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Aging Out in Silicon Valley

by Krishnamachar Sreenivasan

Light—First Prize Katha Winner


by Mustafa Abubaker

by Sarita Sarvate

Celebrating 27 Years of Excellence


Years After the Nobel Prize


rr u C a i d n I

oon in s s e h launc ! , D.C. n o t g n Washi

July 2013 • vol. 27, no . 4 • www.

Recently, Rabindranath Tagore’s legacy was re-examined by arbiters of literature. One hundred years after the Nobel Prize, who is this poet/philospher to readers? by Anita Felicelli

Chicken Little Intervention 1885 Lundy Ave, Suite 220, San Jose, CA 95131 Phone: (408) 324-0488 (714) 523-8788 Fax: (408) 324-0477 Email: Publisher & Editor: Vandana Kumar (408) 324-0488 x 225 Advertising Manager: Derek Nunes Northern California: (408) 324-0488 x 222 Southern California: (714) 523-8788 x 222 Marketing Associate: Raj Singh (408) 324-0488 x221 Graphic Designer: Nghia Vuong

EDITORIAL BOARD Managing Editor: Jaya Padmanabhan (408) 324-0488 x 226 Events Editor: Mona Shah (408) 324-0488 x 224 COLUMNISTS Dear Doctor: Alzak Amlani Films: Aniruddh Chawda Forum: Rameysh Ramdas On Inglish: Kalpana Mohan The Last Word: Sarita Sarvate A Thousand Words: Ragini Srinivasan

Syria is not our problem. Our problem is a President who seems unable to combat rhetoric. In an attempt to buy time and deal with criticism from the voluble President Clinton and relentless warmongering commentary from Charles Krauthammer, the U.S. Administration has decided to supply the Syrian rebels with small arms and ammunitions. This despite polls indicating that Syria should not be made into a political yardstick for presidential performance. If abstaining from involvement works for the American public (as polls indicate), Obama’s attempt at appeasement pleases no one. With trenchant disdain, The New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called the announcement a “pittance of a policy.” And with knee jerk reactiveness Krauthammer questioned, “What’s he going to do? Add chicken to the tuna we’re giving them in the food aid?” Clinton, citing examples of Kosovo and Bosnia from his own term to support his Syrian interventionist stance, judiciously refrained from mentioning Rwanda or Somalia where a bad situation became worse after U.S. involvement. History has shown us several dismal results of foreign interference. Consider Afghanistan in the 1980s when U.S. foreign policy revolved on routing the Russians from

Afghanistan with the supply of arms to the rebel Mujahideen faction. Osama bin Laden was part of that faction. During the Sri Lankan Civil War, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi remarked, “We have never interfered with the internal developments of any country in the past and we will not do so now.” Not much later, India did intervene in Sri Lanka, angering the Tamil Tigers who later assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the son of the same head of state who had vowed not to interfere. Why should the United States intervene in Syria? Are we sure that we will effect a desired outcome? As Hans J. Morgenthau once said, “We have come to overrate enormously what a nation can do for another nation by intervening in affairs—even with the latter’s consent. This overestimation of our power to intervene is a corollary of our ideological commitment, which by its very nature has no limit.” When it comes to dealing with strictures, Obama would do well to heed the Chicken Little moral. The sky is a long way from falling, no matter how many doomsayers predict it.

Jaya Padmanabhan

Contributors: Mustafa Abubaker, Jasbina Ahluwalia, Tim Charles, Anita Felicelli, Melanie Kumar, P. Mahadevan, Tara Menon, Reema Minawala, Kavya Padmanabhan, Rajee Padmanabhan, Lakshmi Palecanda, Kalpana Mohanty, Mimm Patterson, Gaurav Rastogi, Naresh Rajan, Teed Rockwell, Suchi Sargam, Vijitha Shyam, Krishnamachar Sreenivasan, Mani Subramani, Hemlata Vasavada Cover Design: Nghia Vuong. INDIA CURRENTS® (ISSN 0896-095X) is published monthly (except Dec/Jan, which is a combined issue) for $19.95 per year by India Currents, 1885 Lundy Ave., Ste 220, San Jose, CA 95131. Periodicals postage paid at San Jose, CA, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to INDIA CURRENTS, 1885 LUNDY AVE, STE. 220, SAN JOSE, CA 95131 Information provided is accurate as of the date of going to press; India Currents is not responsible for errors or omissions. Opinions expressed are those of individual authors. Advertising copy, logos, and artwork are the sole responsibility of individual advertisers, not of India Currents. Copyright © 2013 by India Currents All rights reserved. Fully indexed by Ethnic Newswatch

July 2013 | | 1

INDIA CURRENTS july 2013 • vol 27 • no 4


Southern California Edition

LIFESTYLE 1 | EDITORIAL Chicken Little Intervention By Jaya Padmanabhan

Find us on

34 | MUSIC: Sliding into Ragasphere By Teed Rockwell

6 | FORUM Is Surveillance in the Name of Protection Ok? By Rameysh Ramdas, Mani Subramani

44 | BOOKS A Review of The Sweetness of Tears and And Laughter Fell From the Sky By Tara Menon, Hemlata Vasavada

7 | PERSPECTIVE The Power of My 929 By Rajee Padmanabhan 8 | ON INGLISH I’ll Have Three Sugars With That, Please By Kalpana Mohan 16 | YOUTH How Paati Learned to Swim By Kavya Padmanabhan, Art by Reema Minawala 18 | Q&A Chronicles of Culture By Suchi Sargam 28 | DESI VOICE Green For Go By Kalpana Iyer Mohanty 30 | IN MEMORIAM Lalgudi G. Jayaraman By P. Mahadevan 50 | REFLECTIONS Identity Crisis By Gaurav Rastogi 54 | TRAVEL Looking for Calcutta By Melanie Kumar 56 | BOTTOMLINE The Accursed Couch By Lakshmi Palecanda 64 | THE LASTWORD Tea By Sarita Sarvate

2 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

52 | HEALTHY LIFE Yin Yoga By Mimm Patterson

10 | 100 Years After the Nobel Prize Exploring the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore By Anita Felicelli

58 | RECIPES A Staple Nourishment By Vijitha Shyam 60 | RELATIONSHIP DIVA Taking Him Back By Jasbina Ahluwalia

22 | Feature

63 | DEAR DOCTOR The Complexity of Complexes By Alzak Amlani

Aging Out in Silicon Valley By Krishnamachar Sreenivasan

36 | Fiction Light By Mustafa Abubaker

42 | Films A Review of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani By Aniruddh Chawda

KATHA 1st Prize Winner

DEPARTMENTS 4 | Voices 5 | Popular Articles 26 | Ask a Lawyer 27 | Visa Dates 61 | Classifieds 62 | Viewfinder

WHAT’S CURRENT 46 | Cultural Calendar 49 | Spiritual Calendar

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Why Indian-Americans Flock to the Democratic Party

In the Viewpoint column (How Immigration Reform Could Swing the Indian American Vote, India Currents, June 2013), authors Subramanian and Chougule suggest that Indian-Americans should vote for the Republican Party, in part, because it proactively advocates on behalf of highly-skilled immigrants from India. However, the immigration policies of the GOP and the Democratic Party are a bit more nuanced. The Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965 created two major categories of immigrants, namely, skill-based and family-based immigrants. Over the years, the Democratic Party has generally supported family-based immigration to woo minority voters (especially Latinos), and opposed skill-based immigration to appease labor unions. The GOP, on the other hand, has supported skill-based immigration to help large corporations, and opposed family-based immigration to appease traditional opponents of (non-European) immigration. In the 60s and 70s, most Indians immigrated under the skill category, but since then, Indian immigration under the family category has grown quite rapidly. Thus it is not obvious that most Indian-American citizens today would prefer the immigration policies of the GOP over those of the Democratic Party. But what about other hot-button issues like abortion, gun control, gay rights, and income tax rates? I think most Indian-Americans are not too concerned about the relatively small differences between the policies of the two parties on such issues. Moreover, most well-off Indian-Americans seem more interested in growing their income than in lowering their tax rates. Some Indian-Americans do worry about the rising cost of health care. But over the years, the U.S. health care system has been gradually heading towards financial disaster regardless of the party in power. Only a major financial collapse of the system will force some truly radical changes. Until then, occasional tinkering by either party will probably not make much difference. So, given all this, why do Indian-Americans flock to the Democratic Party? I think the principal reason is that it is the party of the underdog. Most Indian-Americans view themselves as underdogs in the American political space. Therefore, they are attracted to a party that truly embraces and celebrates racial, cultural, and religious diversity. It is perhaps no coincidence that the first black President of America was a Democrat. And

4 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

it will be no coincidence that the first IndianAmerican Justice of the Supreme Court will be nominated by a Democratic President. Vijay Gupta, Cupertino, CA

The Mount Madonna School

I’ve been enjoying, very much, the array of articles and events in India Currents’ June issue. Today I read with interest Ritu Marwah’s article, (Minding the Gap, India Currents, June 2013) about the founding of the India Community Center. Very nice! As I was unfamiliar with some of this background, I appreciated her insights and perspective. I would like to share a clarification with your readers. Ritu Marwah writes “High schools like Castilleja and Crystal Springs have taken students to India as part of their ethics or business curriculum ...” For the record, Mount Madonna School has taken classes of students to India as part of its capstone “Values in World Thought” curriculum since 2007 (in addition, students visit South Africa [we have a group there now], Nigeria, and biannually a behind-the-scenes Washington, D.C. interview tour) It’s worth noting that D.C. initiative has happened for more than two decades! My point? I’m sure many schools have some aspect of a “study abroad” or travel component. However, Mount Madonna School’s respect for Indian culture and connections with the Sri Ram Ashram in Haridwar and the Pardada Pardadi Vocational School in Uttar Pradesh, have long been noted and respected for going more in-depth and developing long-lasting connections— and it would have been nice to have Mount Madonna School noted alongside the other two schools mentioned in the article. Leigh Ann Clifton, Watsonville, CA

Book Lover’s Impulse

Jaya Padmanabhan recalls her mixed emotions, surprise and delight, as a child of eight when her father brought home a hoard of books all at once, in her editorial (My Father and His Sixty Books, India Currents, June

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

2013). He was an impulsive collector of “stuff,” in this case, books, just as others collect shoes, jewelry, toys, figurines, hats et. al. The editorial reminds of an incident that occurred a few years ago. The Kerala community in Southern California celebrates Onam every year elaborately in traditional style. During the event in 1998, with Princess Gouri Lakshmi Bayi of the Travancore Royal family as the chief guest, a surprising turn came about as the Princess was about to release for the first time in America, her new book, Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple A gentleman stood up and respectfully interrupted her to ask whether she would object if he bought all one hundred copies of the book and distributed them to the assembled families as a free Onam gift. The Princess looked surprised, but agreed. I, too, got a copy. It is a well-bound, hard cover volume, running well over four hundred pages, an excellent reference publication. The donor’s (G.A. Menon) impulsive action probably came from respect to the royal family or to the famous temple or plain simple largesse of the heart. In the correspondence column of the Financial Times, recently, the focus of attention was on a different scenario for book lovers. In the present Google Search era, the Encyclopedia Britannica has become obsolete. Millions of proud owners of the complete set, including me, do not like to get rid of them. In the pre-digital days, the notice, “Out of Print” was all too often seen. Will the eccentrics, aka the “book collectors” disappear altogether as fast as the Out of Print sign? P. Mahadevan, Fullerton, CA

My Apologies

The article by Nicole Marsh (An Untold Story, India Currents, June 2013) is a very touching piece about exploring one’s roots and the tragedy of the Chinese in India. I had no idea about this part of India’s history and feel quite ashamed after reading this “untold story.” Don’t know when the Indian government will apologise, if indeed it ever will, but as an Indian, I would certainly like to say a heartfelt sorry to Yin Marsh and her family for all that they had to go through as also to all the other affected Chinese. Thank you for this piece, Nicole. Mel Jeeves, online

A Genealogy Story

Sandip Roy’s article is a lovely genealogy story (My Granddad, The Bengali Peddler, India Currents, June 2013). I had known about the Central Valley Punjabis but this was a new angle. Jay Shah, online

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Most Popular Articles Online June 2013 1) A Boy Turned Pariah. Kalpana Mohan 2) My Mother’s Neem Tree. Samanvitha Rao 3) My Father and His Sixty Books. Jaya Padmanabhan 4) Katha Fiction Contest 2013 Results. 5) Minding the Gap. Ritu Marwah 6) San Francisco’s Ethnic Dance Festival. Emma Blanco


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Is Surveillance in the Name of Protection Ok?


No, any surveillance is an intrusion

Yes, surveillance for protection is ok

By Rameysh Ramdas

By Mani Subramani


hen presidential candidate Barack Obama thundered in 2007 in a fiery speech that the George W. Bush administration was “putting forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide” in opposing the warrantless wire tapping program and promised that he would end the practice as President. Here we are six years later with a President Obama and we now have a National Security Agency (NSA) program called PRISM that allegedly collects, according to the Washington Post, emails, documents, photos, and connection logs for millions of Americans arbitrarily by directly connecting to the servers of service providers such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google among others. I believe that Candidate Obama was right and now President Obama is wrong. Most rational Americans would, like me, give the government the benefit of doubt to do all it can to keep us safe. But, are such broad intrusions into ordinary American lives wise or necessary to keep our nation safe? While our Constitution itself does not explicitly deal with privacy, our nation’s founders in their infinite wisdom included several such provisions in the Bill of Rights—as the fourth amendment that protects the privacy of a person and possessions against unreasonable searches. How about we adopt the Israeli model? They have kept their citizens safe despite facBut, are such broad in- ing terrorism for decades. Their sophisticated inteltrusions into ordinary ligence gathering targets probable suspects. American lives wise or highly Instead, we have been subjecting a 92 year old, necessary to keep our fourth generation Amerination safe? can lady to the same scrutiny at an airport as foreign tourists from countries that harbor terrorists. The PRISM program arbitrarily encroaches on ordinary law-abiding citizen’s privacy with the purpose of aggregating information and then looking for suspects. That seems to be dangerously similar to China where the public have ceded their privacy to their government. President James Madison was absolutely right in his wise opinion when he said, “The loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or imagined, from abroad,” and then he went on to say that “All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” We must be smart to get to those that could hurt us like the Boston Bombers that we never did despite a warning from Russia, instead of summarily encroaching on everyone’s privacy. I believe that the American public should have been informed about this snooping. Without public awareness, a program like PRISM takes away a citizen’s right to privacy. We know that data can be misused by those in power. We absolutely expect and trust the government to defend and protect us—but when it comes to our privacy, let us be prudent and cautious with some healthy skepticism about it falling into the wrong hands—even those of our own elected leaders. n

was listening to the news the other day on my way to work. The lead news story rendered by the anchor in somber tones was about the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance where major cell phone carriers were required to submit telephone records of clients to the government for security purposes. The next decidedly more cheerful story was about the acquisition of a company that sold information about cell phone users GPS locations to advertisers. The advertisers then would stream advertisements relevant to the location of the user. These stories present an interesting irony. It seems to be okay for private companies to profit from trading personal and private information but it is not okay for the government to use the same information to foil terror plots inside the United States. Complaints about privacy ring hollow when people readily disclose personal information on social media. In a recent opinion column, Thomas Friedman pointed out that the surveillance which is needed to prevent another major attack actually protects our privacy. He argued that the emotional impact of a major attack would cause a vast majority of the citizens to turn over their privacy entirely to the government and result in an end of our free society. Further, there is no evidence that the government has misused the powers granted under the Patriot Act. We live in an age where all kinds of information are easily accessible. The information... the President has for-all genie is out of the bottle. It is time to have a aptly summed it up conversation about how to balance privacy issues by saying that it is not and security concerns in possible to have both this new era. When faced with the 100% privacy and challenge of protecting the country from ter100% security. rorism the President has aptly summed it up by saying that it is not possible to have both 100% privacy and 100% security. It is irrelevant and unproductive for the country to engage in this political debate without taking into account the purpose behind PRISM. To his credit Obama apprised Congress of the details and obtained permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court as required by law. Every indication is that the PRISM program has been quite successful. In recent testimony before Congress the director of NSA identified over 50 plots that have been foiled by PRISM. Data shows that the government program is working. This does not mean that people should blindly turn over their privacy to the government. And on the flip side, declaring that PRISM failed because of the Boston bombings is dramatic overreaction. In a recent Washington Post poll, 56% of the respondents were supportive of the PRISM program. This is a fine line that is going to be redrawn many times over in the coming days. Idealistic statements and proclamations from the past are not going to determine future policy. It’s a developing story, so stay tuned! n

Rameysh Ramdas, an S.F. Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.

Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.

