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Are You Dad Enough?

Cool as a Cucumber

by Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy

by Praba Iyer

My Granddad, the Bengali Peddler by Sandip Roy

INDIA CURRENTS Celebrating 27 Years of Excellence


june 2013 • vol. 27, no . 3 • www.

A gathering place, a community hub, a cultural resort, a neighborhood niche? All of the above, as well as a place that brings together several generations searching for common ground. by Ritu Marwah

My Father and his Sixty Books 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 Zeitgeist: Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

My father was known to be careful with money. Yet I recall his one thrilling, flamboyant gesture of extravagance. It was the time he walked into College Street in Calcutta and bought 60 books on one day, in a single transaction, from one kiosk. I was eight years old then and I had already been influenced into the belief that fiction was the unfettered exploration of the human story. It was a visceral delight to see the books being unloaded from the trunk of the beatup Herald. Page upon page of words and expressions mined into a relevance that I had no clear understanding of yet, but still found significant. The books were piled on shelves that had been dusted and readied for their arrival. I grew to call them my companions—the Shaws, Hardys, Maughams, Tagores and many others; all leather bound and inscrutably constructed. Then one warm afternoon, I felt the urge to express myself to them. So, using an unseasoned running hand, I assigned a classmate’s name and particulars, in indelible ink, with no thought to neatness, to the first page of each of the books. Upon my father’s return from work, he caught me laboring on the 24th of the 60 books. Young as I was, I caught the flash of horror on his face. I burst into tears and

remember him picking me up and trying to explain the significance of the books. In his carefully chosen words, battling with his need to comfort me, I understood what they really meant to him. Literature, I came to realize, was not mere imagination; it was the experience of imagination. Characters, real or imagined, are powered by social and emotional currency and authors shape them for our experience. For readers, like my father, it was fertile pabulum for a private narrative. Word soon spread about my father’s treasure trove and friends began to drop by to borrow a book or two. A few years later, I looked at the empty shelves and realized that my companions had inevitably grown up and gone their way. When he turned eighty, two months before he passed away, I asked my father if he remembered the incident of my vandalism and the subsequent disappearance of the books. I saw a fleeting trace of his youth and vibrancy as he smiled and nodded. “The books are not gone,” he assured me, “we still own them.” It is remarkable how our memories are illuminated by the people and characters we encounter. Some remain larger than life, long after they are gone. Jaya Padmanabhan

Contributors: Jasbina Ahluwalia, Pratik Chougule, Malar Gandhi, Ananya Goel, Praba Iyer, Geetika Jain, Kanniks Kannikeswaran, Indu Liladhar-Hathi, Nicole Marsh, Ritu Marwah, Jojy Michael, Anil Mulchandani, Jasjit Mundh, Rajesh Oza, Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy, Samanvitha Rao, Sandip Roy, Dinesh Shukla, Keerthika Subramanian, Mani Subramani Cover Design: Nghia Vuong. On the cover: Kanu Bhai with Esha Dharne 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 | 1

INDIA CURRENTS june 2013 • vol 27 • no 3


Southern California Edition

LIFESTYLE 1 | EDITORIAL My Father and his Sixty Books. By Jaya Padmanabhan

Find us on

6 | FORUM Is Social Media Harmful? By Rameysh Ramdas, Mani Subramani

38 | MUSIC: The Five Elemental Compositions. By Kanniks Kannikeswaran

7 | OPINION Are You Dad Enough? By Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy 8 | A THOUSAND WORDS Remember the Call Center? By Ragini Srinivasan 16 | YOUTH Do You Dare to Believe? By Jasjit Mundh, Ananya Goel 18 | VIEWPOINT How Immigration Reform Could Swing the Indian American Vote. By Keerthika Subramanian, Pratik Chougule

42 | BOOKS A Review of Ode to Lata and Redeeming Calcutta. By Geetika Pathania Jain, Rajesh Oza

10 | Minding the Gap India Community Center, with its diverse array of services, has become the go-to location bringing together several generations searching for a common ground. By Ritu Marwah

14 | Feature My Granddad, the Bengali Peddler

20 | MEMOIR An Untold Story. By Nicole Marsh

By Sandip Roy

22 | ON INGLISH A Boy Turned Pariah By Kalpana Mohan

34 | Films

28 | DESI VOICE My Mother’s Neem Tree. By Samanvitha Rao 52 | REFLECTIONS Seeds for Soil, Seeds of Spirit. By Jojy Michael 64 | THE LASTWORD Should Women Lean In or Lean On? By Sarita Sarvate 2 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

23 | RELATIONSHIP DIVA Too Quick to Judge. By Jasbina Ahluwalia

A Review of Shootout at Wadala, Go Goa Gone and Midnight’s Children By Aniruddh Chawda, Geetika Pathania Jain

56 | Travel Encounters with Elephants By Anil Mulchandani, Dinesh Shukla

54 | HEALTHY LIFE Ayurdevic Stress Management. By Malar Gandhi 60 | RECIPES Cool as a Cucumber. By Praba Iyer 63 | DEAR DOCTOR The Art of Mindful Eating. By Alzak Amlani

DEPARTMENTS 4 | Voices 4 | Popular Articles 26 | Ask a Lawyer 27 | Visa Dates 59 | Classifieds 62 | Viewfinder

WHAT’S CURRENT 46 | Cultural Calendar 50 | Spiritual Calendar | 3

voices Compromise with Consequences

I just finished going through India Currents. There are several pieces worth commenting on but I am going to confine myself to the editorial. (Trust with Limits, India Currents, May 2013). It’s normal, natural and acceptable that there be some trust. It can’t be “implicit,” as you maintain. However, Western society is influencing India and Indians at a rate faster than sound, if not light. In any case, there has never been any time or era, or generation when parents could have trusted their children implicitly. This is because of human nature, especially with teens. Growing up with distractions, peer pressure, a sense of adventure and freedom, irrelevant attractions, trying to prove themselves, averse to listening to “lectures” from parents or other elders, and many other “compelling reasons” are supposed to be responsible for breaking the trust. But to me there can be no compromise. You can’t take chances as sometimes there might not be another chance. This may be an overreaction from an overcautious parent but any compromise with restrictions does not work, and will never work unless you are prepared to compromise with consequences. Yatindra Bhatnagar, San Leandro, CA

A Perfect Creation

Vijay Gupta’s letter (A Supplementary Diet, India Currents, April 2013) is revealing and realistic. It is shocking to know that “over 100,000 Americans die each year from adverse reactions to FDA approved drugs that were prescribed by a doctor and used as directed.” His suggestions are noteworthy. I believe that man’s body is a perfect creation. From conception to death every thing can function nicely without artificial intervention. Food itself is medicine and supplement if taken judiciously. People know very little about nutrition except that they should meet the doctor whenever they fall ill without knowing that it can be rectified by minute alterations in diet. Gupta’s suggestion that everybody should “get more educated about their own health and nutrition” is excellent advice and should serve as a reminder to us all. T. N. P. Naidu, Cupertino, CA

Chronicles of Our History

Regarding the article on Partition, (Harnessing the Power of Stories, India Currents,

4 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

April 2013), amazing work by Guneeta Singh Bhalla and her team. It is nice to know details of our past and it is especially heartbreaking to read the tales of displacement that haven’t been remedied. I pause to wonder if religion exists to build relations or to destroy lives and countries. Lolita Fernandes, online

India Currents is available on the Kindle. Go to and search for “India Currents”

Moral Brakes

This is with reference to the picture that appeared with the article on wine. (Kamasutra Wine, India Currents, February 2013). My concern was with the published photo— it appears as if Lord Ganesha is seated in front of a nude woman. While I accept your position that no disrespect was intended, I am disappointed that the editorial guard was dropped in this instance. Lord Ganesha is the most popular of all Hindu deities and is widely worshipped by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, all over the world. He is revered and plays an important role in all Hindu ceremonies and rituals. He is considered playful and fun and his elephant head adds to this image of his playfulness. Under the guise of freedom of expression, we take on the defensive position of “art in the eyes of the beholder.” That does not and should not absolve us from our individual responsibilities to function morally and ethically. Your magazine is read widely, and I believe you bear the responsibility to filter out through an editorial process, material that may be misleading, offensive or lacking in good taste. If I may quote from your recent well written editorial, (Trust with Limits, India Currents, May 2013) “Largely, it is a question of limits. Realization of personal character has to do with limits that are placed on us by our parents, friends, neighbors, wellwishers and detractors. These limits often act as moral brakes ...” Taking a cue from that editorial, I consider you to be the one to set the limit in matters of this nature. Nanda Senathi, Redondo Beach, CA

Follow us at Like us on Currents Most Popular Articles Online May 2013 1) On a Quest. Gayatri Subramaniam 2) Offend Me and You’ll Be Chutney! Kalpana Mohan 3) Join the “March Against Monsanto.” Chris Kanthan 4) Discovering Congruency. Rajee Padmanabhan 5) A Day at the California State Capitol. Ras Siddiqui 6) May You Bear a Hundred Daughters. Meera Ekkanath Klein 7) Of All the Coffee Places. Benedito R. Ferrao 8) Trust with Limits. Jaya Padmanabhan 9) The Business of Life. Jeanne E. Fredriksen 10) Twice Born Yoga. Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

The oldest and most trusted Site Since 1985 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

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Is Social Media Harmful?

No, social media has its advantages

Yes, social media is harmful

By Rameysh Ramdas

By Mani Subramani

here has been a spate of chatter lately that social media has made us less or even anti-social. Nothing, in my opinion, is further from the truth. In fact I would say that social media has fostered relationships and a sense of community amongst us, transcending barriers of age, distance, time, language, socio-economic status and, even for that matter, celebrity status. It is a rite of passage for any celebrity these days to have a twitter account and a Facebook page. Personally, my life has been enriched by Facebook—I have reconnected and stay in active touch now with many of my high school friends, many that I have not even seen for the last 25 years, with extended family—far flung from different corners of the globe, and with many of my local friends. I enjoy knowing what they are all up to on a daily basis, to the extent they are willing to share, and for them to know details of my life as well. It is truly an amazingly connected feeling when I post my child’s basketball game win and hear back from so many people, within seconds, from as far as India or France with a “like” or a comment, or to be able to respond similarly to what my friends and family want to share with me. All of this used to happen very sporadically with far fewer people, prior to Facebook. We were limited to physical visits, letter writing, emailing or calling on the phone. It is not unusual Social media has althese days to meet somelowed an average Joe one in a party and recall that you have seen the to socialize even with person on a friend’s FB wall, initiate a converthe creme de la crème sation, and gain a new of society! friend in the process. As David Kirkpatrick says in his book The Facebook Effect—“It can make communication more efficient, cultivate familiarity, and enhance intimacy.” For students, researchers, social activists and public health and safety personnel, social media has been a godsend, making instantaneous and wide scale collaborations and information sharing possible, with the alerts saving lives in disaster situations. Social media provides a global platform for talent in the arts—Justin Bieber launched himself on YouTube when he was barely 12 and is today a music icon. Many Indian musicians regularly use social media to the mutual benefit of their fans as well.. The famous Karnatik musicians Ranjani-Gayathri said it best in a recent interview with The Hindu: “There’s a certain distance when we perform on stage, and on our FB page we are trying to collapse that wall. It’s a way to connect with the fans in a more intimate setting where they get to know us and our music better.” Amitabh Bachchan blogs and posts on Facebook daily sharing the highlights of his day. Social media has allowed an average Joe to socialize even with the creme de la crème of society! Much like the advent of the telephone helped connect people, today’s social media have taken that ability to stay in touch to a totally different scale and realm, enriching our lives. n Rameysh Ramdas, an S.F. Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby. 6 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013


ut of sight is out of mind as the saying goes. In other words, there is a guarantee of attention and intimacy when we are close together. In general, a more in depth relationship and understanding can result from physical presence and proximity. This has been the foundation for many of society’s structures like the family unit, schools, colleges and close knit skunkworks teams that have produced amazing innovations. Social media turns this forumula on its head. For one, outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr take a toll on time and and engender compulsive habits. It is estimated that 120 billion minutes were spent in July 2012 on social media in the United States. This was a 37% increase over the previous year. This compares to rougly 850 billion minutes of television viewing. Many companies have installed software to monitor social media usage. Gartner estimates that 60% of companies will have some form of social media activity monitoring software at the workplace. Digital trends indicate that more time is spent on tracking and keeping up with the Joneses, since there are many more Joneses to keep up with now for social media users. It is as if the social media user is always in a crowd and life is an endless party. Social media is rampant with examples of mindless behavior, including brag... more time is spent ging, bad language, exhibitionism and a desperaon tracking and keeption to please. According to a study by the Uniing up with the Joneversity of Salford in the ses, since there are U.K., over 50% of social media users indicated that many more Joneses to it caused a negative effect to their personal lives, inkeep up with now for cluding poor self-esteem social media users. issues. News organizations have started screening blogs for news content. In an ever dwindling world of beat reporters this trend is diluting the news even more. Since the content of social media is user generated it is not checked or verified. Nevertheless it is in print and has the ring of authenticity. What makes it worse is that it is 24/7 and instantaneous. This was evident in the recent flash crash when the Associated Press twitter feed was hacked resulting in a fake tweet reporting that White House was attacked and the POTUS injured. This fictitious event caused a temporary drop in the stock market. Social media companies and subsidiaries are negligible employers at best. Neither are these companies returning value to their share holders. This was evident in the Facebook IPO and dismal performance of its stock and fallout thereafter. This is perhaps because they don’t add value to society. In other measurable metrics, productivity gains of late have been fairly low even with the high unemployment. All the time spent on this new distraction at the workplace perhaps has something to do with it? n Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.


Are You Dad Enough? By Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy


y son is turning five later this month and I am going through a whole slew of emotions. I miss the baby that was my son not too long ago. I face a boy getting ready for elementary school this fall and I am not quite ready for it. Am I dad enough for the journey ahead?

In the Beginning

I was not, at first, thrilled with the prospect of being a dad. I liked my independence, the movie nights, the long dinners, and the casual late night get-togethers with friends. The very thought of sleepless nights and dirty t-shirts was horrifying. Then I became the father of this little baby not much bigger than my arm. And magic happened. Before long, I was worrying if the child was eating enough, sleeping enough and pooping enough. I had not anticipated this obsession.

Two Ways To Go About It

We Dads get to choose one of two possible routes. We can either be the nonchalant dad who is comfortable with everything the way it is or the 21st century parent who obsesses over everything from the lack of GMO labeling on the child’s food purchased in Whole Foods to how quickly the kid picks up Shakespeare. The former gets one a good night’s sleep. The latter—pretty much no sleep, lots of worry and potential bragging rights with friends. In spite of the obvious differences between the two, quite a few dads I meet these days are of the latter kind—the obsessive, bordering on paranoia and would-gladly-sitin-the-kids-classroom-as-an-observer-everyday types.

You Turned Out Ok. They’ll Do Ok Too.

Every Asian parent has heard this one time or the other. Every time I worry or stress over something about my kid, my parents or elders in the family promptly say, “You did it and you turned out ok. He’ll be ok too.” This applies to everything from going out alone in the streets to watching movies with gyrating hips and gratuitous violence. Our parents weren’t as hands on as we are today and I do not say this in a bad way. Things weren’t that competitive back then. Life was

simpler. Our support system was stronger. And we literally grew up on the streets, playing, getting hurt and developing critical survival skills. Unfortunately this doesn’t hold true for our kids. The roads and streets are not safe anymore—and this is everywhere in the world, including India. I may be fine with my kid getting hurt in a brawl. Another parent might not be. From what I see, the Asian community in America is fairly competitive. Many of us want our kids to be champions in everything. We want our kids to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page or Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg. And the way to get there often runs through music classes, piano lessons, violin lessons, dance classes, art classes, tennis, soccer, swimming ... I am no different. The challenge of crafting the child’s growth arc until they are on their own is compelling and often times inescapable.

