her number from an advertisement she had pinned on the wall of a local Indian grocery store. Straight from the kitchen hearths of her village in Punjab, her food had a rustic taste. The kitchen sparkled twice a week as she scrubbed diligently. While Kashmir worked as a babysitter to a four month old, her own children were farmed off at birth to her mother-in-law in India. She carried pictures of her three-yearold boy and one-year old girl. “My son is so handsome. He takes after my husband,” she once said, pride shining in her eyes as she held out the picture. Her husband worked at an Indian restaurant as a waiter. But she was not to last. Kashmir, with her endless energy and Punjabi recipes vanished from my life after a short stint. It was only while her regular client had been on holiday in India that she had been able to cook for me and she was too busy to take me on as a client. Many families around me didn’t seem to need help to fight their battles on the domestic frontier. Mothers, fathers and children stepped in to share the chores in order to keep the meals healthy and homes humming efficiently. It was surprising to note, however that recent International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates based on national surveys and/or censuses of 117 countries, place the number of domestic workers at around 53

million around the world. Additionally, the ILO states, experts say that due to the fact that this kind of work is often hidden and unregistered, the total number of domestic workers could be as high as 100 million. In developing countries, they make up at least four to twelve percent of wage employment. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which Congress enacted to ensure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, excluded domestic workers from its protection. Thereby not recognizing domestic work as real work and leaving domestic workers as part of the informal economy.

The Daily Grind

At a meeting of my book club, I broached the subject of domestic help. How many times do you use the services of a maid to clean the closets, fold the laundry, make the beds, and help in the kitchen? I asked. “Our maid comes over three times a week and we have a cleaning service once a week,” said one woman. “I pay $18 an hour, far above the minimum wage of $8.” Many Indian American households pay anywhere from $12 to $24 as the hourly rate and use the services of the worker twice or three times a week for a total of 6 to 8 hours per week. Some members share the services of a worker thereby assuring the worker of enough number of hours to make her trip worthwhile. “The drive from Hayward to Los Altos is a long drive. Once my cook comes here she wants to work for at least eight hours before heading back. I make sure that my maid has enough clients. Three of my girlfriends and I share a cook,” said a Los Altos resident. “It would be impossible for me to go to

Battle lines in the war on the domestic frontier were being drawn. “Was getting help worse than getting a divorce?” I thought begrudgingly. work if Sonia was not there to help me with the cooking and laundry at home,” said a Cupertino resident and teacher at De Anza Community College. Where do you find help if you are not part of a group of friends who share a maid? “Craig’s list,” said one. “Advertise in a Spanish magazine,” said the other. Sometime after Kashmir left I advertised in both places, online and off-line. My phone rang off the hook for three days straight. I had soon shortlisted some young ladies.

Helping with the American Dream

The first woman who came to my house was escorted by her husband. The couple was well turned out. They had a beautiful home, he said, which his wife kept in ship shape. Now that they were empty nesters he thought she could put her exceptional housekeeping skills to work outside the home. They were United States citizens and spoke reasonably good English. The woman seemed a reluctant recruit in my battle on the domestic front, having been volunteered by her husband, so I had to pass. The second woman who responded to

My life-saver, Kashmir, in my kitchen April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 11


Around 83 per cent of domestic workers are women or girls and many are migrant workers, estimates ILO. Therefore, bringing domestic workers into the fold of the formal economy in addition to looking after the rights of the worker will also have strong implications for migration and gender equality. my advertisement was a waitress in a Mexican restaurant looking to supplement her income. She was young, attractive with good skills in the kitchen, and spoke fluent English. However her enthusiasm was larger than her time. She could never make the time to come. The third woman was a grumpy thirtyeight-year old who spoke no English. She had three children in Mexico and an unemployed husband. She renegotiated the hourly wage on every visit. We had long chats without either one of us understanding what the other said. When her mother, the caregiver of her children, refused to take care of them anymore she and her husband decided to return to Mexico. Sadly it would not be

feasible for them to return to California as purchasing five airline tickets to come back to the United States was unaffordable. The next person to enter our door worked with an Indian family every summer when the elderly in-laws visited from India. The visiting grandmother had taught her to cook Indian food. “This would improve her job prospects,” the grandmother explained to me, “A cook makes more money than a cleaner.” And sure enough Monica was making $20 to $24 an hour. She was also going to school to become proficient in English so she could work at a dry cleaning store, a job with benefits. A single mom, her focus was to provide the American Dream for her son Christopher. Around 83 per cent of domestic workers are women or girls and many are migrant workers, estimates ILO. Therefore, bringing domestic workers into the fold of the formal economy in addition to looking after the rights of the worker will also have strong implications for migration and gender equality.

A Growing Movement

In March 2008, Vilma Serralta, a live-in domestic and nanny for a family in Atherton, California sued her employers for forcing her to work 90 hours a week without overtime pay for four years. The family settled with Vilma in 2009 for an undisclosed amount. According to New America Media, Vilma’s settlement strengthened a growing movement among domestic workers. “I began to speak in public about this abuse because they would pay me monthly, but they never paid me overtime, nor holidays,” Serralta told

New America Media, who reported that “Serralta’s case represents a watershed moment in organizing domestic workers to unite against labor abuse.” “For us, Vilma Serralta’s case is very important, because this creates a great precedent at the international and state levels and across movements,” Guillermina Catellanos, an organizer at the Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro Legal, and a member of the National Domestic Worker Alliance (NDWA) was reported as saying. “That is what we want employers to know—that domestic work is dignified and should be recognized like any other job,”

The California Story

In June 2010, The California State Legislature passed resolution ACR 163. The resolution encouraged the federal and state government to create greater protections for domestic workers ensuring paid days off and severance upon termination, in addition to an eight-hour day and minimum wage assurances. The resolution highlighted that “domestic workers play a critical role in California’s economy, working to ensure the health and prosperity of California families and freeing others to participate in the workforce, which is increasingly necessary in these difficult economic times.” However it feared that “The vast majority of domestic workers are women of color and immigrants who, because of race and sex discrimination and fear of deportation, are particularly vulnerable to unlawful employment practices and abuses.” On September 26 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights effective January 1, 2014. For the workers and their employer families it is important to understand how this Bill of Rights impacts them. California is the third state after New York and Hawaii to enact a Bill of Rights for domestic workers. In New York it came into effect on November 29 2010 while Hawaii signed one in July 2013. As per the new law, domestic work employees “shall not be employed more than nine hours in any workday or more than 45 hours in any work-week unless the employee receives one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay” for all overtime hours.

The DC Chapter

Sonia Morales pouring the elixir of relief with Meena Tandon 12 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

More than 200 domestic workers arrived in DC for the 2013 National Congress, organized by the NDWA. A rally was staged and Congress was urged to institute protections, guarantee minimum wages and overtime protections for domestic workers.


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According to a report titled Home Economics—The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work produced by the NDWA, “Despite their central role in the economy, domestic workers are often employed in substandard jobs. Working behind closed doors, beyond the reach of personnel policies, and often without employment contracts, they are subject to the whims of their employers.” Truth is, most domestic workers are hired without a work contract, through a private agreement between the family and the worker. Individuals, when hiring domestic workers, often do not think of themselves as employers. Now it would be in the interest of both parties to have written work agreements, laying down both duties and compensation. The employer is obliged to keep accurate and daily records of days and hours worked, including meal and rest breaks. For instance, if during a break the worker is not free to leave the premises, say if the children are napping, she/he is considered to be on duty. In cases where the help is hired from a third party, the contract with the third party should clearly state who employs the caregiver and is therefore responsible for all tax and insurance compliance, the family or the agency. The Bill of Rights, says a report published by the NDWA, recognizes that domestic work is real work that makes other work possible and that it plays a significant role in the United States economy. Domestic workers help meet the physical, emotional, and social needs of families. “Domestic workers free the time and attention of millions of other workers, allowing them to engage in the widest range of socially productive pursuits with undistracted focus and commitment. The lives of these workers would be infinitely more complex and burdened in the absence of the labor of the domestic workers who enter their homes each day,” says the report.

with the United States authorities that she was being paid less than the sum stipulated in this contract and, much below the United States minimum wage. As per the U.S. Justice department, “To apply for an A-3 visa, the visa applicant must submit an employment contract signed by both the employer and the employee which must include, among other things, a description of duties, hours of work, the hourly wage—which must be the greater of the minimum wage under U.S. federal and state law, or the prevailing wage—for all working hours, overtime work, and payment.” There have been several incidents involving senior diplomats in the United States and domestic staff brought from overseas. According to NBC News, Break the Chain, a non-profit working with domestic workers has since 1997 helped 250 workers that have lodged complaints about being grossly underpaid, abused or essentially held captive by consular or World Bank staffers. In 2010 a United States judge recommended that an Indian diplomat and her husband pay a maid nearly $1.5m in compensation for being forced to work without pay. A year later another maid of the Indian consul general, Prabhu Dayal, accused him of forced labor and sexual harassment. He called the charges “complete nonsense” and they were later dropped. Diplomat employers have worn the veil of diplomatic immunity to hide from the enforcement of the Workers Bill of Rights. This has left the two countries walking a diplomatic tight rope hung over a minefield. The question is should A-3 visas be done away altogether to end this balancing act? [Stop Press: The charges against Devyani Khobragade were dismissed by a U.S. District Court on the grounds of diplomatic immunity on March 12 but a few days later Devyani Khobragade was re-indicted by the federal government and faces arrest if she returns to the United States.)

Diplomatic Immunity and Khobragade

The Cook Needs a Babysitter

For years stories have circulated in Washington, D.C. and New York about diplomats and their underpaid domestic help. On December 11, 2013, U.S. authorities charged Devyani Khobragade, the then Deputy Consul General of the India, with committing visa fraud. Khobragade and Richard had signed a written contract that stipulated an hourly salary of $9.75 per hour and 40 working hours per week. This contract was submitted along with Richard’s visa application to the United States visa office. Six months later, Richard filed a complaint 14 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

Three years had passed since our last cooking session when I called Kashmir again. “Can you come over? I want to make makki ki roti and sarson da saag.” An older and much more harried Kashmir jingled her way into my kitchen. Spinach leaves along with the mustard greens, were chopped boiled and ground in a flurry of activity. “You know didi, I had a son last year and instead of sending him to Punjab I chose to bring my other two children to America. Now I can’t stay out in the evenings anymore.”

A Creative Commons Image This new Kashmir, mother of three, was focused on getting her work done and rushing home so her husband could leave for work. They were a tag team. “Kashmir, how is everything at home?” “My husband went to Punjab for six months because he was sick. He returned to California with our children. He is not keeping too well. Six pills, he has to take six pills a day. But he is back at his job in the restaurant. He is a manager now. It is the children I worry about. I must provide them with a hot nutritious meal every day, pick and drop them to school and on top of all else I have my work. I am not babysitting any more. Now I cook for families.” Kashmir seemed to be losing her balancing battle on the domestic front and needed help herself. She hired a baby sitter for the hours her husband and she were both at work. Neighbors, family members and friends step in, for a fee, to support the domestic worker on their domestic front and help raise the children. This fee can be a fixed amount of twenty dollars as is in the case of Monica, who pays her sister twenty dollars any time she steps in to rescue Monica, and Sonia whose neighbor is called upon to step in for twenty dollars as well. The engine of the Valley is kept chugging by the likes of Kashmir, Monica and other hard-working women of the Valley. Domestic workers allow us to lean in and engage in our work with undistracted focus and commitment. Kashmir, Monica, Sonia, Monica’s sister, Sonia’s neighbor and I we all need each other to win our battles on the domestic front. We have each other’s back. n Ritu Marwah is a resident of the Bay Area where she has pursued theater, writing, nonprofit marketing, high-tech marketing, startup management, raising children, coaching debate and hiking. Ritu graduated from Delhi with masters in business, joined the Tata Administrative Service and worked in London for ten years before moving to the Bay Area.


April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 15


youth

A Cookbook of Memories How a recipe book connects generations By Kavya Padmanabhan

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n December 2013, my mother wrote an editorial on the recipe book given to her by her father. Her words made me think of my connection to the book and to her father. It was at the time that I was applying to colleges and I wrote this essay as part of my personal statement. Two months ago, I received and accepted an early decision admission to my preferred school, so I decided to reshape the essay to suit the pages of this magazine.

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he cover of the green, plasticsheathed diary proclaims in white lettering “Be Indian Buy Indian.” Inside, the pages of notebook paper lined with almost illegible writing flutter together. A few pages fly out, littering the kitchen floor. Looking down at the pages, I am filled with memories. The recipe book lies in my kitchen cutlery drawer, its existence outdating the knives and forks. The book is tattered; hands stained with cumin and curry have turned its pages, leaving faint streaks of orange and yellow on the worn sheets. This book is part of my history. It speaks of a time when my grandfather had the use of one arm and one leg; of a time when my mother was given the advice that she gives me now; of a time when my grandfather wrote out the recipes of his childhood to give to my mother when she left to start her life as a bride. The recipe book is my connection to another place, another country. The words— kichadi, kulfi, kesari—are as alien to me as my grandfather’s country is. As a second generation Indian American, I hold the recipe book as a key to one quarter of myself. My memories of India are intertwined with the memories of my grandfather, Thatha. I recall him reading books to me; making clucking sounds with his tongue to amuse me; I remember ambling along the dusty unpaved road, slowing my steps to 16 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

keep pace with his limp. And I remember how, one day, when my sister and I had brought a stray kitten home, (we called him Tabby) Thatha was the one who made the case for us to keep it. I saw a glimpse of “Thatha the Lawyer” in his milky brown eyes and fervent tone that day. I was brought up on stories of Thatha, his daredevil personality, his restless vibrancy, his escapades as a lawyer in India, and I yearned to see my grandfather as the man my mother described. She had explained to me that after several strokes, his body had become irrevocably limited in the physical world while his mind had remained sharp. Thatha is part of my background, a piece

of my identity. My mother once told me that he was a reader, a lover of George Bernard Shaw and Aldous Huxley and Bertrand Russell. As I recollect that, I pick up my grandfather’s copy of The Complete Plays of Bernard Shaw and turn to his favorite play—Androcles and the Lion—to find parts of him in the lines that he once read. His presence is everywhere around me: in my mother’s anecdotes, in the novels that have survived and been handed down to my mother after fifty years in his possession, and in his recipe book. I long to know the grandfather, who, against all odds, walked after being told he would never do so again. The recipe notebook is a symbol of my belonging. I belong to a family of writers, lawyers, and engineers. It speaks of my past; the hot summer days in Bangalore where I sat in the same room as Thatha and watched him surreptitiously while reading Anna Karenina. It speaks of my present as I eat the Palak Paneer that Thatha wrote out in the book. And it speaks of my future: I hope to follow in Thatha’s footsteps by preparing the food he so meticulously recorded; by treasuring the love of books he has passed on to me; and by one day practicing law as a human rights attorney. He will always live inside the pages of that notebook, and inside me. Halfway into the recipe book, Thatha’s writing merges into my mother’s small, dainty cursive. There are still sheets of empty space left, lined pages enticing me to enter my own memories. And although they may not be as traditional as Mulakuttal, I look forward to adding blended recipes of my own Indian American life. n Kavya Padmanabhan is a senior at Henry M. Gunn High School. This fall she will continue on her academic path at Wesleyan University.