6 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013


The Power of my 929 Beware of salesmen with wide, toothy grins By Rajee Padmanabhan The author’s maroon Mazda 929


o sooner than he learned that I would be heading to Dayton, Ohio for my first work assignment abroad, my father wasted no time in procuring a world map pronto, in trying to zero in on this unbeknownst, unsung place in the Mideast of the American Midwest. To his disappointment, Dayton was nowhere to be found; not even qualifying as the smallest of the small dots on the cartographer’s chart. But he tried reading out other cities in Ohio (Oh-Hy-Oh as he called it)—Columbus and Cleveland rolled off his tongue with nary a pause; Cincinatti stumped him. For someone like him—sounding out “cincin” wasn’t quite a cinch—it could have been Kinkinatti, Cinkinatti or Kincinatti. Those were the mid-90s, pre-WWW days; no handy Google Dictionary to sound out the word in American English. He barely concealed his dashed hopes of telling all and sundry of his darling daughter’s upcoming sojourn to a U.S. city of his dreams—a Chicago if not New York City or San Francisco. But Dayton? It was in such information-de-saturated times that I landed in Dayton, on a balmy summer day. The first month after you land in the United States, your life is a compressed version of the first six years of a child’s existence—you must learn a whole bunch of new skills. You acquire fine and gross motor skills—driving in Dayton and Detroit; language skills—last-name mnemonics that become an incantation of sorts–‘P’ as in Paul, ‘A’ as in Adam, ‘D’ as in David and so on; superior cognitive skills like the pricing plans of all phone carriers on international calls. The moment I exited the airport it dawned on me that I would need to equip myself with a four-wheeled personal companion to explore the endless prairie land all around me. So began the quest of acquiring a car. I did the most logical thing—quizzed everyone I knew about all they knew about buying a car. The curious thing about Indian expats is that the freshest off-the-boats (FOBs) have the most gyan (knowledge) to share with the just off-the-boats (JOBs). So I took the suggestion of a couple of my FOB friends and visited a bank to secure a car loan. Opening a checking account at the bank with a princely sum of two hundred dollars was a very reassuring experience, for I

was gifted an umbrella and a coffee mug in return. I was now a credit-worthy resident of the United States of America, or so I assumed. The plan was to request a four thousand dollar loan so I could buy myself a used car that would serve me for the short term. I was told by the bank officer that for that kind of loan, I would need cosigners. One of my FOB friends readily agreed to cosign as he thought it was akin to signing as a witness at a marriage registration, no financial liability whatsoever. Little did we know that in addition to the injury of a rejected loan, the insult would be a permanent black mark tattooed on our credit histories. Chastised by the loan faux pas, I consulted my cousin in Chicago who generously offered to loan me the necessary funds. Now the onus was on me to go find myself a car. Out I went one weekend on a used-cardealer reconnaissance mission, with another FOB friend. We were to scout a few places before making the final decision. There was a car dealer not too far from where I lived. A middle-aged salesman greeted us with a wide toothy grin as soon as we entered the showroom—he must have smelt the prey from a mile away. In all my naiveté, I informed him that I had four thousand dollars to buy a car. His grin now wider, he asked us to follow him to the car lot. He stopped in front of a car. It was a Mazda 929, 1988 model which cost five thousand but for me he was willing to come down to four grand, he explained. The maroon beauty stopped me in my tracks. I took one look and I fell in love, instantly, irrevocably. It had the most velvety maroon

seats that had an incredible sheen when the evening sun cast its light. It was complete and utter infatuation—I wanted it then and there, all four wheels and six cylinders of it. It was a done deal. Poorer by four thousand dollars, I drove off in style and considered myself the happiest twenty-two year old in the whole world. The next day, as I was leaving for work I tried lowering the power windows. They wouldn’t budge. I went to the navigator’s seat and tried lowering the window there— similar issue. Then I tried opening the trunk. With great difficulty it finally did. All said and done, the only feature that was “powered” which actually worked in that car was the seat warmer! The car had more problems than I could count. The car and I became the butt of many a joke among my Indian friends during our weekly dinners. My ignorance of luxury vs. economy models, quoting the budget upfront, not bargaining at all, not getting an inspection etc. were all analyzed threadbare but the toughest criticism was reserved for not recognizing a snake-oil-salesman, especially coming from India. My parents came to visit me a few months later and the first order of business was the only Indian thing to do—trade in my first love, my maroon Mazda and get myself a brand new Honda Civic! n Rajee Padmanabhan is a perennial wannabe— wannabe writer, wannabe musician, wannabe technologist. She lives with her iPad and iPod in Exton, PA, occasionally bumping into her husband and son while either of her i-Pals is out of charge. July 2013 | | 7

On Inglish

I’ll Have Three Sugars With That, Please By Kalpana Mohan

sugar—noun A sweet crystallizable material that consists wholly or essentially of sucrose, is colorless or white when pure, tending to brown when less refined, is obtained commercially from sugarcane or sugar beet and less extensively from sorghum, maples, and palms, and is important as a source of dietary carbohydrate and as a sweetener and preservative of other foods.


t the moment, the silken wedge of a plum is exploding into syrupy goop inside my mouth. I’m intensely happy. The best moments of my life revolve around sugar. The earliest memory of sweetness is of a moment in my native place in Parur, Kerala, where I’m standing at the door of an outhouse kitchen inside my grandfather’s vast home. Male cooks clad in yellowing cotton dhotis are stirring jackfruit, jaggery and ghee in a vat to make chakkai varatti or jackfruit preserve. I’m watching them stir the bubbling confection with a ladle that resembles a spade. The sickly sweetness of thickening compote and caramelizing sugar assaults my senses. Like my father and his three sisters I, too, am paralyzed by that constant craving for something sweet. “I simply cannot understand Saroja,” my late mother would say when she talked about my aunt’s sweet tooth. “She says she has cut back on sugar in coffee. But then, at the end of every meal, she reaches out for an almond burfi or a laddoo, both of which are saturated in sugar.” I resemble my aunt Saroja both in appearance and personality. Like her, I believe that cutting back the sugar will decimate my spirit; I will warp into a bitter shadow of my former self. Never mind that my shadow looms rather large these days. In my home, we don’t shrink away from sugar. Every year, my husband and I look at the numbers from our annual physical exam. The cholesterol may swing this way or that. But one number, thankfully, squeaks into the reference range, that of sugar. That means that we’ll rejoice, as before, in the bounties and festivities of the season. This summer, for instance, we’ll attend weddings, graduations and birthdays and savor all the items on the dessert table. We’ll binge on bing cherries. We’ll dig into big berries. We’ll cool with kulfi. We’ll load up on falooda. We’ll say yup to the crepe—with banana and Nutella and a dollop of cream. When we’re in India we’ll tug greedily at a warm poli (pancake) sodden with ghee. We’ll let our tongue roll around its flaky layers. Alas, I’m not the only one seduced by sugar. Nations were colonized, empires built, fortresses fortified, and slaves bartered—all for sugar. For centuries Europeans believed that sugar was a rare and expensive spice. Throughout the eighteenth century, sugar from the colonies was England’s most important import. Sugar became the cornerstone of foreign trade; it was shipped, in the form of molasses, from the Caribbean to Europe where it was distilled into rum. The profits from the sale of sugar were then rolled into the purchase of manufactured goods in Europe. These were shipped to West Africa where they were bartered for slaves. The slaves were then transported, like sardines in a can, to be sold in the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. And then it began all over again: profits from the sale of the slaves was funneled into the purchase of sugar which was then shipped to Europe. Extensive sugarcane production created a glut in sugar supply and this once rare commodity began to grace the kitchen table in Britain and the United States. Over a 200-year period from the middle of the seventeenth century and the middle of the nineteenth, the status of sugar crystallized 8 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

from dear to cheap. The capital from the sugar industry had enormous global sway. It catalyzed the industrial revolution. It triggered the large human migration of the 19th century. Around the world, the rise in per capita consumption of sugar has been associated with industrialization and affordability. Over the decades, however, the Western world began contending with the ill effects of sugar. Alternatives to sugar now offer saccharine nirvana but, to many people, cutting back on sugar is tantamount to torture. Imagine offering a Frenchman extra-firm tofu on his cheese plate. Just try telling an Indian to shun sweetmeat. India, the world’s biggest sugar consumer with a population of 1.24 billion, consumes over 60% more than China. Sugarcane, the largest crop in the world, is indigenous to India where its roots run deep, connecting the souls of all those born of that soil to whom the giving of something sweet translates to joy, harmony and peace. It’s little wonder then that the word “sugar” originated from India, from the Sanskrit word “sarkara” meaning “grit or grave or pebble,” that alludes to the crystalline form of cane sugar. As I fly the friendly skies to India this summer, I will sip United Airlines’ frightful coffee and dreadful tea, and I will say, not once, but many times, to the irritation of the flight attendant, that I will have my beverage “with milk and three sugars, please, thank you.” And the attendant will give me three sachets of which I will open three and pour in just two and a half. Then I’ll grimace as I taste it and add the remaining sugar, shrug, and wince again. I shall figure that if I’m flying at thirty-three thousand feet above sea level, one thing must be true. I must be light. And then I’ll smile and ask for that Walkers Chocolate Chip shortbread cookie. Oh, yes, it has sugar, 90 calories, but who’s counting especially when airborne and hovering between reality and infinity? I will leave you with another cloying idea about sugar. When Cleopatra is waiting, breathless and fragrant, after a languorous bath in fermented mare’s milk and honey, would Marc Anthony ever seek to make love to a prostitute? So, please, do not, do not ever press my lips to a sugar substitute. No Surrogate Stevia for me. No Spare tire Splenda. Sugar is not a vice, unlike a one-night stand. Clad in virgin white or in raw brown, sugar is a virtue in the guise of a daily morning fix. n Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga. To read more about her, go to and


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100 Years After the Nobel Prize The legacy of Rabindranath Tagore By Anita Felicelli

“I sit and write, A little juice collecting in my pen-nib this free morning Like a slit made in the bole of a date palm” —Rabindranath Tagore, Mayrer Drishti (In the Eyes of a Peacock) No writer living today is more praised by the Bengali community than Rabindranath Tagore, who won a Nobel Prize one hundred years ago in 1913. He was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Who is this Bengali polymath to readers 100 years after his win?

10 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013


ike many Indian parents, my parents introduced a few of Tagore’s poems as an example of great poetry. I vaguely recall that the poems I read were about nature; there was a reference to a moon and perhaps trees or flowers. They were beautiful poems, which registered in a spiritual way. To a palate accustomed to contemporary American poetry, the verses might seem overly religious, abstract and sentimental, but as a child I wasn’t yet absorbed into the skein of irony with which literature today concerns itself. In his introduction to Gitanjali, the poet W.B. Yeats wrote, “Rabindranath Tagore, like Chaucer’s forerunners, writes music for his words, and one understands at every moment that he is so abundant, so spontaneous, so daring in his passion, so full of surprise, because he is doing something which has never seemed strange, unnatural, or in need of defense.” In the first flush of excitement after he won the Nobel, Tagore attracted much attention in the West, particularly the attention of those who were eager to cast him as a mystical Eastern sage. Later on Yeats changed his mind about Tagore’s genius and uttered less kind words, as did numerous other Westerners who smarted under Tagore’s critique of Western aggression and relied on poor translations of his work for their judgment. Today, nonIndian writers are largely unfamiliar with Tagore. Tagore’s writing touched Pablo Neruda, Andre Gide, Yasanuri Kawabata, Robert Frost and Octavio Paz and the poet Hart Crane. I have read and loved some of the poets Tagore has influenced, like Hart Crane and Pablo Neruda. Tagore’s influence over the last century has been far-reaching and global, though the emotion and beauty of his work may be lost on some members of a contemporary Western reading public. Last year, I discovered that most of Tagore’s writings are actually available for free as Kindle ebooks. I downloaded Tagore’s Gitanjali (as it was originally translated by Yeats—a mistake), for a plane flight. It took a few minutes to push past the archaic pronouns and the strong emotions and I found myself thinking that the culture that produced Tagore is far more than a continent away from the culture in which I find myself. There were moments in Gitanjali where I was blown away, but I could tell the musicality that Bengalis rave about was lost in that translation. Gitanjali is a collection of 157 poems or “Song Offerings,” many of which are spiritual in tone or rapturous about the natural world. These poems were far more mystical than any of his other plays, essays, or songs written to that point. When Tagore met Yeats

If Tagore’s genius lies not in the translation of Gitanjali that led to the Nobel, does it exist at all? through a mutual friend in England in 1912, Yeats was enthusiastic about Gitanjali. It was through Yeats that Tagore met the poet Ezra Pound. Pound engaged with Gitanjali, too, though he believed readers might find it too “pious.” Anyone who has read Pound might find it amusing that a poet that wrote in such an obscure and esoteric manner would give consideration to what readers’ opinions of another person’s poetry might be. Of Gitanjali, the Times Literary Supplement wrote, “As a poet should be, [Tagore] is so simple that anyone can understand him; yet this does not mean that there is little to understand.” Those who appreciate the verse saw in Tagore’s work a clear and earnest mysticism and spirituality that was not common in British, Continental or American literature of the same time. When presenting the Nobel to Tagore, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy, Harald Hjarne, explained the motivation for bestowing the Nobel and it was not the reason the Nobel for Literature is given today. He said: “In awarding the Nobel prize in Literature to the Anglo-Indian [sic] poet, Rabindranath Tagore, the academy has found itself in the happy position of being able to accord this recognition to an author who in conformity with the express wording of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, had during the current year, written the finest poems “of an idealistic tendency.” Most people have assumed that Tagore’s receiving the Nobel was a sign that

the Nobel Committee saw it as a work of great literary genius. But in the first half of the 20th century, the Nobel Prize for Literature was not given so much on the basis of literary merit, as it was on the basis of a strict interpretation of Nobel’s wishes: that idealistic literature be rewarded. Accordingly, canonical authors like James Joyce or Leo Tolstoy were never awarded a Nobel. Nowadays the prize is awarded for literary merit as well as idealism with a political, rather than spiritual agenda. If Tagore’s genius lies not in the translation of Gitanjali that led to the Nobel, does it exist at all? While there are those readers who might disagree, I think Tagore’s genius lies in the cross-genre application of talent for which he received no award, for which almost nobody receives applause nowadays. Tagore was a formidable polymath: a poet, playwright, essayist, composer, and painter who spoke about certain subjects long before it became fashionable to do so. He was among the earliest Indian thinkers to see that Western science should be applied to “Third World development.” And his writings about violence and nationalism, death, nature, and many more topics that at first blush seem unrelated are brilliant.

Before the Nobel Prize

He was born on May 7, 1861 in a mansion in Calcutta, the youngest Tagore son. The poet grew up mostly within the walls of his house, later claiming he was not allowed to leave except for school. However he loved the outdoors and was invigorated by physical pursuits: he could walk 25 miles at a stretch

Rabindranath Tagore in England July 2013 | | 11

ested in him. If you look at photographs you can see the source of the attraction: he looks like a sensitive, dreamy man before that kind of man became popular to admire. He was even more critical of his fellow countrymen who he believed were overly deferential to Englishmen. He enrolled at University College in London and studied there until 1880 when he decided to return to India. Tagore’s diverse creative work started with renewed energy after his return. He penned poems, musical dramas, songs, and a novel. He resumed his friendship with Kadambari, his brothrst Place: "Light" by MUSTAFA ABUBAKER, Atlanta, Georgia er’s wife, and wrote poems dedicated to her, one of which was called “The Love econd Place: "Legacy" by ANU CHITRAPU, Boston, of Massachusetts Rahu” about a demon or planet in love with the moon. When Tagore was hird Place: "Ahalya" by DEBJANI MUKHERJEE, Auckland, New twenty-two, heZealand married a ten-year-old girl his father chose. Two months after “TheNew Love of onorable Mention: "Ripples" by ARCHITHA SUBRAMANIAN, Morristown, Jersey Rahu” was published, Kadambari comsuicide. It was a shattering moelder brothers of Rabindranath and their wives: onorableTwo Mention: "Burning" by NIKESH MURALI, mitted Canberra, Australia Jnanadanandini and Satyendranath, Jyotirindranath ment for Tagore. His writing on grief then novels and four cookbooks and hundreds of short (seated) and Kadambari and subsequently is unusual and powerful Her latest novel Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery is stuff: and years after a childhood spent wrestling, “Emptiness is a thing man canintroduced judo to India. not bring himself to believe in: that Although the Tagore family was Brahmo which is not, is untrue, that which is and Tagore would at one point refer to an ofuntrue is not. So our efforts to find 13. Thisfice year judges were Chitra Divakaruni and Bharti clerk’s clothes drenched by a monsoon as something where we see nothing are y blind. “oozing and lachrymose” like “the thoughts unceasing … Yet amid unbearable of a pious Vaishnava,” he was clearly influgrief, flashes of joy sparkled in my enced by the intense imagery and musicality mind on and off in a way which quite of Vaishnava poetry, which was at its peak in surprised me. The idea that life is not Tagore’s early life. a fixture came as tidings that helped Tagore was close to his brother Jyotirto lighten my mind. That we are not indranath’s wife, Kadambari, who he later forever prisoners behind a wall of described in his novella Nashtanirh. The stony-hearted facts was the thought acclaimed director Satyajit Ray adapted the that kept unconsciously rising uppernovella into Charulatha, a profound film most in rushes of gladness.” that explores the passionate, but nonsexual Around 1886, after his first child was relationship between a younger brother and born, Tagore wrote some powerful essays his brother’s wife. Readers who live in the that included criticism of the Indian educaSan Francisco Bay Area can view Charulatha tion system and attacks against the arroat the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto; the gance of the British. He faced harsh criticism theater’s owner, David Packard, screens it pefrom his own Bengali community. riodically. On occasion it is screened by uniYears later Tagore sent his son, not to versity theaters in the Los Angeles area, too. England as so many did, but to the United Around the age of eight, Tagore started States to study agricultural science. And writing poetry in Bengali. His first poem when Tagore visited him in Urbana, Illinois, was published anonymously. English was he became a popular lecturer there. A festival Tagore’s least favorite subject in school. He in his honor is still held in Illinois every year. wrote in it infrequently (until he translated Gitanjali in 1912). Tagore left his fourth Winning the Nobel school in 1975, finding school “a hideously Neither the Nobel Committee nor other cruel combination of hospital and jail.” non-Indians could know just how polemiHe had started publishing several pieces cal and unorthodox Tagore’s brilliant essays of literary criticism when his father shipped were. The West would later buy into other him off to England to study law. Tagore arsacred and profane ideas, siphoning from rived in England in the fall of 1878. He was Indian culture yoga, bindis, and Slumdog critical of the young women who were interMillionaire. In this same spirit, they bought 12 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

“It is the first time that this prize has been given to anybody but a white person.”— The New York Times into Tagore solely as a mystic. Tagore’s much less mystical essays arguably stand the test of time better than the translation of the Gitanjali has. Tagore learned that he’d won the Nobel Prize by cable from Calcutta. He won it over the novelist Thomas Hardy, who was nominated by the Royal Society of Literature in London. The Bengalis who had insulted and criticized him earlier showed up to hail him once the West placed its stamp of approval. His speech in response was understandably contemptuous: “The calumnies and insult from the hands of countrymen which have fallen to my lot have not been trifling … Today Europe has placed its garland of honour on me. If that has any value it lies only in the artistic discrimination of the arbiters of taste there. There is no genuine link between that and our country.” Public response to Tagore after the Nobel was not all good. One popular rumor floated that Yeats had rewritten Gitanjali. This rumor was rebutted in the memoirs of the friend who had introduced Tagore and Yeats. Tagore’s win was described in the New York Times with “It is the first time that this prize has been given to anybody but a white person.” And the next day, the New York Times published this odd, relieved explanation: “Babindranath [sic] Tagore if not exactly one of us, is, as an Aryan, a distant relation of all white folk.” Tagore died at age 80 frustrated with India, particularly the violence between Hindus and Muslims. Throughout his life he wondered how he would be read in the future, who he would be to future readers. When he was 35 he wrote, “A hundred years from now/Who are you reading this poem of mine?” And an excerpt from his second to last poem decades later reads, “The last sun of the last day Uttered the question on the shore of the western sea, In the hush of the evening— Who are you! No answer came.”