The Bay Area Parent

My wife jokes that as a Bay Area Asian parent, I am always one step away from a visit to the shrink. The amount of information available to be processed and disseminated and meaningfully applied to our kids from the time they are born all the way up to college is incredible. The sheer amount of talent and the competitive no-holds barred parenting practiced is often times scary. Just when I think I have set up my kid with the right amount of extra classes and social activities to complement his school education, along comes a parent who talks of that one extra thing his or her kid is doing. My mind starts racing again. It never really ends.

The Parent Shall be Judged

In this weird world, the perception is that parents are being judged against each other.

A Creative Commons Image While the impact is directly felt by our kids, it is the parent who is effectively trying to one up his or her peer in the race to child stardom. And the stakes are only getting higher. The secret to Ivy League glory is for everyone to follow today. The helicopter parent knows it by heart now. Buy a house in a good school district, sign up for a ton of classes, pick a sport, push, push, push, and voila! The kid finally makes it to the big league and hopefully with that, the road to glory and riches.

Finally, the Part About the Child

Appropriately, the last portion of this article is about the child! While the entire parenting experience is supposed to revolve around the habits, needs and expectations of the child, it is often about the habits, needs and expectations of the parent. I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of it sometimes. The child is often times a footnote, sadly. This doesn’t mean we, the parents don’t care about the child. It is that the choices and interests of the child are rarely given precedence over the choices and interest for the child as seen by the parents. After all, as your parents told you and continue to do so to this day, don’t parents know more than the child? “Are you dad enough?” Indeed. n

Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy is a tech enthusiast and blogs on various topics from parenting to shopping: | 7

a thousand words

Remember the Call Center? By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan


n the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) world, Mexico is apparently the new India. According to a recent economic report delivered before the Indian parliament, India has lost 10% of its BPO business in the past five years. Meanwhile, Tijuana-based call centers are picking up the slack. India, the story goes, is no longer a cost-effective source of late-night labor, and Mexico has closer cultural ties to its neighbor to the north. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first came across this report. For a decade, the call center has been the primary spatial, social, and economic sign of India’s “globality,” but it has also been a fraught and ambivalent one. Over the years, the call center has been used to represent both Indian “servility” and the West’s dependence on India. It has been imagined as a fantastical site of transformative possibility for India’s youth and as an analogue to the infamous Chinese sweatshop. So which is it? Or rather, which was it? Should we lament the migration of BPO business out of India, or celebrate? A few months ago, I went to see Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play Disconnect at the San Jose Repertory Theatre. The play, which was first staged in 2009, follows three “last stage” debt collectors in a Chennai call center, focusing on the performances they deliver as they engage with unseen Americans via phone and email. Vidya becomes Vicki, Giri is Gary, and Roshan is Ross. The titular “disconnect” is evidenced by “Ross’s” ultimately disastrous infatuation with one of his Illinois-based “marks,” who manipulates him into having her credit card debt expunged before filing the equivalent of a restraining order against him. In the performance I saw, some of the actors were IndianAmericans playing Indians playing Americans, which meant that they had to perform both “Indian” accents and the “American” accents that their Indian counterparts would have performed. Despite the rave reviews the play has received in London and elsewhere, it seemed both ridiculous (would the savvy young Indian, “Ross,” really have become so obsessed with the idea of a virtual American girlfriend in 2009?) and terribly dated. And it reminded me of just how over-familiar the call center story has become. In the late 1990s, the call center was the “backroom” of the global economy, the dirty secret of major Western corporations like Citibank, AT&T, AOL, and Goldman Sachs. In 2000, Arundhati Roy described a Call Centre College in Gurgaon as evidence of “how easily an ancient civilization can be made to abase itself completely.” She wrote that “hundreds of young English-speaking Indians are being groomed to man the backroom operations of giant transnational companies,” while being paid a tenth of the salaries offered for the same work abroad. Roy was not alone in her anger; others argued that call center workers were degraded “cybercoolies” and “electronic housekeepers to the world.” Then, in the early 2000s, the faces behind the voices emerged from their back offices, and the discourse on civilizational abasement shifted into something oddly jubilant. Swept up in the excess of the BJP’s “India Shining” campaign, some began celebrating global India’s arrival as signaled by the call center. Pundits applauded the fact that India had become one of the primary nodes of globalization. Media

8 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

representations of call centers and their workers proliferated, and the call center began to conjure not only the physical office spaces of a technologized Bengaluru, but also an entire aspiring middle-class in rural India supported by remittances from their urban, night-shiftworking, English-speaking adult children. Meanwhile, Americans were not quite sure how to feel about their Indian tech-support. Media scholars have argued that most Americans weren’t even aware of the Indians on “the other end of the line” until well into the 2000s, when the stories of call center agents began to be aired in productions like a 2003 Bill Moyers’ segment and Thomas Friedman’s The Other Side of Outsourcing. In 2005, PBS ran a documentary about call center workers called 1-800-INDIA. The documentary made sure to juxtapose images of call center offices with those of slums. The call center worker was clearly a symbol of India’s global arrival, but even a generation’s “rise” into the middle-class couldn’t hide the fact that India was still grappling with widespread poverty and failing infrastructure. Despite these images of persistent Indian third-worldness, many Americans perceived the call center worker as a threat, as someone illegitimately stealing their “good American jobs.” Offshoring quickly became a dirty word, and “outsourcing” came up often as a rhetorical scapegoat in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 U.S. elections. Interestingly, there was also some measure of guilt associated with the call center. Movies like John Jeffcoat’s Outsourced (2006) and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) humanized the call center worker, forcing Americans to confront the violence of the demand that the Indian callers be able to produce recognizably American names, talk of American sports, references to the weather, and current events in a so-called “neutral” accent. Those days are gone now, the center has shifted, and we are left with questions. Was the call center an insidious site of debasement, just another neoliberal incarnation of the sweatshop factory? Was the call center a hub of Indian mobilization against “good American jobs?” Was the call center a dynamic space of potential for a generation of aspiring global citizens and an entrepreneurial greenhouse for India’s youth, representing the perfect marriage of tradition and opportunity? Or, as Siddhartha Deb wrote in The Beautiful and the Damned, was the “sunrise industry” always “a rather fake world”? In the final scene of Disconnect, the call center workers dress up as cowboys, Snow White, and a cheerleader in order to celebrate the Fourth of July in a boozy office party with vending machine snacks. I cringed while watching, grateful for the darkness of the playhouse, as the rest of the audience laughed appreciatively at the supposed Indian pursuit of the American Dream. And then, mercifully, the curtain closed on the story of the Indian call center. n Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley.


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10 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

Minding the Gap By Ritu Marwah

Celebrating ten years as a vibrant, diverse neighborhood hub, India Community Center has become the gateway to India in America. With a slew of services and classes and the participation of several generations of families in its programs, it strikes a balance between preservation and assimilation.


nil Godhwani stared down at the round crispy golgappa pinched between his two fingers. As he awaited the delicious spicy, sweet and sour burst of liquid in his mouth, a puff of an idea blew across his mind. The year long vacation in India was nearing its end and soon they would be back home in California. He looked up and saw his extended family seated around him at the dinner table. They were laughing, the young sharing their day’s escapades, the old experiencing them vicariously through the young. He would miss this bonhomie. He would miss this gathering place where several generations came together to celebrate festivals, events, wins and losses. An idea flashed through his mind. He wondered if he could carry this inter-generational experience back with him to California. Godhwani mentioned his idea to his brother. A gathering place where multiple generations could mingle, where the whole family could experience facets of the Indian culture. Gautam Godhwani was used to his brother’s flashes of brilliance. They had worked together to create the startup AtWeb, which they had sold two years ago to Netscape. He mulled over the idea as Anil continued, “Do you remember, in Houston, when those students came to learn music from mom? The mothers of the students would wait in cars. If there had been a community center they could have worked out, done yoga, taken a cooking class, met for a book club perhaps while they waited. What do you think?” Anil’s eyes were brimming with excitement. It was a logical time to invest in infrastructure because the community had come into real wealth in the last decade. Gautam’s thoughts whirled to other community centers in the Bay Area. There was the Jewish Community Center (JCC) that was quite effective at doing what Anil was thinking of. Jewish and Indian cultures both valued reverence for family and the desire to preserve their traditions. They could look at the JCC

as a case study. The year was 2001 when the brothers started working on their “for profit, nonprofit.” When the India Community Centre opened its doors in February 2003 in the heart of one of the largest, most educated and primarily young Indian community in the United States 800 people rushed through the door. The center was off to a running start. Just as JCC does, India Community Center (ICC) would offer programs for different age groups, a fitness center and activities ranging from yoga and meditation to Hindi language classes and aerobics, classical Indian music, pop Indian music and sports like ping pong, chess, bridge, book clubs as well as discussion forums.

The Inter-generational Experience

Whole families became members. Three, and in some cases, four generations jostled each other in hallways, attending classes, eating lunch, attending talks, dancing at fundraisers, singing at Friday night karaoke and gracing banquets. The energy of the center took on the tone of a village. Children, who had no grandparents at home got used to seeing seniors who might look like their grandparents. According to Wikipedia, an inter-generational contract is “a dependency between different generations based on the assumption that future generations, in honoring the contract, will provide a service to a generation that has previously done the same service to an older generation.” In the increasingly nuclear experience of the Bay Area family, parents are stretched. The pressure of being new immigrants adjusting to the values and culture of the adopted country affecst pockets, time and patience. Unexpected challenges lurk around every growth spurt corner. Parents have to deal with unfamiliar scenarios like sleepovers, dating, proms, nights out, drug abuse, bullying and a content rich environments.

Despite struggling to cope with the constantly evolving work and home place, parents have found it important to impart culture and values of their heritage to their children growing up in America. The absence of a support community or village means that there is no buffer between kids and their parents. There is no aunt, uncle or neighbor who can step in. There is no grandmother who allows a little bit of TV indulgence after school. In cases where the older generation have migrated to the United States, the natural generation gap gets accentuated among immigrants. “In India when children live with parents, the father’s mother is in-charge, the father’s father is the lord. In America relocating parents live with their children reversing the order and power in the relationships,” explained Vishnu Sharma, an early supporter of ICC. Financial dependence also limited exposure to the new country. Older grandparents were reluctant to leave the home, hesitant to spend their children’s money. This selfimposed home imprisonment and the resultant depression and loss of self-esteem added to the burdens of both generations. “I often walk around meeting seniors sharing my ten commandments. Treat your children as grownups, educated adults and not as children any more. Never give advice unless asked for; Never ask them about their financial status …,” said senior Mani Iyer as he handed me a sheet of his commandments. “Yes, in India the grandparent can tell the parent where he is going wrong but not here.” Both generations agree on one thing: grandchildren must be given a strong value system. In the last decade, ICC has become a central hub where the grandparent-less and grandparent-surplus Bay Area families could meet and share resources towards fulfilling this inter-generational contract. One senior, Kanu Bhai, a member of | 11

Gautam and Anil Godhwani with their mother

ICC, takes it upon himself to cheer the little preschoolers as they roll into ICC, carried in by harried parents on their way to work. Every morning he greets the little ones at the door just as a grandparent would, placing a smile on the faces of terrified first time pre-schoolers. To my thinking, the parent probably drives off wearing a half smile feeling as though the kids have been dropped off at grandma’s house. Dr. Harleen Sahni who is finishing her fellowship at Stanford University and has a two-month-old at home is given a pat on her back by her three-year-old daughter, Asees. “Good job mom, she says when I turn the corner into the school.” Sahni chose to drive all the way to ICC when it was time for her to pick a preschool for her daughter hoping for an easier transition, “less anxiety and crying.” The “A” grade her three-year-old gave her was pure bonus. “There is always a high five or a smile and a laugh exchanged as grandparents and children roam the hallways moving from one classroom, restroom or lunchroom to another” said Tanuja Bahal, Executive Director of ICC. “We provide a safe, welcoming environment where relationships grow organically.”

Gateway to India in America

India Community Center is in the unique position of being a window to Indian culture. Much like JCC, half of whose membership is non-Jewish, ICC too reached out to embrace the culture curious. India immersion sessions are offered to local schools to parallel the school syllabus, which teaches Indian history and culture to fourth graders. “Schools as far away as Marin and Gilroy have taken up the offer. A school in Los Gatos has been sending their fourth graders regularly for the last three to four years now,” says Bahal. “ICC teaches them about Indian history and geography through very interesting exercises making the country come alive. Girl Scouts groups are given beads, that represent population per square mile, to string into country lanyards. Comparing the United States with India in this way the students realize the difference in density between the two countries and the resulting impact on resources.” Visual representation also helps students gain an understanding of India when they work side by side with ICC members in art classes. The question: “What does India mean to you” brought out an interesting col-

12 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

national men’s champion, Timothy Wang and national women’s champion Lily Zhang are ICC trained. The ping-pong center is recognized as the top 20 in the world and the best in America, thanks to the coaches who are originally from India, Italy and China.

Self-Sustaining At Last

ICC has become a central hub where the grandparent-less and grandparentsurplus Bay Area families could meet and share resources towards fulfilling this inter-generational contract. lage of answers; pictures from grandparents to peacocks. High schools like Castilleja and Crystal Springs have taken students to India as part of their ethics or business curriculum. Before the students leave for India they visit ICC to familiarize themselves with the country and prepare for their trip. “The sari is a difficult dress for them to walk or dance in. We then show them pictures of women in saris working in the fields and construction sites placing the garment in its cultural context,” Bahal said. Spring and harvest festivals, Makarsakranti, Bhiu and Baisakhi are celebrated where families enjoy crafts, dance, art, clothes and food together. Non-Indians enrolled at ICC as life members. “They enjoy Yoga and light food”, said Vasanti Balan the manager of the Cupertino center. The fitness center became a huge draw with its Bollywood aerobics class. The all-senior Jollywood dance group saw a parallel Chinese line dancing group practicing in the adjacent room. Ethiopian weddings, quinceañeras and Caucasian weddings are celebrated in the banquet hall as frequently as Indian weddings and functions are. The prize winning ping-pong team reflects this diversity. Three out of four teams that the United States fielded at the London Olympics had been trained at ICC. The U.S.

Anil and Gautam Godhwani stood in front of their mother, Gopi. They had in their hands the financial report of the community center. Over the last decade, through trial and error the brothers had created what they had aspired to, a self-sustaining unit for Indians in America. Annual fundraising had touched a million dollars in the past two years. The fitness center had 1500 members, 800 summer campers participated—five to fourteen year olds and 80 teenagers earned community service awards as counselors. The banquet hall rental income was substantial. On all counts ICC was catching up to other community centers like JCC and YMCA who had been around for 100 years. Its earnings from donations formed 10 to 30% of the total collection while services and programs contributed 70 to 90% of the bottom line. It was pretty close to the industry standard. While ICC never raised the kind of money that JCC has, the center, by careful allocation, good management and prioritization, has become self-sustainable in the last two years. Besides becoming self-sustainable, Godhwani explained that they now have a scalable model. In a place like Southern California with its dense concentrations of Indian Americans in regions like Artesia and Orange County, an ICC branch would be a welcome addition besides being quick to deploy, but why stop at Southern California, how about Washington DC and New York next? The Godhwani brothers have cut their coat according to their cloth. With a grand vision and a collective leadership plan, that includes the likes of Talat Hasan, Kumar Kumar Malavalli, A.G. Karunakaran and Naren Bakshi, ICC is now our profitable, diverse neighborhood hub. n Ritu Marwah is a resident of the Bay Area where she has pursued theater, writing, nonprofit marketing, high-tech marketing, startup management, raising children, coaching debate, and hiking. Ritu graduated from Delhi with masters in business, joined the Tata Administrative Service and worked in London for ten years before moving to the Bay Area.