April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 17


opinion

Daddy’s Not-So-Little Girl By Dilnavaz Bamboat

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ne of my strongest memories of childhood is from age 9, where, propping my eyes open with thumbs and forefingers, I willed myself not to doze as I waited behind metal railings for Daddy to emerge from the airport. I had never been on a plane myself. Foreign travel was many years away. But none of that mattered because I was finally going to be reunited with my beloved parent after a two-month gap. When he came into sight, tall and French-bearded, I dashed straight into the exit aisle, head first, running as fast as my chubby legs would carry me, pigtails bringing up the rear. Thankfully skirting the trolley, I hurled myself into his belly, determined not to let go. I’ve never been one for diplomacy in declaring love. I had a favorite parent and made no bones about it. I have a favorite friend and think nothing of calling her my bestie in the presence of our other close pals. I even have a favorite spouse, but he says that isn’t applicable, since he’s the only one who has ever occupied the position. Circling back to what I meant to share, yes, I was always Daddy’s girl, and remain so to this day. My discomfort with the tag begins with the insertion of the word “little.” When grown women voluntarily declare juvenility, it is cause for concern. It signals a refusal to mature, a hankering for continued protection, and the rejection of the possibility of a loving adult relationship with your parent. We all grow up. Most of us even manage to add maturity to the checklist. We spend the maximum chunk of our lifetime in adulthood. Who, then, are these women who declare their undeveloped-in-some-aspect status and are they fully aware that it entails connotations of emotional stuntedness? Some are those who lost their father/father-figure early in life, leaving a gaping hole in their emotional development. I am truly sorry for them and understand at some level the need for comfort and protection. Then there are those who, despite having a living father, go all cute and helpless in his presence and think it is perfectly okay to exhibit this inappropriate behavior. We beat men up for being tied to their mothers’ apron strings. They are called sis18 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

A Creative Commons Image sies and contempt is showered upon them, because adults are expected to operate within the parameters of healthy, mature boundaries. Why then is it perceived as culturally acceptable to have women in their 20s, 30s and 40s openly declare that they will always be little girls to a parent or parental figure? Does one have to be a “little” girl to spontaneously hug one’s father and laugh over childhood memories? And more crucially, how healthy is it if your parent still sees you as a child when you have one of your own? You’re probably thinking “this is socially acceptable across pretty much all of India” and you’re right: infantilizing one’s adult children is a predominantly Eastern trait, but in the case of Daddy’s “little” girls, this phenomenon seems to cut across cultures with the stereotype readily accepted and fostered in Western society, a classic example being grown-ass Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs). As women in an era that affords increasing freedoms and gender neutrality, how relevant is this “little girl” position and why do we even want it? Are you less of a daughter if you share a loving, positive equation that includes talking about your work, your dreams, and those cookies you charred in an adult manner? Do you see no need for selfdetermination when Daddy dearest is around to arrange it all? Even if you did not have a positive paternal role model during your childhood, how does clinging to a false image benefit your growth as a fully functioning adult human being? In Dr. Peggy Drexler’s book Our Fathers, Ourselves, she points out that daughters feel more at ease around their fathers when they

are treated like intelligent beings and not delicate playthings. Perhaps it is easier to continue in the rut of set relationship patterns. But there is pleasure on realizing your father, whom you looked up to as a child, now listens to your thoughts about the upcoming elections. There is the joy of explaining how you tweaked that favorite family recipe. There is fun in trading musical experiences and recommending new reads. There is even an undeniable pleasure in bashing the relatives, now that you can see their follies through adult eyes! Eric Berne, of Transactional Analysis (TA) fame, states that we operate from three states: Parent, Adult, and Child. Our relationship patterns usually crystallize over time such that we tend to relate to one another in predominantly one state over another. Some, for instance, will react to a spouse as a child or a parent. Plenty of parents, out of sheer habit or perhaps not knowing any different, will respond to their adult children in parent mode, occasionally deploying child mode as a guilt trip. This unhealthy scenario does women a disservice, helping to enforce stereotypes of weak, helpless womanhood. There is no shame in being weak or helpless when you truly are, but a lifetime of interaction on those lines can only harm you. It is true, ladies. Our fathers are frequently the first male loves of our lives. But then we GROW UP. Like ALL healthy human beings. And the evolution of our loving relationships is the best indicator of much-needed maturity. You’ll always be Daddy’s girl. But you haven’t been little for a really long time. Take ownership of your adulthood. Embrace its unique perspective. You will find that your daughterhood won’t diminish because of it. n Dilnavaz Bamboat manages communications and social media for a Silicon Valley non-profit, is a scriptwriter for iPad applications for children, a writer and editor at IDEX (idex.org), a section editor at Ultra Violet (ultraviolet.in), a feminist blogger at Women’s Web (womensweb. in) and a founder member of India Helps (indiahelps.blogspot.com). She lives in the SF Bay Area.


April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 19


books

Tea Estate Tales By Girija Sankar

TEATIME FOR THE FIREFLY by Shona Patel. Harlequin USA. October 2013. $13.95. 196 pages.

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he setting: a rambling colonial mansion in small town in Northeastern India and later a rambling mansion in a tea estate; the characters: a young woman whose stars are misaligned, or so they told her and a dashing young man educated in Britain; the times: pre-independence India; the result: a gripping, if at times predictable and formulaic, romance novel set to beautiful, deliberate prose and strewn with juicy nuggets of history, and juicier nuggets of romance. Layla Roy is born under an unlucky star. Orphaned at an early age, she is raised by her Dadamoshai, or grandfather, a retired district judge, in a small town in Assam. Under Dadamoshai’s upbringing, Layla grew to be independent, free spirited and literate. But, Layla walks around with a heavy heart, knowing that she would never marry. Being born under the unlucky star, Layla is reconciled to a life of books and letters. Until she meets Manik Deb. Tall, well mannered, good looking Manik is betrothed to another girl but manages to bowl over Layla at a chance meeting. What follows afterwards is a maelstrom of events that soon enough lead to Manik marrying Layla instead. Layla begins her married life at a tea estate in Aynakhal where Manik has a job in management. Life in the tea estate is one of unexpected encounters, with snakes, rogue elephants, man-eating leopards, eccentric house servants, idiosyncratic Englishmen and mysterious tribal village folk. Life in the tea estate is also a study of the class and racial lines that divide the expat managers and tribal workers. And, the author, a daughter of an Assam tea planter is at her best here, with the story displaying her depth of knowledge of life on the tea estate in all its vicissitudes 20 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

and vagaries. The events in the world outside the tea estate soon seep in to despoil its seeming tranquility and remoteness. Communist fervor engulfs the tea estates in Assam and rioting mobs tear through each tea estate, unionizing the native workers. The denouement of the novel is fairly formulaic at this point, with journeys undertaken in the dead of night and danger lurking in the shadows of moving trains. Teatime for the Firefly is a romance novel and has all the ingredients to make it a success at that. Layla’s character development is strong and believable, but falters just a little when Manik enters her life. How cerebral and bookworm Layla turns into lovelorn Layla in the mere turning of a page might at first baffle the reader. But, it is a romance

novel and as such romance heroines are wont to do that. It comes with the territory. Layla, soon after marriage learns a sordid detail about Manik’s past that the single, sworn-to-be spinster Malini would not have brushed aside. The author’s own prejudices seem to surface from time to time, especially in her treatment of the British: “Zealots seem to forget that the British had done plenty of good for India. They built roads, railways and set up a solid administrative and judicial system. They exemplified discipline and accountability. But with the ‘Quit India’ movement in full force and patriotic sentiments running high, anything and everything British was being rejected.” In this and other subtle ways, the author seems to express a certain tolerance for the British ways, which to readers, who are more invested in a nuanced understanding of the “plenty of good” that colonialism did for India, might seem provocative. Novels set in pre-independence or colonial India often bear the heavy burden of history, almost as if it would be sacrilegious to not include a discourse on the great Indian freedom struggle. It works to great effect in some novels—A Passage to India would be a fine example-but not always. When I picked up Teatime for the Firefly, I braced myself for another heavy treatment of the independence movement, but was pleasantly surprised to not be subjected to one. The Indian independence struggle serves as a dimly lit backdrop in Layla’s story and plays a small cameo at the very end. Readers expecting a deeper treatment of the story’s setting may not find in the firefly an apt teatime companion, but for the rest of us, teatime should prove entertaining. n Girija Sankar lives in Atlanta and works in international development. Her writings can be found here: www.girijasankar.com


Distant Mythologies By Geetika Pathania Jain THE GROVE OF THE SUN by Parvathi Ramkumar. 227 pages. Self-published. Kindle version available on Amazon for $2.99 at http:// www.amazon.com/Parvathi-Ramkumar/e/ B00FE7S3VC.

T

his epic fantasy from Bangalore-based writer Parvathi Ramkumar is set in the whimsical land of Chimera. This highly imaginative first novel follows the young protagonist Ildanis as he grapples with volatile events beyond his comprehension or control. A blight is ruining the crops of Chimera, and no one seems to know why. Strange weather patterns are in evidence. Winter and rain, unheard of in Chimera, are unmistakably creating environmental instability. The wind is talking to Ildanis, full of foreboding. What is a song-weaver Adept to do? There are hints of deeper philosophical issues, of the maintenance of Order against Chaos, for instance. Ildanis is encouraged to utilize the staid forces of Order, comprised of Water and Earth. However, in ways that seem beyond his control, Fire and Air, the volatile elements of Chaos, are threatening

to take over. The story is full of magic and mystery, and at times, the narrative appears to be an homage to J.K. Rowling, or J.R.R. Tolkien, or both. Several parallels are evident to the attentive reader. The book has elements of the “Coming of Age” story, and the British Boarding School narrative. Just as Harry Potter finds out that he has been accepted to Hogwarts on his 15th birthday, Ildanis is taken from his poor village by Master Kareth, in a Dalai Lama type of recognition ceremony where he picks the right artifacts. He then leaves on a long journey, much like the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, to distant lands with their own complete mythologies. If there is an evocation of a place within this mythological land, that place is the British Isles. There are cats with “bored, brilliant, blue eyes” curled besides fire places a la Enid Blyton. And yet, ever so often, a name reminds us of India, such as in the house of Atma, the familiar mongoose, and an actor named Mayank. The writing can be poetic and charming, but the narrative sometimes lacks momentum and can get sidetracked by an

excess of descriptiveness. Knowing what to leave out is a lesson the author still needs to learn. Still, creating an entire cosmos with distinct characteristics is no small task, and Ramkumar’s characters are animated and engaging. The illustrations at the beginning of each section by Kavya Sharma are particularly well done Ildanis seems to be preoccupied with many of the concerns of a young man of his age. There are friendships and rivalries, the concern about getting into trouble with the authorities, the banter with the attractive girls in his cohort group, and the long, detailed food descriptions. Yet it is the deeper and less obvious conclusions that propel the narrative forward, as Ildanis discovers that Order and Chaos can never truly be separated, despite all attempts to do so. n Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D., now realizes the futility of seeking to bring Order to her Chaotic Bay Area existence for over a decade. In 2014, she might let the beds remain unmade every other day.

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perspective

Kuppamma’s Story By Rajee Padmanabhan

“S

ame business, ayya, same business!” bemoaned Kuppamma to my friend (Ayya is a respectful form of address). A dark, stocky woman in her early sixties, Kuppamma spoke in a peculiar vernacular—a mixture of Chettinad Tamil (a dialect of Tamil) and broken English. As the caretaker of my friend’s octogenarian mother, she was complaining about Auntie’s refusal to take medicines and her generally insolent attitude towards Kuppamma’s directions. When I first met her, Kuppamma made an instant impression with her jet-black skin and bright shiny teeth that formed a rhombus of sorts with her square jaw when she smiled. Her penchant for an-opinion-a-minute commentary on every matter small and large and her unique style—a round-necked blouse over stretch pants and a thick gold chain around her neck—stood out. Over the many weekend trips we took to visit Auntie, painful as they were, watching this beautiful, smart, Washington Post-reading lady’s deteriorating condition, one redeeming factor was Kuppamma’s humor and good cheer. Her pithy aphorisms became part of our vocabulary. All of us appreciated her sincerity towards nursing Auntie. Slowly, I learnt Kuppamma’s story. Kuppamma landed in United States in the late eighties as a household help for a family. Originally from interior Tamil Nadu, she had split from her alcoholic husband and was struggling with debts incurred for her daughters’ weddings. Loan sharks were knocking on her door when an opportunity to come to the United States presented itself. Kuppamma saw it as a way out of her misery and before she knew it, she was in this entirely foreign land. Illiterate as she was, all her travel documents were signed solely with her thumb prints. Little did she know that her sojourn to this land would last more than

22 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

Kuppamma’s only support system here was a couple of friends, Malayali nurses, one of whom moved in to share her apartment with her. Kuppamma’s indomitable spirit amazed me each time I met her. She smiled broadly, laughed heartily and was not embittered in the least bit. My problems seemed miniscule compared to her life’s travails and I was deeply embarrassed of all the whining that I indulged in on a daily basis. I asked Kuppamma where she finds the will to go on like this. Her inimitable Kuppamma-style repartee was, “Amma, A Creative Commons Image oru shot pirandy ille whisukey, nightly dose.” (One shot of brandy or whiskey, nightly dose) It two decades and counting. took a couple of minutes to dawn on me that Over the years she worked as a houseshe was referring to the alcoholic spirits that hold help, babysitter and staff at a senior kept her spirit afloat. living facility where she learned a good bit Kuppamma has never returned to India about nursing the elderly. Many previous out of fear of not being able to come back. employers, primarily Indians, mistreated her, Now this is the only life she has and she took advantage of her financially and left her would like to live out the rest of her life here. to fend for herself when she was no longer I worry about what will befall Kupof use to them. She needed the money, so pamma when she can no longer work. She she bore it all. is a diabetic. A kind Indian doctor treats her Imagine the sheer grit it takes to board once in a while. three buses to reach her place of work, come Indian Americans are constantly bomhell or high water, in biting cold and in sweltering heat, with nary a word of spoken barded with news about the high-fliers English! All she had were bits of paper with amongst us—from the surgeon general to the bus numbers and destinations. And then the governor of a state to the CEO of the work for eight to ten hours only to retrace biggest software company of the world. As the entire trip back, every day of the year, for gratifying as it is to see the many successes of a score or more years. our community, the reality is there are many All the while she continued living alone Kuppammas among our midst too. Who will here with only an occasional phone call to give them a voice? Who will take up their India. At some point, her visas had expired. cause for a fair immigration trial and a path She had no legal standing to stay and she to citizenship? Don’t they deserve our comcame to be an undocumented immigrant. munity’s support too? n Even when unimaginable tragedies struck, Kuppamma never returned to India. Rajee Padmanabhan is a perennial wannabe— A daughter committed suicide postpartum wannabe writer, wannabe musician, wannabe and another went missing during the Boxing technologist. She lives with her iPad and iPod Day Tsunami, never to be found. Kuppamma in Exton, PA, occasionally bumping into her saved and sent enough money to India for husband and son while either of her iPals is out her sons to build a house there. of charge.


relationship diva

Long Term Relationship Fizzling? By Jasbina Ahluwalia

Q

I have been in a long-term relationship for quite some time now, and have been starting to have some doubts. Any suggestions for couples faced with deciding whether or not a relationship is worth continuing?