Tagore Today

In 2011 Adam Kirsch wrote a somewhat intellectually muddled piece in The New Yorker called “Modern Magus: What Did


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• Light by MUSTAFA ABUBAKER, Atlanta, Georgia Cash award $300

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The winning entries will be considered for publication in upcoming issues of India Currents and Khabar magazines. This year’s judges were Tania James and Amit Majmudar. The judging process was completely blind. Tania James is the author of a novel, Atlas of Unknowns. Her most recent book is Aerogrammes and Other Stories, which was named a Best Book of the Year by The San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal, as well as a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Amit Majmudar is a novelist, poet, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist and was a Katha Short Story contest winner himself for two years in a row. His first novel, Partitions, and two poetry collections were published to wide acclaim. His most recent novel is The Abundance. Visit for details. We thank the writers for taking part in the contest and encourage them to continue writing!

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the West See in Rabindranath Tagore?” The essay tries to present a fair case until about three-quarters of the way through when it not only dismisses a new translation of Tagore’s work, but also seems to dismiss Tagore as a writer. Kirsch acknowledged the West’s orientalism, noting that for writers outside India Tagore merely stood for the idea that there was saintliness in the world. He explains that Yeats never made any effort to know Tagore as a real person, but Tagore knew very well that he was misrepresenting himself to the Anglo world, so Yeats’ (and other poets’) lack of inquiry did not matter. Kirsch reasons at the end of the piece, “The fall in Tagore’s English reputation is not hard to explain. The margin of difference between sublime poetry and sentimental “rubbish” has to do entirely with the power and subtlety of the language, and this, of course, is what is hardest to convey in translation.” While there are significant difficulties with translation, Kirsch’s criticism is simultaneously unable to probe his own biases and pompously certain that what he wants from poetry is what it should offer. With Tagore, Kirsch started at the wrong place. He assumed that the West was right to forget him and therefore proceeded to prove his point with only one close reading of a couple of lines from a volume that is 864 pages long. The subtext is that if East and West meet, as Tagore had hoped, the West gets to have the last word. Tagore’s influence on so many writers, inside and outside Indian culture, surely called for more nuance and depth than Kirsch brought. To the extent The New Yorker represents America’s literary establishment, Kirsch’s review represents some of the worst aspects of America’s obliviousness about Eastern cultures and artists. When asked his opinion about Tagore, the author Amit Majmudar (The Abundance, 2013) said, “You would have to go back to Victor Hugo in French and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in German—and William Shakespeare in English—to get a sense of what Tagore represents. We know him, now, through his writings, but his contemporaries—including the Nobel Committee— recognized him as a figure greater than the sum of his writings. They recognized him as someone who transcended national and linguistic boundaries by being, so comprehensively, of one nation and one language: Ours.” Majmudar seemed to see Tagore’s worth today more in what he represents than the literary merit of any particular piece of writing. In a similar, but more critical comment, 14 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

a character in Jeet Thayil’s novel Narcopolis says, “The point about Tagore is that the whole was far greater than the sum of the parts. It is the composite figure that matters. But Tagore the mystic and poet? Tagore the painter? Tagore the composer? Not one of those Tagores is worth very much.” But poetry is an intensely subjective enterprise. My husband, a non-Indian writer with a Masters in Literature and poetry, loves Tagore’s poetry. So have numerous poets from many different cultures who were comfortable thinking about life and death as two halves of one whole. It seems then, that the disagreements exist only when we look at Tagore’s work with the expectation that it meets today’s literary tastes as set forth by New York’s contemporary publishing scene. When we look at Tagore’s work through the lens of American culture, perhaps we lose an understanding of how profoundly original he was for the time and place in which he wrote. Literature of any language should grapple with the bigger questions of life and death. Not all or even most of the books published in New York today do this. Tagore does this in spades. Kirsch acknowledged that the East held the promise of ancient wisdom for the West back in 1913. But he didn’t make enough of the reality that Tagore’s style of idealism remains rare in the West outside of academia to this day. The decline in interest in Tagore in the West was representative of the United States’ rising interest in efficiency (automation and computerization and specialization), and its drift away from the natural world. The decline in interest could be attributed to mainstream America’s mistrust of an intellectual

life that has no immediate practical value, that spreads itself too thin, that thinks about death as a part of life. While some have suggested that the early Nobel Prize ruined Tagore’s literary work by giving him too much quick recognition, Indians were more inclined to take Tagore’s idealism seriously as a result of this award. The award bestowed upon him the kind of credibility that was necessary to create change in India. Arguably India’s attempts to make progress in certain areas are partly the result of its veneration of Tagore, who acted as a galvanizing force on the whole country. It is hard to imagine an American poet today who could have as much influence on America (or the world) today as Tagore had on India. In March 1994, India Currents ran a feature on Tagore by Gautam Sengupta that discussed Tagore’s relationship to the United States in reverential terms. According to the feature, Tagore saw the United States as the only nation engaged in solving the problems of race intimacy. Tagore’s basic question of how significantly different kinds of people can live in harmony within a nation or the world does continue to be important to America. There has been incredible progress in this area. But it’s not clear how Tagore would have perceived American’s continuing challenges in the areas of racial and cultural equality and tolerance. While the sixties in America were a time of great idealism and reform, the decades since have shown how challenging this project really is. Martin Luther King, Jr. may be the closest America has come to producing a thinker with the same level of influence over a nation that Tagore had in India. In a consumer culture where idealism outside of universities is often met with a dispassion akin to Kirsch’s (or else outright scorn), I wonder if we would even recognize a Tagore today in our literary arts if we saw him or her. As Amartya Sen outlines in his brilliant essay in The Argumentative Indian, Tagore valued objectivity and skepticism as much as anyone. But he was never willing to abandon his zest for the world, his humanity. n Resources: Rabindranath Tagore, The Myriad-Minded Man by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson Rabindranath Tagore, An Interpretation by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya Tagore and his India, Amartya Sen (essay) Anita Felicelli is a writer and attorney who lives in the Bay Area. She is the author of the novel “Sparks Off You” and other books.

A Master Stroke


agore has influenced me both as a writer and a human being. His understanding of his women characters and his compassion for the challenges faced by them and his masterful delineation of the domestic space have left a distinct mark on books I have written, such as Sister of My Heart and Arranged Marriage. Tagore was a great visionary, well ahead of his times in his insistence that women be treated with dignity and allowed personal fulfillment. Chitra Divakruni

/ indiacurrents @ indiacurrents

A Bow to the Bearded Genius


his is how it goes, one of my earliest memories. Perched on my grandfather’s lap, I listened to him read a chapter from a Tagore novel titled Gora in original Bengali, the rest of my extended family sitting in a circle around us. Although I was too young to be able to take part in the discussion that would follow, the music of the words stayed with me. In my youth, I devoured Tagore’s work, which gave rise to a dream of being a writer some day. Once finished with my studies in the United States, I pursued a career in the software industry. Finally, one day I decided to make a career switch and try my hand at writing. I attribute the courage to make that big leap to Tagore. It is his influence on my early years that ultimately enabled me to fulfill my dream. Bharti Kirchner

INDIA CURRENTS Celebrating 27 Years of Excellence

The Comprehensive Writer To understand Tagore, we 21st-century readers must expand our notion of what a “writer” is and does. No writer, Indian or American, is to his or her country what Tagore was to Bengal and, eventually, the newly established India. Tagore is, above all, a comprehensive figure: he comprehended his people, from the highest to the lowest classes; he comprehended Bengali in all its literary forms, the poem, the play, the novel, the short story— even the song lyric; and he comprehended subjects and themes both earthly and divine. No other writer in the 20th century held this kind of comprehensive role for his people and language. Amit Majmudar

July 2013 | | 15


How Paati Learned to Swim Winner • Growing Up Asian in America

By Kavya Padmanabhan; Art by Reema Minawala


dress where he spoke about immigration, y grandmother, Paati, rebuilt her encouraging young immigrants to approach life seven years ago. After living our borders and join our workforce and keep in India her whole life, she moved the American dream alive. Our senior citizen to California to live with my family. In one immigrants are rarely mentioned, since they move, she lost her country, her house, her don’t directly help the economy. friends, her language, and her identity. She If I were President, I would ensure that had to construct her new world with few the process of becoming a citizen would take familiar tools to rely on. into account the applicant’s age as well as Instead of drowning in this new life, their desire to succeed. Paati, as an immiPaati began to learn to swim. She started to grant, has knit our family together and made read newspapers in English. She began to exit stronger. Deserving candidates, those who periment with incomplete phrases, like “eat work hard and show dedication and passion dinner,” or “are you leaving?” She made new should become citizens easily, regardless of friends, she took care of us, and she became their age. the central force in our lives. As a child of immigrant parents, imMany share Paati’s story. In fact, she migration reform affects me personally. Alis like a tiny patch on a one thousand mile fabric made up of immigrants and their By Reema Minawala Title: The American Dream hopes and dreams. She and other senior citizens (65 years or older) like her make up 12 percent of the whole immigrant population. Paati embodies the spirit of perseverance and endurance that the old and young have founded this country with. Our ideal immigrant shows a desire to succeed, is a hard worker and respects our great nation. Paati unveiled all these qualities when she was studying for her citizenship test. Every day she would study from the list of 100 questions that my mother printed for her. Although Paati failed her first test, her determination to succeed made her study even harder the second time. I remember the day she became a citizen. It was a day we celebrated. In February, President Obama gave a State of the Union Ad-

16 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

though we accept immigrants from all over the world, we should find a way to attract the smart, kind, accepting people of the world—the people who we aspire to be. We have to show them that the United States is a place where perseverance is rewarded and opportunities abound. Seeing Paati fail but not give up hope reached out to me. She taught me that I could change the world by embracing both my cultures, just like other immigrants do. By restricting some of these immigrants from entering our country, we are limiting ourselves from new ideas. Our “city on a hill” can become a reality if we treat immigrants—legal and illegal—with generosity and kindness. n Kavya Padmanabhan is from Los Altos Hills and is a rising Senior. She is a 1st Place essay contest winner in the grade category of 9-12. Reema Minawala is in the 8th Grade. She attends Thornton Jr. High in Fremont. She is a 1st Place Art contest winner in the grade category of 6-8. President Obama has made history as our first African American and mixed-race president. As he embarks on his second term in office this year, Growing Up Asian in America contestants were asked to imagine they have become our very first Asian or Pacific Islander American president. Growing Up Asian in America is a signature program of the Asian Pacific Fund, a Bay Area community foundation established to strengthen the Asian and Pacific Islander community in the Bay Area by increasing philanthropy and supporting the organizations that serve our most vulnerable community members. You can also view the winning entries online at www.asianpacificfund. org.

July 2013 | | 17


Chronicles of Culture A conversation with the editors of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism By Suchi Sargam


he Encyclopedia of Hinduism (EH)— perhaps, and strangely— the world’s first comprehensive encyclopedia on Hinduism, was launched in India in a 11 volume series with 7,216 pages. The preview ceremony held on the banks of the Ganges in Hardwar during the Kumbh Mela had the Dalai Lama and other spiritual leaders bless the publication that took close to two decades to complete. Surprisingly, this encyclopedia had its seeds in the United States even as the Indian subcontinent remains its strongest demographic foothold. EH had its birth in Pittsburgh in 1987, though its contents have been written by scholars from around the globe. Indrajit Hazra writing for the Hindustan Times says about EH, “The production is excellent, as is the quality of images that are scattered across the volumes. With entries that include the ‘Dhammapada’ (the main text of Theravada Buddhism), the ‘Chipko movement’ (the organised environmental movement to resist the destruction of forests in India’), as well as the ‘Saura Mandala’ (solar system), clearly, this is an encyclopedia that doesn’t define ‘Hinduism’ in any narrow, proselytising way.” Rajan Mehra, the chairman of Rupa Publications Group called EH the “most important publication of his career.” The BJP leader, L.K. Advani published a blog in praise of the Encyclopedia. Intrigued by the interest EH has generated, I spoke to K.L. Seshagiri Rao, the key editorial man behind the series who worked on it between 1987 and 2006, and Kapil Kapoor the Editor-in-chief who spearheaded the editorial unit till its publication. Rao has a Ph.D from Harvard University and teaches Religious Studies at the Universtity of Virginia and Kapoor is the former pro-Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and a professor of English. How was the idea of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism conceived? 18 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

did not have an encyclopedia back then. The Encyclopedia of Hinduism will remedy this appalling omission. It makes available to the world, the authentic heritage of Hindu culture, its ethical legal, artistic, medical and scientific achievements, and most importantly, its spiritual insights, values and accomplishments.

Rao: A post-graduate student of mine at the University of Virginia, where I used to teach Asian religions, asked me to recommend an Encyclopedia of Hinduism where he could research and get information on Hinduism. I had to tell him that there was no such manual on Hinduism. Then I started thinking about it and shared my ideas with Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the founder and spiritual head of the Hindu Jain Temple in Pittsburgh. He gave me the green signal and full support to work on the Encyclopedia project. It became a major academic enterprise, and Swamiji later founded the India Heritage Research Foundation (IHRF) to sponsor and sustain it. Note: The first volume of the series contains an introductory chapter titled “Blessings of H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji” that states this explanation as the source of the encyclopedia: “The idea that came to me that day, more than two decades ago, came from the Divine.” The introductory pages mention that it was the need to disseminate correct information on Hinduism “in the West” as one of the causes for its creation. Could you elaborate? Rao: There are encyclopedias of other great religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but Hinduism

How would you introduce this Encyclopedia to prospective readers? Kapoor: First, the word Hinduism is only about 200-300 years old. What we call Hinduism is a cultural community and an intellectual system. It is not a “religion” like other religions—there is no single belief system with a single text like the Koran, single institution like the Church, a priestly class like the Maulvis, bound to certain interpretation only. Hinduism has many gods and allows godlessness too; you can speak against Hindu gods and beliefs, as there is tolerance for dissenting opinions. In the encyclopedia we have projected it as a powerful intellectual culture. Has Hinduism been addressed as a religion in the encyclopedia or as a system of beliefs? I found both references in the preliminary pages… Rao: What is religion? Do they say dharma is religion? The word religion comes to us from the West. So far as the Hindus are concerned, Hinduism is not a religion but sanatana dharma, a way of life. Hindu tradition is not a belief system. It is a spiritual tradition with moral and spiritual disciplines (sadhana) that are intended to be practiced. Kapoor: The preliminary pages may contain some such references, as some learned scholars and elders have given their best wishes and blessings in those pages, as is the Hindu tradition of doing things. To bring this project to fruition, was an in-depth study of Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and other epics like Ramayana, etc. undertaken? Rao: The intention was not to interpret basic texts, but to record how they have been

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interpreted by saints, sages and scholars through its history. The authors of the Encyclopedia include philosophers, archaeologists, historians, social scientists as well as experts in the different languages of India such as Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, etc. The scholars were asked to write articles on saints, sages, poets, scholars who have contributed immensely to the Hindu tradition. A few examples are Tulsidas, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Alwars, Nayanmars, Purandaradas, Thyagaraja etc.

Dalai Lama with Pujya Swami Chidananad Saraswati

What sources were used to make the series? Rao: The basic sources were Sruti, Smriti, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharatha Brahmasutra, Yogasutra, Bhagavad Gita as well as the writings of saints, sages and scholars in different Indian languages. Are there any references to the scandals that some popular “saints” were involved in while being guardians of Hinduism? Kapoor: If you check the Britannica Encyclopedia on Christianity, there is no mention of the violence that was committed on people over the centuries. The Encyclopedia is not for propaganda material. So why do we need to include the negative aspects of saints and sages in our work? We are not doing a critical exposition of Hinduism here.

than 8,000 articles, which were edited down to about 7,500 articles. The central office in Pittsburgh arranged workshops, conferences and seminars in the various universities in India and the world to identify scholars and supporters. Manuscript editing conferences were organized in Rishikesh and New Jersey. Articles, handwritten or typed mostly, were collected, processed, catalogued, and documented by a database maintenance team in Columbia, South Carolina.

What kind of work force was employed in the making of this series? Rao: The Encyclopedia, with contributions from about 1,500 scholars, is mostly written by Hindus in India and the United States. There were some non-Hindu scholars who wrote about Buddhism, Jainism, Sikkhism, Christianity and Islam, in other words, other religions. 70% of the contributors came from India, and 30% from the West. But many of those from the West are Hindu scholars, working in different countries. Hindu studies have been pursued by Middle Eastern and Western academics too. This has given rise to diverse perspectives, which do not always coincide with indigenous interpretations. The Encyclopedia discusses such diverse perspectives and endeavors to arrive at an understanding that is sound from a scholarly point-of-view.

What were the biggest challenges you faced? Rao: The chief problem was financial; Pujya Swamiji worked very hard to raise funds for the project. Sometimes, he was successful; sometimes, he received only promises.