What Board Members Say


grew up in America without an ICC. It is a handicap I don’t want my children to have. We must teach our children that their individuality is their strength. Otherwise they will grow up trying to hide from it or dilute it. Immanuel Thangaraj, member ICC board of directors and chair of the September 2013 Gala.


CC provides the infrastructural springboard for other non-profits. For instance at the last Sevathon one non-profit organization raised $30,000. By the way since its inception Sevathon participation has increased from 300 to near 4000 participants.” Venky Ganesan, Co-President of ICC


y impression of the Indo American community is that many of the people are recent immigrants and they have strong identity ties with India. Flash forward four generations then will that be true? It would probably be very difficult for my grandparents to imagine their identity separate from being Jewish. For their great-greatgrandchildren that are now in this world it is not an obvious matter. For many Jewish people their Jewish identity is not first and foremost on their self-identity list. Republican or Democrat, Gemini or Sagittarian there are many other affiliations. Culture and heritage have to be nurtured, celebrated and cultivated. The preservation of a culture has to be done in a way that it does not isolate one from the rest of the community but is something that is shared freely with the entire community while celebrating it internally. When we built the JCC in San Francisco we felt that one of our tests would be that it should be considered a great place by the larger community. If it didn’t pass that test the Jewish community wouldn’t want it either. I remember at JCC we had a teen center. There were these two teens in line, one was Jewish and the other was non-Jewish. The non-Jewish kid turned to his friend and said, “Man this place is so cool. You are so lucky to have it.” And the Jewish kid who was probably ambivalent about it to begin with, felt this great sense of pride and ownership. “It is my place and you are welcome,” he responded. Nate Levine, founder BuildingBlox Consulting; ex-Executive Director of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco; ex-board member of ICC. | 13


My Granddad, the Bengali Peddler An African-American writer finds her roots


n 1896, almost a century before Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala caused a stir by daring to show a romance between a black man and an Indian woman in the American South, a Muslim Bengali peddler from Hooghly married a black Catholic woman from New Orleans and settled down in that city. There’s no record of how they met or what the neighbors made of them. Shaik Mohammad Musa died in 1919, a few months before his son was born. His widow Tinnie raised their three children as black and Catholic. Their Indian heritage was lost in history. “We had a hookah, and we had a picture, and then we had family stories—that was all we had,” says Fatima Shaik, his granddaughter. And their names. They were the only Shaiks in the phone book. Her classmates teased her, singing Shake, Baby, Shake in the school yard. Sometimes lonely Indians landing up in New Orleans would find them in the phonebook and call them on the off chance they were from the subcontinent. Her father, she says, was always wistful after those conversations. “Perhaps he would think maybe he had family too somewhere in India and some day they would call up.” This year, Fatima Shaik came to India for the first time to try and solve the mystery in her family tree. Jeffrey Reneau, the director of the American Center in Kolkata which hosted her says “her story brings home this international issue of belonging and who am I. When you start deconstructing identity you find pieces and threads of who you are. The only thing bringing all the pieces together is you.”

Who is Fatima Shaik?

It’s like a detective story but one with “no footprints, no contemporary clues,” says Kolkata-born filmmaker and FulbrightNehru fellow Kavery Kaul who is filming Fatima’s journey. Even the name of the ancestral village was lost in transliteration. “We had to unscramble the English,” laughs Kaul. An academic reminded her there were many villages in Bengal with similar names. But an old letter from Shaik Musa with the name of the post office helped them finally track it down to Khori village in Hooghly. “What will surprise many people in America and Kolkata, is that there were many villagers whose grandfathers had left about the time Fatima’s grandfather did. 14 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

By Sandip Roy The 1900 federal census found twelve men from “Hindoostan” living in New Orleans. There were stories in newspapers about men as “wise as Solomon,” with “black skull caps” and “long tailed frock coats.” One newspaper wrote a long account about being transfixed by amazement watching a “Hindoo” wobbling on a bicycle —“humped over like a camel trying to keep his balance.” By 1910, the number of peddlers had increased five fold. Bald estimates between the 1880s and 1920s, approximately 300 to 500 men from Fatima on the Ganges Image credit: Usha Kaul/Riverfilms Hoogly/Calcutta moved through the peddler network in America—a Some went to America, some to Panama. small number but crucial in estabSome came back, some didn’t,” says Kaul. lishing the continuity of the South Asian Vivek Bald has just written a book about migration story. these forgotten migrants—Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America. Fitting Between Black and White Bald writes that at the turn of the 20th Many of these peddlers returned to their century there was a flourishing network of villages. But some, like Fatima’s grandfapeddlers from places like Hooghly in Amerther, did not. Some even became American ica. They sold chikan embroidery—shawls, citizens throwing courts into a quandary behandkerchiefs, bedspreads. Women in their cause only whites and persons of African anvillages hand-embroidered them. Once they cestry could become United States citizens. used to take them to cities like Calcutta but “Abba Dolla,” an Afghan silk peddler from when the British flooded the market with Calcutta, for example, applied as a “white cheap factory-made goods, they needed to person.” The district court judge made him find other markets. roll up his sleeve and was satisfied that though his face and hands were tanned by Eat Pray Love—circa 1900 the sun, his unexposed skin “was sufficiently America was going through an “Oritransparent for the blue color of the veins to ental” fascination at that time. Image source: U.S. National Archives The Indian nautch dancer was part of American burlesque. There were tobacco brands with names like “Hindoo” and “Mogul.” In New Orleans the Mardi Gras parade had floats with themes like “Hindoo Heaven” and “Light of Asia.” These peddlers worked the boardwalks of resort towns like Atlantic City and carnival cities like New Orleans selling a bit of that exotic Oriental fantasy to Americans even as the country’s borders started to close on Asian immigrants. “These men came to the UnitRoston Ally, another member of the Hooghly peddler ed States on a thin edge between network who operated in Atlantic City, New Jersey and in New Orleans, Louisiana, around the turn of the Indophilia and xenophobia,” twentieth century. writes Bald.

show very clearly.” Roston Ally, another member of the Hooghly peddler network who operated in Atlantic City, New Jersey and in New Orleans, Louisiana, around the turn of the twentieth century. But even if these men slipped through the cracks of immigration law, the color codes in society were stricter. That determined where they slept at night and the women they married. Indian immigrants today do not realise they owe a historical debt of gratitude to the black community. At a time when lawmakers viewed them as part of the “Asiatic horde” says Bald, “African American neighborhoods and communities provided them with shelter and the possibility to build lives.” “In New Orleans the African American community was welcoming and I’d like to think Shaik Mohammad fell in love with Fatima’s grandmother, Tinnie,” says Kaul.

The Men in the Middle

But this was not just a story of the odd romance of Bengali Muslim men and their Catholic wives and whether it made the gumbo spicier. Men like Shaik Musa were really the men in the middle of a story that was being stitched by women at both ends. Bald writes “(A)s much as the Hoogly peddler network relied upon the work of Indian

women in home villages, it functioned in North America because of the labor of United States women of color.” These women made New Orleans a home, not just a boarding house. “I don’t know if the men wrote at length about their wives, the race and religion of their wives,” says Kaul. “The men did what they had to do, I am sure the women embroidering chikan missed them. I have no doubt about that.” Unlike the Punjabi farmers of the west coast and their Mexican wives who left behind gurdwaras, the chikan peddlers of New Orleans left few physical traces of their American lives. There are no records of mosques or ethnic enclaves. Within a generation, their children had been absorbed into the black community although Bald says we should remember in New Orleans “‘blackness’ was incredibly expansive and mixed—it had room to incorporate the Bengalis and their descendants.” He says he has heard there is an African American family in New Orleans descended from the Bengali peddlers who still get together every Sunday to make a big pot of biryani.

And there were Mosquitos

Fatima Shaik says before her trip she

wanted specific answers about the grandfather she had never known—“What were the similarities to me physically, what did he like to eat?” But as she traveled through Kolkata and up the Hooghly to the village he was from she just started imagining him walking to the main road, taking a cart to the city, and then boarding a ship for the New World. Kaul says as much as her film is about Shaik Musa and his journey from India, it’s also about Fatima Shaik, the African American writer’s journey to Kolkata. “When I got off the plane I was struck that Calcutta was very much like New Orleans,” laughs Fatima. “So hot, so humid at night. And there were mosquitos. In that sense I felt I was home.” Then she says with a smile that she likes to think her grandfather felt the same as well when he got off his ship in New Orleans. “When he encountered the same heat and the same humidity and the same mosquitoes—he must have felt like he was home too.” n Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost. com. He is on leave as editor with New America Media. His weekly dispatches from India can be heard on This article was first published in First Post.


Have your parents packed everything for their visit to the US?


ummer is the most popular season for parents to travel to the US to visit their kids and relatives. The warm

weather across most of the US permits them to enjoy themselves and create good memories. But the memories can probably be made for wrong reasons if they decide to travel without one important piece of luggage-travel insurance.

People tend not to buy travel insurance if they feel they are not at risk. Decision to buy travel insurance probably should not be based on instincts. Usually, visitors end up paying more instead of saving, by not investing in travel insurance. Travel insurance allows you to insure against incidents like trip interruptions, trip cancelations, stolen or lost baggage, and emergency evacuations. It is better to be prepared for all the contingencies, and where parents are concerned, you should also be prepared for any medical emergency. In such a case, having good travel medical insurance becomes

essential. The main argument in favor of buying medical insurance is that healthcare expenses in US are very high. If your parents suddenly fall ill during the trip, and if they are covered under a plan, then insurance will take care of most of the expenses associated with the treatment, doctor's fee, hospital visit, and prescription drugs. Whereas, in the absence of any medical coverage, you, or your parents, are financially liable for the bills, which can run up to thousands of dollars. You can buy the travel insurance either from your home country or the US. It is generally recommended that the beneficiaries buy their travel medical insurance from a reputed company in the US that offers an insurance plan best-suited to their needs. Travel medical insurance purchased from USA has many advantages: These plans are widely accepted in USA with some plans having Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) network coverage; the claims process is much faster as the plans are US-based; and

you do not have to pay the medical bills upfront. Besides, if you have any questions or doubts, you can avail the 24-hour customer service in the same time zone. As recommended earlier, visitors should buy travel insurance from a reputed and reliable company in the US. The company should allow you to compare various plans based on individual factors like medical history, age of the beneficiaries, and length of their stay. The companies should also provide the liberty to buy and renew the plans online. One such company provides an online platform to get quotes, compare various plans, buy travel insurance that best suits your needs, and help you save money. In conclusion, buying travel insurance plans from USA should be an essential part of your parent's itinerary. They decided to visit the US to relax and enjoy with you instead of fretting over health and costs. You can help them achieve the purpose behind their visit by investing in good medical travel insurance. | 15


Do You Dare to Believe? Winner • Growing Up Asian in America

By Jasjit Mundh; Art by Ananya Goel


oday, I am the President of the United States. Only yesterday, I was a terrorist. You see, I wear a turban, speak Punjabi, and am brown-skinned. My parents are from India, I was born in the Greatest Nation on Earth, Yet we both face discrimination. No worries, no worries, I promise a clearing in our future. Imagine: civil rights for every race! An end to the Arizona Immigration Law, Which is accepted as lawful. An end to racial profiling, Which is only a “natural precaution”. An end to assuming Asians are smart and Blacks are in gangs, Which accelerates ethnic stereotypes. Do you dare to believe? Pain is our inspiration, The end to racism will be achieved. Today, I am the President of the United States. Only yesterday, I was a just a woman. You see, I have feminine features, paint my nails, and am expected to be a housewife. My mother is from India, I was born in the Greatest Nation on Earth, Yet we both face prejudice. No worries, no worries, I promise a clearing in our future. Imagine: equal representation for both genders! An end to wondering if a woman’s body will shut down during a legitimate rape, Which is pondered upon by many. An end to female infanticide, Which is grossly obscured in every country. An end to disregarding harassment of women in the US Army, Which has been buried for centuries. Do you dare to believe? Pain is our inspiration, The end to sexism will be achieved. Today, I am the President of the United States. Only yesterday, 16 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

I was a Sikh. You see, I wear a karra, support turbans, and have long hair. My ancestors are from India, I was born in the Greatest Nation on Earth, Yet we both face discrimination. No worries, no worries, I promise a clearing in our future. Imagine: total separation of church and state! An end to the ban on gay marriage, Which is feared by religionists, An end to be sworn into presidency through the Bible, Which is recognized as ethical. An end to the legal celebration of only Christian holidays, Which is acknowledged as normal. Do you dare to believe? Pain is our inspiration, The end to a theocratic America will be achieved. Today, I am the President of the United States. Only yesterday,

I was a student. You see, I study hard, write essays, and complain about homework. My fellow classmates are from foreign countries, I was born in the Greatest Nation on Earth, Yet we all face prejudice. No worries, no worries, I promise a clearing in our future. Imagine: equal education opportunities for all! An end to placing immigrants at poorer schools, Which is utterly ignored. An end to cutting funding for education, Which is compromised for the sake of corporations. A final toast to new beginnings, Which will ensure that the upcoming generation is discrimination-free. Do you dare to believe? Pain is our inspiration, Pure equality will soon be achieved. n Jasjit Kaur Mundh is from San Jose and is in the 11th Grade. She is a 1st Place essay contest winner in the grade category of 9-12. Ananya Goel is from Pleasanton and is in the 5th Grade. She is a 1st Place Art contest winner in the grade category of K-5. 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.

Building Dreams—Brick by Brick

By Ananya Goel

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 | 17


How Immigration Reform Could Swing the Indian-American Vote By Keerthika Subramanian and Pratik Chougule


mmigration policy is the glue that binds Indian-Americans and the Democratic Party. Through its image as the natural home of immigrants, the Democratic Party has continued to win the Indian-American vote, even as its initiatives on issues ranging from taxes to healthcare to education have increasingly worked against the interests of the Indian-American community. The current debate on immigration reform however could break the half-century alliance between Indian-Americans and the Democratic Party. It has given rise to a reformist faction of the Republican Party whose values are more consistent with those of today’s IndianAmerican community.

In advocating on behalf of highly-skilled immigrants— the most pertinent aspect of the (immigration) debate for Indian-Americans—the G.O.P. has actually been the more proactive party. ural constituency for the Democracy Party.

A Price to Pay Hart-Celler Legacy

The Democratic Party won IndianAmerican sympathies during the immigration debates of the 1960s. Co-sponsored by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the HartCeller Act of 1965 replaced national origins quotas with a system favoring skills and family reunification. The landmark legislation facilitated the arrival of over half a million Indian emigrants within three decades of the law’s passage. Today, many naturalized Indian-Americans remain Democrats in appreciation of the party’s Hart-Celler immigration legacy. According to a 2012 Pew Poll, 65% of Indian-Americans identify with the Democratic Party compared to just 18% on the Republican side, making Indian-Americans more aligned with the Democratic Party than any East Asian group. Indian-American loyalty to the Democratic Party, however, has come at a growing price. Through their academic achievement, success in small business, and heavy representation in industries such as healthcare, Indian-Americans have become the wealthiest minority group in the country. In 2010, Indian-Americans had a median household income of $88,000 compared to the national average of $49,800. These realities hardly make the Indian-American community a nat-

18 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

Consider the consequences of ObamaCare. Indian-American small businessmen, who own nearly half of the country’s motels and convenience stores, are now contending with higher taxes and burdensome employer health insurance requirements. Indian-American physicians and surgeons—who comprise nearly 10% of the nation’s doctors—face rising malpractice insurance premiums, everincreasing paperwork, and anticipated Medicare reimbursement cuts. And ObamaCare is only one element of a broader Democratic agenda aimed at expanding the size of government. Redistributive federal entitlements benefit neither the 60% of Indian-Americans employed in top managerial positions, nor young IndianAmerican professionals just beginning their careers.