A

With time, even the most loving relationships can face challenges. As partners navigate through life’s ups and downs, they may not see eye to eye on everything, and personality quirks once endearing may start to get annoying. So how do you tell the difference between relationships where partners are mutually invested in working through the ups and downs of life together as a team, and an unhealthy relationship? While each situation is unique, since you asked a general question without any specific context I will share just a few of the common issues which tend to recur in unhealthy relationships. i) Unrealistic Expectations. Do you and your partner expect too much of each other? Do you and your partner expect each other

to be able to read each others’ minds? Is there a silent expectation that each of you will be able to fulfill the other’s unexpressed needs? Having expectations that can reasonably be met by your partner is key to a healthy relationship, and if your partner and/ or you consistently seem to be failing in each other’s eyes, is it possible the bar may be set unrealistically high? ii) Dishonesty. Dishonesty is one of the biggest reasons that relationships fail. Being dishonest with your partner—even about little things—may reflect that you don’t feel safe sharing important things about your life with your partner. iii) The Relationship Needs To Be Kept A Secret. Feeling the need to keep a relationship secret is a big red flag that something isn’t right with the partnership. In this situation, you need to ask yourself: Would your family or friends disagree with or disapprove of the relationship? If so, why? Think about what the answers might be, and decide if

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you’re really in a well-serving situation. iv) You Love What Your Partner Does For You But Not Who Your Partner Is. Partners in a healthy relationship often do things to make each other’s lives easier. But being in a partnership just because your partner buys you things, pays your bills or takes care of other things for you—instead of appreciating your partner for who he/she is as a person— is a sign that your relationship may not be on the right track. If your relationship is beginning to show signs of being unhealthy, it’s time to consider how the two of you can work together to improve the situation. A loving, happy relationship is worth the effort. n Jasbina is the founder and president of Intersections Match, the only personalized matchmaking and dating coaching firm serving singles of South Asian descent in the United States. She is also the host of Intersections Talk Radio. Jasbina@intersectionsmatch.com.

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24 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014


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ask a lawyer

Avoiding Custody Battles By Madan Ahluwalia

Q

We are going through a divorce. How do I prevent a nasty court battle for child custody?

A

Getting custody of your children is the most important goal in every divorcing parent’s life. Child custody fights linger on until the child turns 18. Children of different ages have different needs from parents as to coping with separation or divorce. Children go through a lot of stress in these situations. You, as a parent, should learn how to best work with your children and with the other parent to make sure that your children can adjust to the changes within a loving and supportive environment. The judge makes the decision, which is in the best interest of the child. There is no clear definition for this term. The court looks at various factors which are in the best interest of children’s health, safety, education and

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general welfare. The courts do not appreciate contested custody litigation because it has an underlying assumption that conflict between the parents translates to stress to the children. Therefore, parents should carefully pick and choose the areas to disagree on. In the absence of an agreement between the parties, the court can make several decisions related to child custody and visitation. However, there are several good ways parents can work out their differences: i) Direct agreements between the parties. I suggest leaving your emotions aside and arriving at practical solutions which suit you the best. You control the outcome. This is the cheapest alternative. ii) Agreements between the parties through attorneys. Sometimes, it is difficult to communicate directly so use your lawyer’s experience and knowledge to help you remain objective and reach good decisions.

iii) Family Court services mediation. This service is available in the beginning of the case for free. Use this to your advantage and save legal costs. The program is staffed by social workers who have specialized training in family law matters. iv) Private mediation. You can hire a retired judge or commission to help you resolve the same issues. v) Private custody evaluation. This is an expensive option. A trained and experienced psychologist will make decisions for you. Avoid it if you can. Remember if you can’t work things out, someone wearing the black robe will decide it for you. So, be smart and make the right decision on your own. n Madan Ahluwalia is a California Lawyer. He can be reached at 408-416-3149. His website is http://www.familylawsanjoseattorney.com.


legal visa dates Important Note: U.S. travelers seeking visas to India will now need to obtain them through BLS International Services. Call (415) 609-4965 or visit http://www.visa.blsindia-usa.com/ for more information.

T

April 2014

his column carries priority dates and other transitional information as taken from the U.S. State Depart­ment’s Visa Bulletin. The information below is from the Visa Bulletin for April 2014. In the tables below, the listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed. “Current” means that numbers are available for all qualified applicants. “Unavailable” means no numbers are available.

FAMILY PREFERENCE VISA DATES Preference Dates for India 1st Feb 22, 2007 2A Sep 08, 2013 2B Oct 22, 2006 3rd Jul 15, 2003 4th Nov 22, 2001 NOTE: F2A numbers subject to percountry limit are available to applicants with priority dates beginning Apr 15, 2012 and earlier than Sept 08, 2013.

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finance

Ukraine: A Powder Keg The fiscal fallout from the uncertainty in Eastern Europe

F

or the past few years President Vladimir Putin of Russia has been at odds with the European Union (EU) and the United States over foreign policy. The issues range from not supporting the deconstruction of Iran’s nuclear program to providing Syria with weapons and energy. The last 18 months of antagonism has come to boil with Ukraine overthrowing the unpopular President Victor Yanukovych and Putin sending Russian troops into Crimea, the southeastern island state of Ukraine. In the face of Western nations decrying this violation of sovereignty, Putin stated that he will do everything to protect his people and his nation’s interests. Most recently, Crimea, which is predominantly ethnic Russian, has filed a referendum to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia.

Helping the Hyrnvia

Unrest of any kind plays havoc with financial markets. Global political conflict pitting Russia and the United States against each other has worried investors. In times of uncertainty there is invariably a flight-toquality (investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles)—U.S. Treasury Securities and gold. Between March 13 and 18 of this year, 30-year bond yields went down from 3.6% to 3.587% reflecting an increased demand for the asset, with the 10-year bond experiencing a similar drop. Meanwhile on March 17, gold reached its highest price level since September 2013 when it hit $1381 per ounce. Political uncertainty has also put the Russian ruble and Ukrainian currency hryvnia on the defensive. Ukraine has been suffering from the global economic meltdown which precipitated the revolution. Currently it faces a $35B shortfall and is being assisted by a combination of loans from the United States, European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—all of which might still not be enough to save it from default.

Russia—Reeling Under the Pressure?

Russia has been facing the affereffects of recession as well as several economic threats. The first is the credit exposure Russia has to Ukraine. Sberbank and other Rus28 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

By Rahul Varshneya sian banks own large positions in Ukrainian bonds, whose default which will create credit shocks in Russia. Second, Russia is suffering from the economic contagion of 2007. Whereas the United States had an annualized 3.4% growth rate in Q413, Russia is currently languishing at a paltry 1.3% economic growth anticipated for 2014. The third issue is the threat of sanctions from the West, which is taking its toll. Buoyed by its $500B in foreign currency reserves, Russia can deal with short term currency fluctuations as investors withdraw their invested capital—it is unlikely whether Putin will allow it happen for long. A more serious consequence of sanctions is the deterioration of Russia’s image. Russia largely depends on foreign direct investment from the United States and European Union. Further political conflict will irrevocably damage the west’s relationship with Russia, something it cannot afford.

So What?

Normally active nations such as France, Australia, Canada and Japan have not yet demonstrated support for either side yet. Obama has been pushing China to take a strong position against Russian action in Crimea but so far it has also remained quiet. What is surprising is that India, normally a strong ally of the United States in international affairs has not yet spoken out. There might be a reason for this—Russia and Ukraine are its largest trade partners. In fiscal year 2012, Indian exports with Ukraine was around $3B. With the Ukrainian hyrvnian devaluing 20% since mid-December against the dollar, prices of Indian goods imported to Ukraine are shooting up affecting consumers. India is worried that further political instability will further increase prices and speaking out against Russia will adversely affect its relationship with its largest trading partner in Russia. India is hoping for a quick resolution to the crisis so that Ukraine’s economy can recover, making India’s goods competitive again.

An average American might pose the question “I don’t have any money in the stock market and no family or friends in that part of the world, it is troubling, but why should I care?” Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and wheat on the world stage. With Putin’s troops occupying a major port on the Black Sea and a general level of unrest in Ukraine, these exports are not leaving the country. The United States also happens to be a major producer of these crops as well. Those who used to buy these products in Ukraine will now look to other producers. The same demand on lower supply will drive prices up, which eventually will affect United States consumers. Russia happens to be a big exporter of energy to worldwide markets, something it often uses as a tool in foreign policy. If the West’s threats of sanctions are implemented, it is not a stretch to assume that Russia will retaliate against the United States and the European Union by reducing oil exports, which will send gas prices soaring.

Calling the Bluff

Why is India Silent?

Rahul Varshneya graduated from the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University with a degree in finance and is working in the technology industry as a financial analyst.

There has been a lot of media coverage on the dynamics between the United States, Ukraine, Russia and the EU in this conflict.

In this conflict there are no winners. Financial markets are exhibiting incredible volatility purely on speculation of conflict. Things would only become worse with actual action on Russia. The United States can argue that it can afford to institute sanctions on Putin as it derives only a small percentage of trade from Russia. Russia’s biggest trading partner however happens to be Germany, one of the United States’s closest ally and one of the countries holding the European Union together post-economic crisis. Sanctions on Russia have a possibility of indirectly jeopardizing the entire existence of the European Union. Although at some level, the United States can assume Putin has his country’s best interests at heart, he has stated that he has the strength to make tough choices for the greater good. President Putin’s aggressive posturing against the west is not a bluff—we must avoid lighting the powder keg, lest we all get burnt. n


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immigration

The Immigration Predicament Priya Murthy, Manar Waheed

I

n less than thirty years, our country will reach a pivotal milestone: the demographics of the United States will reach the point where communities of color will make up the majority of the population. In fact, at least four states—California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas—have already reached that mark and at least four more are headed in that direction over the next decade. According to the Pew Research Center, in addition to growing birth rates within communities of color, a major contributor to this shift has been and will continue to be immigration. Nearly one-fifth of all individuals in the United States will be foreign-born surpassing previous peaks in our country’s history. South Asian immigrants have long been and will continue to transform the face of who is considered American in the years to come. While it is often glossed over in school textbooks, no retelling of American history can be told without recognizing the integral contributions of South Asian Americans. For centuries, immigrants from all parts of South Asia as well as the diaspora have been coming to the shores of the United States, going back as far as farmers laboring in the fields of California’s Imperial Valley. In more recent decades, South Asian immigrants have continued to strengthen the fabric of this country and fuel its economic engine as engineers, taxicab drivers, entrepreneurs and innovators, convenience store clerks, doctors, nail salon workers, and so much more. Indeed, the strength of the South Asian community only continues to grow as the demographic landscape of this country shifts and community members increasingly flex their political muscle.

What Immigrants Face

The experiences and difficulties that South Asian immigrants encounter are as diverse as the community itself. There is the U.S. citizen waiting over a decade to be reunited with siblings abroad who are stuck in the family immigration backlogs. There is the undocumented domestic worker toiling 30 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

greater authority to carry out immigration laws. There is the undocumented student brought over by his parents who hides the fact that he does not have immigration status out of fear he will face shame from his own community. Behind all the rhetoric and numbers that are often tossed around when it comes to immigration, our community knows that we cannot lose sight of the human faces at the core of this issue.

Why Immigration Reform?

... 4.5 million people were awaiting their family-based immigration visas and approximately 4.6 million were awaiting their employment-based immigration visas. Of these millions, over 330,000 are Indian, nearly 162,000 are Bangladeshi, and over 115,000 are Pakistani. away to care for the families of others even if her immigration papers say otherwise. There is the wife of an H-1B engineer with her own college degree and technical skills but who cannot contribute to the economy simply because of her visa. There is the software worker who has been waiting years to get his green card and cannot advance in his career because his immigration status is tied to his employer. There is the mother who lost her sons to detention and deportation simply for being Muslim after September 11. There is the courageous survivor of domestic violence who has become too afraid to call local police for help due to agents’

Immigration reform is an imperative for South Asians, given that the majority of our community is foreign-born. Among the over 3.4 million South Asians living in the United States, over 75% were born outside the United States. As a predominantly foreign-born community, most South Asian Americans have needed to navigate the country’s immigration system at some point in their lives. The community has entered the country through a diverse set of pathways, including those joining loved ones through family-based visas, dependents of spouses on temporary worker visas, refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing persecution, and undocumented individuals. In fact, as of November 2012, approximately 4.5 million people were awaiting their family-based immigration visas and approximately 4.6 million were awaiting their employment-based immigration visas. Of these millions, over 330,000 are Indian, nearly 162,000 are Bangladeshi, and over 115,000 are Pakistani. Though the available statistics are limited to the countries with the highest application rates, these numbers mean that more than 610,000 of the immigrants separated from their families while awaiting the resolution of these backlogs are South Asian. Additionally, some South Asians have been known to wait nearly ten years for certain employment visas and eleven years before obtaining their green cards from a sponsoring U.S. citizen sibling. For our community members without family or support in the United States, this waiting


The United States is premised on the ideal that all individuals are created equal, regardless of who we are, where we come from, or how we arrived here. Yet, many South Asians who lack immigration status are denied the American Dream simply because they do not possess the proper documents. Contrary to popular perception, a sizable number of South Asians have been living in the shadows as undocumented immigrants. Within the total estimated 11.5 million undocumented individuals in 2011, approximately 240,000 are from India alone—making up the seventh largest undocumented population in the country. In 2012, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rolled out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides two years of temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for eligible undocumented young immigrants. These individuals must submit evidence related to date of birth, age upon entry, continuous residency, educational enrollment or military services, absence of certain criminal convictions, and not posing a threat to national security or public safety. As of August 2013, USCIS reported accepting for processing 2,835 applications from Indians and 1,425 applications from Pakistanis. While deferred action offers muchneeded temporary relief, it does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship and cannot be extended to family members.