What was the process in putting this momentous book together? Rao: First, a huge Entry List was prepared with contributions from scholars in different fields. From that list 10,000 entries were selected. Then for each entry an appropriate scholar/expert was identified. More 20 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

Since the series is out, have you started getting feedback from readers and critics and what are your objectives for the next edition? Rao: I am 84 years old, and cannot do much now. I can only recommend and give suggestions as to what should be done next on matters such as: • Translation of the Encyclopedia into several Indian and Western languages • Expansion of the project Kapoor: We have invited readers to draw attention to errors, omissions and other issues that may be wrong, since this is the first edition. Since the release, I have got hundreds of calls from people pointing out errors in punctuation and grammar, etc. These are minor things. We are looking forward to more constructive criticism in time to come. Buddhism, Jainisim, Sikhism and other Indian religions/traditions have been introduced as off-

shoots of Hinduism in the Encyclopedia, but weren’t they revolutionary movements against Hinduism in the first place? Will this not be seen as an attempt at derailing rebel movements by a larger religion and co-opting them instead of allowing them to exist as alternates to Hinduism? Rao: If Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists call themselves a separate tradition, we have to respect their opinions. But they all agree that they arose from and took some insights and values from Hinduism, and in some cases discarded some values of Hinduism. And it is true that we are trying to assimilate them within our system. We are absorbing the insights and values of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and other religions. We are not only tolerant, but also highlight the good points of other religions and absorb them. Are you accepting articles for the next edition? Rao: As of now, articles are not being collected. But that will change. There are still many articles and research items that need to be included. Like the south Indian and north Indian temples, south Indian philosophies, saints and sages—not all have been covered. Much more needs to be done. Kapoor: I believe this is just the start. Given the chance, this Encyclopedia, given its timeless subject, can go upto 50 volumes easily. A lot more can be done. n Suchi Sargam is a journalist in India. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HINDUISM By India Heritage Research Foundation. Mandala Publishing, India. 2013. English. 7216 Pages. $804. Hardcover. 11 Volumes. Available at

July 2013 | | 21


Aging Out in Silicon Valley By Krishnamachar Sreenivasan


rowing old is not as glorious as it is made out to be. Personal life, professional life, family life, and social life are indexed by age. Corporations have clever ways of fending off old people without the slightest hint of discourtesy. Once you approach sixty signals are given, red flags raised and you make the dreaded list. Take the case of my friend Ravi Pillai. On a Friday evening, as he was about to leave work, Pillai was told by his boss, rather offhandedly, to brush up on his resume. Pillai replayed this startling conversation over and over again as he drove home along U.S. 280 to his house in Belmont Hills. Usually on the Friday drive home all Pillai could think about was Sunday golf at the Palo Alto Golf Club and maybe watch the Sunday night NFL game with his wife and possibly chat with his son Rakshat and daughter Ranjani both under-graduates at Penn. Not this day. The message from Bill, his boss was disturbing. He had worked for Bill for five years and he could have told him clearly what he had meant, without resorting to subtle messages. That message was a foreshadowing of his layoff notice that he received very soon after. Pillai was told that it was nothing personal, just a business decision.

Merely a Business Decision

Desis like me find it hard to stomach these “business decisions.” Traditionally it doesn’t quite make sense to a diaspora that comes from a culture that has a favorable bias towards older people. In India, one enters a professional world where the rules are well known before the game begins; a school teacher retires at 57! One year extension and goodbye! An Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) professor retires at age 60, its Director at 65, an Army Major at 40, and so on. Not so in the Silicon Valley. Desis who graduate at the top of their class come to the United States, get a nice job, put their nose to the wheel and plug away. Down the road, very often these days, this peaceful journey is jolted by what is euphemistically called business trends, market forces, or just naseeb (fate). Life in the Silicon Valley marches to one drum beat: an amorphous amalgam of return on investment, market forces, business cycles, and accessibility of company leaders.

22 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

Growing old is similar to jogging up an escalator when you trained all your life to walking up the stairs. You have to learn new skills for no apparent reason ... Quick Change

There are probably industries where experience is rewarded and people respect the insight gathered over many years of toiling. Not so in the Silicon Valley, in my opinion, where change occurs at a revolutionary pace. In 1989, the Loma Prieta year, a 440 MB disk drive was the size of a washing machine. Today my grandson has a 15 GB flash drive smaller than his pinkie! His thumbnail is the size of a processor these days, that holds 20 million transistors hooked up in 28 layers of copper and silicon! The young enter the Silicon Valley’s glitzy offices starry eyed. Blessed are those with stock options. Armed with skills and wizardry they quickly learn the ropes, and stay ahead of change. In my youth after graduation there were limited options in India. Either go to the United States, or join Atomic Energy Commission, or steel plants in Bokaro, Rourkela or Durgapur. Many of my buddies joined Atomic Energy Commission in the Big Shahar in Bombay. On arrival they were surprised to discover that an argon welder (stainless steel welding had just arrived in India in the 1950s) made more money than they did. In many cases, the argon welders did not graduate from college. But it was the skill of the day. That is what the Silicon Valley is all about. It is how skilled you are at Java, Mocha, Teakettle, Lemon-pot, Banana-peel or whatever. Growing old is similar to jogging up an escalator when you trained all your life to walking up the stairs. You have to learn new skills for no apparent reason and new jargon to boot. “Pencil and paper” have given way to “email-ing, text-ing, sms-ing.” As eyes become weak, screens become small. Free markets and individuality frequently reach absurd levels preventing standardization. No two chargers (cell phone, laptop ...) are interchangeable. Is it Big Endian, Little

Endian, count from the left or count from the right? Every software version is replaced by another version with different interfaces. The “log off ” button is hidden like the exit sign in a Las Vegas casino. You are constantly badgered by younger guys who mock you, “You have a Ph.D?” You comfort yourself by recalling an old Ananda Vikatan “Humour Without Words” cartoon. The first frame is that of an old man fumbling to open a door. The second frame shows a brash kid smirking at the geezer and triumphantly opening the door and holding it open to let the old man pass. The third frame shows the geezer smiling quietly as he turns around to watch the smart bachcha wait for the door to close behind him and embarrassingly reads the sign “Wet Paint!” Nice story but leaves your young boss unimpressed!

Learning to Think

My professor taught me during my school days that education was not about mastering facts but the ability to think and above all retain a life-long enthusiasm to learn. He told us the tale about Bohr, Rutherford, and Dirac. Rutherford writes to Bohr to inquire how his star pupil Dirac was performing. (Rutherford had sent Dirac to Copenhagen to train under Bohr). Bohr replies, “He has not said a word in the last six months.” Rutherford narrates a story to Bohr, “A shopper goes to a pet shop looking for a parrot. He sees one he likes and asks the shop owner, ‘How much for that?’ ‘$100.’ ‘How many languages does it speak?’ ‘One.’ ‘Ha! I like that one! How much for this?’ ‘$200.’ ‘How many languages does it speak?’ ‘Two.’ ‘Ha! I like that one! And this?’ ‘$10000.’ ‘How many languages does it speak?’ ‘None.’ ‘What? You want $10000 for a parrot that speaks no languages?’ ‘Young man that is the only parrot I have that can think!’” So my mates and I tried to learn to think but ultimately we were judged only by our

most recent contributions, our most recent gadgets, our most recent memos ...

Fixing Bugs and Swatting Flies

In the Valley moving up the corporate ladder requires special, intangible, elbowing skills—a mixture of brains, technical ability, quick thinking, and most importantly the gift of the gab. You begin the career as a stone cutter mastering your trade but hate to remain one forever; you want to become a cathedral builder. Faltering economies reduce funds for new cathedrals. So that leaves you back in the fox hole cutting stones with tired hands, scarred knuckles and deeply bruised egos. Frequently your weak eyes can’t pick a chip off the stone. Or fix a bug but can only swat flies and step on fleas. You are expensive and not given tasks to match your skills; you keep pumping the same old stuff by changing fonts and colors. So you become expendable. A newly minted Stanford graduate can do the same thing with more enthusiasm, for a lot less. Or a new product is announced and a new team is formed that has the oldies and guess what the project is canceled paving the way to let go all its members. All these are defended as sound business decisions. Engineers are sent to Cunningham Road from Cupertino. It is the Valley equivalent of the Siberian chill. Reentry to Cupertino is not easy. So you move back to Cupertino

to dust off your resume and call all your colleagues who you now facebook. Spread the word around that you are looking. Your mind wanders as you go through the day with those brain-numbing tasks that you are forced to perform so that you can pay for those “arangetrams” and private school tuitions—always on the rise. You cannot remember how to change the font inside a Microsoft equation editor. The Berkeley kid knows how to but you cannot go on asking him—he will say “Heh! Read the manual it is so intuitive.” You dread that word “intuitive.” You have gone through so many seemingly intuitive steps. Forward slashes, backward slashes, &&==(**/), cntrl-shiftdelete, grave accents, escaping characters, single quotation and double quotation, and now slide to unlock from left to right.

Swimming Upstream

There is no one way of coping with it—it comes with the territory, the joy of growing old a privilege denied to many. Take a deep breath and look around and see that you are not alone. Learn to like the new technology. Connect with old friends; listen to songs that made you happy when young. Take your friends to coffee, temple, church, or gurdwara. Remember we desis like to chat, argue, and exchange opinions on almost everything. Don’t stop; keep at it but only with other geezers like you. It is just the Mathsya (salmon)

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Krishnamachar Sreenivasan does not write for a living; he is a Visiting Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, Ropar, India. He hosted a Public Service Program, “Thathas ’R Us” that connected Bay Area Senior Citizens, mostly of Indian origin, who needed help, with volunteers who were eager to help. He is originally from Bangalore and has lived in the United States since 1960, mostly in the Bay area with his wife, children and grandchildren.

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in all of us. Age makes us grow fonder of what we loved when we were young. Salmon travel up stream to where they were born, in order to die. Remember you are alive if you get up with your joints creaking. But don’t grow old listening to your arteries harden. Learn a new language, a new musical instrument, work on your backhand; whatever it is, do it with youthful passion. Remember what Einstein said, “Life is like bicycling; the moment you stop you lose your balance.” Never throw in the towel. Just use it to wipe your brow and move forward. My paati always used to crow, “Kaad va enrudu veedu po enrudu, inda kattaiakku thairana enna moranna yenna, thaire kuduthidungo.” Its impact is lost when translated across culture and language but a weak translation is “I have simple tastes; I am easily satisfied with the best!” n

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Fifth Amendment Revisited By Naresh Rajan

Can my case be dismissed if the police do not read me my Miranda rights?

In my practice, new clients often tell me that their cases must be dismissed because the police did not read them their Miranda rights. I often sigh inwardly and surmise that the client has been watching too much television. The right against self-incrimination as stated in the Bill of Rights is that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” The right typically manifests in two scenarios. First, in a criminal trial. At trial, the defendant has the absolute right not to testify. The jury may not consider or speculate about the defendant’s reasons not to testify. The prosecutor may not comment upon the defendant’s silence either. Second, the police must advise a person of their Fifth Amendment rights if that person is in government custody and the

police are going to ask questions that seek to discover information showing the person’s guilt. The second scenario is difficult to understand for many of my clients because they forget the two criteria that must be met before the law requires the police to inform arrestees of their rights. The first is custody. That means formal arrest, or a state in which no reasonable person would feel free to leave. And the second is that the police must be asking incriminating questions. Without these events, there is no obligation to advise arrestees of their rights. Police often ask incriminating questions before they place a person under arrest. This happens often when the police ask someone to come down to the station to give a statement about a recent incident. They tell the person that he or she is free to leave any time and leave the door open or unlocked while interviewing him or her. Recent developments in the law make it


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more problematic for a person to go to the station and have this type of conversation with the police. The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that silences during these conversations may be used against the person in court. So, if you are not in custody and are silent without invoking your right to remain silent when the police ask you questions, that silence can be used to prove your guilt. The point is that if you want to preserve your Constitutional rights, you really must say that you want to exercise your rights. If you just sit there and say nothing, you may not be protected. If you ever find yourself sitting across from a police officer in a police station interview room being asked a question that you cannot safely answer, just say that you want to talk to a lawyer. Better yet, take the lawyer with you or don’t give a statement. n Naresh Rajan is an attorney in San Mateo County. Email

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Green for Go By Kalpana Iyer Mohanty


fter reading the timeless 1925 novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the ninth grade, and waiting through the tantalizing advertisements and trailers, I saw the movie The Great Gatsby on opening night in Delhi last weekend. The theatre was full. The audience was largely well-educated, well-traveled, well-heeled expats and Indians, who knew of the book, the author, and the message. This quintessential American story of excess, idealism and the American Dream, has now been globally released for a new and varied audience to analyze from their own perspective. The plot has Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) coming to New York in the spring of 1922 to take up residence next door to Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a partying playboy millionaire, and close to his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her aristocratic philandering husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Carraway is witness to the excesses and the lack of morals of the jet-setting upper crust. How might the average Indian audience interpret the movie? Some may view it as just another opulent Bollywood movie: beautiful, rich, welldressed people, palatial homes, and good music. What’s not to love? The only thing missing is a group dance sequence. Some things may not be understandable—like Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan not playing the lead role and the movie having a sad ending. Surely with his money and good looks, Gatsby’s mama could have found him a nice wife from a good family. On the other hand, some other things may be so understandable as to be unremarkable: such as the vast economic inequality and steep social class hierarchy; such as Tom’s racist comments and poor treatment of his servants; such as the gender inequality expressed in Daisy’s statement when her baby girl is born —“That the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” This can be as easily said of contemporary India as 20s America. For others, it may support what they’ve long believed to be true: the United States is a land of excess and depravity, with no spirituality and no family values to ground their youth. As Fitzgerald says of Tom and Daisy, “They had spent a year in France for

28 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

But Fitzgerald is not depicting the American Dream. He is revealing an American Nightmare—rudderless materialism without roots, ethics or philosophies. no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together.” Some people, particularly some Americans, could interpret the movie to mean that the American Dream did not really exist then and doesn’t exist now. With growing inequality within the country, the continuing economic slump, and a rival for superpower status, the good life seems to be over. But Fitzgerald is not depicting the American Dream. He is revealing an American Nightmare—rudderless materialism without roots, ethics or philosophies. But while some no longer believe in the American Dream, many still do—or at least want to. The American Dream is much more than just material wealth. It supports the concept of freedom in a land where traditions don’t hang heavy around your neck. It promises a vast number, breadth and depth of opportunities. It speaks to equality, selfreliance, and accepting failure as one step along the route to success. If you try hard enough, you can forge your own destiny and succeed—unless, like Jay Gatsby, you get lost along the way. The Dream maybe of American origin,

but it also applies to other parts of the New World—like Canada and Australia—that may be less quick to name or claim the concept. And it’s not that discrimination and inequality don’t exist in these nations, but they aren’t an integral and accepted part of the system. Some renditions of the American Dream are not perfect and some, taken to an extreme like Fitzgerald’s, can lead to tragic endings— but that doesn’t make the dream irrelevant or passé. Fact or fiction, the American Dream is based on hope, and Gatsby is one of the most hopeful characters found in any story. When his friend Nick Carraway tells him that he can’t repeat the past, Gatsby denies it vehemently: “Can’t repeat the past?” Gatsby cries out. “Why of course you can!” All mistakes are recoverable and happiness lies just around the corner. No matter the reality, hope continues to exist. After I graduate from high school I, and many of my friends, would like to savor this American Dream during our university years. It’s not for the material things, which are now available in many countries and often in greater abundance. Rather, it is to experience life in a place that strives for equality, promotes independence, and encourages new thinking—that allows us the freedom to be who we want to be and the opportunities to be the best that we can be. Moreover, it’s the chance to have teachers and classmates who also believe in what we believe. For many of us, we look towards the green light and it says “Go.” n Kalpana Iyer Mohanty is a 11th grade student and a Fitzgerald aficionado, currently living in New Delhi.

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In Memoriam

Lalgudi G. Jayaraman 1930—2013 By P. Mahadevan


iolin maestro, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman was born in the town of Lalgudi in the Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu. He started his musical career as a disciple of his father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer and at an early age, through determined effort and guidance, rapidly acquired proficiency with the violin. He gave his first performance at the age of 12. He was considered a legendary pillar of Karnatik music, one who embodied the discipline of rigor as well as the rigor of discipline. He made his violin sing and dance to the lyricism of his creative mind. Lalgudi Jayaraman died of cardiac failure in Chennai on April 22, 2013. His loss has left the Karnatik music world and his legions of fans bereft. Jayaraman is credited with developing his own style of playing the violin, the “Lalgudi Bani” which enabled him to follow very closely the variations of the human voice on the strings. To him, the very act of giving a concert on stage was a ritual in the realm of the divine, and to accept second best was treason. I recall an incident that occurred in our Southern California community in 1971. A few of us got together to arrange our very first Karnatik concert featuring Lalgudi Jayaraman and Dr. N. Ramani, the flutist. Lalgudi was meticulous in observing format and tradition, one of which was to keep a lit oil lamp on stage. This was objected to by the property owners who rented the hall to us, for obvious reasons. Somehow we managed to convince them and a polished brass lamp was lit and set in place. One among us, however, was less tolerant than others and tauntingly lit his cigarette from the ritualistic symbol lamp prior to the concert. Jayaraman was very upset by the incident. However, it didn’t affect his performing a scintillating concert to the satisfaction of all. Jayaraman was fortunate in observing, learning and accompanying several musicians of repute. Among these are Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai, T. Chowdiah, R.K. Venkatarama Sastry, M.S. Gopalakrishnan and T.N. Krishnan. He has collaborated with the legendary American violinst and conductor,

30 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

Yehudi Menuhin, who presented him with a special Italian violin in 1965 as a sign of respect and admiration. After a stroke in 2006, Jayaraman felt that the dexterity of his fingers was not good enough to play the violin to his established ability. He therefore gave up playing on the stage altogether. He branched out into other fields of music and became a composer of musical varnams, thillanas and kirtanams as well as a choreographer of dance dramas. He took on the role of teacher with renewed vigor, working with senior vocalists like Bombay Jayasree, Harikatha exponent Visakha

Hari, younger artist Saketha Raman and his own son G.J.R Krishan and daughter Vijaya Lakshmi. He left us as a complete musician: a lifelong composer, performer and teacher. Accolades and honors have been showered on him such as the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan. He declined the honor of the Sangeetha Kalanidhi from the Madras Music Academy as it came, according to him, too late in his career. The Academy quickly made amends and came up with a Lifetime Achievement Award instead for Jayaraman, the first such award in a hundred years. He was made an honorary citizen of Maryland in the United States and Ohio declared April 2 as Lalgudi Day. Just as the famous writer R.K. Narayan

put the mythical village of Malgudi on the literary map, so did Jayaraman put the small town of Lalgudi in the musical almanac. Phrases like “tillana by Lalgudi” or “accompanied by Lalgudi” became self explanatory. He was a musical landmark, an ethereal minstrel of modern times and a legendary musical genius. His passing marks the end of an era. n 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 (India). He taught Physics at the Univ. of Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram. He does very little now, very slowly.