The Pressure of Affirmative Action

The Democratic Party’s economic agenda may concern only high-earners. But its approach to race relations harms Indian-Americans of all socio-economic backgrounds. On the assumption that racial disparities can be addressed through greater access to higher education, the Democratic Party has championed affirmative action policies that

prize certain types of diversity. Racial preferences have merits. But affirmative action undercuts returns on the substantial investments Indian-Americans make in academic achievement. In competitions such as the Intel science fair or National Spelling Bee where IndianAmericans have excelled, contestants succeed or fail entirely on their individual abilities. In universities that practice affirmative action by contrast, applicants are judged by different standards depending on their race. Due to de facto racial quotas inherent in affirmative action policies, Indian-American must outperform competitors of different races with similar credentials. As a 2009 study by sociologists Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford determined, Asian-American students needed significantly higher SAT scores than their White, African-American, and Latino peers to gain admission at several elite colleges.

The Social Agenda

Some argue that it is not immigration, but rather, the G.O.P.’s social agenda that accounts for Indian-American voting patterns. It is true that the Republican Party’s lack of appeal among Indian-Americans is related to the party’s broader difficulties in winning highly-educated urban voters who feel alienated by the religious right. But this explanation only goes so far. Behind the often Christianized rhetoric of the Republican Party is a message consistent with the conservative social values of Indian-Americans. The current debate on immigration reform could portend a shift in the IndianAmerican vote. In advocating on behalf of highly-skilled immigrants—the most pertinent aspect of the debate for Indian-Americans—the G.O.P. has actually been the more proactive party. Democratic agitation against outsourcing to India—a staple of President Obama’s campaign rhetoric—has posed the greatest obstacle to reforms that would remove the 20,000-limit on U.S. advanced degree H-1B visas, and exempt foreign students who earn

U.S. graduate degrees in science, technology, and mathematics (“STEM”) from the employment-based green card cap. Despite representing a state with over 188,000 Asian-Indians, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois led the effort to impose punitive measures on companies that rely heavily on educated foreign workers.

A New Generation of Leaders

A new generation of Republican leaders has proven the strongest advocates of highly-skilled immigrants. It was Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, for example, who kept Durbin’s proposals out of the so-called Gang of Eight bill—now the most likely vehicle for bipartisan immigration reform. Rubio and his Republican allies made the sensible point that Durbin’s proposal would penalize American companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google for filling more than 30% of their workforces with H-1B visa holders. The Republican case for merit-based reform is part of a broader shift in the G.O.P. Anti-immigrant sentiments of the past are being excised from the party. Even conservative hardliners on border security, like the Heritage Foundation, have endorsed proposals to ease restrictions on educated immigrants who will contribute to the country’s economic dynamism. Republican reformers, in short, are rallying around the values of economic freedom and equal opportunity that the Indian-American community embodies. Should reformers prevail in the Republican civil war, immigration will no longer pull Indian-Americans away from a party that otherwise advances their interests. An Indian-American shift toward the Republican Party will amplify the community’s political influence. By voting lockstep with the Democratic Party, Indian-Americans are often ignored or taken for granted due to their small absolute numbers relative to other minority groups. But if the community shows that it is open-minded to a Republican Party intent on broadening its appeal, the Indian-American vote, concentrated in presidential swing states, will become an enticing target in coming elections. n Keerthika M. Subramanian is a corporate and securities lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP currently on secondment at Barclays PLC. A student at Yale Law School, Pratik Chougule served at the State Department in the George W. Bush Administration, where he worked on the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. The authors welcome comments at | 19


An Untold Story Nicole Yuin Marsh


have watched my mother grow into the most amazing storyteller. When she speaks, people lean in, the room becomes quieter, and the anticipation is palpable. She wasn’t always this way. She used to avoid speaking of her history—or about herself altogether— giving only enough details to keep her inquirers satisfied or confused enough to stop probing. Perhaps her privacy made me all the more curious. As a child I used to get glimpses into her past: mentions of a cruel nun at the Darjeeling boarding school, where she lived from age 4 to 12; her grandmother somewhat constricted by her bound feet; her father taken suddenly and inexplicably to jail; and the months she spent in a Chinese internment camp in India that changed her life forever. I could sense the loss she felt whenever she spoke of her father, who, though still alive at the time, would never again be the father she had in India. In March 1997, my mother and I spent a week traveling in a camper through the beautiful desert terrain of Death Valley, in California. One evening we joined fellow stargazers for a full moon eclipse, which darkened the sky momentarily, so we could more clearly see the infamous and bright Hale-Bopp Comet. Like the sky, mother and daughter’s timing seemed to be perfectly aligned as well: I was enrolled in an oral history course in college and hungry to understand my family history, and my mother, for the first time, felt enough time had passed to enable her to explore painful memories that led to the dissolution of the family of her childhood. This road trip was pivotal in the growth of our relationship, and also a catalyst for her to share her story. From the first time she mentioned her complicated history and the months she spent in a Chinese internment camp in India, I felt a deep gnawing for greater understanding. And, as she began to share more freely— following our desert road trip—new questions continued to surface. Eager to weave 20 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

My mother’s relationship with India is bittersweet. On the one hand, the country forced her out, and on the other, it will always be her home. It has taken an entire lifetime for her to come to terms with this conflicted identity. Now, on the 50th anniversary of Chinese internment in India, she finally tells her story in her memoir, “Doing Time With Nehru,” her account of growing up in India. Following the 1962 China-India Border War, nearly 2,500 ethnic Chinese were forced from their homes in India and sent to an internment camp in the Rajasthan desert, where some lived for up to five years. Among those interned were my 13-year-old mother, her 8-year-old brother, her father, and her grandmother—age 72 and constricted by bound feet. Around that time, Chinese families began hearing rumors of—and fearing—the “midnight knock.” When the Indian officials came to my family’s home in Darjeeling, it was my mother who answered the door. The rumors were true; they were visited in the middle of the night, told to gather a few belongings, and taken away without knowledge of where they were going, how long they would be gone, nor why they were being taken. My family never anticipated that they wouldn’t be able to return, and that they would lose their home, their restaurant, their belongings, their community, and their lives as they knew them. Even neighbors had no idea what happened. When my mom went to her first Darjeeling school reunion, ten years ago, she met Eric. After a few minutes he made the connection, and said, “I know you. We lived in the same building! What happened to you? One day you were there, and the next day you were gone. Where did you go?” Most people have never heard of this piece of India's history. And, until recently, I didn’t know much about it either. I started

Nicole Marsh with her mother Yin Marsh

together her stories, our family history, and this history in a larger context, I decided to write my bachelor’s thesis on the 1962 China-India Border War and the resultant Chinese internment camp. Since this history is largely undocumented, I relied heavily on interviews with my grandfather, Chi-Pei Hsueh, and mother. Through this process, I more fully understood the impact that this war and ethnic divisions had on our family. When people in the United States learn about the Chinese internment camp in India, they immediately make the parallel to Japanese-American internment, though that was on a much larger scale. It took 46 years for the U.S. government to apologize and offer reparations to the Japanese-American community. The Chinese-Indian community—both within India’s borders and beyond—is still awaiting an apology from the Indian government and the sense of validation that comes with acknowledgement of a wrongdoing. Before embarking on this storytelling journey, my mother told me it was important that she not emphasize her struggle in negative terms. Rather, she wanted her story to serve as another educational example of the danger of emphasizing divisions along ethnic and racial lines, and its impact on families and communities. She wanted her story not to serve as material for further division, but to inspire more understanding and humanity.

asking questions in college—once I started, I found I couldn’t stop. At that time, 1998, there was almost no information available about the camp, and absolutely none that I could find about the personal experiences of people who lived through it. While I was trying to find other people to interview for my thesis, my mom suggested I contact the only other person she knew

from camp—someone she had coincidentally bumped into in Berkeley. This woman was interned for five years. At first, she agreed, but as the interview date approached, she began having reservations. In the end, she apologized, and told me she realized she wasn’t ready. More recently, about two months ago, my mom and I met with Kwai Li, who is part of the large Chinese-Indian community in Toronto. She heard about my mom’s memoir through Facebook—of course—and it turns out she just completed her master’s thesis on the Deoli Camp. She was thrilled to meet someone willing and wanting to listen to her story. Kwai Li confirmed that even today—15 years after I was researching my thesis—people are still reluctant to share this part of their past. This made me realize, all the more, just how vulnerable my mom must have felt recalling and processing memories of her childhood. When I read the final version of her book, I found myself more emotional than I expected. I had heard most of the stories many times by that point, but even still, they made me cry. I was absolutely transported— experiencing her life as a 13-year-old girl, living in Darjeeling in the 60s, and making life-altering decisions beyond her age.

“Doing Time with Nehru” is both a captivating coming-of-age story and an important record of a largely undocumented history. Beyond filling a crucial gap in our collective history, her memoir is a reminder of how individuals, families and culture, are affected by political circumstances. And, by taking this on, she has given voice and validation to the people who lived it, to her community, and encouragement for others with similar experiences to tell their stories. I saw my mother transform in the process of writing this book. She has always identified strongly with her Chinese cultural roots—perhaps even more so because of this experience—but only recently have I noticed her also proudly embracing her Indian cultural heritage as well. I see her more at peace than ever and complete in her identity. She is, all at once, Chinese, American, and Indian. n Doing Time with Nehru. By Yin Marsh. Published 2012. 162 pages. $16.95. and Nicole Yuin Marsh wrote her bachelor’s thesis on Chinese Internment in India following the 1962 border war, relying largely on interviews with her mother and grandfather. She is currently Head Librarian at Lincoln University in Oakland, California.

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A Boy Turned Pariah By Kalpana Mohan

pariah—noun —a member of a low caste of south India —one that is despised or rejected: outcast


thought about the word “pariah” a lot following the week of the Boston bombings. That Friday, April 19, while the whole country was on a manhunt for Dzokhar Tsarnaev, I too sat in front of my computer all day, refreshing my screen constantly while scanning Google, Facebook and Twitter just in case another telling detail emerged on the young man. Where was the boy? What would the moment of his capture be like? And would this young malfeasant, a pariah now wanted for using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, be caught alive? The term pariah, a Tamil word, became popular during the British Raj. It’s borrowed from the name of the “Paraiyar” community that is representative of the depressed castes in India. The word “parai” means “drum” and “paraiyar” refers to a drumbeater and to a community whose livelihood rested in the beating of drums at marriages, funerals, village festivals and political events. The community was never perceived to be the lowest in the caste hierarchy; yet, over the centuries, the word pariah began to refer to the most marginalized of society and subsequently took on the meaning of outcast or misfit. I considered how this word seemed to cast a shadow, albeit in different ways, over the lives of two young men in Massachusetts whose fates were predetermined by the close of the month. In one instance, as the events unfolded, a bright young man turned out to be the most “wanted” and the most despised man in the country. In the first two weeks of April, just as the trees around Boston were changing color heralding the new season, this young man in his late teens was rapidly metamorphosing from good to bad. In the other instance, for reasons of his own, a smart young man did not believe he was worthy enough to belong in society. While the trees were thawing out to greet the new season, just as the first birds were beginning to chirp around cherry blossoms at Boston Public Garden, this young man who had lost his faith in Providence was rapidly metamorphosing from life into death. Thus during that same week in April, we heard again of Sunil Tripathi, who had been missing since March 16th from Brown University in Rhode Island. “The accomplished saxophonist with a keen interest in music” simply took himself out of it one evening by leaving his cell phone and his wallet in his room and walking out towards the river. He was known to be “a serious, thoughtful, intellectually curious student and a brilliant writer.” Yet, he couldn’t find that little plot of land in the universe that he could plow and call his own. He felt rejected—for reasons we do not understand and probably never will—and decided that he was a misfit, a pariah, someone whom no one wanted around anymore. The Tripathi family in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, suffered endless heartache and anxiety in those weeks. In the strangest ways their life would be forever linked to the Boston bombings. As soon as the police released photographs of the two bombing suspects based on video surveillance cameras on Boylston Lane, Internet sleuths began to hunt for the wrongdoers. These callous “private investigators” lit a match on the Reddit site that set off a trail of fire on the resemblance between the missing Tripathi and the younger of the Boston bombers. Even though Reddit issued an apology 22 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

right away, they only compounded the torment of the Tripathi family. Three days after Tsarnaev was caught, Sunil Tripathi’s body was fished out of Providence River. I doubt many people around the country concentrated on work that week in April. Who in America had ever imagined a SWAT team in one’s backyard? Minutes before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found on the boat at a backyard in Watertown, a friend called to talk to me about the innocence on the face of the boy who had sabotaged his engineering courses by engineering a course to kill. “Did you see his face? Did you see the beauty and sweetness of that face?” Like my friend I found it impossible to believe that villainy could take on such an apparition of innocence. His smooth, unshaven face was thick and sweet, like whole milk boiled and sweetened with sugar and saffron. Who would believe that such a young man would cook up evil in a pressure cooker? While my friend and I chatted about the bomber we thought about our own children who dangled at the cusp of youth and adulthood. In recent weeks I had weltered in annoyance when my son greeted me with his other face, the one that I had not seen, the one that may never pass muster at US immigration. My boy, who once never left home without a clean-shaven face, had begun walking around his college campus with a three-week-old beard. He was no more the boy I had raised on milk and Nutella. The day I met him in school, I begged my young man to shave, at least for the sake of his social life if not for reasons of civility, while reminding him that he should be thankful I wasn’t asking hairy questions, such as those related to the state of his unexamined underarms. The afternoon my friend and I talked, I pondered the innocence of all our young men—their vulnerability during teenage to new thoughts, values, ideologies and rationale. We were forced to consider that indoctrination could come in the subtlest and in the most overt ways and that one’s blood, however pure, could curdle and run rancid with the methodical injection of venom. I realized how my son, a freshman who was exactly Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s age and often wore his hat backwards and went everywhere with a black backpack, was opening himself to new thinking. He was living by different standards in college. I simply had to sit back and watch, helpless as every other parent who sends a child off to college and hopes for the best. n Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga. To read more about her, go to and

relationship diva

Too Quick to Judge? By Jasbina Ahluwalia

Q think?

I feel like I know instantly if someone is worth a second date, but people tell me I’m too quick to judge. What do you


As a matchmaker and dating coach to highly selective men and women, this question comes up frequently. There are three things to keep in mind. • From your experience, how well do you think the guy actually knows you after just the first date? It can be difficult to truly know another multi-dimensional person after just a single date. The process of getting to know someone can be analogized to peeling back the many layers of an onion. • Instant chemistry may not be as great a tell-tale sign of potential as you might think. At times, instant chemistry may be based on no more than repeating patterns from your past, some of which will not serve you well in the long-term. •Also keep in mind that some men who may be great partner material are just not as great daters. On extreme ends of the continuum, a

player with a lot of dating practice, motivated to tell you exactly what you want to hear, may very well make a better first impression than a less experienced commitment-minded guy who may just be nervous during a first interaction. Bottom line is that you may be missing out on some great potentials by limiting your assessment of a guy’s potential exclusively to what you learn during your first interaction.


I feel like my frustration with the dating process is making me bitter. Should I take a break or just push through and hope I meet someone?