Another factor perpetuating domestic violence is the inability of certain South Asian women to work or access basic services due to restrictions placed on their dependent visas. For example, spouses of H-1B workers, many of whom are from India and other South Asian countries, cannot obtain employment authorization, gain public benefits, or get a Social Security Number. As a result, many women cannot become economically self-sufficient and instead become more reluctant to leave these relationships. When the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was reauthorized in 2005, it included provisions that allowed abused H-4 visa holders to self-petition for green cards and gain employment authorization. Over seven years later, in December 2012, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) finally issued draft guidance on the issue. While this guidance was an overdue and much-needed step, further information from the agency is still needed regarding applicant confidentiality, duration of work authorization, evidentiary requirements, and cultural competency trainings for application adjudicators. Furthermore, individuals from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan were no longer eligible for diversity visas (also known as the “green card lottery”) beginning in 2013 because they have reached the cap over the last five years. In addition, among the leading countries for refugees admitted in 2012 was Bhutan, and for those granted asylum within the United States was Nepal. Any attempt to improve our country’s immigration laws must address each of these issues in order to alleviate the breadth of challenges that our community faces.

Preying on the Weak

What’s on the Table?

period is even more detrimental to their integration and success in this country.

Denied the American Dream?

For many South Asian women trapped in violent marriages, their immigration status is often an additional weapon used against them. Securing their stay in the United States can be challenging as maintaining legal status often requires cooperation from the abusive spouse. This dependency allows batterers to exact control over women, for example, by not filing immigration papers or even threatening deportation. This reality forces many women to choose between two equally disempowering options: remaining in a violent situation or losing their immigration status. In fact, according to one study, a quarter of participants stated immigration status prevented them from leaving abusive relationships. Severe power disparities resulting from dependent visa statuses can also prevent women from obtaining protection orders, accessing domestic violence services, obtaining custody of children, calling law enforcement for help, or participating in abusers’ prosecutions.

Last year appeared to be the first time in decades that Congress had the political will to overhaul this country’s immigration system. In 2013, the Senate passed and the House introduced bills (S. 744 and H.R. 15) garnering bipartisan support that take significant measures to reform current immigration laws. While imperfect bills with numerous flaws, the heart of the legislation was to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, alleviate family- and employment-based visa backlogs, and take other measures to fix the broken immigration system. However, the Senate bill also included odious border enforcement measures and both bills cut the diversity visa program and eliminate various categories in the current family immigration system. In 2014, immigrants across the country waited with bated breath for the Republicans principles on immigration reform. Yet this proved to be more of the same— a focus on enforcement, prioritizing employment over family, and failing to provide any

pathway to citizenship for those who lack immigration status in this country. Currently, we are at a moment in the political debate where all eyes are on the House of Representatives. But, rather than moving forward H.R. 15—which has co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle—House leadership have halted efforts to move any common sense immigration solutions forward. A truly holistic approach to immigration reform must provide an accessible and timely pathway to citizenship for all; modernize our country’s family immigration system by alleviating visa backlogs and allowing same-sex partners to participate equally within the system, without eliminating visa categories; allow all individuals access to health care, regardless of immigration status; restore fairness and judicial discretion within the detention and deportation system; provide strengthened protections for immigrant survivors of violence, trafficking, and political conflicts; and protect workers’ rights and employment authorization without undue restrictions for all. Looming in the background is also the harsh reality that immigration enforcement continues to be on the rise. In fact, this spring will mark the shameful benchmark that two million individuals have been deported from the United States—all while President Obama has been in office. That means that over 1,100 individuals are being torn apart from family members and ripped from their homes on a daily basis. While Congress is going back and forth about whether or not to move forward on some type of immigration reform, advocates are also pressing the White House to do what it can in its power to halt the deportations and provide relief to families across the country. Across the country, immigrant communities will continue to exert pressure on Congress and the President as part of the April 5 National Day of Action and as well through events taking place on May 1. Although the political outlook for immigration reform may appear bleak, it will only remain so if we let it. Our country is transforming into a more diverse and stronger society—and our laws regarding how we treat immigrants should not be falling behind. Join the movement and make your voice heard. n Priya Murthy is the Policy and Organizing Program Director of Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network based in San Jose, CA. Manar Waheed is the Policy Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together based in Takoma Park, MD. April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 31


32 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014


April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 33


films

Mapping the Pain By Aniruddh Chawda

HIGHWAY. Director: Imtiaz Ali. Players: Randeep Hooda, Alia Bhatt. Music: A R Rahman. Hindi with Eng. Sub-tit. Theatrical release (UTV).

I

mtiaz Ali’s go-to theme is the road movie. As he demonstrated successfully with Love Aaj Kal, Cocktail and especially with Jab We Met, Ali can encapsulate a whole life journey into one road trip by one or two characters. Staying close to familiar terrain while elevating the grittiness and pseudorealism several notches, Ali’s Highway is a without doubt his most metaphorically piercing insight into what is here an unwitting road trip that goes awry and emerges as a terrific movie. Staged on a harsh and unforgiving road map and filled with unpredictable small absurdities and twists of fate, this Ali-written story pivots from one critical moment. In hopes of chasing away pre-wedding jitters, the restless and carefree Veera Tripathy (Bhatt), with her finance in tow, plays hookey right before their pending nuptials. At an inconsequential stop at a gas station, Veera suddenly finds herself taken hostage by small time hood Mahabir Bhati (Hooda) who needs to make a getaway after a robbery. Mahabir kidnaps Veera not knowing that Veera’s father is a powerful politician with nearly unlimited policing powers and will go to any lengths to get his daughter back. The premise of this kidnap action-adventure saga is rooted in melodramatic dacoit stories that served as fodder for rural Indian newspapers in the pre-digital era. The most popular stories celebrated wrongly-accused horseback outlaws who willingly or unwillingly kidnap a village damsel while being chased by a competent cop who always seemed to be just one step behind. The implied sensuality—a single woman in the company of a dashingly and perhaps dangerous kidnapper—allowed vicarious violation of social and sexual mores for thousands of devout readers. The romantic appeal of the rural dacoits stories, even to this day, perpetuates the universal noble savage myth and dichotomy of a fallen, wanted man—a murdering and dangerous fugitive—who at the same time will protect his former victim who he is now

34 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

slowly becoming attracted to. This point serves as the precise point where Ali’s story begins. Leading us down the path of the noble savage, the tables suddenly get turned. Keeping in line with Ali’s other works that give women an unusually strong presence in the plotline, Highway elevates Veera’s stake in the outcome as being equal to or even greater than what Mahabir has to gain or lose. Further evidencing a womancentered world-view, there are also flashbacks to an unfulfilled life that Mahabir’s mother suffered in the hands of an abusive husband. In yet another moment of horrifying validation, a childhood sex abuse victim confronts the tormenter in a scene that captures both low-grade catharsis and moral repugnance. In only her second leading role after a hugely successful debut in Student of the Year, Bhatt is remarkably focused and channels a quiet inner rage which turns out to have remarkably little to do with her being kidnapped. Freed from the clutches of her overprotective family, the farther she gets away from her parents, the more empowered she becomes. The more empowered she becomes, the more her anxiety turns into dread for a very uncertain future. Hooda has already proven his mettle as the stoic anti-hero (Shahib Biwi Aur Gangster,

Jannat 2, Once Upon A Time in Mumbai) and does wonders here. Hooda’s Mahabir, even as he is becoming drawn to Veera, intentionally forces himself to become numb to everyone and everything around him just so he can forget the past. Mahabir must confront the reality that some scores cannot be settled no matter how many miles he drives. For the first hour or so, there is absolutely no clue as to anything else happening in the background—Is there a rescue under way? Do Alia’s parents even know she is missing? This adds maddening, nearly claustrophobic, suspense. The only drawback in giving Highway a full-throttle endorsement is the theme-driven A R Rahman score that is moodier than need be. Then Highway gets better. Outwardly a tense kidnapping adventure, at heart Highway traces a journey to map wounds that don’t heal no matter how much salve is applied. Bravo! n EQ: AGlobe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.


Realism and Escapism By Geetika Pathania Jain

THE LUNCHBOX. Director and screenplay: Ritesh Batra. Players: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nakul Vaid, Lillete Dubey. Hindi with English sub-titles. Theatrical release (Sony Pictures Classics).

T

he Indian dabba system of lunch delivery has such a low rate of error that Harvard Business professor Stefan Thomke made it the subject of a Harvard Business Review case study. Yet it is precisely such a human error that forms the premise of The LunchBox, a whimsical love story set in the chaotic metropolis of Mumbai. The lietmotif of the film is that sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right place. The aromatic and delicious lunches prepared by the quietly desperate housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) mistakenly find their way to the desk of the crusty widower Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), an office worker whose soul has been numbed under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights. Fernandez is not brimming with human kindness. He brushes off the children on his street. He lives alone, eats alone, and works alone. Tales of his mean-spiritedness are bandied around. His reputation in the office is of a curmudgeon from whom not much is to be expected. Someone who might kick a cat and keep walking. He lacks a good woman’s love, we are to understand. The city, anonymous and alienating, is equally to blame. The camerawork captures the gritty realism of a city where “there are too many people and they all want what the other has.” The antidote, regular application of Ila’s cooking, carefully prepared and tenderly unwrapped, do wonders for his temperament. We see a softening of his demeanor, a lightness to his step as the aromatic vegetables and soft parathas work their magic. These meals, much like Cupid’s arrow, have missed their intended recipient, Ila’s distracted and indifferent spouse, but forge an alternate heart connection. The notes in the dabbas get longer and more personal. Into her days filled with domestic drudgery and the growing realization that her husband’s attention has moved elsewhere, Fernandez’s notes provide her with some small measure of solace. Ila is surrounded by women trapped

in unfulfilling domestic roles. There is the shrunken world of Deshpande Aunty upstairs, who dispenses off-camera marital and culinary advice, reminiscent of the unseen neighbor in Home Improvement. There is Ila’s mother, a deglamorized Lillette Dubey, who confesses to being repulsed by her ailing husband, and the claustrophobic routines of his “breakfast, medicine, bath.” The parallel worlds of home and office are brought together adroitly by sound bridges, often of Bollywood film music, as well as graphic matches that hint at the director Ritesh Batra’s formal film training at New York University. The realist sensibility is sometimes reminiscent of the films of Satyajit Ray. “For some time you let me into your dreams and I want to thank you for that.” There is a romantic escapism that underlies this dream that Fernandez has been allowed into. Running away from home and moving to Bhutan might legitimately constitute an under-appreciated housewife’s private escapist dream. But will Ila move there with her daughter and Fernandez, whom, incidentally, she has never seen? Even if all of these questions are answered, we are still left with the question of

whether her husband, so enamored of his digital devices, will actually notice that she has left. n EQ rating: A Geetika Pathania Jain is a Bay Area resident. She teaches in the film and television department of a local community college.

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music

April Arias By Vidya Sridhar

S

oulful guitar chords, rhythmic drum beats, stirring background scores, lyrical overtones, jazz undertones, classical spins, evocative tunes and inspiring musical

London Thumakda

Movie: Queen Music: Amit Trivedi Lyrics: Anvita Dutt Guptan Singers: Labh Janjua, Neha Kakkar, Sonu Kakkar A catchy number with a wedding flavor to it. You get just the right mix of folk, traditional and fusion of Indian and Western instruments. The song reminds me of Monsoon Wedding. n

ranges characterize this month’s Bollywood music selection. After one listen, you will want to download and put these melodies on repeat. n

Movie: Hasee Toh Phasee Music: Shekhar Ravjiani, Vishal Dadlani Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya Singers: Chinmayi Sripada, Shekhar Ravjiani The song starts on a very languid note and quickly expands into a ballad that touches hidden places of the heart. It is expressive and soulful and is exactly how a romantic song should be. n

Movie: Shaadi Ke Side Effects Music: Pritam Chakraborty Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire Singers: Farhan Akhtar Farhan’s husky voice adds incredible depth to this beautiful song. With the simplicity of the guitar in the background, the song is rendered instantly memorable. There is none of the usual layering of instruments and this makes it ever more interesting. n 36 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

Maahi Ve

Zehnaseeb

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Vidya Sridhar works at NASA and is a mom of two elementary school children. She lives and breathes all things filmi.

Movie: Highway Music: A.R. Rahman Lyrics: Irshad Kamil Singers: A.R. Rahman “Maahi Ve” was a later addition to the movie and, in Rahman’s voice, the song is pure magic. The notes descend from high to low and then the lows pace through the emotions of the actors. This song is mesmerizing. n

Shake it like Shammi

Movie: Hasee Toh Phasee Music: Shekhar Ravjiani, Vishal Dadlani Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya, Rakesh Kumar (Kumaar) Singers: Benny Dayal, Vishal Dadlani The second number in the movie, “Shake it like Shammi” is a youthful song, excellently delivered by Benny Dayal. The drumbeats of the song will surely make you want to “shake it” in every way. n


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current affairs

Too Close to the Sun

How missing Flight MH370 exposes human helplessness Sandip Roy New • America Media

W

A Creative Commons Image

hat has been most astonishing about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 are the images that have come out of that tragedy. Or rather the images that have not come out of it. In an age when mobile phones with cameras get to disaster zones even before television crews rush in, we have come to expect graphic images of tragedy to fill our TV screens long before the narrative behind the tragedy is fully pieced together. In a world where image is supreme, where television cameras fiercely jostle with each other for that prized shot, where ordinary people with mobile phones become citizen journalists, we expect tragedy, whether its man-made or natural, to come fully illustrated—collapsed buildings, mangled limbs, charred bogies of trains, airplanes crashing into skyscrapers in front of our horrified eyes. Flight MH370 has none of that. Days after the tragedy we hear about a “yellow object” floating in the sea. Perhaps an oil slick. But all we have seen on 24-hour television is the footage of anxious families huddled in Beijing airport, glued to cellphones. We have watched poker-faced bureaucrats and airline officials addressing press conferences, and seen the deceptively calm waters of the South China Sea and stock footage of some other more fortunate Malaysia Airlines aircraft whizzing into the sky. We can accept that airplanes crash. It is much harder to accept that at a time when Google Earth wants to map every square foot of our planet, airplanes carrying 239 people can just vanish without a trace. At a time when we rebuke the media for its almost ghoulish overzealousness in covering a disaster, this is a disaster that has left the media scrambling for images to make it real. That leaves us with something far more terrifying—we can only speculate about the disappearance of MH370, imagine the panic on board as everything slipped horribly out of control. This seems more terrifying even than 9/11 which horrifying as it was, happened in real time, in front of our shocked eyes, images that could be replayed over and over