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Sliding into Ragasphere Debashish Bhattacharya’s new fusion album By Teed Rockwell

BEYOND THE RAGASPHERE. Music by Debashish Bhattacharya. Available from Riverboat/World Music Network at CD Album: $16.98.


lassical Hindustani Slide Guitar? The idea must have seemed strange at first. When Brij Bhusan Kabra first conceived of the idea, his father made him promise that he play only pure classical music on the instrument. He kept his promise, more or less. Call of the Valley, his most popular album, stretched the form considerably by featuring the first triple jugalbandi, with bansurist Hariprasad Chaurasia and santoorist Shivkumar Sharma. Kabra’s student Debashish Bhattacharya, however, has recorded some of the best Indian fusion music I’ve ever heard. His 2003 album Mahima remains one of my favorites, and I would say his newest release Beyond The Ragasphere is even better, if it were possible to compare the two. Mahima was shaped by the visionary sociomusical techniques of Bob Brozman, who always immersed himself in all aspects of a culture before he tried to interact with its musicians. The result was an album that combined Brozman’s love of every kind of world folk music with Bhattacharya’s technical virtuosity. The songs were distinct and richly textured little vignettes, each with its own distinct mood: toe-tappingly rhythmic, or sweetly lyrical, or even playfully silly. My favorite was “Digi Digi Dom Dom,” which was originally inspired by nonsense syllables playfully uttered by Bhattacharya’s three-year-old daughter Sukanya. Now, over a decade later Sukanya goes by the name Anandi, and is the featured vocalist on Beyond the Ragasphere. It was not clear to me at first that Sukanya and Anandi were the same person, but fortunately she dispelled my

34 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

confusion in an email. “Father was performing at the Rogue Folk Club in Vancouver when I was born, and got the good news when he reached California the next day.” She said, “He intended to name me Anandi, but by the time he knew I was born I was already named Sukanya by my grandmother. I perform by the name of Anandi, though legally my name is Sukanya. I hope that clears the soup.” Although still a teenager, Anandi is now a mature and accomplished musician, who can hold her own with the many virtuosos that Bhattacharya has recruited for this album, such as bluegrass dobro player Jerry Douglas, drummer Jeff Sipe, flamenco guitarist Adam del Monte, electric bassist Mainak “Bumpy” Chowdhury, and legendary Indojazz-rock guitarist John MacLaughlin. Even though he plays (brilliantly) on only one song, McLaughlin is arguably the godfather of this album. In many ways, it combines the musical visions of McLaughlin’s two greatest

albums of the 1970s, Shakti and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Shakti was an all-acoustic ensemble with tabla, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra was an electric band with rock and roll drum kit. Thanks to amplification technology that was not available in the 70s, Bhattacharya’s album combines tabla and drum kit on several songs, and enables the numerous acoustic instruments to be as loud as McLaughlin’s electric guitar—when necessary. It also enables Bhattacharya to explore the full spectrum of dynamic range, combining many other instruments with radically different acoustic volumes. Bhattacharya is not the first person to utilize amplification technology to facilitate east-west musical combinations. The artful interactions between Steve Smith’s drums and Zakir Hussain’s tabla certainly come to mind. But Bhattacharya creates combinations that work especially well, enlisting his team to create a variety of rich musical moods. Each song starts with a raga and then searches for affinities between that raga and some other form of music. The first song opens with loud fast unison lines in raga Kirwani, starting with the strings, tabla and drums, then breaking down to a gentle interplay between tabla, slide guitar, and bansuri. The volume repeatedly rises and falls as each instrument solos, then finishes with a climactic tihai in full unison. “JD2 Pillusion” has blue grass dobro and Indian slide guitar playing in Raga Pilu, which subtly transitions into a bossa nova beat. Two great slide players on the same song sounds like it would be too much of a good thing, but it

isn’t. Hearing them together underscores the noticeable differences in these two very similar musicians, as Douglas’s dobro provides a rich chordal foundation for Bhattacharya’s supple melodies. “Indospaniola” and “Reflections Remain” combine Raga Bhairavi with the Phrygian musical mode of flamenco guitar music, accompanied by both tablas and flamenco handclaps. Theoretically, the notes of Phrygian and Bhairavi are identical. In practice, each tradition has worn its own melodic grooves into the scale, and even when they “copy” each other, the two guitarists add their own colors to the melodies they copy. Bhattacharya and del Monte sound like two speakers using different dialects of the same language as they trade solos, and the result is a fresh and thought provoking musical conversation. The stylistic contrasts between the two players is further underscored by the fact that Bhattacharya is playing his Gandharvi guitar, his largest instrument modeled after the metal strung twelve-string guitar, while del Monte’s delicate but fiery flamenco guitar relies on its six nylon strings. “Ode to Love” features the slide ukulele Bhattacharya calls the Anandi, accompanied by Nishad Pandey on classical guitar. To make things a bit more confusing, Anandi the singer is not featured on this cut, but Bhattacharya plays a beautifully lyrical melody on Anandi the instrument. This melody was written while Bhattacharya was touring Ireland, but it sounds somewhat Brazilian, largely because of its use of the minor 7 flat 5 chord. The most traditional song on the album is “Khamaj Tarana,” which is, unsurprisingly, a tarana (vocal composition using instrumental syllables) in raga Khamaj. Even this song has its surprises, however. Instead of the traditional accompaniment of harmonium or sarangi, Bhattacharya accompanies his daughter’s vocals with his Chatarangui slide guitar (modeled after the six stringed guitar) and the main melody is further doubled by Pandey’s classical guitar. Nevertheless, the two guitars faithfully perform the “ghosting” function required for traditional vocal music, and the artful variations in Teental should satisfy even the most dogmatic Hindustani purist. n Teed Rockwell studied with Ali Akbar Khan for many years, and is the only person in the world to play Indian classical and popular music on his customized touchstyle veena. You can see and hear videos of his musical performances at www. July 2013 | | 35



Katha 2013 • First Place


All the lights in my home are off. The snow’s so deep I’m doing lunges in order to get to the door, my breath mimicking cigarette smoke, my fingers on the verge of frostbite. Ringing the bell, I remember how I used to slide down the hill whenever it snowed as a child, clad in a parka. My father, all bundled up in black puffy jackets, earmuffs and gloves would catch me, and bless his soul, agree to catch me one more time as I would trot up the hill. I’d look out into the horizon, admire how the Sun’s light hit the snow gently enough to let it be but strongly enough to let it glow. I hear footsteps, a low murmur growing in intensity. The door opens and there’s my father’s wife, cigarette in her right hand as she pinches my chin with her left. Smoke rises and finds refuge in her brunette hair. She’s aged; the wrinkles on her face have settled into thin narrow lines embedded in her cheeks. I feel sorry for her. I look into her eyes, eyes that have seen death more than birth. She stares daggers into mine. I’m scared she might slam the door. But then, I notice my father slowly making his way towards the door, clutching a cane and smiling. My heart drops. His pupils have managed to retain that distinctive mischievous twinkle I first recognized in my childhood. He moves her out of the way and takes my hand and leads me into the home. The texture of his palm is rough, patchy; I wonder if he still takes care of himself. “The power’s out,” Fatima announces, closing the door behind me. I spot a few candles burning in the foyer, dripping wax on the plates. “Did you call the power company?” I want to know. We’re in the living room now and my father, Baba, lays his cane down on the side of the burgundy sofa and sighs. After asking Fatima for a ginger ale, he shakes his head. “I’ve been waiting for the right time to light those candles,” he says to me, winking. “You think I would pass up such a perfect opportunity?”

36 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

A Creative Commons Image

By Mustafa Abubaker

I’m quiet. For a while, we just study each other. I’ve gained a little weight. His hair is almost gone. There’s a tattoo on my upper arm. I notice his teeth, once as white as the clouds, have gone to shit; stained with tobacco, a strange brownish-yellow mixture. “Beta,” he says this time, blowing his nose, taking the ginger ale from Fatima. “I didn’t realize you were coming.” Sheepishly, I look down and mumble something incoherent. I feel small. Why didn’t I tell him? Would it have been that difficult? What’s wrong with me? “I guess I just wanted to surprise you.” “I’m surprised,” he retorts, not missing a beat. I can’t tell if he’s serious. Burping after a few sips of the ginger ale, he tells me about how Fatima makes him the happiest man on the planet. He tells me about his work and how the guys Bruce and Timothy are still making it bearable. He tells me about how Bruce’s son was diagnosed with cancer, how he drove to the hospital and almost veered off the road and into a tree because he didn’t want to feel any more pain. He tells me about how one day he noticed Bruce didn’t come in to work and he found him weeping in his car, his shirt wet with tears. He tells me about how the wind lets my mother’s voice sing in his ears every February. He tells me about how one day, getting groceries, he spotted a shoplifter and decided to

let him go. He tells me about the time he got the call that my grandmother had passed, how the room’s temperature had suddenly dropped to freezing, how he’d locked himself in the house for weeks and hadn’t spoken to anybody. He tells me about how much he missed me, how he wrote me letters but he never heard back. He tells me how Fatima can never understand. He tells me how he himself cannot understand. The candles burn bright in the dark and I can feel my father’s soul shining brightly; proud, humble, innocent, even. And I cannot do anything about it. My soul—torn, berated, spit on and chewed up—isn’t worth hearing all of this. But I sit there and listen to him quell disbeliefs about certain things and strengthen my tastes towards others. There’s a lull in the conversation—and for a second, I think he wants me to tell him where I’ve been. Why I left. Why mail addressed to me still comes to the house. Why I never stay for long. Why, in the dead of the night, when he is asleep and getting a little bit of peace in his life, I call from miles away using a phone booth and just breathe into the phone, listening to him say “is it you?” over and over again. But, I’m wrong. He ignores the fact, pretends like it never happened. He’s old. Maybe his memory is warped—or maybe he just doesn’t care. Maybe he’s waiting for the right moment to make me feel worthless, abandoning a home at a time when it gave shelter to a sick mother, a grieving father and a lifetime of wealth. I’m exploring the home, running my fingers along the walls, reminiscing on the days they knew nothing. With trepidation, I move towards my childhood room, once adorned with posters of musical icons worshipped in my adolescence, once a haven to old novels I wrote notes in and cherished: all the things I had left behind. Opening the door to the room in which

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I thought of ending my life, in which I first recognized love, in which the sunset woke me daily through the window, in which I wept for my mother, in which I listened to music and danced, in which I rolled my first joint, in which I paced back and forth pondering countless topics, I am lost. Before me is a utopia, a world which I have long abandoned. Today, the room is sparse, trickled down to nothing more than a mattress and a few random objects strewn about on the Persian rug. A janamaz sits in the corner, folded twice. I don’t remember any surahs. The walls have been robbed of their ornaments; some of the tape remains, meeting each other diagonally. It reminds me of my youth. I close my eyes and see where the record player was, where the book shelf was. I wish I could extract memories from the room. Collapsing on the mattress, my mind drifts. Turning to lay on my back and stare at the ceiling, I remember hearing the arguments from my room as a child. Hearing the glass shatter, hearing the voices shout. I couldn’t forget the sheer terror I felt in my soul whenever it happened. Slowly, my eyes close themselves, as if they don’t want me to remember. It’s better to sleep, dream of a better life, envision an alternate reality. A candle in the room, the sole source of light, burns before me and I wonder how long the power’s been out. Then, I wonder if Baba’s even able to pay the bill. Part of me wants to find out, part of me wants to leave the money somewhere in plain sight, part of me wants to grab my steely black colored suitcase and leave in the middle of the night with nothing gained but melancholia. The flame flickers, taunting me, and I rise from the bed, walk over to the candle and crouch down right in front of it, my eyes drawn to the ember and my nose drawn to the scent. I can’t remember the last time I lit a candle. My gaze transfixed on the light, I’m back in the sixth grade, my mother crooning old family lullabies to me and telling me that middle school won’t be that bad, that when she was in middle school she loved it, caressing my forehead with a gentle touch and kissing it afterwards, leaving a glass of warm milk by my side. Before she left, she would always say that it’s okay to feel small sometimes, that it humbles you. I hesitate— my mother’s face flashes in my mind—and I blow the candle out. I’m submerged in darkness, somewhat shocked by how therapeutic it feels and, oddly enough and with much resignation—I’ve never felt smaller. n Mustafa Abubaker is a writer living in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of The Surrogate as

well as the 2011 YoungArts Merit Award Recipient for Novel Writing. Mustafa has contributed to Complex, Wine & Bowties, The Aerogram, Pigeons & Planes, The Liner, Khabar, Loose Change and more. You may read his work at Judges’ Comments: We admired “Light” for the fine focus and immediacy of its language. There’s a great deal of emotional depth in this glimpse of a life; perhaps what was most moving about the story was all that remained unsaid between father and prodigal son. This year’s judges were Tania James and Amit Majmudar. Tania James is the author of a novel, Atlas of Unknowns. Her most recent book is Aerogrammes and Other Stories, which was named a Best Book of the Year by The San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal, as well as a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Amit Majmudar is a novelist, poet, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist and was a Katha Short Story contest winner himself for two years in a row. His first novel, Partitions, and two poetry collections were published to wide acclaim. His most recent novel is The Abundance. Visit www. for details.

Katha 2013 Results

award $300): FIRST PLACE (cash UBAKER Light by MUSTAFA AB Atlanta, Georgia sh award $200): SECOND PLACE (ca RAPU Legacy by ANU CHIT ts Boston, Massachuset award $100): THIRD PLACE (cash MUKHERJEE, Ahalya by DEBJANI nd Auckland, New Zeala ION: HONORABLE MENT HA IT CH AR by s Ripple w Jersey SUBRAMANIAN, Ne ION: HONORABLE MENT RALI MU SH KE NI by ng Burni Canberra, Autralia


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July 2013 | | 39

Natyanjali School of Dance, Los Angeles

(Artistic Director Dr. Malini Krishnamurthi) Presents

Garland of Dances A Bharata Natyam concert in praise of Lord Krishna through the poetic verses of Sri Andal and Meera Bai

th On Saturday July 13th 2013, 5 pm

At The The Sophia Sophia B. B. Clarke Clarke Theater Theater At Walnut, CA CA 91789 91789 Walnut,

Tickets: $20, $30 and $50

(All seats reserved) Packaged Dinner will be available after the concert for a nominal donation of $10.


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Theater Box Office 909-468-4050 Jeya Venugopalan 909-396-6872 Parvati Balagopal 626-844-0288

Musical Ensemble: Dr. Malini Krishnamurthi ~ Nattuvangam Sri Akshay Padmanabhan ~ Vocal Shri R. Srihari ~ Mridangam R. Narasimhamurthy ~ Flute.



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40 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

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Lord of the Mountains By Aniruddh Chawda YEH JAWAANI HAI DEEWANI. Director: Ayan Mukherjee. Players: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Kalki Koechlin, Evelyn Sharma, Kunaal Roy Kapoor, Farooq Shaikh, Tanvi Azmi. Music: Pritam Chakaborty. Theatrical release (UTV). Hindi with English sub-titles.


anbir Kapoor’s modus is most successful when he plays a carefree, detached free spirit grounded only to himself, like he did in Wake Up Sid (2009), Anjana Anjani(2010) and Barfi! (2012), and not so much when he turns serious, as he did with Sawaariya (2007) and RockStar (2011). Fashioned after a film-style made famous by his great-uncle Shammi Kapoor, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is a modern twist on the era of hipster saris, chandelier earrings and beehive coifs. More precisely, YJHD is very much like a remake of a Shammi Kapoor movie where a youth goes off into the mountains—not as rehab devised by parents to reintegrate their womanizing wayward scion—but as selfimposed exile to discover uncharted terrains. And the result is highly entertaining. Kabir Thapar (Kapoor), aka Bunny, is a high-flying host of an international TV channel. A chance meeting with Naina Talwar (Padukone), aka Billi, a former college acquaintance, results in the abrasive, outgoing and self-absorbed Bunny daring the coy, homely and bookworm med student Billi into signing on with Bunny on a camping and hiking trek in the Himalayas. As the adventure troop sets out, a subtle worldview reversal creeps in. The higher the group climbs, the more introspective Bunny becomes and he relives the turning points that have dinged his past. As if in response, Billi starts to shed her homebound footing and discovers a new, more self-assured identity. The embodiment of this inverse transformation, having Bunny cleverly mask a run from something as a mad dash towards something and having Billi appear to be dashing from something all the while she is running towards something, is handled by director Mukherjee with great finesse. Just as in Wake Up Sid Mukherjee delicately exploits the nuances of having two very different people brought together by chance. Billi and Bunny declare their specific boundaries up front and then spend the rest of the screen time imperceptibly nudging the same

42 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

boundaries. Staged with the same open-pockets conviction—YJHD is, after all, a Karan Johar production—there are sumptuous destinations used as backdrop, everything from Paris and Bangkok to a luxury island resort in Rajasthan and even Kashmir. Accompanying Bunny and Billi are two friends who have a mini discovery of their own. As their travelling best friends, Aditya Roy Kapoor and Koechlin add sizable amounts of romantic currency of specific one-sided unspoken longing. Kunaal Roy Kapoor as a bumbling groom-to-be, Sharma as a mountain-side sex siren and veteran actors Shaikh and Azmi as Bunny’s parental-figures round out a fine cast. Chakraborty’s reach in Hindi film music is currently second only to A.R. Rahman, who only makes infrequent stops with mixed results (“Jab Tak Hain Jaan”). After scaling dizzying heights with Barfi!, Chakraborty returns to a playful mood that wonderfully synchs ups “Ghangra” with beer hall moves of Madhuri Dixit dancing to a tune by Rekha Bharadwaj and Vishal Dadlani while “Dilli Wali Girfriend” has Arijit Singh and Sunidhi Chauhan celebrating a village belle’s coming of age. The soundtrack fits the movie’s adventure-trek mood like hand in glove. The 1960s witnessed a remarkable rise in what became known as the Technicolor romance genre in Hindi movie scripts. In step with a stable and maturing country’s arrival on the world stage, in part because of Jawaharlal Nehru’s prominence in championing of a “non-aligned” power block that cleverly swayed against the tides of the Cold

War, Hindi filmmakers went overboard in delivering mass entertainment that was high on emotion and low on realism. Junglee, Professor, Arzoo and Ayee Milan Ki Bela were prime examples of this micro epoch. Even Raj Kapoor’s couldn’t resist the easy money that could be made and did so with the megahit Sangam. If nostalgia can be packaged as romantic comedy and have it dress as well as YJHD does, we have no objections! n EQ: AGlobe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.