I hear your frustration. Putting yourself out there again and again can be emotionally draining and take a toll. That said, a positive attitude is crucial in the dating process. Your feelings of frustration and bitterness are likely more transparent to dates than you might realize, and it sounds like a break would be a good idea. Make that break count by doing self-nurturing activities which feed your soul—here are three ways

to do this: • Pursue passions such as music, sports, art or travel. • Embrace a daily gratitude practice where you recount the day’s experiences for which you’re most grateful. • Spend time with friends and family who are in romantic relationships, and try to steer clear of people with negative views of relationships or the opposite sex. Savor your break from dating, while at the same time try not to stay out of the dating world for too long. While dating certainly can take us out of our comfort zones and make us feel vulnerable, the rewards of a healthy and happy relationship make it well worth it. 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, a monthly lifestyle show. www.IntersectionsMatch. com. | 23

24 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013


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A Price to Pay By Indu Liladhar-Hathi

How does the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill (The Bill) affect H-1B and L-1 staffed companies?


The Bill, introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer and seven bipartisan colleagues from the Senate (known as the Gang of Eight) on April 17, 2013 has some glaring provisions, which will impact Indian IT companies adversely. One of the provisions which has caused quite a stir within H-1B and L-1 dependent companies is the increase in fees for such companies. Beginning fiscal year 2015 to 2024, fees for companies employing more than 30% and less than 50% H-1B and L-1 workers would increase to $5,000. For fiscal 2015 through 2017, there would be a staggering $10,000 fee for employers with more than 50% and less than 75% H-1B and L-1 workers. Currently, companies with more

than 50% H-1B and L-1 workers pay an additional fee of $2,250 and $2,000 for L-1 and H-1B petitions respectively. This bill also imposes greater limitations on the number of H-1B and L-1 workers that can make-up a company’s employees in the United States, with limits of no more than 75% from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015; no more than 65% from October 1, 2015, to September 30, 2016, and no more than 50% from October 1, 2016 onwards. In addition, the Bill’s “Outplacement” provision will prove highly detrimental to IT consulting companies. Under these provisions, H-1B dependent companies will be banned from placing H-1B workers at client sites and they would not be able to place any L-1 workers at client sites unless the hiring United States Company attests that it has not displaced and will not displace a U.S. worker for 90 days before or after the date of filing.


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Finally, the Bill contemplates converting the current four-tier “Prevailing Wage System” to a three-tier one, which will have a spiraling effect of increasing the wages at each level. Consequently, the employers will be required to pay substantially higher salaries to H-1B workers. As such, dramatically increased fees coupled with the above restrictions could surely impact the manner in which H-1B/L-1 dependent companies will hire and operate. Though it is still too early to predict what will be left in this extensive bill, one can be hopeful of favorable changes, after various parties and committees debate and amend the bill before the Senate has an opportunity to vote on it. n Immigration and business attorney Indu Liladhar-Hathi has an office in San Jose. (408) 453-5335.

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My Mother’s Neem Tree

Who knew that a Neem tree planted outside a bedroom window could cause so much excitement, frustration and chaos? By Samanvitha Rao


t started with a tree. When I was three years old my parents bought an 8000 sq. ft. plot of land in the coastal town of Surathkal in southern India and built a large home. Around the house they planted six coconut trees, three mango trees and several other tropical fruit trees including guava, chickoo, banana, jackfruit, and a large variety of flowers and decorative plants. However, after retirement, the harsh summers and the relentless monsoon rains of the Arabian Sea coast drove them to my mother’s hometown of Mysore with its milder climate. There they procured a modest 2000 sq. ft. piece of land and built a manageable little abode. Downsizing and rightsizing was all fine and dandy, but my Mom sure missed her trees. Taking inspiration from a noted local environmentalist, Saalumarada Thimmakka, who planted and tended to over a hundred banyan trees along a stretch of highway, my mom decided to plant at least one tree in front of the house beside the street. After weeding through a plethora of options, she settled on a Neem tree (Azadirachta indica). The very breeze that blows through a neem branch is supposed to have healthful properties. Eating fresh young neem leaves and flowers is said to keep diabetes at bay. Water infused with neem leaves and neem leaf paste is supposed to cure many skin diseases. Beauty product aisles in Indian supermarkets are filled with neem face masks, neem shampoos, the list goes on. Not known for procrastinating, Mom went to a government nursery, brought home a neem sapling, planted it next to the gate, watered it, protected it from meandering cows, and gave it every love and attention. Soon her “neem baby” grew into a big tree. Its branches spread across the front yard and the shade provided cool relief in the master bedroom during afternoon naps. My mom’s joy and pride knew no bounds! Soon Mom realized that she was not the only one enjoying the neem tree. One morning she peeked out of the window to notice 28 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

The ironing stand under the neem tree at the author’s house

that Dhobi (laundryman) Ramanna’s ironing cart was parked under the tree with hot coal burning red in his old fashioned iron-box. By the time she stepped out with her morning coffee, the entire compound wall was lined with colorful bundles of clothes waiting for their turn at wrinkle release. “What is this Ramanna? Is there a clothes exhibition?” she shouted. “The shade is so nice ma’am, I’ll just finish ironing these clothes. Why don’t you give yours as well?” he replied, ever on the lookout for new business. “What do we do now about this new problem?” Mom complained to Dad, a little miffed at the turn of events.

“Is it your street?” he questioned calmly without looking up from the newspaper. Just like that a small mound of coal ash started to collect next to the gate. One day Dad had to leave in a hurry, and found that Ramanna had parked his cart blocking the gate and had inconveniently disappeared. Now what!? “Leelu!” Dad called Mom. “You pull the cart aside, I’ll reverse the car,” he said. The street in front of the house is not exactly flat. Mom, in all her youthful 65-year-old glory was next seen pulling and pushing this heavy iron cart, sweat dripping from her forehead in the Indian summer heat. Ramanna’s is a family business. At times

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30 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

his wife and seven-year-old daughter joined him beside his mobile ironing cart. His daughter delivered bundles of ironed clothes to homes along the the street and collected money for her father. My mom, being the loving woman she is, used to give the girl some fruit, biscuits or other munchies. One day the girl came running to Mom crying “Aunty, I work so hard and collect all this money for my father, but he is refusing to buy me color pencils for Rs.10 (19 cents)”! And so Mom went as negotiator to Ramanna and they settled on splitting the cost down the middle. Little Chinty was full of smiles that day. On another occasion Mom walked home with loaded grocery bags and there was Ramanna sitting on the front porch with a bundle of clothes. “Ma’am, the lady across the street is out. When she comes back can you please give her these clothes?” he pleaded. And so Mom spent the evening on the front room sofa with a bundle of colorful clothes, eyes peeled on the neighbor’s gate. And then, almost inevitably, the lady down the street knocked on the door. “Aunty, I need to get these clothes ironed in a hurry, but the dhobi is not here yet. I need to go to the temple, can you please give him these clothes when he gets here?” she requested. “Of course!” said Mom and went back to chopping vegetables wondering aloud about when she had signed up to unofficially manage Ramanna’s dhobi business. Lethargic after a sumptuous lunch, Mom was relaxing with a book in the front veranda one afternoon, when snap, snap, she heard breaking noises. Walking outside, she found a man on the Neem tree breaking small branches and twigs and hurtling it to the ground. An unfamiliar rage colored Mom’s voice. “Hey you! why are you breaking the branches?” she yelled. “Oh be quiet Ma’am! they will grow back out! Kids in my village are down with chicken pox, so I am taking some leaves!” he replied. Mom watched him walk away with a third of her tree. The plot of land across the street was sold to a new owner who started constructing his house. It did not take long for the construction workers to discover the neem tree and its cool shade. Soon the land around the tree became preferred parking for all their bicycles, motorcycles and cars. It also became the favorite lunch spot for all the workers. They gathered there every afternoon with their packed lunch. Stories of household sorrows and joys, mobile phone conversations, cricket commentary on the radio, minor rough-ups with loan sharks all broke the monotony in front of my parents house.

On the day that sounds of “Kolaveri Kolaveri Di” disturbed the cherished afternoon nap in the cool shade of the neem tree in their bedroom, my parents decided to shift to the guest bedroom at the back of the house. One morning at about 11:00 a.m. Mom heard some loud altercations. Cautiously she peered out from behind the curtain to find several “muscle men” standing under the neem tree, smoking cigarettes! Mom quietly stole to the backyard to ask the maid what was going on. “There is some dispute regarding the road due to the new house construction, so these are local hooligans from the village. You stay indoors!” she advised. The next day Mom walked out hearing sirens to see a police jeep parked under the tree! Yesterday it was hooligans, today it’s law enforcement, she sighed. And all day she got inquiries from neighbors about why the police had visited her house! Soon the local college boys discovered the neem tree. Very soon there were throngs of boys on their motor bikes hanging out in the evenings under the tree, smoking cigarettes and gossiping about cricket, professors and, of course, girls, who joined in every now and then. News of the new young world wafted into my parents’ living room in the evenings providing ample entertainment. Which was just as well, since moving all the vehicles blocking the gate to take the car out and go for an evening drive was becoming more and more tiresome. My parents had to solicit passers-by to help move vehicles when they needed to take the car out. Just as Mom was starting to pull out her hair over the tree, my aunt visiting from Chennai dropped a conversational bomb about the root damage neem trees could cause to the building structure and the amount of money needed to fix it. For the first time the thought of chopping the tree down entered my mom’s mind. One day Mom was sitting in the front porch reading a book and slowly she looked up at the tree. It was spring and the tree was full of fragrant blossoms. She took a deep breath and relaxed, enjoying its shade, beauty and fragrance. The branches swayed to a gentle breeze and seemed to smilingly say “I am the one providing the shade and I don’t mind all the drama. Why are you worrying?” And just like that Mom realized her “neem baby” was all grown up now. It was alive, it was well, and it was fulfilling its promise in the world. n Samanvitha Rao is a Technical Marketing Engineer based in San Jose. She is an avid adventure enthusiast. This article was inspired by her mother, Leelavathi Rao’s story, published in the Kannada magazine Sudha.

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High Noon Epiphany By Aniruddh Chawda

SHOOTOUT AT WADALA. Director: Sanjay Gupta. Players: John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Manoj Bajpayee, Kangana Ranaut, Sonu Sood, Tushaar Kapoor, Jackie Shroff. Theatrical release (EROS). Hindi with English sub-titles.


anjay Gupta directed two of the cleverest crime capers of the last decade with the Los Angeles-based Kaante (2002) and Goa-based Musafir (2004). With a keen eye for transforming sharp-looking backdrops into intentional unwitting silent characters, Gupta now turns his focus on the Mumbai-anchored Shootout at Wadala. Drawing from true-crime gangland headlines from the early 1980s, purportedly the first real-life encounter between Mumbai police and an organized underworld gang in broad daylight, Gupta, with a sizable boost from an eye-catching cast, elevates a bullet-ridden Shootout at Wadala up from mediocrity for worthwhile viewing. By all accounts, the college-educated Manya Surve (Abraham) had an ambitious and yet unremarkable background—except that his brother was an underworld enforcer who got caught in a tug of war between two enemy gangs. The sibling connection inevitably draws Manya into a circle of violence where he can no longer choose a destiny for himself. Muscling up through the ranks fairly quickly, Manya draws attention not only from ACP Afaaque Baaghran (Kapoor), a determined cop, but also from the brothers Zubair (Bajpayee) and Dilawar (Sood), unhappy that Manya’s newcomer is encroaching on their enforcing specialty. The plot unspools backwards. Opening from the back of a speeding police van, where ACP Baaghran is cajoling a bloodied Manya into confessing, Wadala takes many turns as Baaghran gets Manya to revisit turning points in his life. Are we witnessing a requiem? Is it a dream? Where they are exactly heading remains a tight little mystery. The biggest characters in Manya’s life—his girlfriend Vidya Joshi (Ranaut), his gang side-kick Sheikh Munir (Tushaar Kapoor), his enmity with the Zubair and Dilawar— paint a conflicted man fighting a tide that he alone will never be able to overcome. Abraham’s Manya is an overtly (duh!) 34 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

muscular presence where the balance between brain and brawn wavers depending on Manya’s mood swings. The 1980s getups in threads and gear—that means no cell phones, no texting and no internet—is maintained rather nicely. Anil Kapoor, who lately has opting for unflattering caricatures of his former screen persona (Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, Race 2) comes in from the cold to counter Manya’s moodiness with a pragmatic approach to crime. As if extending a similar outing from her role in Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Ranaut’s Vidya demonstrates the pathos of being torn between her tortured love for Manya and her aversion to his trade. In the fine ensemble cast, meanwhile, Bajpayee and Sood add low-life charm by taking to crime with guns, sharp knives and even better, a sharper wit. The standout entry on the soundtrack is Sunidhi’s Chauhan’s torchy “Babli Badmash,” a phenom dance track conjured up by Anu Malik. Filmed on Priyanka Chopra as a hottie cabaret number, Chauhan’s vocals nearly match the speed of the drum machine from start to finish. Filmfare magazine recently named Chauhan the fourth most popular Hindi playback singer of all time —behind only the two Mangeshkar sisters and Shreya Ghosal. “Babli” drives the point home quite well, thank you. At the core of the back-and-forth relationship between ACP Baaghran and Manya there is a subtle nod to an age-old Indian cultural metaphor. The unspoken alliance between two well-intending men can easily be replaying bits from the Mahabharata with a single-minded and determined charioteer/van keeper (Krishna/Baaghran) leads

to (or is it leading away from?) battle a worn down would-be warrior (Arjun/Surve) who is undergoing a philosophical/matinee epiphany about nature warfare. Setting aside the pseudo-controversy about Gupta being pressured into changing the name of one of the Zubair-Dilawar brothers away from the name of the “real” Dawood Ibrahim from the original headlines, this fictitious re-telling has changed the names of all the characters except Manya Surve. Charged up by credible action sequences, a well-staged narrative and a robust soundtrack, Shootout at Wadala has attained box office creds. While not quite the precision crime instrument in the context of other recent new wave crime thrillers (Aakrosh, Special 26, Gangs of Wasseypur), the threats to Wadala are non-life threatening. n EQ: B

Fiesta for Cannibals

GO GOA GONE. Director: Raj & DK. Players: Saif Ali Khan, Kunal Khemu, Vir Das, Anand Tiwari, Pooja Gupta. Music: Jigar-Sachin. Theatrical release (EROS). Hindi with English sub-titles.


he shlock-horror genre in Hindi movies has traditionally been reserved almost exclusively for creature features that give rise to a sub-species of creepy, shadowy, sometimes-bandaged ghouls (the Raaz series, any offering from the Ramsay Brothers). Veering away from that has-been class of other-worldly lower life vermin, and taking a cue from Hollywood, where the zombie tradition has been revived to tap into not so subtle post-9/11 anxieties witnesses by the mega cult following of AMC’s cable TV superhit The Walking Dead series, it was only a matter of time before a widerelease Hindi language zombie entry would ploddingly stumble out of the woodwork to invade matinee screens far and wide. Intentionally clumsy, often funny and sometimes downright scary, Go Goa Gone overcomes improbable odds and ends up taking a victory lap around Goa, which the movie virtually christens the zombie-land of Bollywood. As zombie plot lines go, Goa also starts out tame. Three friends, slacking from

their jobs in Mumbai visit Goa on a whimsy. Their instigator is Hardik (Khemu), a slacker supreme who cajoles his buddies Luv (Vir Das) and Bunny (Tiwari) to make a bee line south from Mumbai. Goa is inviting enough and, eager to pick up chicks, they accept the first invitation they get to rave at an offshore island. Arriving on the island—which is soon to transform into a microcosmic universe about to be overrun by you-know-whats—the trio learn that their only hope in escape may be in the hands of a certain Boris (Khan), a trigger happy, blond desi-Russophile and self-made zombie-killer with a penchant for shooting first and asking questions later. Unlike conventional zombie entries where no explanation is provided as to how the zombies got to be, well, zombies, Go Goa Gone spins a quasi-plausible trigger factor for what maybe giving rise to zombie symptoms. It’s the ‘shrooms, you see—beware the funny little pills being passed around at beach-front raves—as sideeffects, those afflicted can eat you! As the trio fumbles their way across the island in hopes of rescuing Luna (Gupta), a fair damsel the trio is convinced as having saved from being turned into lunch by her former cabin-mates, they must crisscross a zombie-infested terrain where serio-comic danger awaits them. Bollywood zombies, we learn, are a formerly fun loving bunch. That means that the former fun-loving beachgoers and current ne’er do well undead are comprised of day-trippers, bhang-seeking Euro trash and twenty-something urban foragers from Mumbai on escapist B&B junkets. Strangely, the zombie class is averse to saris—there is not a one zombie in a sari! Hello, what country is this movie staged in again? As our questionably heroic trio gets chased around the island by shirt-pant-kurta clad ravenous marauders, one secretly hopes that at the next turn our scaredy cats will come face to face with a zombiefied cabal of former suburban aunties in bright silk chiffons unleashing their inner cannibal on unsuspecting “normals.” Maybe there will be a sequel. Directors Raj & DK are actually two California-based Indian-American filmmakers Krishna D.K & Raj Nidimoru, who have a credible repertoire of successful interna-

tionally-flavored entries (Short in the City, 99, Flavors). Partnering with Khan’s production house for Go Goa Gone, the duo brings to play an American-inflected filmmaking style —a camera that appears attached to a target zeroing in on a zombie’s half-face, a humorous sequence where certain characters must strip in public to prove they are not infected and, also, guns, guns and more guns. Khan, who has never been one for subtlety in his delivery, plays Boris in an overthe-top, get-off-my-island physical brand of acting that befits his limited histrionic range while Khemu, Das, Gupta and Tiwari are credible carefree city slickers who must shed their wimpiness to overcome a horrifying enemy. Lightly borrowing from Hollywood zombie standards Shaun of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead, the script by Raj, DK and Sita Menon projects a self-perpetuating energy. If Bombay could be turned into Bollywood, and Lahore can be turned into Lollywood, Goa being transformed into Zombiewood was probably just a mere formality. n EQ: B+ Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.