38 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

again. That had the solidity of fact at least. This only has the nightmare of imagination. My uncle was a pilot for Indian Airlines. It was all he ever wanted to be. As a child that seemed very glamorous to us, his nephews and nieces. He would fly in with cured meat from Andamans, black grapes from Hyderabad, once even a little hill-breed puppy from Kathmandu tucked into his pocket. But every time he flew and there was a thunderstorm or even monsoon clouds my mother would scan the skies with growing anxiety. In those days there were no mobile phones, no internet. My mother would call his house anxiously a dozen times until he made it back home. He was lucky. Others were not. One of his cousins in the Air Force crashed into the hills of the North East. At least that was what was believed. Nothing was ever found. No wing tip. No mangled seats. His widow refused to give up hope. She lived and dressed as a married woman until she died decades later. Other family members thought of it as a little strange, even unnatural. But perhaps what is truly unnatural is the fact that we fly. We were not meant to fly. But we do, in defiance not of physics but of our nature. Every time we fly it is an act of utter surrender. Perhaps that is why few of us bother to pay attention to those safety drill demonstrations at the beginning of each flight or read that card in our seat pocket telling us about inflatable jackets and oxygen masks. It’s not just that we expect our plane will not be the one to fall out of the sky. It’s that if we truly thought about it, and how little we can do if it does happen, none of us would

be able to fly. A jumbo jet parked on the tarmac looks massive, impregnably solid. But hurtling at 31,000 feet, despite serving up the illusion of normalcy on plastic food trays and piped movies and television shows, it remains utterly vulnerable, a bubble that is far away from real meaningful assistance if anything goes wrong. That’s what makes airplanes such a prime target for terror attacks whether it’s a hijacker commandeering it or a bomb in a luggage compartment. It is like taking over a self-contained mini-world that has unmoored itself from its natural element. If this flight did crash into the Southern Indian Ocean, perhaps the images of its end will surface sooner or later as they did with Air India’s Kanishka on the Atlantic Ocean, the first bombing of a 747 jumbo jet. 132 of those bodies were recovered, some showing signs of lack of oxygen, some showing signs of “explosive decompression,” many with little or no clothing. That disaster shook us because it was the first jumbo jet downed by sabotage, the horror of that realization compounded by the poignancy of its debris—a drowned teddy bear bobbing forlornly in the sea. Over the years we have become more stringent about checks to prevent those acts of sabotage. We have become used to taking off our shoes and carrying our toiletries in see-through plastic. This latest tragedy, whatever its cause, will probably not make us fly less. We are now too dependent on flying, our families scattered all over the globe. But it reminds us brutally that in a world where we think we are more in control of our lives and destinies than ever before, that control can disappear in an instant. And even if we are buckled to our seats and our tray tables latched as instructed, when that happens, we are as helpless as the mythological Icarus whose wings melted as he flew too close to the sun. n Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost. com. He is on leave as editor with New America Media. His weekly dispatches from India can be heard on KALW.org. This article was first published on Firstpost.com.


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email: rachanau@yahoo.com April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 39


40 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014


April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 41


desi voice

Statue Man

Tracing more than a mere blood connection to S. Subramania Iyer By Roopa Ramamoorthi

42 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

A Wikipedia Commons Image

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y mother is dead and my father and I are in Madras. We are staying in my father’s brother’s house, trying to recuperate, if one can ever recuperate from the loss of a mother or a wife. My uncle and aunt are doing everything they can to make us feel comfortable, but I feel numb and strange. Everything is different. My uncle’s house is very tastefully decorated with small brass statues in the living room, a comfortable white sofa set and Tanjore paintings on the wall. But my thoughts go back always to my mother. With my maternal grandmother and my mother dead now, all the stories my mother told me that her mother told her are with me alone. There is this feeling of being the guardian, the preserver of my ancestor’s history. Not names, dates of birth and death, but anecdotes, glimpses into what made them who they are and their collective wisdom that shape in some part who I am today. One evening I recall my mother’s story of the Statue Man, as she called him, her grandmother’s grandfather, whose statue is in the Senate building in Madras. I had never seen this statue. So, next morning, while I am sitting at the dining table drinking the decoction coffee my uncle has prepared, I tell my father that I want to see the Statue Man. My uncle agrees immediately. The morning is fresh and cool when we arrive at the Senate building. I can hear the crows cawing occasionally but otherwise it is silent. The gates are closed but for the first time I look at the black stone statue of S. Subramania Iyer. He is sitting holding a book in one hand. In the statue he appears middle-aged and is wearing a turban typical of that era. He looks composed, staring back at me, his granddaughter’s great granddaughter. I have an intense wish to be hugged and comforted by him. I wish I could tell him everything that has happened to our family since he left. I am sure he would want to know. I look at the statue, keep my lips closed, but communicate my thoughts. “For my father and aunt you are stone, but I am blood of your blood. You were the only father figure my great grandmother had known. Her father, your son, kept another

S. Subramania Iyer’s statue at the University of Madras campus

woman (a prostitute I am told, or was it a devadasi?) in the house and your daughterin-law, my great great grandmother had the courage in those days not to accept that life. This was a time when husbands were alldominant and a woman was mere chattel in her husband’s service. Your daughter-in-law came to you for shelter and you took her in and brought up my great grandmother. I know you did the right thing giving shelter to your daughterin-law and granddaughter but what thoughts crossed your mind about your son’s behavior? I wonder what my great grandmother Nagalakshmi’s life would have been like if you had not given her shelter? How many people would have agreed with you going against your own son like you did? By your actions, you taught my great grandmother to have confidence and to do the right thing no matter how much it hurt. How different would the story have been if you had not acted like you did?” When we arrive back in Besant Nagar

to my uncle’s house, I question my father on what he knows about my forefather. My father tells me that S. Subramania Iyer was born in 1842 and died in the 1920s. He came from a humble family, lived a simple life, and through hard work became the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. He was the first Indian to hold this high honor under the British. He was also the President of the Indian National Congress for one year. Later, I Google his name: Sir S. Subramania Iyer and reading through the first few pages of hits I glean that he was one of the seventeen founding members of the Indian National Congress and that Gandhi wrote a letter to him in 1919. When he felt his health was failing he quit from the judgeship even though the Chief Justice told him he could do a less active job. My grandmother’s grandfather told him that he would either do his best or not do the job at all, even though this meant 400 Pounds less in his annual pension—a huge amount, bound to make a difference. I recall my mother telling me that her great great grandfather had been knighted by the British, but when he became disillusioned with the British Imperialist rule in India, he had given up the title. My mother’s death has stirred me to know more about her past, where she came from, where I come from. The only piece I can touch is a Burmese ruby bracelet (from an udyanam (waistband)) that the Statue Man gave his great granddaughter on her wedding, which has now been left to me. Rubies, blood red, they now mean much more, this antique piece of jewelry. I never thought of it this way before but now I can believe that the rubies are as red as the blood we shared, handed down from one generation to the next. The big uncut center diamond, clear and brilliant and reflective of my ancestor’s quiet dignity and guiding light. Thank you, Statue Man, for showing me where I come from. n Roopa Ramamoorthi is a biotech scientist working in global health, and a poet. Her essays, poetry and short stories have been published in various venues including a perspective piece on NPR, an essay in the book “She is Such a Geek,” in India Currents, Berkeley Daily Planet, Khabar and Konch.


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viewpoint

The Great Divide?

America has a way of normalizing Pakistani-Indian differences By Ras Siddiqui

T

his journey called life takes many interesting paths. What rekindled this thought recently was the 2013 Google India Ad, a video clip on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHGDN9oFJE) titled “Google Search: Reunion,” which now has over 11 million views and counting. It was not just me, but my friends from both sides of the India-Pakistan divide now residing in America who admitted that they broke down into tears after watching this three minute promotion for the online search engine. And they were all born long after 1947. One reason for this emotional response could be that we grew up on similar stories from our parents of the partition generation, about their “good old days” across the border which they remembered with such fondness that we sometimes silently asked, “Why did you ever move?” For me personally, the transition from Pakistani nationalist to India-Pakistan peace maker was not on the cards before 1974, when I arrived here in America. There was no love lost between me and then dushman (enemy) Indians, especially since my father had been their forced “guest” between 1972 and 1973, a civilian engineer caught in the birth of Bangladesh. Ironically he was housed in a POW camp for almost two years located less than 100 kilometers from where he was born. His sister and various cousins unsuccessfully tried to visit him there. Ours is a partition divided family and my last visit to India before coming to America was as a young kid in 1962, a visit I have very little memory of except for fading images of my grandparents. I admit that I was once full of national pride which carried with it a great deal of anti-Indian feelings. But that started to change when I landed in northern California during the 1970s. I was once as odd as the checkered three piece suit I wore when I arrived on campus at San Jose State. It makes me smile today but, on my first day, I actually stopped a Mexican-American on campus and asked 44 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

I did not change my mind about India without first changing my perception about Indians during the 1970s and 1980s. where he was from hoping that he was a desi! Mind you this was the world long before the internet era and the global information revolution or social media. But things started to change the first day when I entered the Students Union cafeteria. Being somewhat of an introvert I nervously looked around and saw someone who could potentially have been another Mexican, but actually turned out to be an Indian. His name is SJ. After purchasing a cup of tea and struggling to figure out how to get the hot water from a machine into my cup, I asked if I could sit down at the same table. He was a few years older and much wiser than me but we must have talked for about an hour that day and after almost four decades now we still keep in touch via email. SJ introduced me to the first Pakistanis I met in America later that week. He also became my first roommate because I had nowhere else to go that summer. There is something about learning how to survive in a third country that brings Indians and Pakistanis together. That is exactly what happened throughout the 1970s for me because at that time there were not too many of us around here. If I remember correctly there were about 10 Pakistanis and about a 100 Indian students at San Jose State and many of us just got to know each other because we were all struggling to make ends meet and trying to get an education at the same time. Our medium of communication was primarily our commonality of culture. And even today I stand by that statement. We Pakistanis in the United States have Persian and Arab friends but when it comes to appreciating a good

Punjabi beat or a soothing and sad UrduHindi ghazal no other people besides Indians can relate. There is a great deal more that I could add but space constraints (and self-censorship) restrict elaboration here. I did not change my mind about India without first changing my perception about Indians during the 1970s and 1980s. There was once a time when many Indians, who liked to party, thought that Pakistanis were pretty cool and preferred their company. But old habits take time to change. I remained a Pakistani-American “cyber warrior” during the 1990s and dueled with many Indians on the internet during that decade. Though I had lost my hostility long before then. You cannot dislike a people and generalize your feelings against them if some of them are your good friends! But for that transition to take place the first step is getting the opportunity to meet them like I did right here in America. This is why efforts like Aman Ki Asha (Hope For Peace) and Milne Do (Let People Meet) make much more sense to me today. I sometimes still disagree with Indians on Kashmir. But my warrior days are long gone. I visited India in 2004 with my mother and was welcomed by many members of my “long lost family.” I cherish that visit but want to share some of the consequences of my developing affection for that country. I also want to write some choice Punjabi expletives here for the people who carried out the attacks on Mumbai in 2008, but will instead inform them of the results of their terror. The last words my aunt said to me on the phone in 2011 were “Beta tum kab aa rahey ho?” (Son, when are you coming?). She died soon after in India. I did not get to see her again because I could not get a visa— the price of being an American of Pakistani origin. n Ras lives in Sacramento, California. He has been writing for South Asian newspapers and magazines in America for over 20 years.


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events APRIL

California’s Best Guide to Indian Events Edited by: Mona Shah List your event for FREE! MAY issue deadline: Friday, April 18 To list your event in the Calendar, go to www.indiacurrents.com and fill out the Web form

Check us out on

special dates Ramnavmi

April 8

Baisakhi

April 13

Mahavir Jayanti

April 13

Tamil New Year

April 14

Hanuman Jayanti

April 15

Good Friday

April 18

Easter

April 20

Mother’s Day

May 11

Buddha Purnima

May 14

CULTURAL CALENDER

April

5 Saturday

Prospects for Pakistan: Looking Beyond 2014. Former U.S. Ambassador to

Pakistan Cameron Munter will outline some of Pakistan’s current challenges and place them in the context of recent U.S.-Pakistani relations. His talk will include a discussion of new approaches to Pakistan based on 46 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

Jhushboo Kalyani and Anush Moorthy in the play Baat Ek Raat Ki, April 12

regional initiatives, which might enable it to confront and overcome long-standing difficulties. Ambassador Munter will also table suggestions for how the United States could play a different, and perhaps more effective, role in the region. Organized by UCLA Center for India and South Asia. 3-5 p.m. UCLA Broad Art Center, Room 2160E, 240 Charles E. Young Drive, Los Angeles. Free. RSVP requested. (310) 206-2654. cisa@ international.ucla.edu. web.international.ucla. edu/southasia/events/10450.

nRuthya Vasantham-Celebrate Spring. Vasantha meaning spring is the sea-

son of bloom, color and rejuvenation is celebrated by the dancers of Soorya Performing Arts. Organized by Soorya Performing Arts. 4:30-6:30 p.m. New Jewish Community High School, 22622, Vanowen St., West Hills . Free. (818) 730-0371. sushmakasthuri@hotmail. com. www.sushmamohan.com, www.soory-

adance.com.

Music Concert. With Kala Ramnath on

violin and Abhijit Banerjee on tabla. Organized by Music Circle. 8 p.m. Herrick Chapel (at the end of Alumni Ave, past Campus Rd), Occidental College Los Angeles. $35 general, $25 basic members, free sustaining members, $5 children, $5 students w/ID. www.musiccircle. org.