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July 2013 | | 43


Love in the Generation that Follows By Hemlata Vasavada AND LAUGHTER FELL FROM THE SKY by Jyotsna Sreenivasan. William Morrow. 2012. $14.99. 322 pages. Available in hard cover.


irst generation immigrants remember the trials and triumphs of trying to maintain ties to their native culture and adjusting to their adoptive land. While they struggle to establish their careers and social lives in America, they often worry about their parents in India. From their perspective, their children born in this country are immune to such conflicts. Jyotsna Sreenivasan’s novel, And Laughter Fell from the Sky, addresses the pressures of the second generation IndianAmericans as they try to find a balance between the expectations of their families, and their desires to follow their vision. According to the author, her debut novel was inspired by Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. Sreenivasan’s characters Rasika and Abhay are in some ways parallel to Wharton’s Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden. Many young Indian-Americans feel a similar schism between finding and marrying the “right” person who will please their parents, and striving toward their own dreams. In her novel Sreenivasan reveals a keen insight into the minds of her characters. Rasika, the heroine, is a well-educated, career woman who lives at home and appears to be an exemplary daughter. She wants to please her parents and hides her “active social life” from them. Abhay, the hero, on the other hand, defies the expectations of his (and most IndianAmerican) families. He has lived in a commune, and in spite of a college degree, hasn’t pursued further studies, or a career. Rasika sees him often, but thinks he is not up to her standards. She won’t entertain the thought of marrying him because she wants a handsome man with a good career. She agrees to go along with her parents’ wishes to marry a person who appears to be a perfect match for her. Yet, she continues to see Abhay. Just as Sreenivasan finds Lily Bart’s character “fascinating and frustrating,” the readers are fascinated, but more often frustrated with Rasika’s attitude. She seems to have two sets of watertight emotional compartments, one to deal with her family’s expectations,

44 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

and the other to satisfy her desires. Abhay points out this dichotomy and asks her to be true to herself. He continues to search for some purpose in his life and she helps him find his focus, and helps realize his potential. Alternating between the points of view of Rasika and Abhay, Sreenivasan vividly portrays intricacies of family dynamics. Through their eyes readers get a glimpse of the Indian dinner parties with delicious food and colorful saris where mothers and fathers brag about their children, and look down on those who “don’t act Indian.” In addition to seeing Portland, including commune living, readers can follow the travels of Rasika and Abhay to Bangalore and Auroville. Sreenivasan says, in her twenties she read The Woman Warrior, a memoir about growing up Chinese-American, by Maxine Hong Kingston. That book made her realize that the issues she faced were not unique to her or to Indian-Americans, but to the children of many other immigrants as well. Her interest in this particular generation inspired her to start a website: Second Generation Stories ( where she features books written by the children of immigrants from other countries. Just as Sreenivasan could relate to those stories, many children might relate to her autobiographical children’s novel, Aruna’s Journeys. She is the author of short stories, essays, non-fiction reference books and fiction for children. Her first published short story appeared in India Currents in 1992. Her short story “The Perfect Sunday” received an honorable mention and was the 2011 Katha finalist. She also runs an online Gender Equality Bookstore ( If the author’s intent in And Laughter Fell

from the Sky is to define the issues faced by the children of immigrants, she has clearly accomplished that goal. Not just young IndianAmericans, but people of all ages and cultural backgrounds can relate to this story of family and love. No wonder the novel was included in a Barnes and Noble blog post as one of the five “Great Books You Missed in 2012.” n Hemlata Vasavada and her husband emigrated from India in 1968 with their one-year old daughter. She has a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Jodhpur. She is an office holder in Skagit Valley Writer’s League. Her articles and humor pieces have been published in the Seattle Times, the Syracuse Herald, Northwest Life & Times, Tea A Magazine, RV Journal, Houston Chronicle, The Herald (Everett), Skagit Valley Writers’ Anthology, Khabar (including an interview with author Bharti Kirchner), and “I should Have Stayed Home” anthology from RDR Books.

An Embroidered Identity By Tara Menon THE SWEETNESS OF TEARS by Nafisa Haji. William Morrow. 2011. $6. 400 pages.


afisa Haji’s novel, The Sweetness of Tears, set in two continents, is a sweeping story of three generations of women. The protagonist, Jo, named after Jo March in Little Women, goes through a shocking realization when she finds out that her father is not the Christian war veteran married to her mother, but a Pakistani Muslim. She is interested in uncovering her background, and in the process encounters more family secrets. The Sweetness of Tears also touches upon 9/11 and its consequences. Those whose interest in Islam has been fanned by the tragic event can gain a better understanding of the religion. Haji effectively uses a multitude of voices, each one colloquial, but distinct and culturally appropriate, to narrate her story. Sometimes there are stories within stories as characters reveal their secrets. They show us that people are who they are not just because of their genes but also because of the events that have shaped their lives. Jo begins the narrative by filling us in on her Christian upbringing. Her maternal great-grandfather was a preacher and his daughter, her grandmother, worked for a missionary organization. Jo’s uncle was the youngest ever televangelist, and her mother founded a camp in which children had obstacle-related activities illustrating a “specific detail of the allegory of salvation” from The Pilgrim’s Progress. In school Jo disputed Darwin’s theory with her biology teacher using her great-grandfather’s bestselling book, Evilution, to bolster her arguments. However, she tells us, a problem arises when she finds about Mendel and his theory of genes. It makes her question her own parentage because she realizes that two blue-eyed people could not produce a daughter with dark brown eyes. Two years later, just before she leaves for college, she confronts her mother, who confesses that Jo’s father is not Jake, the man who brought her up, but Sadiq Mubarak. This revelation sets in motion the course of the novel and once Jo goes to Chicago to attend college she finds herself staring first at the windows of the apartment building he lives in and finally at the name, Mubarak, S. A., on the intercom system.

The narrative baton passes on to her biological father and he conveys the shock he feels when he discovers he has a daughter, “My daughter, who is newborn to me and eighteen years old, knocked at my door last month.” They scrutinize each other, looking to see resemblances. Jo wants to know who he is, a request Sadiq feels he should honor. His account of his childhood in Pakistan traumatizes Jo, who leaves before she learns how he met her mother. As a result of her encounter with Sadiq, Jo decides to study Arabic and Urdu instead of the Swahili class she signed up for. She becomes an interpreter for the government, hoping to do some good after 9/11. One of the suspected terrorists she interrogates proves to be a link to her father’s past. After Jo encounters him, she wants to find out more about her father and she goes to her Pakistani grandmother, who is as oblivious of her existence as Sadiq was. The novel illuminates important aspects and stories of the Shia branch of Islam. When Sadiq first meets his daughter, he recounts to her what his mother told him about Muharram. “We wear black, Sadee, every year, for two months, my mother said. We don’t listen to music. We mourn what happened in this month, almost fourteen hundred years ago. As if it were today. We grieve for the family of our beloved prophet

Muhammad, peace be upon him, crying and mourning for them more than we mourn for our own troubles and problems …” Elsewhere we read the details of a traditional Islamic wedding as well as a mut’a, a temporary arranged marriage, the kind that Sadiq and Jo’s mother had. There are riveting passages presenting a scene in a Pakistani church, showing how Christianity is practiced in an Islamic society. The writer shows the interconnectedness of the world through Jo, who brings together the jigsaw pieces of her life to ultimately form a complete picture. She presents a scene of a Thanksgiving family dinner at the end that sheds light on the different weaves of faith and family. The Sweetness of Tears shows the personal consequences of war through three generations of men, Jo’s brother, her father Jake, and grandfather, who have been affected by the war and whose actions have had repercussions on the women in their lives. Haji, an American of Indian and Pakistani descent, amazes us at her ability to bring together the elements of the faiths of Islam and Christianity, the different cultures of Pakistan, America, Iraq, and a cast of three generations in two continents in a single novel. However, this is not her first multigenerational novel nor is it the first time she has a protagonist uncover a lie pertaining to the family. Her debut novel, The Writing on My Forehead, which is about three generations of a Muslim family, has a protagonist who discovers that her dead grandfather is actually alive and lives with his second family in London. The Sweetness of Tears is a tapestry of stories embroidered with many rich threads. The tiny flaws are almost inscrutable, but if we search for them they are there: Jo is shaken up after discovering that her biological father is Pakistani, but we don’t see her anguish over the fact that Jake isn’t who she thought he was; we don’t learn her deepest thoughts about Islam though she observes so much about it; and for the skeptical readers there are too many coincidences. However, what is indisputable is that Haji has much to offer, especially when it comes to depicting faith, cultures and families. n Tara Menon is a freelance writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts. Her fiction, poetry, and book reviews have been published in many magazines. July 2013 | | 45

events JULY 2013

California’s Best Guide to Indian Events Edited by: Mona Shah List your event for FREE! AUGUST issue deadline: Friday, July 19 To list your event in the Calendar, go to and fill out the Web form

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special dates U.S. Independence Day

July 4


July 9

Ratha Yatra

July 10

Guru Purnima

July 22

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August 8

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August 15



6 Saturday

Hindi Mommy and Me Class. “Aao

Khelo” Hindi session welcomes students with no or little exposure to Hindi. Children learn through poems, stories, and songs. Ends July 13. Organized by Indus Heritage Center. 9-9:45 a.m. Glendale Library, 222 E Harvard St., Glendale. Free. (562) 546-3870. www.ilearnhindi. com.

Bharatanatyam Arangetram of Ritika

46 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

A Bharatanatyam Margam by Divya Devaguptapu, July 21

Iyer. Student of Malathi Iyengar, Artistic Director of Rangoli Dance Company. Organized by Rangoli Foundation for Art and Culture. 6-8:30 p.m. Scherr Forum Theater, Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Free. (818) 577-8434.


7 Sunday

Bharatanatyam Arangetram of Amiya and Anya Prasad. Students of Malathi Iyengar, Artistic Director of Rangoli Dance Company. Accompanied by Nandakumar Unnikrishnan (vocal), Gurumurthy G. (mridangam), Raghunandhan Krishnan (flute) and Kiran Athreya (violin). Organized by Poornima and Subir Prasad. 4-6 p.m. Scherr Forum, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks . By invitation, please email. www.


13 Saturday

Garland of Dances. A bharatanatyam concert in praise of Lord Krishna through the poetic verses of Sri Andal and Meera Bai. Music ensemble: Malini Krishnamurthi (nattuvangam), Akshay Padmanabhan (vocal), R. Srihari (mridangam), R. Narasimhamurthy (flute). Organized by Natyanjali School of Dance. 5 p.m. Sophia B. Clarke Theater, 1100 North Grand Ave., Walnut . $20, $30, $50. (909) 468-4050, (909) 3966872, (626) 844-0288.,


14 Sunday

A Dance Concert. Two new works

entitled “Ganesha” and “The Woodcutter and the River Goddess” will be presented. Dance, music, and visual design by Rangoli


California’s Best Guide to Indian Events

Dance Company and guest dancers from India including Renjith Babu Choorakkad and Parshwanath Upadhye. Organized by Rangoli Dance Company. 4 p.m. Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. General $30, students/seniors $20. (818 ) 599-1936.


20 Saturday

Thirtieth Annual Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Lecture and Awards.

Congressman Ami Bera will deliver the memorial lecture and distribute the awards to 20 outstanding high school graduates of San Diego County irrespective of national origin. They will receive cash awards to support their collegiate education and US Congressional Certificates to recognize their achievement. Organized by San Diego Indian American Society. 3:30-5 p.m. Calit2 auditorium, Atkinson Hall, University of California San Diego, Atkinson Hall, Voight St., La Jolla . Free. (619) 698 5058. madhavan@


21 Sunday

A Bharatanatyam Margam by Divya Devaguptapu. Dvayam a dance that ex-

plores, through parallels and confluence, the

Bharatanatyam Arangetram of Amiya and Anya Prasad, July 7

inherent dualities, opposites and conflicts in life, art, and philosophy. Dualities-of love and devotion, stillness and movement, masculine and feminine, of heart and mind, man and God. Guest dancer and nattuvangam Venkatakrishnan Mahalingam, R Sreedev (vocal), KP Ramesh Babu (mridangam), Easwar Ramakrishnan (violin). Organized by Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego. 5-7 p.m. San Diego City College, Saville Theatre, 1313 Park Blvd., San Diego. General $25, students $15. (858) 442-1586.

Share your health stories with India Currents readers! We are accepting original submissions that focus on health and wellness. Send your 600-800-word essay on disease prevention, exercise, ayurvedic cooking, or any other health-related topic to Mona Shah at

© Copyright 2013 India Currents. All rights reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited.  Bharatanatyam Arangetram of Ritika Iyer, July 6 July 2013 | | 47


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1 Monday

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself. Sunday lecture by Pravrajika Bhavaprana. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903.

Yoganjali. A way to establish the benefits of yoga in the context of Hindu heritage and in a spiritual environment. Ends Aug. 30. Organized by Chinmaya Mission Los Angeles Outreach Group. CMLA Rameshwaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Tustin. $60 per family for one four-week session. (949) 219-0633, (213) 235-7518. yoganjaliORG@, http;


7 Sunday

Kriya Yoga: The Spiritual Science of God-Realization. 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.

An Interfaith Perspective on Love and Service. Sunday lecture by Swami

Sarvadevananda with guests the Reverend Gwynne Guibord and G. Venkataraman. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 1946 Vedanta Pl Los Angeles. (323)465-7114. .


14 Sunday

The Source of Lasting Hapiness. 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. Spiritual Awakening in Different Traditions. Sunday lecture by Brahmachari

Veda Chaitanya. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 1946 Vedanta Pl Los Angeles. (323)465-7114. hollywood@


21 Sunday

The Spiritual Art of Getting Along With Others. 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) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship.

Swami Vivekananda, the Spiritual Teacher. Sunday lecture by Swami Sar-

vadevananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903.

View from the Center. Sunday lecture by Swami Brahmavidyananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 1946 Vedanta Pl Los Angeles. (323)465-7114.


28 Sunday

What Is the Soul? 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. View from the Center. Sunday lecture

by Swami Brahmavidyananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 9692903.

Swami Vivekananda, the Spiritual Teacher. Sunday lecture by Swami Sar-

vadevananda. Organized by The Vedanta So-

ciety. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 1946 Vedanta Pl Los Angeles. (323)465-7114. hollywood@


4 Sunday

Self-Realization Fellowship World Convocation. A week of spiritual renewal,

including group meditations, kirtans and classes on the yoga meditation teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. The public is invited to attend evening classes on such topics as “Meditation: The Soul-Satisfying Journey to Spiritual Freedom,” “Achieving Your Material and Spiritual Goals,” “Living a Spiritually Balanced Life in Today’s Complex World,” and “Spiritual Happiness: Tapping into the Soul’s Storehouse of Peace, Love, and Joy.”. Ends Aug. 10. Organized by Self-Realization Fellowship. 7:30 p.m. Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 404 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles. $25. (323) 225-2471. www.

How Devotion Reveals the Invisible God. 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.


10 Saturday

Healing and Enlightenment Workshop with Yogiraj Siddhanath. Meet

Yogiraj Siddhanath and learn scientific kriya meditation. Ends Aug. 11. Organized by Hamsa Yoga Sangh. 7-9 p.m. Seaside Center for Spiritual Living, 1613 Lake Drive, Encinita. Free. 866-YOGI-RAJ. events@siddhanath. org.


11 Sunday

Kundalini Kriya Yoga Workshop and Empowerment with Yogiraj Siddhanath. 5-7 p.m. Seaside Center for Spiritual

Living, 1613 Lake Drive, Encinitas. $130. 866-YOGI-RAJ.