3G ni Akaash Va la wa at mm Hi  in Ma r Au Me I, v Stor y Lu Ki i ha ab Jayant B Jolly LL Che! Po Kai or rr Mumbai Mi laa Nautanki Sa tacks of 26/11 The At iabad Zila Ghaz | 35

A Magical Stroke By Geetika Pathania Jain MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN. Director: Deepa Mehta. Players: Satya Bhabha, Shriya Saran, Seema Biswas, Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, Siddharth Narayan and Rahul Bose. Produced by: Hamilton-Mehta Midnight Productions Inc. In association with # 9 Midnight Films.


eepa Mehta takes us on a sumptuous visual journey in this adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s magical realist novel. The novel follows the life of Saleem Sinai, born with magical powers on the stroke of midnight on the night of India’s independence from British Raj. Of course, translating the verbal gymnastics of Rushdie’s prose presents a unique challenge, and surely Mehta has been aware of the enormous expectations from the film. My curiosity in seeing this film was primarily related to how the magical realism would be visualized. In Fernando Birri’s film based on the Gabriel Marquez short story, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, the bedraggled wings were all too real. Would this version of Midnight’s Children deliver a lush, tropical South Asian variety of magical realism? Would the leap from this Rushdian kalabaazification land on the screen with grace or an ungainly wobble? Watching Midnight’s Children was like visiting a long-remembered favorite, with some trepidation and a heart that sings a hopeful song. The film meets, but does not exceed expectations. If we think of slick production values as a marker of success, the film has succeeded. But pinning down Rushdie’s fantastic flights of imagination to visual chronology appears as daunting as catching a moonbeam from the sky. This film proves that the human imagination transcends even the most poetic interpretation by a camera. Many of these issues came up during my conversation with film-maker Deepa Mehta. She explained that she sees the magic not as a “Harry Potter kind of a magic, but as a metaphor for human potential.” As a political satire, the film repeatedly revisits the notion of how political upheavals can upend human plans and ambitions. A bit about this Oscar-nominated IndoCanadian film-maker. Deepa Mehta attended the Welhalm’s Girls school in Dehradun and subsequently, Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi before moving to Canada. She is best known for her Elements Trilogy —Fire, Earth and Water. “Fire is about the 36 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

politics of sexuality. Earth is about the politics of nationalism. Water is about the politics of religion.” Like Midnight’s Children, Mehta’s film Earth is also a story of lives disrupted by the Partition. Midnight’s Children is panoramic in scope, and drops in innocuously on key moments of South Asia’s tumultuous history. The Partition and subsequent wars serve as the catastrophic backdrop for individual endeavors and aspirations. “All our wars were between friends,” Salman Rushdie narrates, underlining the irony of these historic turns of events. Mehta’s cinematography shines in bringing to subtle life the period of history that is still in living memory. A film poster of the iconic film Mother India, for instance, takes us back decades to 1957 in an instant. The film has not been kind to many of the historical figures. Perhaps notable is the caricature of Indira Gandhi, who looks sinister and crow-like as she and her henchman Shiva bring about “a continuous darkness that would last for years.” In her attempts to strangle the democratic impulse of the nation her father helped birth, her malevolent glance falls upon the “gang of freaks” of whom Saleem Sinai is a member. I asked Mehta whether a strong, female world leader deserved a more sympathetic depiction. “I didn’t make this stuff up. It really happened,” she said. “The critique is not of Indira Gandhi, but of her politics.” The suspension of habeas corpus, the forced sterilizations, and the muzzling of the press cannot be denied, but the reduction of this controversial leader as “the Widow” left me wishing for more nuance. Indira, we will see another film on you yet. And what about the guilt caused by the switched babies? The rich shall be poor, and the poor, rich. The nurse in love with an ideologue is redirecting the destinies of these innocents, rerouting privilege and depriva-

tion in opposite directions. Oh, the regret of interfering with the accident of birth, of willfully imposing a rearrangement to please a dead man. The pain of India’s failed socialist policies bubble up to the surface. I asked Mehta about her experience working with literary darling Salman Rushdie, who wrote the screenplay and narrated the voiceovers. “Well, we are still friends,” she assured me. And they have something else in common. While we have all heard of how Rushdie was forced into exile after The Satanic Verses invited Khomeini’s fatwa, Canadian film maker Mehta has been similarly attacked for her Fire, Earth, and Water trilogy by right wing religious groups. I wondered how it must feel to be on the receiving end of death threats. Mehta was dismissive of any effect from this harassment. Death threats do not deter her from her work. “One really can’t be bothered by people like that,” she stated firmly. n Geetika Pathania Jain is a Bay Area resident. As a child, she was asked to shower then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with rose petals. Three decades have slipped by since she read Midnight’s Children during a summer vacation.

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The Five Elemental Compositions

Muthuswami Dikshitar’s compositions on five ancient temples and their traditions By Kanniks Kannikeswaran


ikshitar is a composer whose kritis (musical compositions) reflect his scholarship, his peripatetic life and his keen observation of the sites he visited and a thorough rootedness in the philosophy of non-duality. Nothing can be more illustrative of the above observation than a set of compositions collectively referred to as the “panchabhuta linga kritis.” What are the pancha bhutas (five elements)? All of life can be explained as constituted of the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth—known in various Indian languages as akasham, vayu, agni, jalam, and prithvi respectively. This model applies to human beings as well as any form of creation. We human beings are nurtured by fire that regulates our body temperatures; two thirds of our bodies are nothing but water; the air we breathe is the prana of existence; our material is nothing but the earth; and above all—much “space” or “nothingness” pervades our bodies. Deep in South India, Shiva is worshipped in the form of each of these elements. Chidambaram is one of India’s most venerated Shiva temples and is the seat of Akasha lingam where Shiva is worshipped both as the cosmic dancer and as the embodiment of Space. A mysterious draft of air is said to aerate Srikalahasti temple located near Tirupati. Tiruvannamalai, an ancient center of Saivite worship regards the Arunachala or the red hill as the column of fire whose limits could not be traced by Vishnu and Brahma. A perennial water spring flows through the Shivalingam in the sanctum at the Jambunatha temple in Jambukesvaram near Tiruchirappalli. An anthill symbolizing a Prithvi lingam or earth phallus, adorns the sacred sanctum of the Ekamresvara temple in Kanchipuram. Each of the above temples is a timehonored shrine of worship. Each of these temples were reverentially addressed by the sacred Tamil poetry written by the nayanmars of the 1st millennium. Every one of the above temples can be described as vast temple complexes—rich in architecture, sculpture and hoary festival traditions. Needless to say, each of these is visited by 38 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

thousands of devotees and pilgrims throughout the year. While today’s network of roads and taxis make commute to Chidambaram nothing more than a four hour ride from Chennai, travel during Dikshitar’s time must have been intimidating. Yet Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775—1835) traveled to each of these shrines, perhaps on foot or on bullock cart. His visit to these temples is not marked by photo-ops or portraits, but compositions that he created that serve as brilliant testimonials to his musical and lyrical skills and his scholarship. Dikshitar visited Chidambaram on his way from Manali near Chennai to his birthplace Tiruvarur. The song “ananda natana prakasam” in praise of Shiva in a 7 beat cycle is set to the Raga Kedaram and is a description of Shiva the cosmic dancer. He also invokes Shiva’s consort Shivakami in this composition. The Sri Kalahasti temple, which is shadowed by Tirupati/Tirumala was visited by Dikshitar during his stay at Manali soon after his return from Kashi. This composition is in the folk Raga Huseni or Ushani, probably signifying the folk origins of the Kannappa Nayanar story of a hunter worshipping Shiva at Kalahasti and attaining spiritual liberation. Dikshitar sings praises of Tiruvannamalai using the kriti “Arunachala Natham” in the raga Saranga. The second syllable in most of the words occurring in this kriti (arunachala, smarami, aravindam) is “ra” signifying the element fire. The composition is set to the majestic 6 (12) beat cycle in the raga. In this composition Dikshitar states “I always think of arunachala natha; thinking of his lotus feet confers spiritual liberation.” He describes Shiva as a “Tejo maya lingam whose effulgence exceeds the sun and as nothing other than chidananda—a personification of infinity or sheer bliss.” Dikshitar visited Tiruvanaikkaval temple on his way to Madurai from Tiruvarur. The composition “Jambupate” in the Raga Yamuna kalyani, the longest of the five kritis invokes the feeling of a majestic dhrupad in the 12 beat cycle. This composition contains references to several water bodies such as “Ambudi, Ganga, Kaveri, Yamuna.” Chronologically, this is the fifth and the last of this group of compositions and Dikshitar

explicitly calls this out by referring to Shiva as the cause of the Universe, an embodiment of the five elements and by praying for a cognizance of the true bliss of our immortal existence. Kanchipuram is located close to Chennai and Dikshitar spent two years of his life in this temple-town and his repertoire has a number of kritis and nottusvara sahityas dedicated to the temples. The most noteworthy of these compositions is the pancha bhuta linga kriti “chintaya ma kanda mula kandam.” He again describes Shiva as a form of bliss. The five temples were patronized and expanded by different dynasties at various points in time. Yet there is remarkable similarity in their layout. Similarly, the five kritis of Dikshitar were written at different points in time during his life. Yet, there is a thread of continuity through them. All of them are three-part compositions with parallels in compositional approach. Together, they present Dikshitar’s vision of creating a set of kritis that would present a picture of the pancha bhuta model of life. The five compositions are a treasured collection of kritis that succinctly describe five ancient temples and their traditions and also bring out the underlying philosophy of advaita where all there is, is sat chit ananda (eternal, bliss, consciousness). n Kanniks Kannikeswaran is an internationally renowned musician, composer and music educator, whose award winning research on the Indo-colonial music of Dikshitar is beginning to influence Indian music pedagogy. Kanniks is a pioneer of the Indian American choral movement. He teaches Indian classical music at the University of Cincinnati.


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CLASSES OFFERED AT: • DIAMOND BAR • WALNUT • CHINO HILLS • IRVINE • TALENT FACTORY NEW classes forming and accepting enrollment in WEST LA (Beverley Hills, Santa Monica, Hollywood, Culver City) Classes could be offered in your area

Contact: (909)

598-3574 • (909) 630-8558



ACADEMY OF KATHAK DANCE Classes offered at La Habra Heights, Whittier, Cerritos, Yorba Linda ( Classes can potentially be offered in your area - inquiries welcome)

Aarti Manek Contact: 1.714.595.3735 1.714.299.3525

Visiting Artist and Teacher Abhay Shankar Mishra Head of Kathak Department (Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan, London, UK) | 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 bhai

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.


For Information Call

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.



Akshaya Patra

(An organization for feeding and educating underprivileged children in India )

40 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013 | 41


The Heart is Like Glass By Geetika Pathania Jain

ODE TO LATA 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION by Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla. Final Word Books, Los Angeles, CA. Originally published in 2002. Republished in 2012. 311 pages. $14.95.


de to Lata accomplished many firsts including being the first South Asian LGBT novel to be reviewed by the Los Angeles Times and the first account of the South Asian gay experience from an author from the African continent. Available for the first time in paperback and e-book in a special 10th Anniversary edition, it includes a bonus story. Just in time for the national discussion on same-sex marriage, Ode to Lata enlightens the readers as to the dangers of the “closet” and how having a functional familiar relationship is entirely dependent on honesty and acceptance. Dhalla’s book plumbs the psyche of an openly gay Los Angelenos of Indian descent. Unlike gays in long-term, stable relationships that are flocking to Washington D.C. in committed pairs, Ali is still looking for true love, and is afraid he might never find it. Meanwhile, we watch him skin his heart as various lovers, friends and family members weave in and out of his life. It doesn’t help that his yearning has been declared unnatural and immoral by society. Through most of the novel, Ali is trying to understand just how he came to be this needy and angst-ridden, searching for love in all the wrong places. Carousing in gay clubs at all hours, jilted by lovers and spurned by friends, he frequently finds himself absolutely alone in a roomful of bodies. Ali may find solace in the excesses of gay Los Angeles culture for a while, but this does not quell the yearning in his heart. He plumbs the dysfunctions in his family history as well as sexual encounters from his youth in an effort to understand his proclivities. Selfaware and ironic in his neediness, there is an endearing vulnerability that transcends sexual orientation, race, or gender. His “perfect pick up line,” a masterpiece of bitter humor, is “Come here, baby. I’ll make your life pure hell.” Bill, the beautiful male sex worker, exerts an attraction that overcomes Ali’s repugnance at Bill’s odious politics. When Bill reveals that his swastikalike tattoo is a symbol of his hatred for black people, Ali tries to be tolerant of Bill’s intol-

42 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

erance. “Bill’s prejudice, I justified, even in all it’s repugnance, revealed an honesty that deserved both admiration and pity.” But whether it is Richard, Nelson, or Bill, the heart-break is not long in coming. Ali wonders why the repeated trauma has not inured his heart, hardened it permanently. It is here that Lata’s mellifluous voice is invoked by Dhalla’s book title: sheesha ho ya dil ho, aakhir toot jata hai (the heart is like glass; eventually, it will break.) Ali’s mother, who inspires both loyalty and a deep irritation in her son, comes to terms with her son’s sexual orientation in a moving and well-written scene set in LAX International airport. Her religion considers homosexuality the work of the shaitan, or devil, but however much Ali regrets “that there would be no grandchildren for her to dote on, to carry on the family name, that the tree stopped here,” he refuses to “live a lie,” and “trap some poor woman,” into marriage with a closeted gay man who chooses societal respectability over authenticity. Though the scenes described are sometimes tawdry and cringe-inducing in their explicitness, the stark loneliness that propels him to these sensual and ultimately unfulfilling encounters is unmistakeable. Like other members of the extended Indian group “Saath” of “familially or societally misunderstood Indians,” Ali tries to “escape the castigations of his sexuality and the lonely choices it had compelled him to make.” Ali’s rift with this adopted South Asian “family” of misfits is well described. He regrets the careless remarks that he made, and misses the camaraderie that he once shared with the gossipy members. For Indians gossip is as staple as chappatis and basmati rice. No one is ever immune from this customary avocation (participated in innocuously and disguised as a form of concerned colloquy), which succeeds in hurting feelings all around. One could always count on being the topic of the evening if one didn’t show up at a barbeque or at some insomniac coffeehouse where the group was meeting. There is an activist strain in Ali’s gay pride endeavors and “an obligation to educate this disturbingly repressed community” of South Asians. “We had become a culture that is ashamed of sex … that wore that tyrannical

face of puritanism. Parents unable to talk to their children about the risks involved…” It was simply and entirely a matter of shame illustrated by the instance of an AIDS outreach effort to distribute condoms. It is received with a healthy dose of tittering, as well as abuse by a gas station owner: “Go! Go! Gandu, haram zade, pata nahin kahan se ajate hain!” (Where do these faggot come from?) This book is the answer to this crudely worded question, describing in courageous, painstaking detail, exactly where Dhalla is coming from. Last year, when I reviewed The Two Krishnas, Dhalla expressed a hope that his work would “help us to understand that the more compassionate we are and the better we learn to accept those that are different from us, the better it is for everyone in the end.” (India Currents, Feb 2012) The Bollywood, make-no-mistake, hereit-comes-with-a-capital-E end. The End. n Geetika Pathania Jain lives in the Bay Area. This week, her playlist will include Lata Mangeshkar’s songs mentioned in Ode to Lata. She might even hum these tunes while she does the dishes.