April

6 Sunday

Chalo! Bhago! Jeeyo! Walk! Run! Live! A 2K walk and a 5K run as well as a

Mad Dash for 4 to 9-year-olds. In addition to the race, the event will include a stretch and bend session, mini wellness fair, snacks and sharbat, and children’s arts and crafts. Participants will be showered in colors as they walk or run around a beautiful lake.


recommends

music and Dance festival By Shyamal Randeria-Leonard

T

he living arts of music and dance come alive at the 7th Annual Indian Classical Music and Dance Festival (IFAASD), gathering world renowned maestros and disciples of Hindustani and Karnatik music and dance to treat its festival goers to the best instrument and dance ensembles. The six-day event draws thousands of enthusiasts in what has evolved into the largest of its kind on the west coast (outside of India), and similar to the popular Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival (CTF) hosted since the late 70s in Ohio, according to Shekar Viswanathan, founding member of IFAASD. The festival has received city-wide recognition by the San Diego City Council, which has declared April 8-13 as India Fine Arts Festival days. Apart from its regular roster of classical performances, this year’s festival will amplify its schedule with its three part feature presentation of the Mahabharata, as a dance drama in conjunction with CTF, which will present the full five-part series in late April, explained Viswanathan. The three parts to be shown are Karna Sabatham Sakhyam on April 8, Aggnatha Vasam on April 10 and

Pt. Birju Maharaj

Bhavad Gita Gnanam on April 13. Bharatnatyam, kathak, kuchipudi, yoga and theater traditions will be presented in dance ballets and fused with chants from ancient scriptures to the rhythm of the violin, veena and the flute by an international cast of over fifty dancers from the United States, Canada, India and Singapore. The dance dramas include contributions from some of the greatest modern Indian composers such as the child prodigy, Chitravina Ravikiran, R.K. Shriramkumar and Neyveli Sri R. Santhanagopalan, who have written lyrics for dance masters and choreographers C.V. Chandrasekhar and Birju Maharaj who are joined by other notable choreographers Kishore Mosalikanti, DivyaSena, Rhadha and Anu Guha. Both Chandrasekhar and Birju Maharaj will also perform in their select pieces. A number of must see events at the festival include a jugalbandi concert called Soul to Soul, that will showcase the virtuosity of two well-known artists M. Balamuralikrishna and Sudha Ragunathan on April 9. A melodious vocal concert exploring classical traditions by the Trichur brothers is on April 12. Other vocal performances are by octogenarian, T.V. Gopalakrishnan, a well known Karnatik and Hindustani vocalist on closing day (April 13). The musical presentation will be followed by the finale event by Karnatik vocalist Sudha Ragunathan. The musical legacy of violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman will be celebrated on April 12, where 120 Indian-American children from San Diego will perform with Lalgudi Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, children and chief disciples of Jayaraman. The violin duos who are “thrilled to perform” recalled playing at the first festival six years ago and now are excited about “being chosen to come again,” explains Viswanathan. Felicitation ceremonies to honor the queen of melody, Lakshmi Shankar, as well as the birthday celebration of her late brother-in-law and sitar maestro Pt. Ravi Shankar will be celebrated on April 11. Pt. Birju Maharaj along with his chief disciple Saswati Sen will provide a tribute

Ahwini Bhide

kathak performance for the special ceremony. Maharaj’s relationship with the sitar virtuoso dates back to his formative years as a dancer under his father’s apprenticeship. Maharaj’s performance will be followed by a vocal performance by Ashwini Bhide, famed vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli Khayal Gayaki. The festival will also present some of some of the most engaging Indian percussionists such as Cleveland Balu, Yashes Srinivasan, Naveen Basavanhally, and Trichur Mohan to name a few who will be playing on diverse instruments such as the kanjira, tabla, ghatam, and mridangam. The week long event will also give voice to about twenty local artists from North America including California-based dancer Mythili Prakash, protégé of Viji Prakash. Under the directorial auspices of Gowri Ramnarayan, Prakash will perform Yashodhara, the journey and inner evolution of the abandoned wife of the Buddha on April 12. On April 13 Prakash will also perform in Sarpa Sutra an allegorical revenge cycle from the Mahabharata. Other local dancers and winners or runner ups from CTF who are due to perform are Divya Devaguptapu and Suman Nayak. San Diego based Revathi Subramanian and Venkatachalam will also showcase their students at the festival. n April 8-April 13. David and Dorothea Garfield Theater, 4126 Executive Dr., La Jolla. Time varies by day. $40-$25. http://www. indianfinearts.org/concerts/festival-all-events. April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 47


48 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014


events T-shirts will be provided to all walkers and runners (while they last). The proceeds will benefit SAN’s CHAI program, which connects under served members of the South Asian community in Southern California to health care services. Organized by South Asian Network (SAN). 8 a.m.-12 p.m. Cerritos Regional Park, 19700 So. Bloomfield Ave., Cerritos . $30 walkers and runners, $10 kids (4-14). (562) 403-0488. neeta@southasiannetwork.org, manju@southasiannetwork.org, janis@southasiannetwork.org. sanwalkrunlive. eventbrite.com, southasiannetwork.org.

Ravi Shankar Jayanti. A musical celebration of the late Pandit Ravi Shankar’s 94th birthday. A concert of classical raga creations of the maestro with sitarist Paul Livingstone and guest musicians. 5 p.m. Avatar Meher Baba Center of Southern California, 1214 South Van Ness Ave., Los Angeles. $15 suggested donation. zpaulz@gmail.com. www. tanpura.com.

April

8 Tuesday

Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

The six-day fest will once again bridge the gap between the two largest entertainment industries in the world, Hollywood and India. The festival will showcase more than 30 films from or about India, host opening and closing red carpet galas and an awards ceremony. The “Bollywood by Night” series will be features with live music and dance performances. Ends April 13. Organized by Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Arclight Hollywood, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles . (310) 988-2602. info@indianfilmfestival.org. www.indianfilmfestival.org.

April

12 Saturday

Baat Ek Raat Ki. The story centers on a

middle-aged millionaire Raja Sahib who was paralyzed due to a car accident. His relationship with his newest caretaker Mr. K soon develops respect and fondness for each other. Mr. K is intrigued by the pen friendship between widower Raja Sahib and an unknown woman who wants to be his friend to share his grief. As the story progresses the mystery of friendship and the car accident is unfolded in an unexpected climax. 7:30 p.m. Poway Center for the Performing Arts, 15498 Espola Road., Poway. $20, $10, $7. (858) 652-

California’s Best Guide to Indian Events 0901. daudanih@yahoo.com.

April

19 Saturday

Archana—A Cultural Show. This year’s

theme is It Takes a Community. The show is a multimedia program that showcases India’s cultural richness and diversity through Indian dance, music and drama. Organized by India Friends Association. 5 p.m. Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. $45, students $25. (805) 754- Music concert with Kartik Seshadri, April 25 9861. madhubajaj@gmail.com. indiafriendsassociation.org. dhi Sudha Raghunathan. Accompanied by RK Sriramkumar (violin), Thiruvarur Vocal Concert by Ranjani and Vaidhyanathan (mridangam). Organized by Gayathri. Accompanied by HN Bhaskar South Indian Music Academy-LA. 6 p.m. (violin), Manoj Siva (mridangam). OrgaThe Hoover Middle School, Lakewood. (714) nized by South Indian Music Academy-LA. 681-2099. ask_sima@yahoo.com. www.simala. 5 p.m. Chinmaya Rameshwaram, 4451 Frankus. lin Ave., Tustin. (714) 681-2099. ask_sima@ yhaoo.com. www.simala.us. Taal Saaz Aur Awaaz. Expressed through kathak dance fusion and Bollywood April Friday melodies. Organized by Ekal Vidyalaya. 7 p.m. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Avartan Kathak Dance Fusion and Atherton St., Long Beach. $30, $40, $50. Bollywood Melodies by Aditi Bhag(949) 552-0907, (949) 608-7396, (714) 730wat. Organized by Ekal Vidyalaya. 6-8 p.m. 4894. The Performing Arts Center, Calabasas High School, 22855 West Mulholland Hwy., Calabasas. $30, $40, $50. (805) 907-9116, (818) April Sunday 357-6864, (805) 870-5287.

25

27

An Evening of Indian Classical Music. Featuring sitar maestro Kartik

Seshadri accompanied by Arup Chattopadhyay on tabla. Organized by Raga Rasa and CRY America. 8-10:15 p.m. Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club, 1210 Fourth St., Santa Monica. General $30, seniors/students $20, VIP $45, Children (under 12) free. (760) 4029462, (617) 981-2288. music@ragarasa.org, socal@cryamerica.org. www.ragarasa.org, www. america.cry.org.

April

26 Saturday

Music Concert. Featuring Shashank

(flute), Mysore Srikanth (violin), Patri Satish Kumar (mridangam). Organized by South Indian Music Academy-LA. 2 p.m. Hoover Middle School, Lakewood. (714) 6812099. ask_sima@yahoo.com. www.simala.us.

Music Concert by Sangeetha Kalaani-

Avartan—A Journey of Hindustani Music and Kathak. Organized by Ekal

Vidyalaya. 5-8 p.m. Neuroscience Auditorium, 10640 John J Hopkins Drive., San Diego. $20, students $10, VIP $50. (858) 437-1823, (858) 484-1134, (858) 952-2908. ekal.sandiego@ gmail.com. www.ekal.org.

May

3 Saturday

Celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema. Featuring Udit Narayan and Alka

Yagnik. Guest Artist Dipti Shah. Organized by The Shah Foundation, Sanjeev Shaw of Shaw Biz and Pravin Patel of Kola Hotel Group. 6 p.m. Jordan High School Auditorium, 6500 Atlantic Ave., Long beach. $39-$89. (310) 753-8990, (562) 860-1135, (909) 9455600. sulekha.com. © Copyright 2014 India Currents. All rights reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited. 

April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 49


SPIRITUALITY & HEALTH

April

6 Sunday

Life Energy: The Power that Heals.

Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yoganandasrf.org.

Sunday Services at the Vedanta Society of Southern California. Rotating

lectures, please visit websites for updated information. Hollywood Vedanta Temple, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood. (323) 4657114. hollywood@vedanta.org. Santa Barbara Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903. santabarbara@ vedanta.org. South Pasadena Vivekananda House, 309 Monterey Road, South Pasadena. (323) 254-1546, pasadena@vedanta.org. Trabuco Canyon Ramakrishna Monastery, 19961 Live Oak Canyon Rd., Trabuco Canyon. (949) 858-0342. rkmtrabuco@vedanta.org. San Diego Ramakrishna Monastery, 1440 Upas Street, San Diego. (619) 291-9377. sandiego@ vedanta.org.

April

13 Sunday

The Deeper Teachings of Jesus Christ. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple

and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 6618006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www. yogananda-srf.org.

Family Gita Class. A class for kids,

youth, and parents. Ends April 19. Organized by Radha Govind Dham. 7-8:30 p.m. Canoga Park High School, 6580 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park . Free. (323) 8601417. vishalkapoor82@gmail.com. geetaclass. 50 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

weebley.com.

April

18 Friday

Living Mindfulness—Awakening in Everyday Life. In this residential retreat

with Buddhist teachers Lauren Benjamin and Claire Thompson, learn potent methods of mindfulness, in seated and moving meditations, and in creative and everyday activities. Daily yoga/movement and kirtan classes and creative sessions. Seated and walking meditations, periods of silence and personal time, vegetarian meals. Ends April 20. Organized by Mahasukha Center. Mary and Joseph Retreat Center, 5300 Crest Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. $350 Shared double room, $490 Private single room. (323) 617-3691. Rest@Mahasukha.org, nataliemacam@yahoo.com. www. facebook.com/events/224735951045389/, legacy. mahasukha.org/index.php/registration/resting_retreat, www.mahasukha.org.

April

20 Sunday

The True Meaning of Resurrection.

Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 2950170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org.

April

27 Sunday

Bringing Our Lives into Balance. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 2950170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org.

April

30 Wednesday

Brilliance of the Inner Light with Swami Nityananda. Guru Gita (bring

your own book if available) and informal satsang. 7-9 p.m. Chanting and meditation. Organized by Shanti Mandir. 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Home of Fernando & Sophie Calisto, Topanga Canyon. Free. RSVP requested.

May

1 Thursday

Brilliance of the Inner Light with Swami Nityananda. Guru Gita (bring

your own book if available) and informal satsang. 7-9 p.m.Chanting and meditation. Organized by Shanti Mandir. 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Home of Fernando and Sophie Calisto, Topanga Canyon. Free. RSVP requested. www.shantimandir.com/gurudevs-2014-schedule/californiatour-schedule/.

May

3 Saturday

Brilliance of the Inner Light with Swami Nityananda. Chanting and medi-

tation. Organized by Shanti Mandir. 7-9 p.m. Home of Kapil and Shreeti Sharma, Irvine. Free. RSVP requested. www.shantimandir. com/gurudevs-2014-schedule/california-tourschedule/.

May

4 Sunday

Brilliance of the Inner Light with Swami Nityananda. Guru Gita (bring

your own book if available), informal satsang, followed by lunch. Organized by Shanti Mandir. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Home of Heena and Mihir Desai, Trabuco Canyon. Free. RSVP requested. www.shantimandir. com/gurudevs-2014-schedule/california-tourschedule/.

Developing the Invincible Power of Initiative. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine

Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www. yogananda-srf.org. © Copyright 2014 India Currents. All rights reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited. 


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reflections

Lemon Pickles for Lent By Jojy Michael

T

he season of Lent, six weeks of fasting, prayer and charity straddles winter and spring. Thus, these weeks are filled with nature’s own transitions from darkness to light, from cold to warmth and from lifelessness to new life. Christians observe Lent to remember the forty days and nights that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert before the start of His public ministry. At the end of this meditative fast, Satan challenged Jesus to prove His divinity by transforming stones to bread. Jesus responds that human sustenance is not from food alone but by the words of God. Eating lightly and mindfully is a prominent theme of Lent. With each morsel of food, one has to be mindful of the grace of God that makes life possible. Here is a lemon pickle recipe offered in celebration of lent. Lemons—6 ripe ones, cut into small pieces. The lemons should be bright yellow, so bright that they look like trapped sunshine. Sun shine that the blessings of the Lord of skies, generously bestowed on the Earth, and magically transformed to food for life. Salt—1.5 to 2 table spoons. Taste of the sea transformed into crystalline seasoning by heat of the Sun and work of human hands. Mix the lemon pieces with the salt. If the lemon to salt proportion is right, the salted lemon pieces will taste like iridescent sunsets over the ocean, sharp enough to catch your breath but not pucker up. So use that to judge the right amount of salt to use. Green chili peppers (jalapenos are fine)—6, sliced four ways along the length and then once or twice across. Chilies bring flavorful heat to the mix. While lemons trapped sunshine, chilies 52 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

captured sun’s heat. Ginger—thumb size piece, thinly sliced Garlic—2 table spoons of thickly sliced cloves. This root and bulb are all earth tones, nurtured to fullness in the dark underground, away from the prying rays of the sun. Peel or scrape their skins off before slicing them. Curry leaves – 2 stalks (strip the leaves off the stalk). Leaves are the true intermediary between the mother and father of all life. Take a close look at these curry leaves and you will see a loving couple holding hands. Sesame Oil —¾ cup. Toasted, avaiable

in all groery stores.