© Copyright 2013 India Currents. All rights reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited.  July 2013 | | 49


A Question of Identity By Gaurav Rastogi


t a party the other day, while mingling with old and new faces, a friendly looking chap walks up and says, “So, who are you?” Very infrequently does one get an in-person friend request, in this age of social media, and so I habitually rattled off my name and enough biographical details for him to place me in terms of history, geography and economics. The sort you might find in my byline below. But this time it was different—I felt somehow that I hadn’t really answered his question. Whenever I need to know more about something, I look it up on Google. Now that I needed to know more about myself, I turned to my friends at Googleplex… and it was a complete waste of a gorgeous three-day summer weekend. What would be that search, whose answer is “me?” Where would I start, and where should I look? It’s not an easy question and, frankly, the answer is less interesting than the question itself. Let’s eliminate the obvious right away—I’m not just my name. If that were true, and we were only our given name, we would be frozen in character when our parents named us. That reminds me of a story. In the late 70s, before killer drones roamed the skies, global terror was created by the American satellite that was about to fall from the skies, a screaming ball of flaming metal traveling at a frightening velocity. Far on the other side of the planet, we kids in India were warned to stay indoors that July week, for death was coming from above. The Skylab was falling and the entire world was waiting prayerfully. And so, but naturally, it was inevitable that a couple in Punjab would hit upon just the right name for their newborn son—Skylab Singh; what better name would strike fear in the heart of the enemy? I often think—does he fly high, the boy who’s now a man, does he do experiments in space, and does he always re-enter in a fiery ball? I certainly hope not, or we would have heard about it too. We’re not our names at all, dear Skylab Singh, so relax and don’t worry about falling from the skies anymore. If

50 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

you Google “Skylab,” you will find things about your namesake, but not about your own character. Maybe the answer is to situate oneself relative to other people. We are sons to our parents, carrying their genes and influenced by their nurture. We look like them, we talk like them and, much as we like to think otherwise, we somehow think like our parents too. We are also friends with famous or infamous people—some of their celebrity may have rubbed on us along the way. For example, I went to school with someone who has of late, become an exceedingly popular writer of pulp fiction—does our time together mean that I, too, can spin a good yarn? We are also parents, and inherit traits in the other direction too, son to father. Being the father of William H Gates III, the Third, must have changed in some way the character of William H Gates II, the second, even though the latter came first. Counting out in this way, we are sons, fathers, friends, brothers, colleagues and mentors to other people. Our social network graph spirals out indefinitely in degrees, eventually touching all humanity, since history began, and goes back further to the first primate, continuing further back into the first mammal, then rewinding the story back to the fish that

crawled, and going on (keep pace now, we’re almost there) to the multi-cellular goop and then to the simple creatures that bubbled around in the primordial soup. Speaking of bubbly simple creatures, you’re probably “friends” with a few on Facebook. Everybody, their third cousin, and your fourth grade classmates are friends with you on Facebook. Does that tell you anything about yourself, other than that you like peeping through windows into other people’s homes and lives; that some of your friends like to over-share; that your friends play “Criminal Minds” and would like you to join in. Looking at others is a poor way to learn anything about your own self. Relativity is great, but the variables are too many and the search likely futile. Sometimes we describe ourselves as a collection of social and cultural identities. An Indian, Hindu, American, Educated, Middle-Class, West Coast, Global Citizen, maybe? These are boxes in which we can put ourselves, but these cannot be a fulfilling way to describe ourselves. Cultural boxes may be meaningful in the society at a point in time, but will eventually lose their meaning, or even acquire the opposite meaning in time. These boxes are just labels, but they are not the thing itself. I am reminded of that paint-

ing “The Treason of Images” which shows a pipe, below which is written in French “this is not a pipe.” An image is not the thing itself. We are not the labels that we, or others, put on us. We are something entirely different from the words that can be used to describe us. A little self-reflection is called for here. For many of us, self-reflection is limited to brushing and combing in front of the bathroom mirror. We know what we “look like,” but are we defined completely by our looks? If we were our looks, people across the world would not spend billions to look like someone else. We’re not merely the face we see in the mirror. The search isn’t over; it hasn’t even begun in full earnest yet. Granted, we are not what we look like. But are we our body, since we identify so completely with it…we’re identical with it? People who lose limbs don’t become someone else. People grow in size, change appearance, and still feel they are the same person all the way. Dead bodies still look like the people they used to be. We’re inside a body, but where exactly inside the body, and what is our relationship with this body? What separates a living person from a dead body? This isn’t just a hipster question to

impress people with at parties. Sage Ramana Maharshi contemplated what it means to die, and attained enlightenment by just thinking only about this question, following it to the ultimate conclusion. So, ask yourself this: Who am I? This is an absurd question, isn’t it? We know who we are. We have a name, and we’re situated in space and in time. We have experienced a series of experiences, we have our memories. We have parents, friends, relatives and colleagues. We belong to circles on venn diagrams. We carry out actions, and we think thoughts. When we see things, they are seen by us. When we hear things, they are heard by us. When we touch things, they are touched by us. We are the focal point of all our senses. We are the generative point of all our actions. We are the lead protagonist of our story, a story that has a beginning, middle and an end. We are the center of our Universe, that’s who we are. No really, not that borrowed answer. Ask again, WhoAm I? My name is a temporary label, my location in space and time is relative. My experiences are impermanent and my memory is fickle. My actions couple with the reaction of the Universe (Newton, I believe, figured this out). My thoughts use words, ideas and

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logical structures that are borrowed from others. My senses convey only a fraction of the reality to me, hiding the microwaves, the low pitches, and so on. Why, there appears nothing in me that stands on its own—everything about me is relative. We run after hard, material things because we believe they will help us become someone, something of substance and permanence. We want experiences that will define us, memories that shape our outline. We want money, we want fame, we want the whole world— this hunger is so intense. We crave fulfillment in this world of passing experiences, and get frustrated when these experiences peak, and then pass away as well. Maybe the outside isn’t the right place to find fulfillment. “Wrong Way” signs on the freeway. Turn around and go inside. Or maybe the answer isn’t meant to be found, and the question needs to be unasked—Who Am I?n Gaurav Rastogi is an executive at a leading global consulting firm, and writes on Vedanta, Yoga and Business. He promotes a holistic approach to yoga as part of Yoga Bharati’s Bay Area chapter. He tweets @alpharust.

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Yinsights How Yin Yoga changed my Iyengar practice By Mimm Patterson


rom the moment I began a serious yoga practice, almost thirty years ago, I have practiced Iyengar. My first teachers, Larry Hatlett and Karl Duffy, are senior teachers who, on several occassions, traveled to Pune to study with Mr. Iyengar and his family. And because I was devoted to my teachers in 1984 it followed that I was—and in 2013 still am—devoted to Iyengar Yoga. Iyengar Yoga emphasizes alignment and safety through the use of props in order to guide the practitioner into the asana. As the student develops strength and flexibility the reliance on props diminishes until the individual can achieve the pose on their own. Strict alignment principles protect joints and create a safe style of yoga that has clean, precise lines. An Iyengar practice is slow. Mindful. There is a clarity to the practice that in 1984, as a young woman just beginning her yoga journey and uncertain about her new life in California, I loved. Three decades later, as I settle into mid-life, it is the practice I turn to when life is out of focus or too chaotic. The physicality of the practice reins me in. Strict Iyengar practice is about the asana. Traditionally, pranayama, mudras and bandhas are not introduced until the basic postures are mastered. There is no “HotIyengar-Vinyasa.” No “Iyengar-Pilates” hybrid. Even the yoga I teach and describe as “Iyengar-Influenced-Slow-Flow” is a disservice to the name. There is one simple hallmark of an Iyengar practice: repetition, repetition, repetition. I’m often asked for advice from individuals new to yoga. They’re curious and confused by the various schools and brands of yoga and don’t know where to begin. I encourage them, always and unequivocally, to first study Iyengar. It is the perfect foundation practice, like learning the piano scales. Once you know the notes you can play anything you want. My admiration for Iyengar explains the yoga guilt I experienced after being introduced to Yin Yoga in 2009.

52 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

A student arrived for class early one day and told me about a workshop she had attended. “We held the poses for five minutes!” I was skeptical. And intrigued. I arrived home later that day and did that thing we do. I Googled. That was the day my yoga life began to change. In January 2010, I attended my first workshop. I sat in the back of the studio, rigid and resistant to this new way of thinking. No more alignment. Softening into the shape. What did this mean? Why did it feel like something my body and my practice was hungry for? Nine months later I attended training at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, and became a certified Yin Yoga teacher. After all my years of being dedicated to Iyengar, why did I feel such a strong affinity for Yin? Where Iyengar is all clean lines and precision, Yin is curvilinear and soft. Where Iyengar strengthens, Yin lengthens. Where Iyengar hardens, Yin melts. Our intentions when we practice Iyengar differ from the intentions we embrace during a Yin practice. In that way, Iyengar and Yin complement one another. They are two halves of the same whole. And now, at last, the practice I had loved for decades was balanced. I appreciate Yin’s focus on connective tissue. The fascia, tendons, ligaments and bone. In order to transform connective tissue we resolve, in Yin, to do three simple things: We hold for time. At least two minutes but sometimes ten. It’s like this: if we want to straighten a row of teeth do we knock them around with a hammer and pliers until they are where we want them? Of course not. We apply braces and then patiently allow the connective tissue to move, shift, open and settle. That is how Yin cultivates patience. That is how, in Yin, we discover release. We play the edge. We don’t force our bodies to hold shapes that bring discomfort. Instead, we hold the truth that our edge moves. Our edge—the place where we feel stress on the connective tissue but not distress or pain—contracts and expands. It changes from day to day depending on our

lifestyle, our mood, our health. And so each practice is a new and different experience. We open ourselves to change. Sometimes change moves us forward. And sometimes change asks us to step back. Finally, we embrace stillness. Instead of fanning heat with the exertion one finds in a yang-fueled Iyengar practice, we remain still and soft. This allows our body to sink into our full expression of the pose, one breath at a time. The stillness and silence of a Yin practice feels foreign at first. And then we realize—it’s what we’ve been missing. The balance I feel by practicing both Iyengar and Yin extends beyond the physical. The clarity Iyengar offers is matched by Yin’s contentment. The effect of Yin practice on the nervous system is deep and profound. Rather than extending energy outward toward the edges of my body, in Yin I move to the interior. For that reason I find Yin a calming antidote for those days that are filled with static. The days when I need to retreat for a time. The atmosphere a Yin practice creates encourages the unwinding of tension. In the West we pride ourselves on our ability to move fast and multitask. The challenge of Yin reaches beyond the effect it has on tight, bound connective tissue. Yin Yoga asks us to practice “not doing.” In that practice cravings and aversions will be made apparent. Emotions we have buried underneath the pile of work on our desk will rise to the surface. I love my Iyengar practice. I truly do. It feeds my body; my attitude toward life. It nourishes me. But Yin Yoga has added a new dimension to my practice. Yin feeds my soul. Ultimately, there is balance and beauty in them both.n For the better part of two decades Mimm has been a yoga teacher, massage therapist, reflexologist and writer. When she’s not balancing in Ardha Chandrasana or wrestling with a sentence, she’s either playing her guitar or doing homework. This year she begins work toward her master’s degree in transpersonal psychology at Sofia University.

in the Southern California edition of India Currents for




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July 2013 | | 53


Looking for Calcutta Revisiting old haunts in Kolkata By Melanie Priya Kumar A bird’s eye view of New Market


he last time that I had visited my birthplace, Calcutta, was just before the turn of the new century and here I was back again, well into the new millennium! It is strange how the concept of home keeps changing. I perceived myself as a Solomon Grundy kind of person, who instead of being “born on a Monday, christened on a Tuesday,” was “born in Calcutta, grew up in Jamshedpur …” The problem with people like these (read me!) is that they find it hard to answer very matter of fact questions about identity. There is a realization about not having put down roots anywhere and yet having left a part of myself in each of the places that I have lived in. And each time that I revisit, I am looking for that elusive something that was left behind. In most cases, I have only nostalgia to fall back on! And so, the excitement was palpable, when the touchdown at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport in Kolkata was announced. The two name changes hit me almost immediately. I had been used to the alliterative “Dumdum” from the time I was a child and the new names instituted some distance between the place of my memory and the city I was visiting. I was visiting Kolkata to attend a wedding and it seemed as though most of my

flight was on a similar mission. The Bengalis, like the Punjabis, have been among the votaries of the Big Fat Indian Wedding. I stepped out to a blistery and windy welcome. It was an unusually cold winter, one that had forced Bengalis to arm themselves with thick woollens, shawls and the de rigueur monkey caps (where a good part of the face is shielded by a thick woollen cap, leaving only the eyes, nose and mouth exposed). I recall earlier visits and the horrified reactions of relatives and friends upon seeing me pad about in my bare feet on December mornings and their urgent admonishments:

West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, at the Kolkata Book Fair 54 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

“wear your chappals and socks or you will catch a cold!” I had completely forgotten the average Bengali’s preoccupation with health. There often is no trace of embarassment even when discussing delicate health ailments like those of the digestive tract! At the Scottish-Bengali wedding I attended, I developed an insatiable appetite for the mouth-watering Bengali sweets, the sandesh, the rasagullas, and the gulab jamuns. There was a band of shehnai players resplendent in their Lucknowi clothes. I went up for a little chat and listened to these performers praise Calcuttans and their love of culture, which had kept their art-form alive. All the men turned out to be Muslims from either Bihar or Uttar Pradesh who had made this city their home. It felt good to be present at an Indian-Scottish wedding, conducted according to Hindu rites, with Muslim shehnai players holding forth. I decided to visit New Market, originally known as Hogg Market, and found it teeming with people. It seemed as though the old thriving marketplace had lost its old-world charm. Everyone seemed to be in a great hurry and there was none of that lazy, relaxed kind of shopping that I had associated with this market. Kolkata has always been a favorite place of the Chinese, many of whom have made this city their home, congregating in places like Chinatown and Tangra. Known for their enterprise, they opened beauty parlors, restaurants and leather footwear shops. Chinese carpentry and dentistry also became synonymous with quality. New Market was filled

with stores selling shoes, made by Chinese workmen and it was not surprising to see a dentist in the midst of the rows of shops. New Market has a well-known Tibetan jewellery shop called “Chamba Lamba.” There was a young man inside, what was earlier a solely feminine preserve, trying out a pair of ear-rings! Calcutta it seemed had metamorphosed into its new name and culture, while I had been away. I drove to Park Street and past old restaurants like Trincas, where Usha Uthup gained fame as a singer and brought respectability to the profession of nightclub singing; Flury’s—famous for its confectioneries and liqueur chocolates; Kwality’s, Moulin Rouge; Mocambo; and the grand old Grand Hotel, now refurbished and glitzed up as the Oberoi Grand. When traveling around in a yellow cab (almost extinct in India), I found that the city’s famed traffic jams had not reduced, even as I realised that the people’s idea of road sense had not improved. Not surprisingly, the two are corollaries to each other. The cab radio kept plugging the “Boi Mela,” or book fair. So, I decided to attend along with a friend. Bengalis are lovers of literature, quite undeterred by the huge lines at these events. At the book fair, my friend and I stumbled upon the book launch of “Pataudi, Nawab of Cricket.” Suresh Menon who edited and authored the book was to discuss the biography with Bollywood’s yesteryear heroine Sharmila Tagore (married to Pataudi) and Saurabh Ganguly, billed as India’s most successful cricket captain. All the three speakers radiated charm. Sharmila Tagore shared some special memories of her husband, including the kick that she got from him under the table, when she used a cricketing term incorrectly (leg glance instead of a late cut)! Saurabh Ganguly was asked by a member of the audience “Dada, why don’t you become the brand ambassador for cricket in Bengal?” Pat came the reply, “For that, you will have to ask Didi!” The didi in question is Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, who looms imposingly over Kolkata, ever since she vanquished the communist party, CPI (M), after they held sway in the state for more than three decades. Her

The Oberoi Grand Hotel

Dakshineshwar temple

mud and mud is money) to indicate his sense of detachment towards all things material. So, it was, with a bit of a shock, that I found the place teeming with shops selling all manner of things, and big jewelry advertisements sprawled across the walls. I guess that when it comes to nostalgia, Calcutta, the place of my past can really exist only in my mind. And so, though what I looked for in the Calcutta of the 20th century was occasionally missing in the Kolkata of the 21st, the trip was certainly worth it. When I need to feel good about the city, I can just inhabit the childhood places and memories in my mind and draw happiness from them. n Melanie is a Bangalore-based writer and Literary Reviewer who has been freelancing for more than 15 years now. She holds degrees in English and Mass Communications. Temple units at Dakshineshwar

posters dominate the city-landscape, just like Jayalalitha’s in Chennai. Banerjee’s imperiousness is legendary and the story goes that some poor academic landed in jail for uploading a cartoon spoofing her among his private set of friends! I decided to visti Dakshineswar, located in the extreme north of Kolkata, where Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is said to have found enlightenment. One of his famous sayings is “Taaka maati, maati taaka” (money is

Moulin Rouge restaurant

The old name for New Market

Trincas nightclub on Park Street July 2013 | | 55

bottom line

The Accursed Couch Is that a couch or a landing place? Lakshmi Palecanda


y couch is cursed. Hold it, I am not off my rocker, nor am I steeped in superstition. It is the bald truth: a couch in our home is cursed. I trained to be a scientist, and I still believe that science can explain most things, but when it comes to that couch, I have to accept it as fact. How is it cursed, you ask? Well, you can never sit on it. It is always covered with stuff, clothes, books, papers, files, etc. Sometimes household appliances and even dishes find their way to the couch. Even when I clean it to within an inch of its life, I have to just turn the other way for a second … and it is covered, all over again. It all started when we moved to our present house in Mysore over two years ago. We decided to put this couch in front of the TV, so that the entire family could watch movies and programs together. A day later, I walked into the TV/computer room with a coffee in hand to watch a show. My older daughter was sitting on the computer table’s swivel chair, and the younger one was sitting on the floor. I asked the obvious question. “Why aren’t you sitting on the couch?” “What couch?” The answer puzzled me, until I looked under a huge pile of stuff and found the piece of furniture. Feeling miffed, I cleared out a small piece of real estate and sat down to watch TV. The next day, I walked by the same place, and saw that the cleared area was gone. It had been reclaimed by the “stuff.” Since that day, I’ve tried many things, including periodic cleaning binges. Oh yes, the pile goes away when I clean, but it is always back in a day or two. This phenomenon is so consistent that there is actually no history of the whole family sitting together on the couch to watch TV. Sometimes there may be two of us at opposite ends with a mound of stuff in between, or someone perched on the edge with the mound behind providing a back rest. But never have the four of us sat on it at the same time. Here, I have to mention that this mound of stuff ” is also the go-to place for practically everything in the house. “Did you check the couch?” is invariably the answer to any question posed regarding missing prop56 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

erty in our domicile. Has anybody lost their school book/ socks/shoes/library book/pencil box/file/dress? It will be in The Mound on The Couch. I’m privately convinced that if you delve deep enough, you should be able to find Blackbeard’s treasure or the Ark of the Covenant in it. I’ve watched my children dive into it head-first, throw things to the left and to the right, thereby separating it into two mounds, and emerge wild-eyed but triumphant with the missing article in hand. And, oh by the way, now more stuff piles in between the two mounds causing a reversion to the single mound, only this one even bigger. There is also an interesting anecdote concerning this phenomenon. One evening, I carved out a small niche for myself and sat there watching a movie on TV. My older daughter began calling for me, but as I was engrossed in the show, I neglected to answer her. Later, after the show was over, I came out of the room, and my daughter pounced on me. “Where had you gone? I’ve been calling you for half an hour.” “I’ve been watching TV,” I replied. “But I didn’t see you,” she said suspiciously. “I was on the couch,” I defended myself. “Oh, you must have been on the other side of The Mound. That’s why I couldn’t see you.” She was mollified. Of course, as a mother, I had to ask her a question. “If you thought there was no one in the room, why didn’t you turn off the TV and lights?” For which I received a look. I let it go. Being a proactive person, I did not spend my time wringing my hands, but instead went looking for an explanation for it. I didn’t have to go far, only as far as Talakad, Karnataka. Talakad, located 45 km from Mysore, Karnataka, is a small hamlet that is home to many temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. It is located on the banks of the river Cauvery. However, its fame arises from the fact that in that place, there are more than thirty temples buried meters deep in sand. Every 12 years, people clear the sand out of a few temples and hold a festival. Since five of these temples have shivalingas,

representing the five faces of Shiva, this festival is called “Panchalinga Darshana.” People come from all over India to attend this festival. However, within a month of clearing the temple and the “Panchalinga Darshana,” the temples fill up with sand again. This phenomenon is believed to be the result of a curse by a pious woman named Alamelamma. It dates from the early 1600s, when Raja Wodeyar, the king of Mysore, defeated Rangaraya, the Vijayanagar empire’s viceroy in Srirangapatna, another town near Mysore. The victorious king alleged that Rangaraya’s wife, Alamelamma, still had the jewels that rightly belonged to the temple at Srirangapatna. Eventually, when Raja Wodeyar sent soldiers to recover the jewels, Alamelamma fled to Talakad and famously cursed the king and the town before drowning herself in the Cauvery near Malangi, a town on the opposite bank of the river. She is supposed to have said, “Talakadu maralagi, Malangi maduvagi, Mysooru arasarige makkalagadirali”—May Talakadu be filled with Sand, Malangi be a whirlpool and may the Mysore kings never have offspring. Whether or not the rest of the curses came true is immaterial: Talakad is well and truly filled with sand. So you see, I have every reason for believing that my couch is laboring under the same category of curses. As to doing something about the accursed stick of furniture, my husband once suggested that we put it away. I turned a pale shade of grey. “What if the curse moves to another piece of furniture, say the bed? We’ll be in worse trouble then. Look at it this way. Maybe the curse has a positive aspect to it. The unavailability of seating may put off the kids from watching too much TV.” My spouse was so struck by the argument that he left the thing alone. And so the phenomenon continues. And whenever I visit other people’s houses, I’m always looking to see if any of their furniture is cursed too. Of course, I’m also dreaming. Now, if I were to find Blackbeard’s treasure …n Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana to Mysore and is still adjusting. She can be reached at