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Shakti School of Bharata Natyam Classes in West Los Angeles, Torrance, Cerritos, Orange/Irvine, Woodland Hills | 43

In My Mind’s Eye By Rajesh C. Oza

REDEEMING CALCUTTA: A PORTRAIT OF INDIA’s IMPERIAL CAPITAL by Steve Raymer. Oxford University Press, 2012. 208 pages. $130.49.


arshan” is a Hindu form of worship through seeing, through being in the presence of God. In a more secular sense, perhaps this Sanskrit word can be extended to seeing or being in the presence of a beloved. For some, the beloved may be a mother—Ma; or motherland—Matrabhumi. To understand the importance of those removed from their Ma or Matrabhumi, one must empathize with, even feel deep pity for, the soul who can no longer see her loving mother (land). Unlike some book reviews, for my wife (Mangla) and me, this review is no abstract consideration of an author’s work. Ever since my wife’s mother, who lived some five decades in Calcutta (plus another five in its reincarnated form, Kolkata), and breathed her last breath on Earth Day, 2013, Mangla and I have been learning to see Mummy without being in her saintly presence. First there was the frantic flicking through a life’s archive of paper and digital photos, in search of one image that would stay with us, that would sit in puja, garlanded with flowers. Then there was the blinking away of tears to make travel arrangements back home to Calcutta, back home to a house that no longer felt whole. The flight itself was a kind of denial: if only we hurried back, Mummy would be waiting for us, with her ever-present smile, her generous spirit, her nurturing culinary tradition, her optimistic proverbs, her undying duty to her family’s happiness. But when Singapore Airlines flight SQ516 touched down on the hard tarmac of Kolkata’s cold, new airport in the middle of the dark, ancient night, there was no negotiating with Yama, the God of Death. We now had our duty, over thirteen days, to help Mummy’s soul peacefully reach the other side, away from the grinding cycle of life. And, thus, this trip to Calcutta would be my first when I would neither see Mummy nor take darshan of the city-village she called home. Whether it was the communal insularity of the mourning period or the unyielding tears that clouded my vision, I saw little beyond our family’s sitting room that served as a shrine to Mummy during the day and doubled as a sleeping room area for the out-

44 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

of-town family members who came by car, rail, and air to pay their last respects. Even during the fraternal trips to the Hooghly River to purify ourselves in the final, muddy bend of the Ganga before its release into the Bay of Bengal, even during these drives through the desperately alive city, I was unable to actually see old Calcutta or its newer avatar, Kolkata. Perhaps I was lost in my incessant chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa, one of Mummy’s favorite recitations, or maybe it was the fellowship in the car with brothers-in-law who have become my brothers through the decades. Either way, I refused to take a photograph, refused to keep frozen in time images of a place that lives its many million lives sun-up to sun-down, and then again the next day and the next. I could not even permit myself to cup my hand to my eye to see the world in the iconic way that Calcutta’s beloved film-director, Satyajit Ray, had been photographed countless times. Through his films such as Maha Nagar (The Big City) and Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road), I had learned to know the teeming city and its lush, green countryside. Not only through Ray, but also through Mummy, I had taken Calcutta into my mind’s eye. On all previous trips, I had snapped at least one photo of Mummy. And there would be artsy photographs of rickshaw-wallahs pulling their loads through the monsoon

rain, and of children in the Hooghly doing somersaults off of trawlers, while bathers and mourners washed away their impurities. Or if I was out of film (or storage), there was always my trusty hand to frame Calcutta’s chromatic world to capture a quintessential Bengali moment. Of course, this is a book review, albeit one complemented by a sadly nostalgic view back of a life well lived. There is also a sunnier nostalgia of a place well lived in. Beyond the undying memories are the tangible reminders of place and time. There will always remain the photographs to give new and ongoing meaning to what was once familiar and touchable. As the prominent photographer Alfred Stieglitz memorably said, “For that is the power of the camera: seize the familiar and give it new meanings, a special significance by the mark of a personality.” In his forward to Steve Raymer’s Redeeming Calcutta, Dipesh Chakrabarty, professor of history at the University of Chicago writes, “There is also a welcome historicism that I notice in Professor Raymer’s efforts. In spite of the ‘eternal’ iconic shots of the city his photos exude a certain sense of the present.” This aliveness to the present is palpable throughout Raymer’s collection of photographs, with helpful text providing context. While the physical face of the city—its many imperial buildings, riverbank vistas, and bridges old and new—is commendably photographed, the meaning-filled and meaningful faces of the city are what make this a remarkable book. These faces do not fade into silhouette characters supporting the city’s machinery, but rather are the spirited eyes through which one can peer into the soul of Calcutta: there is the face of the sweeper immaculately sweeping the floor of Raj Bhavan, with “a painting of Rabrindanath Tagore” staring intently into the room; there are the faces of “angry demonstrators” protesting rising electricity rates; there are

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Photo by Steve Raymer Bathers and worshipers at Calcutta’s Armenian Ghat along the Hooghly River, with Howrah Bridge in background.

bright and eager faces of “students at Loreto College,” looking hopeful and optimistic into the Asian 21st century; and, of course, a book on Calcutta might seem incomplete without worn-out faces of rickshaw-pullers, “like a scene from the early twentieth century” and beatific faces of “adoring churchgoers” surrounding a nun of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Occasionally, and irritatingly, the text accompanying the photo spells out the name of the subject; for example, there is Akhil Sapura’s face “tasting tea for a bull market” as only an experienced general manager of a tea auctioneer can. Irritation arises because one doesn’t understand why Raymer privileges Akhil’s fine face with a name while relegating most of the other faces to anonymity. But this is a small pet peeve of a reviewer who believes that the names, faces, and memories of ordinary human beings deserve the dignity of attention and merit everyday darshan. Redeeming Calcutta is itself a kind of darshan. Just as a statue of one’s God should not be relegated to the back of a closet, this book should not gather dust on the coffee table. Find a way to see it, to be in the presence of its lively and alive images. To be sure, those from Calcutta may consider this book a Proustian “remembrance of things past;” they will recall revering Bengali culture, singing the great poet Tagore’s Rabindra Sangeet, seeing Ray’s heartfelt films, genuflecting to Kali Ma, and reflecting upon the saintly deeds of Mother Teresa. For those who have never set foot in Calcutta (but may still have found a way to snigger at its

economic decline), this book may enable you to be in touch with your better angels. Whether you were born in another hot and steamy Indian metropolis or in a cool and efficient Silicon Valley suburb, you are sure to see something of home here. But I suspect you will see your better self and your own place on earth revealed—and redeemed—only if you approach the book with an empathetic heart. n

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INDIA CURRENTS Celebrating 27 Years of Excellence

CALL (408) 324-0488 . (714) 523-8788 Fax: (408) 324-0477 Email: Write: 1885 Lundy Ave ste 220 San Jose, CA 95131 Deadline: 20th of every month

Photo by Rajesh C. Oza Mrs. Suman Dave smiling during the wedding of a niece

For Mrs. Suman Dave, who left this earth on April 22, 2013, diagnosed as having an enlarged heart. Rajesh C. Oza is a Change Management consultant, who also facilitates the interpersonal development of MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. | 45

events JUNE 2013

California’s Best Guide to Indian Events Edited by: Mona Shah List your event for FREE! JULY issue deadline: Thursday, June 20 To list your event in the Calendar, go to and fill out the Web form

Check us out on

special dates Father’s Day

June 16

U.S. Independence Day

July 4


July 9

Ratha Yatra

July 10



1 Saturday

One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das-A Film. In 1970, Jeffrey

Kagel walked away from the American dream of rock ‘n’ roll stardom, turning down the chance to record as lead singer for the band soon-to-be the Blue Oyster Cult. Instead, he sold all his possessions and moved from the suburbs of Long Island to the foothills of the Himalayas in search of happiness and a little-known saint named Neem Karoli Baba. The film follows his journey to India and back, witnessing his struggles with depression and drug abuse, to his eventual emergence as Krishna Das, world-renowned spiritual teacher and Grammy nominated chant master. Ends June 6. Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. www.onetrackheart-

46 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das-A Film by Jeremy Frindel, June 1


2 Sunday

Arohi Ensemble-Ragajazz Chamber Music. Featuring disciples of Pandit Ravi

Shankar with Paul Livingstone (sitar), Pedro Eustache (bansuri and flute), Peter Jacobson (cello), Abhijit Banerjee (tabla) and

Dave Lewis (drums). Organized by Sangeet School. 6-8 p.m. Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, 6700 W 83rd St, Westchester. $15 general, $10 students. (310) 753-3303.

The Bewitching Hansa Vina. Barun Kumar Pal, maestro of the Hansa Vina (a Hindustani adaptation of slide guitar),


California’s Best Guide to Indian Events

accompanied by Arup Chattopadhyay on tabla. Barun Kumar Pal is a longtime student of the late Pandit Ravi Shankar, and is among the most noted exponents of Hindustani slide guitar music. Prior to the concert, an organic, vegan dinner will be served at 5 p.m. Organized by Other Shore Arts and Meherabode. 6 p.m. Meherabode (Avatar Meher Baba Center of Southern California), 1214 S. Van Ness Ave., Los Angeles. General $15, $12 student, free (children 12 and under). Meherabode.concerts@gmail. com,, coming-sunday-june-2nd-bewitching-hansa. html,


8 Saturday

Veena Concert. An evening of Karnatik ragas by Kalaimamani Togarai Sambasivam and Shyama Sathianathan. Accompanied by Neyveli Narayan. Dinner will be served. 5:30 p.m. Chinmaya-Rameshwaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Tustin. Free. (714) 832-7669.


9 Sunday

Hindi Skit and Poem Program. Student performance. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Indus Heritage Center, 11976 Arteisa Blvd., Artesia. Free. (562) 546-3870. anshu@ilearnhindi. com.


15 Saturday

Business Expo. Food sampling, raffle

prizes, and health screening. Organized by Artesia Chamber of Commerce. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. City Plaza, 11688 South St., Artesia. Free. (562) 618-1400. pioneermoney@yahoo. com.

Vedanta—Its Many Manifestations Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

The two-day conference will explore the various dimensions of Vedanta, its relationship to later text-based philosophies that took its name, and other schools of Indian thought and practice, including SamkhyaYoga, Tantra and medieval Bhakti. Leading experts will speak about its influence in the West and its international and trans-cultural potentials. Singh will deliver the keynote address Saturday evening. Conference presenters include: Pravrajika Vrajaprana,

Bhairavi Kumar, Artistic Director of Nitryodaya Kathak Academy, performs on June 23

Makarand R. Paranjape, Paul Muller-Ortega, Sthaneshwar Timalsinha, Christopher Key Chapple and Debashish Banerji. Karan Singh, a member of India’s Parliament and a author, scholar, philanthropist and former ambassador to the U.S. will receive the Doshi Bridgebuilder Award during a 2-day conference on Vedanta and Vedantic philosophy. Ends June 16. Organized by Loyola Marymount University’s Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. 2-4:30 p.m. Loyola Marymount University, Hilton 100, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles . Free. (310) 338-7850. Doshi_Bridgebuilder_Award_RSVP.htm.


16 Sunday

Light Vocal Singing Competition.

Live karaoke. Organized by Indo American Community Theater. 4-8 p.m. The Curtis Theater, One Civic Center, Brea . $20. (714) 203-8671.


18 Tuesday

Karnatic Music Concert. Accompanied by a Western Orchestra and Indonesian Gamelan. Organized by Muralikrishnans Carnatic Quartet. 1 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (562) 802-8462.,


22 Saturday

Alumni Annual Picnic. Organized by IIT Alumni Association of Southern California. 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. South Shelter, Liberty Park, 19211 Studebaker Road, Cerritos . Early Bird Adults, $20, children/students, $15. (310) 968-6899.


23 Sunday | 47

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California’s Best Guide to Indian Events laborator, Christopher Taylor and Lighting Design, Eileen Cooley. Showcasing musicians and dancers from India and the U.S. 8 p.m. California Plaza, 350 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Free. rangolidancecompany@ homepage.html.

8th Annual Global Business Expo.

The expo strives to bring together business leaders, diplomats, governments, trade and development organizations onto one platform by organizing trade and investment fairs and exhibitions in various locations across the globe by initiating multilateral visits to various countries to facilitate new investments, ventures, and trade. Ends June 30. Organized by US-Global Business Forum Inc. Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W Katella Ave., Anaheim.


29 Saturday

Classical, Ghazal and Bengali Concert. Vocal artist from India Girish Chat-

terjee’s CD release “Surer Jharna Dharai,” an album of modern Bengali songs. 6 p.m. Young Oak Kim Academy Auditorium, 165 south Shatto Place, Los Angeles. $50, $25, $10. (213) 590-1085, (213) 590-1084.

Malathi Iyengar, Artistic Director of Rangoli Dance Company performs, June 28

Anantha—A Dance Performance. By Bhairavi Kumar, Artistic Director of Nitryodaya Kathak Academy. 5 p.m. Sophia B. Clarke Theater, 1100 N. Grand Ave., Walnut. (909) 630-8558, (909) 598-3574. www.nrityodayaacademy. com.

Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. General $25, at door $35. (310) 306-1834.

Full Circle. A presentation by workshop participants featuring yoga, martial arts, bharatanatyam, and abhinaya, the art of expression and story telling. Organized by Rangoli Foundation. 4-6 p.m. The Electric

by Malathi Iyengar. In this new project, Malathi will tell her own story of navigating within the West when her soul is in the East, an evolutionary journey of love and identity upon a changing cultural map. Creative Col-


28 Friday

Love Trajectory: A Dance Performance. Choreography and performance


13 Saturday

Garland of Dances. A Bharatanatyam concert with Malini Krishnamurthi, Artistic Director of Natyanjali School of Dance, Los Angeles on nattuvangam. Accompanied by Srinidhi (vocal), Hari Rangaswamy (mridangam and tabla), R. Narasimhamurthy (flute). 5 p.m. Sophia B. Clarke Theater, 1100 N. Grand Ave., Walnut. $20, $30, $50. (909) 468-4050, (909) 396-6872, (626) 844-0288.