Mustard seeds—1 tablespoon. Small. Chicory seeds—1 teaspoon. Seeds are

the fullness of love as well as the potential for new life. They are the culmination of the love affair between the Sun and the Soil and also the promise of yet another cycle of this never ending love affair. Even when popped and fried in oil, mustard and chicory maintain their own distinct notes. Red chili powder—2 table spoons for a hot pickle, less for a milder one Turmeric powder—½ to 1 tea spoon Asafetida powder—1 pinch. These powders are yet more personifications of Sun’s bright heat and earth’s dark secrets. Sugar— ½ tea spoon. Sugar is sweetness of sap transformed into crystals of

delight by the Sun’s heat and toil of human hands. We use sugar in a spicy pickle to remind ourselves of the essential sweetness of food and the awesome sweetness of God’s grace that nourishes us more than food. There are other celebrations too that mark the transitions of early spring. Maha Sivarathri (the great night of the Lord Siva) frequently falls near Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Nowruz, the Persian New Year is celebrated at the start of spring. The “spring forward” of Day Light Saving time trades the cool sunshine of the mornings for more of the warmer light of the evenings. Heat the oil in a wok. Bring it to a heat high enough to pop mustard seeds but not burn them. Toss in the mustard seeds. Immediately cover the wok to keep the popping mustard seeds inside the wok. Quickly lower the heat to medium so the seeds keep popping but don’t burn. Wait till mustard stops popping. Add chicory seeds. Toast them well but not so much they end up burnt. Add curry leaves. Wait till they are toasted. Toss in green chilies, garlic and ginger. Sauté till the garlic turns light brown. Add red chili powder and turmeric powder. Sauté long enough to fry the mixture, all the while stirring the contents of the wok. Again, avoid frying the spices. Now add the lemon pieces and turn off heat. But don’t take the wok off the hot stove. Toss the wok contents so everything is uniformly mixed. Sprinkle asafetida and sugar. Gently stir them in. Now take the wok off the hot stove. Wait for the contents to cool. Bottle and keep in fridge. While enjoying the pickles, remember to thank the plentiful blessings of God, the sun, the earth and the skill of human hands. n Jojy Michael enjoys making lemon pickles using this recipe from his mother. This article is dedicated to all Mothers and Fathers and to the guiding light of Lent.


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healthy life

Motivation and Exercise By Richa Jauhari

M

ost health professionals like doctors, nurses, dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers agree that maintaining a healthy body weight is a combination of both, having a healthy diet and regular exercise. So why is this a challenge for most people? Motivation might have a lot to do with it. Even though I am a fitness instructor now, I have struggled with motivation, body images issues, and weight gain for many years. I started gaining weight in my teens and struggled to keep it off as a young adult. It was not until my late 20s that I finally acknowledged that I needed to get healthy because it was negatively affecting other aspects of my life. I knew that there was no way I was going to join the gym because I was insecure with how I looked and I lacked the motivation to join. So I started with something less intimidating and easy to do, walking every day for 30 minutes to an hour. I also reduced my fat intake during the night by eliminating fatty foods such as desserts, fried food and other processed foods. Both of these changes made a big difference and I noticed positive results. I was able to keep the weight off for a couple of years and then I slowly started to gain it back. Of the 60 lbs. that I had initially lost, I gained back 20 lbs. I was both defeated and upset at myself for losing control of the situation. Even though I did not feel very good about how I looked, I felt that it might be a good idea to join a gym in the hopes that being around other people with the same goals might keep me motivated. This was a good idea because I was able to commit to working out at the gym two days a week, and as my confidence grew I started to try out different cardio and strength machines. I also started to meet people at the gym who had similar stories, and I gained strength and comfort in knowing that I was not the only one who struggled with weight loss. In 2009, I gathered courage and took my first group fitness class at the local recreation center. This was a life changing experience because not only was my teacher friendly and made me feel accepted and 54 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

welcome, her positive attitude helped inspire and motivate me to keep working out. I noticed that in a couple of months of participating in the group exercise class, I had moved from the back row of the class to the front row. This was a huge accomplishment for me because it meant that I gained confidence. I decided that I also wanted to teach and inspire other people to exercise, so I took my first instructor certification in 2011 and started teaching group exercise. I knew had a lot to learn, so I went back to my first teacher and she became, and still is, my mentor. Since then I have acquired other fitness certifications and I am continuously learning about maintaining a healthy lifestyle through both nutrition and exercise. One of the most important and mythbusting things I learned about maintaining a healthy lifestyle are that carbs are important for your body because they can actually help you look, feel and perform your best. As an initial weight loss strategy cutting carbs works well, butcarb reduction can cost us in the long term.(1) This is especially true for those who work out regularly; cutting carbs can lead to a slower metabolism, increase in stress hormones, and reduction of muscle-building hormones.(1) This is especially true for those who work out regularly; cutting carbs can lead to a slower metabolism, increase in stress hormones, and reduction of muscle-building hormones. A simple rule that I follow is to eat healthy carbs during the day or before a workout, the times when I do the most amount of work. So if your evening is sedentary, you do not need carbs because there is no work being performed by your body. The second thing I learned was that in addition to eating healthy carbs and doing cardio, strength training is important. Doing resistance training regularly makes us look

better, since muscle takes up less room than fat and with increased muscle definition we look slimmer. Another benefit of strength training activities are that they help increase bone density. (2). My experiences have taught me that the journey towards a healthy lifestyle is both a rewarding and personal one. Your experience is very much a process, so having compassion for yourself and believing that you are worth the effort is critical. The physical changes that you will see are very rewarding and give you a sense of accomplishment, and the improvements you experience in mental clarity, attitude, and mood are invaluable. As an instructor, I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with and teach diverse and inspirational individuals. Everybody who I meet has a reason for exercising: whether it is to look better, improve their quality of life, get into shape for an event, meet new people, improve their memory and coordination, or learn a new skill. I truly enjoy meeting and learning about each person’s reason for trying to change their life. n 1. http://www.precisionnutrition.com/lowcarb-diets-2 Carb Controversy, Why lowcarb diets have got it all wrong, Brian St. Pierre. 2. Fitness: Theory & Practice 5th Edition, Gladwin Laura A, 2011. Richa Jauhari is a fitness instructor teaching Bombay Jam, a Bollywood Fitness class, and Barre, a no-impact body sculpting class, and is certified by Aerobic Fitness Association of America. For more information and contact please go to http://richajfit.tumblr.com/


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travel

The Cradle of Humankind Exploring the history, culture and wilds of South Africa By Scott S. Smith and Sandra Wells

W

hen we interviewed comedian Bob Newhart a few years ago, we asked what his all-time favorite vacation had been. “I recently went on a safari in South Africa and it was like going back to the Garden of Eden,” he responded, the memory lighting up his face. We decided we wanted that transcendent experience. But as things worked out, we could only spend two days in Johannesburg and two in Kruger National Park. We decided to take the risk that maybe we wouldn’t even be able to see any of the major animals; for us it was now or never. When most people think of a safari, they picture massive herds of animals followed by smaller herds of tourist mini-buses on the plains of East Africa. South Africa offers a more intimate and uncrowded opportunity near major cities (which means you can experience the wild and still have the benefits of civilization, like clean water, culture, and political stability). It’s an underappreciated destination. 56 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

The climate is warm and dry much of the year, with seasons opposite to those in the United States. The rainy season is November through March, but storms last an hour or two and tours continue in between at discounted prices. We decided to go in early April before the high season’s prices kicked in. Our first step in preparing was to go to Passport Health in Los Angeles, which is owned by native South African Rayann Aziz, for a customized review of our medical history and needs, including malaria tablets and an emergency medical kit (see Resources at the end). We chose South African Airways because it has the most flights at the best prices and provides much better customer service than the competition. We flew out of Washington, D.C. to O.R. Tambo airport.

Johannesburg

Joburg (as locals call it) is the business

capital of South Africa, with 3.2 million people. While some areas are potentially risky, the same precautions would apply to visiting large United States cities. The first impression is of a Mediterranean town, with its low buildings and red-tiled roofs (with solar panels), as well as low-key billboards. But it has six million trees, making it the world’s largest man-made urban forest. The Gautrain is an easy, inexpensive, and safe way to get around to most areas and taxis are reasonably priced. We stayed at the Saxon Hotel in the suburb of Sandton (where Nelson Mandela spent a year writing his autobiography, My Long Walk to Freedom, published in 1994 when he became South Africa’s first democratically-elected president). It has been repeatedly ranked one of the best boutique hotels in the world, famous for its secluded location, beautiful grounds, original African contemporary art, and wine cellar. After sleeping off jet lag on the Sunday


that we arrived, we still had time to make it to the Origins Centre, an excellent exhibition on early humans at the University of Witwatersrand. Rian Malan, author of the classic text about apartheid, My Traitor’s Heart, once said, “There is a possibility that Johannesburg was once the Garden of Eden, that our ancestors would have lived here 150,000 to 200,000 years ago.” That reference was serendipitous, it would turn out. Origins focuses on how humans spread across the globe after leaving Africa (the cosmic joke on the former racist regime is that the evidence that we share 99.9 percent of the same DNA came from South Africa; the university offers a test for visitors who want to know their ancestral details). Origins also shows what is regarded as the first indication of modern humans: art in the form of a carved rock and a necklace dated at 77,000 years. The next day we were picked up by guide Chris Green of Cashan Tours for a day in the Cradle of Humankind an hour out of Joburg, 300 caves that include Sterkfontein, the world’s longest archaeological excavation, which has produced a third of the world’s early hominid fossils (human-like creatures, some of them our ancestors). Nearby, the first evidence was found of hominid control of fire as early as 1.8 million years ago. We started at the Maropeng Centre, whose interactive displays show the progress of evolution after our ancestors diverged from apes back 8 million years. Now we are so rapidly using up resources that we are failing to adapt to the new environment, which is what caused the extinction of our cousins. If you have more time than we did, there are several important places in Joburg Indian Americans should visit. The 1.3 million Indian South Africans making up 2.7% of the nation’s population and Durban is the largest Indian city outside India. During the rule of white supremacists through most of the 20th century, Indians were discriminated

against, variously grouped with blacks or “coloreds.” Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer and civil rights activist 1893-1914 and Gandhi Square in Joburg celebrates his work there with a statue. For an in-depth look at the Indian part of the country’s history, go to the Apartheid Museum, which recreates the experience of oppression and segregation that was in place from 1948 to 1990, and MuseuMAfricA, which is a showcase of the nation’s multi-ethnic culture.

Into the Wilderness

On Tuesday morning we took a Federal Air hour-long flight onto the airstrip at Sabi Sabi Game Reserve. It is located in southwest Kruger National Park, the largest wildlife sanctuary in the country, and last year Conde Nast Traveler readers voted it the best safari camp in Africa. At 4 p.m., Ranger Marcus took a small group of us in an open Land Rover for our first three-hour drive through the savannah of tall grass and occasional trees (take Dramamine or three ginger capsules a half hour in advance, since the roads are rough). While this area gave us the best chance to encounter the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, Cape buffalos), there are visitors who visit for five days and encounter only one. For the first couple of hours we only saw impala antelope. Then suddenly we came across a leopard and the hair on the back of our necks stood up as it majestically strolled so close we could have touched it, if we wanted to lose a hand (Marcus said that the only time one had attacked was when someone stood up to take pictures; wild animals tolerate vehicles unless surprised). Travelers know that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a direct encounter is worth a thousand pictures and this was one of those moments. An hour later, as we turned a corner in the darkness just before arriving back at the camp, we nearly ran into a mother white

rhino and her baby. Baby started towards us out of curiosity, as the mother snorted a warning and Marcus put the Rover in reverse, warning us not to take flash pictures. This was no zoo. One Indian family from Australia was originally from Durban on the southern coast of South Africa. They had been on safaris before, of course, but were astounded by the intimacy of Sabi Sabi’s experience. The next morning we encountered a small group of elephants, which quickly moved away. We also came across rare and colorful wild dogs playing, as well as zebras, not often seen this time of year. The highlight was when we parked at a watering hole and soon found ourselves surrounded by 200 Cape buffalo, which usually travel in groups of less than 15. They and leopards are the two creatures which cannot be bluffed to back away: if they feel threatened, they will attack. We very, very slowly made our way through the herd to avoid being trapped for hours. In the afternoon, we visited a traditional village and were delighted by hundreds of laughing three- and four-year-olds in preschool. On the classroom walls were their names, reflecting parental support, like Persistence, Brilliant, and Graduate. It really does take a village to produce confident individuality and a strong sense of community. During the evening drive, we saw nothing but impala, so we realized how lucky we had been. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” We need to unplug periodically to get in touch with nature and the Eden within, otherwise evolution will move on to the next stage without us. n Scott Smith is the author of The Soul of Your Pet: Evidence for the Survival of Animals After Death. Sandra Wells writes on travel and is a painter of magical art. April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 57


recipes

Festive Fenugreek By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff

I

am traveling through vegetarian paradise, Gujarat, in the west of India. Here almost every homemaker starts her day by going to the market to purchase fresh produce, and meals are centered around a variety of vegetables. In the city of Bhavnagar there is a large bustling produce market that serves wholesalers and retailers every day of the year. Seasonal vegetables are lined up in colorful baskets and burlap bags, each vendor boasting about the quality of their products while buyers are busy haggling for the best bargain. I recall children’s fairy tales in which a maharaja’s feast was so festive it contained 34 different vegetables! My favorite vegetable during the spring and summer here is fenugreek leaf. Known as methi in Gujarati, a fenugreek leaf is made up of three small oblong leaflets, much like

a three-leaf clover. Fenugreek leaves are difficult to find in the United States but are sometimes available in farmers’ markets or specialty stores that serve Indian or Middle Eastern communities. Fenugreek plants require very little water, making them an ideal crop for arid areas. They are also very quick to cook which makes them fuel efficient as well. In addition, fenugreek leaves are dense in nutrients, an excellent source of protein, iron, potassium, calcium and vitamin K. Fenugreek leaves are often used as an herb to flavor soups and breads and they are also served in larger portions as a side dish as in the recipe that follows. The predominant bitter flavor of the leaves is tempered by mixing them with other ingredients such as cooked grains, flour or cream. Fenugreek seeds are

used as a culinary herb in many curry dishes and also as a medicinal remedy, particularly to enhance the flow of breast milk. Other beneficial properties of the fenugreek plant include stabilizing insulin levels, enhancing digestion, and reducing inflammation. Because fenugreek leaves are difficult to find, it is important to store them carefully when you do find them. Fresh fenugreek leaves are usually sold as a bundle complete with twigs, stems and roots. I usually separate out the leaves and discard the rest. Then place them in a plastic zip-lock bag and freeze them. Frozen and thawed leaves are good, but do not compare to fresh ones, so try to cook some while they are fresh and freeze the rest. You can also dry them in the sun or in a dehydrator, but dried leaves do not retain as much of the flavor.n

Method Wash the trimmed leaves thoroughly and dry them completely using a salad spinner, or drain them well. Set them aside. In a dry, heavy pan such as an iron skillet, toast the besan as you would toast seeds or nuts, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until the color deepens and it begins to smell fragrant. Immediately transfer the besan to a platter to prevent it from sticking to the pan and burning. Set the toasted besan aside. Wash and dry the skillet and heat the oil in it over a moderate heat. Add the mustard seeds and when they begin to pop, add the cumin seeds and garlic. Toast them for a

minute, and add the fenugreek (or the substitute) leaves. Stir fry for a minute or two, and add the powdered spices, mixing well. Next, begin to add the besan, a little at a time, using one hand, while stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon with the other hand. Break up any lumps that may form. Add the lime juice, salt and sugar and mix well. Correct the seasoning to taste, and serve hot with any flat bread, rice and dal. n

Stir-Fried Fenugreek Leaves with Garbanzo Flour This recipe is fairly simple and can be made with either fresh or frozen fenugreek leaves. If you cannot find fenugreek, you can substitute a combination of spinach and mustard leaves as described below, but of course the flavor will not be the same. Ingredients 4 cups finely chopped fenugreek leaves, rinsed after removing twigs, stems and roots OR a combination of: 3 cups cleaned and finely chopped spinach and 1 cup of mustard greens, washed and stems removed ¾ - 1 cup garbanzo flour (besan) 2 tbsp olive or corn oil ½ tsp mustard seeds ½ tsp cumin seeds 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced ½ tsp each turmeric powder, cumin pow der and coriander powder ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder Juice of ½ lime 1 tsp salt 1 tsp sugar 58 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.