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A Staple Nourishment Finger millet recipes By Vijitha Shyam


inger millet is one of the oldest grains known to mankind. Finger millet is also known as Mandua/Kezhvarangu/ Ragi in different Indian languages. Every summer break when I visited my grandparent’s village, there would be one breakfast dish made with it every week. It could be ragi idlis (steamed cakes), dosas (savory crepes), uthappams (pancakes), sevai (noodles) or chapattis (Indian breads). My grandfather has friends who are farmers and during every meal he would share insights about the harvest, growing season, principles of crop rotation and how to make compost. Some information went over my head and some stayed etched in my heart forever. Finger millet has a very short growing time. It can grow into a mature plant within 70-80 days or even less. Finger millet is high in starch and considered a substitute for wheat, maybe even better than wheat because its proteins are more easily digested. “It has the third highest iron content of any grain, after amaranth and quinoa,” states Matt Styslinger from Nourishing the Planet

Finger Millet Cutlets Ingredients (makes 10 cutlets) 1 cup finger millet/ragi flour 1 medium sized sweet potatoes, boiled and mashed ¼ cup fenugreek leaves, finely chopped (optional)You can also use drumstick/ moringa leaves 1 tsp turmeric powder 1 tsp chili powder 1 tbsp coriander powder 1 tsp cumin powder 1 tsp garam masala 1 tsp salt

58 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

½ cup cilantro, finely chopped 1 tbsp water (if needed only) ¼ cup olive oil for cooking Directions In a clean bowl add finger millet flour, mashed sweet potatoes, fenugreek leaves, spices and cilantro. Mix them well by hand. The water from the cooked sweet potatoes is enough to knead them into a dough. If it’s still dry, try sprinkling a little water and keep doing so till it has the right consistency of dough. Roll them into balls (of equal size).

Heat a large frying pan on medium-low flame, drizzle 1 tbsp oil along the edges in such a way that the surface of the frying pan is covered with streaks of oil. Take each ball and press them between your palms about 1 cm in radius. Place them on the sizzling hot pan leaving enough space between them. Cook for 8-10 minutes on each side. Remove and place on a plate with a paper towel to drain the excess oil. Serve hot with any sweet-spicy chutney like peach or mango. n

project. Finger millets are highly nutritious, gluten free and easy to digest. My grandfather would say that rice and wheat need more water and improved soil fertility for better yield while millet grows well in dry, arid lands. It seems to me that this presents a wonderful opportunity for farmers in the drier parts of the world. We should all eat more whole grains like millet, quinoa, and barley to encourage and support our local indigenous farmers. In fact if we alter the natural crop patterns, our natural reserves will dry up fast and Mother Nature will act against us. So let’s respect the biodiversity in nature and eat foods based on the location and weather patterns. Finger millet grain is resistant to insects and rot and can be kept for a while. It is also used for brewing alcohol beverages and as animal feed. In south India it is often a basic ingredient in porridge and is considered a poor man’s staple. It originated in east Africa and came to

India around 1000 B.C.E. There are some old Sangam poems around 300 B.C.E to 300 C.E. describe how people of the mountainous region cooked their freshly harvested millet. “Pour in sweet foaming milk from a wild cow into a pot that smells of boiled venison, its broad sides white with fat. Set it on a wood burning stove that uses sandalwood for firewood. When it begins to boil stir in freshly harvested millet and let it cook. When it is cooked, serve it on wide plantain leaves set outside where wild jasmine and nightshade flowers grow.”


re-created my long lost relationship with millet during my gestational diabetes period. Finger millet breaks down to sugar very slowly and doesn’t spike your blood sugar drastically. It slowly works in your body and hence it’s a perfect ingredient for those who are diabetic or pre-diabetic. They are readily available in Indian grocery stores. I feed my son finger millet porridge or

ragi kanji, a dish made with flour of the sprouted grain for breakfast every other day. It should be well cooked before feeding it to kids. One of the easiest dishes to make with finger millet is cutlets. All it requires is to mix the finger millet flour with mashed sweet potatoes, regular potatoes or peas and a few Indian spices. To add a more healthy twist, throw in some greens like fenugreek leaves or spinach. For a bigger challenge, try the Ragi Sevai (Finger millet noodles)—recipe below, which requires the idly cooker and the noodle press. Enjoy! n Vijitha Shyam is a clinical research professional by day and a food blogger, recipe developer and aspiring writer by night. She authors the blog “Spices and Aroma,” a place to find recipes for authentic Indian dishes that fit the South Beach Diet and Gestational Diabetes Menu.

Finger Millet Noodles

Ingredients (Serves 2) For the noodles: 2 cups finger millet 1 tsp salt 2 cups hot water For the base mixture: 1 large onion, chopped 2 green chilies, slit 1 teaspoon ginger, minced 10-12 curry leaves 1 tsp mustard seeds 1 tsp urad dal/black gram dal 1 tbsp olive oil Equipment Idli plates, pressure cooker or bamboo steamer Noodle press Directions 1. Mix finger millet flour with salt and sprinkle boiling water littleby-little to form soft dough. Mix with a spoon and then when the dough has cooled, use your hands to massage the crumbled flour into

smooth dough. Cover it with a damp cloth and let it rest for a while. Brush the inside of the noodle/ sevai press with oil so the dough comes out clean instead of sticking to the press. Start by using ¼ cup of the dough and place it inside the press and cover. Use the press as per manufacturer’s instructions. 2. Grease the idli plates with cooking spray or oil. Transfer the noodles to the greased idli plates. Steam-cook them for 12-15 minutes. Once the steam has settled, open and transfer to a fresh bowl. Once cooled, remove them and crumble it into smaller pieces using your hand. Set aside. 3. In a large saucepan, heat oil. Once the oil ripples, add the mustard seeds and let it pop. Throw in the urad dal and curry leaves. Sauté for 30 seconds. Then mix in the onions and ginger and cook for 8 minutes until the onions soften. Add the cooked noodles to this mixture, combine well and serve with any chutney of your choice. n

July 2013 | | 59

relationship diva

Taking Him Back By Jasbina Ahluwalia


I dated a guy for about one and a half years and while we certainly had our fair share of ups and downs, overall I had thought things were going pretty well between us. So it surprised me when he broke up with me, without really giving me any reasons beyond that he had doubts about us. I was heart-broken at the time, and it took me about six months to get over him. Fast-forward five months later, and I’ve been dating online and despite having a ton of frustrating experiences there are two guys I’ve been emailing. I’ve had phone conversations with them and both seem pretty interesting. But just the other day, my ex-boyfriend emailed me out of the blue telling me he’s missing me. I thought I was over him, but now I’m confused about what I should do. Should I even consider taking him back?


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telling you he’s missing you would be confusing. I’d imagine there may be other readers who may also be revisiting past relationships. While you are the only one who can make the decision regarding what’s ultimately best for you in this situation, I do have some suggestions to guide you in gaining clarity as you consider the course of action you’d be best served by taking. The first question which comes to my mind is: Why did the two of you break-up in the first place? From your question, it sounds like your ex-boyfriend never really gave you a reason for ending the relationship beyond having doubts. You had mentioned that the two of you experienced “ups and downs.” Sometimes, as time elapses we tend to remember the ups, and forget the downs. The second question which comes to mind is: What has changed in the last 11 months? Before addressing this pivotal question, in my opinion, it would be premature to cut-off communications with the two guys


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you met online who you find interesting. If you are seriously considering revisiting a potential relationship with your exboyfriend, you should first explore whether or not his behavior and words align with your relationship goals at this time. In other words, is he willing to engage in open and honest communication? Do his previous doubts about the relationship remain? If he no longer harbors such doubts, what has changed? You should also try to discover what he wants in terms of a relationship with you at this point. Keep in mind that “missing you” and committing to the kind of relationship you desire are not one and the same. Best wishes! 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.

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Is That My Mother? By Tim Charles

winne r


ightings are in the laps of the gods or at least in the paws of tigers. If they want to be seen and guides know where to locate them, then you may be rewarded. We had already been blessed on the first morning at the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh when a tiger magically appeared from the forest, crossed the road and disappeared. The next morning, at 5 a.m., Jagat, our guide, took us to a different part of the park and we stopped, expectantly, about 50 yards from a bush. He leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, “Behind that bush is a young tiger cub, about a year old. He’s probably waiting for his mum to come back. She’s usually out at this time, hunting.” He then cupped his hands around his mouth and uttered a grating throatal rasp, and a few seconds later a cub emerged from behind the bush and padded towards the jeep, ears perked, looking expec-

tantly for his mother. Incredulous that she was nowhere in sight, he turned tail and slipped back behind the bush. Conservationists might be upset by the fact that the cub was induced, well, tricked to appear in this way, and if Jagat could imitate the tigress’ call, then so could poachers. But Jagat was and is a ranger dedicated to the preservation of India’s most precious resource, and as long as conservationists of his ilk are in a position to protect tigers they will be able to pad through the forest, unharmed. n Tim Charles is an ESL Instructor, a freelance professional photographer and a writer, currently writing a play about Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He can be reached at He is staging a photo exhibit at the Cultural Corner space in Newpark Mall in Newark, 1st through 30th September, 2013, Mon-Fri, 6-9 p.m., Sat and Sun 2-6 p.m.

India Currents invites readers to submit to this column. Send us a picture with caption and we’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 with Subject: A Picture That Tells a Story. Deadline for entries: 10th of every month. 62 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

dear doctor

The Complexity of Complexes By Alzak Amlani


I have heard of people having an inferiority or Napolean complex. I find myself getting into moods that I can’t get out of and perceive issues or people in a way that others think is very biased and emotionally colored. I have strong feelings about things, but does that mean I have a complex?


Two psychiatrists that talked a lot about the theory of complexes were Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. They both deeply believed in the unconscious mind—an aspect of our mind that we are unaware of, but which deeply influences and reveals itself in dreams, complexes, synchronicities, slips of the tongue and body symptoms. I believe complexes are quite powerful and it’s good that you are thinking about what they are and how they operate. A complex is usually formed early in life due to a strong incident or numerous repeated ones. For example, if a child is repeatedly compared to other children in the family, as not being as smart, then that child will begin to doubt his own intelligence. This will show up in a range of ways. The child will second

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guess his answers to questions on tests and in general conversations. When someone asks for a clarification or disagrees, the child will feel it is because he isn’t smart enough. Certain feelings of inadequacy, shame, inferiority and anxiety can constellate around such a complex. This can lead to lowered performance, fear of challenging oneself, test anxiety and fear of sharing one’s thoughts or responses. Some children will go in the direction of overcompensation by constantly trying to prove his/her intelligence. The child may have a hard time taking feedback or being challenged because unconsciously he feels inferior. There are numerous types of complexes: inferiority, superiority, hero complex, refugee complex, mother complex, father complex, savior complex, complexes around one’s beauty and many other aspects of personality and life. When someone has a complex things get taken much more personally because there is a certain self-absorptive quality to it. For example, when a man has a mother complex, he feels regressive, a bit insecure, seeks maternal comfort and often is not able

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to experience his autonomy as a separate, strong adult. Completing projects, taking direction, setting appropriate boundaries and taking the heat in confrontational situations become challenging. Any type of complex can color a person’s viewpoint with a certain set of memories, perceptions, emotions and wishes. Thus, it could feel like the person is a bit impenetrable. While in such a state it is best to become aware of the power of one’s mind and psyche. Ask yourself questions on what is going on break apart some of the characteristics of the complex. If you know enough about your issues and personality, you might be able to actually name the complex. Slowly after doing the hard work of deconstructing the complex and releasing some of its energy, more integrated ways of responding can be cultivated. n

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the last word

Tea By Sarita Sarvate


y first taste of tea was second hand. I would stand behind the door curtain hanging between the front room and the middle room, twirling the fabric between my fingers, and peeking at visitors drinking tea. I would imagine its taste, hot and bitter. I was sure it was bitter, if not naturally, then from all the tears my mother, Aai, had shed into it over the years. During my early childhood, tea was a source of constant strife between my parents. Etiquette dictated that whenever a relative or a friend or even an acquaintance came over, Aai had to pump the kerosene stove, light a match, and boil a pot of water for tea. I think Aai began to resent tea because we had so many relatives who dropped in at all hours of the day and night. Even though she had made tea hundreds, perhaps thousands of times before, my father, Dada, insisted on issuing precise instructions as to how. Every day his needs varied. Sometimes, he told her to give him only half a cup; other days, he ordered it with lots of milk. I could Somenever figure out if the instructions were issued because Aai was by where along nature inept or if she had bethe way, tea became come inept because he gave her too many instructions. my religion. I began When special visitors to drink a big pot every like Aai’s long-lost brother visited, fancy tea cups, my morning, made with parents’ wedding presents, were pulled out of the glass Dada’s favorite brand, cupboard. This brother, my uncle, was a source of conflict Brooke Bond Red as well. When Aai had been a Label. young working woman in Mumbai, he had kicked her out of his house in the middle of the night. She had survived the catastrophe with sheer wits and charm, but somewhere deep down, a scab had formed in her heart that would never quite heal. So, on the rare occasion that my uncle came to town, Aai shed tears into the tea, as her brother sat in the front room, patronizing Dada. My father nevertheless treated him like a celebrity; my uncle after all was a scientist who had worked in the perfume industry in France and given a talk on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). My uncle drank our tea, showed us articles he had written for a magazine called Udyam, or Enterprise, and left, scarcely bothering to inquire after us. And he never apologized for his treatment of Aai. Was it any wonder then that one day, Aai decided to quit tea. It was the day after Independence Day. I was twelve years old, and had attended the flag-raising ceremony at school and given a speech. The next morning, Aai went into the kitchen to make tea, fainted, and crashed on to the floor. I ran and got the doctor, who pronounced that she had suffered a nervous breakdown. When the medicine man was gone, Aai vowed that she would never drink tea again because a neighbor had given her a poisoned cup on that Independence Day. Such was the nature of her illness. Around the time that Aai decided to quit drinking tea, I discovered it. I was tired from studying for an exam one day when Dada offered me a cup. Aai protested that caffeine damaged children’s brains. But in an ultimate act of betrayal, I drank it regardless. My brother Prakash too began to ask for extra-strong tea boiled in a pot the night before 64 | INDIA CURRENTS | July 2013

an exam, even though we normally drank tea British style, with tea leaves steeped in hot water. Soon, I could not live without tea. Perhaps there was a subconscious desire on my part to do the opposite of whatever Aai did; to become contrary to whatever she had become. She always pronounced that I would have to wear glasses because I read too many books; I retorted that books were necessary to maintain one’s sanity. She countered that novels told lies because there were no real people in them; I responded that novels contained the ultimate truth about life. Somewhere along the way, tea became my religion. I began to drink a big pot every morning, made with Dada’s favorite brand, Brooke Bond Red Label. Years later, in California, I began to serve it to American friends who loved it so much that they too began to make the trek to Indian stores. I have had tea served in clay cups on Indian Railways; I have had syrupy tea made with condensed milk served in a plastic bag on a bus in Thailand; I have had it in Tea Rooms in the New Zealand countryside. I have made tea on a camping stove by the side of the highway; I have made it in a bodega in Mexico with an immersion heater dipped into a water-filled Starbucks cup; I have made it in innumerable hotel rooms. I travel with a zip-lock bag of tea wherever I go. Soon, my hosts are hooked too; perhaps it is the joy they see in my face that lures them in. Drinking so much tea is not good for you, people say. I need at least one vice, I reply, and tea is my drug of choice. Many a night I go to bed dreaming of tea. Would I have any incentive to rise, I wonder, but for that heavenly cup of tea waiting for me in the morning. I am not even kidding. I saw a Steve Jobs film recently, titled The Lost Interview. In it, Jobs was asked why he was so attracted to counter culture. People were trying to find the gap, he said, between the humdrum life of earning a living and raising a family and the ephemeral life of the imagination. I am paraphrasing of course but his words brought tears to my eyes. For, listening to Steve Jobs, I realized that the difference between my mother and I was that she did not know how to fill that gap. But even as a young child, I saw the gap and understood the need to fill it with what little I had. Literature filled that gap. So did art and music and film and theater and gardens and birds and travel. The hot cup of Red Label tea every morning is what has made the difference between my fate and that of my mother, I think. For, in that small cup I have seen the universe of possibilities; it has represented for me the ability to find joy in small things; it has been a tool to survive tragedy, disappointment, heartbreak, failure, rejection, and so much more. In a Somerset Maugham’s novel, a woman is served a cup of coffee before being given the news of her child’s death, as the author comments that anything is bearable with a cup of coffee. I feel the same way about tea. I only wish that I could have made Aai understand the importance of that cup of tea; I wish she could have learned to enjoy life’s small pleasures. n Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visit

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July 2013 Southern California Edition  

India Currents Magazine, July 2013 Southern California Edition