April 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 59


On Inglish

Stop by for Chai By Kalpana Mohan

chai [chaey] noun a drink of tea made with cardamom and various other spices, milk, and a sweetener. Origin: 1970-75; < Turkish çay and Russian, Persian, Hindi, Urdu chay tea, ultimately < Mandarin ch’a tea

S

omewhere on the walls of a famed beverage institution that opened in Paris in 1854, visitors will see a little sign that explains the store’s tea selection policy: “Hédiard only buys from the greatest experts in the topmost estates, those who share our ardor for the infinite possibilities of the leaf. Some appear unadorned, others blended into exquisite flavor profiles that, once tasted, never leave the memory.” I’ve sipped countless cups in that elegant Salon de Thé in a city filled with tea parlors. At Hédiard’s I’ve enjoyed conversations with many fascinating people while flitting through a myriad of flavors of tea. But those moments have vaporized from my memory. The tea I remember drinking, however, is that consoling beverage of all human connections. It’s chai, the beverage that transforms the look and the meaning of tea—from being just an elitism-infused potable brewed from loose tea leaves into a drink of deliverance that strips bare one’s soul, warms the heart, illumines neurons, forges bonds and mints relationships. The chai that I speak of, the Indian avatar of the British tea, is a blend of black tea, spices, and milk. The word “chai” is thought to have originated from the Mandarin chá, the Chinese word for tea and it means the same in several languages including Hindi, Urdu, Czech, Turkish, Russian and Farsi. India adopted tea widely under imperial rule. In the early 1820s, when the British East India Company worried about the Chinese monopoly on tea, it began large-scale production of tea in the hills of Assam. The industry rapidly expanded over vast tracts of land making Assam the leading tea producing region in the world while supporting the enormous consumption of tea in Great Britain. India didn’t consume much black tea until an aggressive promotional campaign by the British-owned Indian Tea Association in the early 20th century that, faced with a surplus of low-grade tea, encouraged factories, mines, and textile mills to provide tea breaks for their workers. The tea drinking habit also bolstered the lives of many independent chai-wallahs throughout the growing Indian railway system. For me, tea has become a comfort drink with many different flavors through the course of my life. There’s the chai I sipped at a friend’s home when she lost her mother. Over tea, my friend told me how hours before her mother passed away, she finished writing out checks for utilities, cleaned up all her paperwork; then she simply lay on her bed and stopped breathing. Then there is the chai, aromatic with fresh lemongrass, that I drank in Ahmednagar as I listened to Bapuji, a wealthy jeweler in town who left his business to commit time to Snehalaya, an organization to reform the lives of women and children who have suffered from trafficking and sexual abuse. Of course there’s the chai served by my friend Chetana. It’s one tinctured by the memories of our children’s play dates from 1993 to 2008, from the time both our girls were three years of age until both our sons departed for college. Then I must tell you about the chai that Vinayagam, my father’s manservant, served me in the weeks after my mother passed away, punchy with ginger, ponderous with sorrow. There’s the chai my sister-in-law Gai asks me to make for her at different times in 60 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

the day when she visits me just because she likes the way I make it. There’s the chai my friend Shanthi demands from me with warnings about how to and how not to brew the “Alghazaleem” tea bought from a local Persian store. For her I must pour, while it’s golden brown and not even a wee bit dark, into a Persian glass of mine that she loves. How can I forget the perfect ginger chai served in a glass at the new Namma Café in India’s Chennai where I sat with my friend Meenu while we discussed the challenges of caring for our aged parents who, in their dotage, became insecure and selfish, just as we too will one day? Then I cannot say enough about the one, loaded in ginger root and cardamom, that I was served in the cozy confines of a home built with the sensibilities of the sixties; there, I sat between a couple, Mala and Pradeep Sinha, who showed me the meaning of hospitality. Then there’s the chai that I drank out of a three-inch terracotta matka ten times a day every single day for five days at Rajasthan’s Jaipur Literature Festival while soaking in lectures, readings, debates and points of view—a chai that I will forever accuse of both expanding my intellect and testing the boundaries of my tolerance. But the chai of chais is the yearly one that makes me shed all inhibition. It turns me into a cinnamon-spiked party animal. That is called the Bad Music Night chai. It’s the chai served on a night with an unending fare of vaudeville acts by postmenopausal women and men whose ages are synonymous with Priya Living. On this one night of the year our friends toss self-respect, discretion and shame into the San Francisco Bay. We get on “stage,” a 100-square-foot wooden floor with inches separating performers from audience. Cups of chai float around. More regrettable performances erupt on stage. No one is judging. No one cares if judged. The insults pile up. Rudeness is much appreciated, thank you. Raunchiness is a virtue that evening. Loudness? We covet it. When I’m crooning, badly, a breathy Tamil number titled “Hello, My Dear Wrong Number” and the man I’m singing the duet with is making eyes at me in front of my husband while the women in the audience too are breathing “Hello-o-o” with me every time, the men howl between whistles: “Kal, encore, encore!” For those moments, I’m a Tamil vamp drunk on chai, even such a one that is mostly water, colored by the stain of a Lipton teabag. But I tell you, whether perfect as the matka chai in Jaipur or anemic as the chai on Bad Music Night, a cup of chai sustains me as I step through the checkered squares of life. n Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga. To read more about her, go to http://kalpanamohan.org and http://saritorial.com.


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viewfinder

Morning Mist By Nandha Kumar

r winne

A

beautiful end to a tiring walk. This picture was taken from the top of the hill opposite my grandparentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; house in Kerala, on an early morning walk. n

Nandha Kumar is a person who loves nature for what it is. He would go anywhere with his camera to take any picture.

India Currents invites readers to submit to this column. Send us a picture with caption and weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll pick the best entry every month. There will be a cash prize awarded to the lucky entrant. Entries will be judged on the originality and creativity of the visual and the clarity and storytelling of the caption. So pick up that camera and click away. Send the picture as a jpeg image to editor@indiacurrents.com with Subject: A Picture That Tells a Story. Deadline for entries: 10th of every month. 62 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014


Being the Best

dear doctor

By Alzak Amlani

Q

I come from an immigrant family of high achievers. Education, sports and most activities were pursuits to excel at rather than doing for the sake of learning, exploring and enjoying. If my brother and I came home with a 97% on an exam, my dad would say where are the other three points? I would feel so disappointed. Even on trivial things like playing Scrabble or handball, I would keep track of the score like it really mattered. My friends would wonder why I was so competitive. You write about the idea of “good enough” rather than perfection. I can’t even imagine allowing myself that slack, although it would be a relief just to get something done and not be evaluating whether I did a perfect job at it and looking for others to applaud me. My partner who is not so concerned about being “the best” tells me I am out of control and that I have an addiction to perfection. I think he is kind of right, yet I am embarrassed to say, I can’t seem to change.

A

It seems you are really seeing how caught you are in the achievement and approval syndrome. The deeper

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issue here is about self-value. As children, I don’t think we constantly doubted our value as people, until we heard that our worth was based on our accomplishments and good behavior. Many of us also saw how caught up our parents and other role models were in pursuing success to feel valued and good about themselves. As children we were extremely dependent on parents and other elders accepting and valuing us. We needed their approval to feel seen, valued and loved. For some people this drive becomes a sort of obsession or even an addiction. They feel empty and worthless if they are not always striving for perfection, even on a written driver’s license test! Take a look at what part of life you miss out on when you are so focused on being perfect? How much of your time and focus are taken for you to be “perfect”? What does it feel like inside to be focused in that way? At times it might feel really good, as you have a purpose and are giving your best. After a while it becomes exhausting and starts to feel trivial because there is more to life than being “perfect,” which actually can

39 SHIVAM ARTS 43 SOHINI RAY

never be achieved, anyway. In some ways, we always fall short. From a perfectionistic lens, we are constantly judging rather than being curious and appreciating what is going well. I am more interested in wholeness, which is about accepting who we are in the moment. This is a kinder, more human and realistic way of being ourselves. We don’t need to push away what we don’t like about ourselves and we’re not always striving to be better. Ironically when we bring more acceptance and trust to ourselves, it naturally opens up the desire to be more creative, real and happy. From this state we actually contribute more to our lives. People enjoy us because we are more relaxed, open and flexible. We are less of a threat and recognize that cooperation and collaboration are more fulfilling than being number one. n

9 DIMPLE MANCHANDIA, DDS

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www. wholenesstherapy.com

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the last word

I

Modern Day Slavery By Sarita Sarvate

n 1971, V.S. Naipaul published a short story collection titled In a Free State. The first story is about an Indian domestic servant who accompanies his diplomat master to Washington, D.C. The man bundles up his belongings in a piece of cloth and rides the airplane where he squats on the toilet seat. In Washington, he sleeps outside his master’s “government sanctioned” apartment, until he finds a closet. “I will be able to make myself very comfortable,” he says. “I wouldn’t even hit my head on the ceiling.” He receives a monthly salary of one hundred rupees plus a “dearness allowance” of fifty, a concession to America. With his fortnight’s pay of seven hundred and fifty cents— the exchange rate being ten cents to a rupee—the servant ventures out on to the streets of America, only to discover that all he can buy with his riches are cheap snacks. When I first read this story, I cringed. “There goes Naipaul again,” I thought. But now I realize that the story, like any great literature, is fresh forty-five years later. In fact, it reads like a popular creative writing assignment in which students are asked to write fiction based on a newspaper headline. I am talking of Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat who exploited her domestic servant to such an extent that the United States governOf ment was forced to expel her from the the 30 milconsulate. In the Naipaul story, the servant lion slaves living confesses, “I was a prisoner. I accepted this and adjusted.” Khoworldwide, bragade’s servant too no doubt acit turns out, 14 cepted her reality, at least for a while. But it is 2014 now. We have in our million are in hands a recent United Nations (UN) India. report, which ranks India at the top of its index of slavery. Of the 30 million slaves living worldwide, it turns out, 14 million are in India. A distant second is China, which, in spite of its larger population, has about a fifth of the slaves India has. The other countries that lag behind our esteemed nation are Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; in other words, poor nations with autocratic governments and with internal conflicts bordering on civil war. “India exhibits the full spectrum of different forms of modern slavery,” the report says, “from severe forms of inter-generational bonded labor across various industries to the worst forms of child labor, commercial sexual exploitation, and forced and servile marriage.” And still we claim to be one of the most advanced nations on earth, with an allegedly democratic government, a free press, a technologically advanced workforce, and an educated class that excels in art, literature, music, and spirituality? In case you doubt the UN report, read the March 2012 decision of the court of the Southern District of New York, issued against Neena Malhotra, an Indian diplomat. It reads like the script of Twelve Years a Slave. Malhotra brought her servant, Shanti Gurung, to the United States by falsely attesting that she would pay her $7 an hour, when in reality, the servant received a single payment of 5500 rupees over three years—The exchange rate is now one cent a rupee. Gurung slept on the floor, worked 16-hour days seven days a week, and was starved until she lost sixty pounds. She was kept a prisoner and threatened with physical punishment. It seems the Indian upper classes are so 64 | INDIA CURRENTS | April 2014

used to having slaves at home, they bring them with them wherever they go, even to the United States, a country deeply wounded by a history of slavery. Malhotra was ordered to pay $1.4 million in damages for “kidnapping, trafficking, and holding her maid in servitude.” But the diplomat absconded to India without paying the victim a single dime. Apparently, Devyani Khobragade read neither the court’s decision nor the UN report. As an Indian oligarch, she perhaps held herself above the law. And why not? After all, diplomat after diplomat of our country keeps abusing the domestics, yet faces no consequences. Take the case of the Indian Counsel General Prabhu Dayal, for example, who was accused in 2011 of abusing and exploiting his domestic servant. And what happened to him? Nothing whatsoever. Could the accuser have been paid off? Who knows? It is not surprising that the upper crust of India, which thrives on the enslaving of 14 million human beings, feels entitled to continue the abuse, even bring it abroad. But what is shocking is that India’s populace does not object. When Khobragade fled to India, she received a heroine’s welcome. And what did Khobragade do to deserve such a celebration? Namely that she got away with her unethical and unlawful behavior. The justification many Indians offer for letting Khobragade off the hook is that Americans too exploit their domestic workers. But two wrongs do not a right make. While Khobragade was being welcomed like a heroine in India, no workers’ rights groups protested her treatment of her servant. The only thing people seemed to be concerned about was that they wanted to get back at the United States for throwing an Indian diplomat out. Even Arundhati Roy, who often acts as the conscience of India, has not commented on the case, as far as I know. Perhaps she too was carried away by the anti-US euphoria. In the V.S. Naipaul story, the servant eventually escapes, even though his master cannot compete with the likes of Khobragade, Malhotra, or Dayal when it comes to the mistreatment of his servant. He is by and large a decent man who simply happens to be a product of his culture and circumstances. Besides, he lacks the awareness of India of the new millennium. Still, the servant cannot imagine going back to his old life in Mumbai. He becomes a cook in an Indian restaurant and marries a black woman to get a green card. “All that my freedom has brought me is the knowledge that I have a face and have a body, that I must feed this body and clothe this body for a certain number of years. Then it will be over,” he says. It is a poignant ending indeed, with no possibility of fulfillment, joy, or redemption. But what is even sadder is that billions around the world would give an eye or a tooth to have what the servant has at the end of the story; that nothing has changed in the last half century. That, in spite of all the research and data and alleged awareness, the Indian elite persists in living in what Naipaul once described as an “area of darkness.” n Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.


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