Check out India Currents online at

Share your stories on health 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 Nadia Maiwandi at

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



2 Sunday

Sucess Through Attunement with God. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Tem-

ple 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.

The Practice of Contentment. Sunday lecture by Swami Vedarupananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 1946 Vedanta Pl Los Angeles. (323)465-7114.

Swami Vivekananda and American Ideals. Sunday lecture by Pravrajika Krish-

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

The Essence of the Gita. Explana-

tion of Chapters 7-12 by Swami Nikhilanand. Ends June 9. Organized by Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat. 7-8:30 p.m. Radha Govind Dham, 5530 Donna Ave., Tarzana. Free. (626) 755-4968. vishalkapoor82@


3 Monday

Lectures on Valmiki Ramayan by Swami Ishwarananda. Swamiji will be

referring to traditional commentaries of ancient scholars during his lecture. Ends June 8. Organized by Chinmaya Mission Los Angeles. 7:30-8:30 p.m. Chinmaya-Rameshwaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Tustin. Free. (714) 832-7669.


9 Sunday

Creating World Unity Through Yoga Meditation. 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 50 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

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.

Material Life and Spiritual Life 2.

Sunday lecture by Swami Sarvadevananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903. santabarbara@vedanta. org.

The Practice of Contentment. Sunday

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


16 Sunday

God’s Nature in the Father. 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) 5430800. 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. Consciousness. Sunday lecture by Swami Atmavidyananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903. The Way Home. Sunday lecture by Swami Brahmavidyananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 1946 Vedanta Pl Los Angeles. (323)465-7114.


23 Sunday

How Even-Mindedness Leads to God Awareness. 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.

Material Life and Spiritual Life 2.

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

Religion, Spirituality and Mysticism. Sunday lecture by David Nelson.

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


30 Sunday

Is Peace Possible in Today’s World?

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

Worshipping the Divine. Sunday lecture by Swami Harinamananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 9692903. The Parliment of Religions Today.

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


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

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Ayurdevic Stress Management By Malar Gandhi


tress is a term that is commonly used but has become increasingly difficult to define. It shares, to some extent, common meanings in both the biological and psychological sciences. Hans Hugo Bruno Selye, the Hungarian endocrinologist did important scientific work on the hypothetical non-specific response of an organism to stressors. Selye published in 1975 a model dividing stress into eustress (The prefix eu- derives from the Greek word meaning either “well” or “good.” When attached to the word stress, it literally means “good stress’’ and distress. Where stress enhances function (physical or mental, such as through strength training or challenging work), it may be considered eustress. Persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, deemed distress, may lead to anxiety, withdrawal and depression behavior. A good example is afforded by observing passengers on a steep rollercoaster ride. Some are scared, seated in the back seats, pale, eyes shut, jaws clenched and knuckled with an iron grip on the retaining bar. They can’t wait for the ride in the torture chamber to end, so they can get back on solid ground and escape in the crowd. But up front are the wideeyed thrill seekers, yelling and relishing each steep plunge that race to get on the very next ride. And in between, you may find a few with extreme boredom and totally expressionless. So, was the roller coaster ride really stressful or delightful? Therefore, any definition of stress should include good stress, for example, winning a race or election can be just as stressful as losing or even more. A passionate kiss and contemplating what might follow is stressful, but hardly the same as having a root canal procedure.

External and Internal Stress

Stressors can be broadly divided into external and internal stress. The external factors affecting us may include, hard physical conditions such have pain or extreme hot or cold temperatures; stressful psychological environments, poor work52 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

ing conditions, abusive relationships, rules and deadlines; grievances, death of a family member, failures, insults, etc. The internal factors affecting us can be both physically or psychologically. For example, too much caffeine intake, lack of sleep, overload of work, strenuous physical exercise or labor. Psychological stressors may include, pessimism, inferiority complex, over-analyzing, taking matters personally, personality disorder, rigid thinking, exaggerating, perfectionist, workaholic, prestige carvers etc. Acute and Chronic Stress Stressors can also be defined as short-term (acute) or longterm (chronic). Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the fight or flight response. The threat can be any situation that is experienced, even subconsciously or falsely, as a danger. Common acute stressors include: noise, crowding, isolation, hunger, danger, infection, and imagining a threat or remembering a dangerous event. Under most circumstances, once the acute threat has passed, the response becomes inactivated and levels of stress hormones return to normal, a condition called the relaxation response. Modern life poses on-going stressful situations that are not short-lived and the urge to act (to fight or to flee) must be suppressed. Stress, then, becomes chronic. Common chronic stressors include on-going highly pressured work, long-term relationship problems, loneliness,

and persistent financial worries. Many of us have high levels of chronic stress, whether it is from workload, relationship troubles or to-do lists that are longer than the national highway. Our bodies respond to this stress the way our ancestors bodies did; triggering “fight or flight” chemicals in the brain, meant to prepare our body for action. These hormones elevate blood pressure, heart beat, breathing rate and encourage muscle tightening. Anxiety causes the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream for quick energy. The higher levels of cortisol or ephinephrine when dealing with stress; which affects the function of their immune system. These responses over long haul, may deplete the body’s nutrient stores, lead to exhaustion and lower immune system function. Gender difference exists in terms of the relationship between immunity and stress, where women are most susceptible to autoimmune disorders compared to men, due to the difference in levels of estrogen (in women) and testosterone (in men). In addition, some individuals are more prone to react to stressors than others. It is difficult to define because it is so different for each of us. In fact, many addictions are linked to a stressful lifestyle, such as overeating, smoking, drinking, and drug abuse. These are used as an escape or a temporary way of “switching off,” but they do not address the

underlying problem.

Stress Busting Foods Comfort Food. This can be one of the best stress busters. After a long day, a simple meal, like a bowl of barley porridge, lentils soup or rasam saadham, could boost levels of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter. Complex Carbohydrate. In fact, most carbohydrates prompt the brain to make more serotonin. However, for a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it is best to choose complex carbohydrate foods, which are digested more slowly. Good choices include whole wheat chappati as well as oldfashioned finger-millet pancakes (ragi adai). Citrus Fruits. Fresh orange juice or lemonade is yet another stress buster. Studies suggest that vitamin C can curb levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system. Omega-3 Fatty Fish, such as tuna and salmon, can prevent surges in stress hormones and may help protect against heart disease, mood disorders like depression. Dairy. A bedtime stress-buster is the time-honored glass of warm milk. Research shows that calcium eases anxiety and mood swings linked to PMS. Dietitians typically recommend skim or low-fat milk.

Ayurvedic Stress Management Physical stress is caused by abuse of the body, such as strenuous exercises or working for long hours at a job that is physically taxing. This can cause a person to experience fatigue, mental fogginess, difficulty in concentration, and overall dullness. Certain foods are natural stress busters according to ayurveda. These include walnuts, almonds and cottage cheese (paneer). Emotional stress can be caused by a problem in a relationship, the loss of a relative, or any situation that might hurt the heart. Emotional stress shows up as irritability, depression, loss of sleep, eating disorder and emotional instability. To balance emotional stress, one should follow a well-balanced diet as a lifestyle. A typical balanced diet may call for lots of fresh vegetables, juicy fruits and completely devoid of junk food. And practicing yoga and meditation is recommended too. Drinking a cup of warm flavored milk (roja kulkand, cardamon or saffron) before bedtime may help to wind down. A daily habit of head massage with cooling amla or coconut oil should make you feel better. Mental stress, according to Ayurveda, is caused by abuse of the mind. For instance, pessimism, taking matters personally and intense mental work many hours a day, or if

you work long hours on the computer. The first symptom of an imbalance is losing the ability to handle day-to-day activity. As the person becomes more stressed, it affects the memory. Some may become hyperactive, yet lose the ability to make clear decisions. It is important to get plenty of rest and to avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. Choose herbal tea, tender coconut water, seasonal fruits and citrus juice to hydrate yourself. Relaxing aromatherapy and meditation can help calm the mind. Herbs and Concoctions. Ayurveda prescribes concoctions of various herbs as rejuvenating tonic for chronic stress. But, individuals may require different approaches and therapies. General stress reducing herbs are called nervine sedatives, which include brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), valerian root, shankha pushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis), vacha (Acorus calamus), yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra), guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), amalaki (Embelica officinalis), aswaganda (Withania somnifera), bala and much more.n Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in culinary anthropology and gourmet Indian cooking. She blogs about Indian food at and can be reached at | 53


Seeds for Soil, Seeds of Spirit By Jojy Michael “I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”—Henry David Thoreau.


ustard flowers are one of the early signs of spring in the San Francisco Bay Area. Almost overnight, our highways are bordered by silken carpets of golden yellow flowers that wave “Hi!” as we drive by. We sit up and notice for the first time of the year that the hills have turned green, the blue skies have chased away gray ones, the air is decidedly less chilly and new growth is emerging from bare tree limbs. The barren winter landscape of the region is now a riot of color from highway ice plant blooms laying down Persian carpets in the circular meadows of clover leaf interchanges, from dainty poppies and wild flowers on the hill sides, from the huge pink flowers of magnolias in home lots, from multi-hued blossoms that completely cover fruit trees in orchards, from brightly smiling lilies everywhere, and, last but not the least, from a greater abundance of that one flower which is most appropriate for our region, Birds of Paradise. But it is the humble mustard that leads this spring time parade. Mustard seeds are a common presence in legends from many lands, perhaps because they are a common condiment in many cuisines. In a famous fable, the Buddha promises to bring back to life an only child, if only the mother could get a handful of mustard from a home where no one has died. The frenzied mother hurries off to find that house, very sure that there are many homes in the village that death has not yet touched, and that her precious child will be alive again very soon. Sure enough, she learns on her own, the universality of death and returns to the Wise one a much wiser and calmer woman. Even though its seed is the smallest among seeds, mustard plants grow to a fairly good size, demonstrating how the inspiration of sunshine and the support of fertile soil makes the mighty power of life emerge from a tiny seed. Perhaps 54 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

Mustard plants in bloom

that is the reason why Jesus mentioned the humble mustard in this verse: “What is the kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a person took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” That saying captures the miraculous ability of Life to grow a miniscule seed into large, robust structures. Isn’t it incomprehensibly miraculous that a mere clot of blood, an embryo that is tinier than the humble mustard seed, with neither senses nor features, grows into a human being that is seemingly in control of his or her own destiny? There are many scriptural writings that mention common household substances like mustard, yeast or salt; smidgens of matter with a potential to infuse a greater mass with effervescence and flavor. It is the powerful symbolism of common salt that Mahatma Gandhi picked to activate India for a mighty freedom struggle, a struggle that was as unique in its spiritual themes of fasting and prayer as in its adherence to the principles of non-violence. Gandhiji’s salt march was a 240 miles journey from his Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat to the coastal town of Dandi where he picked up a grain of salt to signal the beginning of a very vigorous yet non-violent resistance movement. The salt march was the seed from which emerged a mighty revolution that brought about India’s independence.

As spring gives way to summer in the Bay Area, the mustard flowers and other bountiful blossoms transform into seeds that will perhaps disperse far away from their place of origin. The last few summers have also brought to the Bay Area, an equally colorful but more subtle seeding act than Nature’s, which has global as well as local impact. For the past four years, India Community Center in Milpitas has been hosting an event that attempts to replicate Gandhiji’s transformative salt march, albeit for a shorter distance than the original. Thousands of Bay Area residents of many different nationalities, not just Indians, congregated for a day of running and walking to raise funds for their favorite non-profit cause. This event is “Sevathon,” a half-marathon (also 5K/10K walk or run) for Seva (service). The nonprofits cover a wide range of causes including the Arts (Pampa Dance Company), Education (Isha Vidhya), Environment (Climate Healers), Health Care (Shri Shankara Cancer Foundation), Nutrition (Akshaya Patra) and many others. Will you join this multi-colored parade this year to help seed a worthy cause dear to you? Please register at sevathon-2013.n Jojy Michael is a Silicon Valley resident who is fascinated with the contrasts that the Bay Area offers—natural beauty, world class technology, diverse cultures, amicable weather and the generous spirit of its people.


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Encounters With Elephants Exploring the Nagarhole National Park By Anil Mulchandani; Photography by Dinesh Shukla

A herd of elephants


he Kaveri River Basin is one of the most exciting areas for wildlife viewing—the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Nagarhole National Park and Bandipur National Park in Karnataka, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, and the Mudumalai National Park in Tamil Nadu, are nourished by the Kaveri or its tributaries creating habitats for a huge variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and other wildlife forms. The backwaters of the Kabini River, a tributary of the Kaveri, are especially rich with wildlife especially in summer when the water level recedes to form rich grassy meadows. The stretch of the Kabini flowing through Nagarhole National Park is extremely productive for watching wildlife—a visit in the hot months of June and July can yield sightings of large herds of elephants and other ungulates making the most of the remaining fresh grass along the receding waters, and at times a tiger, leopard or sloth bear coming to the river’s edge for a drink. On a warm day in July we set out from Bangalore Airport for the Kabini reservoir. Once out of the congested areas of Bangalore, the highway took us past Chennapatnam where shops were selling wooden toys, a huge coconut 56 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

market, the sugarcane market of Mandya and a number of other market towns. From the road, we admired ancient rock formations, some of them really fascinating. Presently, we came to Srirangapatam, Tipu Sultan’s island fort on the Kaveri River, and just after that took the turn for the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, a cluster of islands in the Kaveri River famous for the huge heronry that forms here between June and October. Ranganathittu was declared a Bird Sanctuary in 1940, making it perhaps South India’s oldest bird sanctuaries, and the famous birdwatcher and author of field guides to Indian birds, Salim Ali, was instrumental in bringing attention to these islands as bird havens.

Egret at nest, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary

This sanctuary offers amazingly close views of storks, ibises and herons at most times of the year, and egrets in breeding plumage during the monsoon months. At the jetty where we hired a boat for our sanctuary tour, we were rewarded by the sight of hovering terns and kingfishers, occasionally diving to catch fish. From the jetty, the boatman rowed us out towards the islands for better bird sightings. At the first island we saw a flock of Asian openbill stork and at the next we saw painted storks. One of the highlights for me was an astonishingly close view of a black-crowned night heron which is not easily seen elsewhere because of its nocturnal habits. The trees on the islands were covered with nests

Cormorants, Kabini River

of birds—cormorants, a darter, egrets, blackheaded white ibis, openbill stork, painted stork and spoonbill. It was especially enjoyable watching the little egret, otherwise a common snow white marsh-dwelling bird, in its breeding plumage with dainty ornamental feathers sticking out at the back and from the breast. The cattle egret which is also usually a pure white bird acquires a conspicuous orange hue to its head, neck and back. On an islet we got an excellent view of some great stone plovers looking for crabs and other prey among the stones. Presently we came to an island where a marsh crocodile was basking—the boatman rowed us right to the crocodile, perhaps the closest we have ever been to this dreaded reptile. Nearby we saw baby crocodiles basking on the aquatic vegetation. Along the shores of the Kaveri the trees also support a large colony of flying foxes (a type of fruit bat) and birds. From Ranganathittu, we started out for the Kabini reservoir formed by the 2,284 feet high dam. The last stretch of road after HD Kote to the reservoir goes through tribal areas and presently we arrived at the Kabini Orange County, a resort on the waterfront. Seen from the road, the resort looks like a tribal village with its mud-plastered enclosing wall and traditional entrance, and thatched roofs of the low-rise buildings inside. From the longhouse like reception and facilities area, a stone paved pathway led to the cottages which are clustered together in an enclosure rather like a tribal hamlet. Each of the cottages showed the initiative of the promoters in giving the local touch of a village with mud and dung plaster, niches that house lanterns and a cane door framed by Eucalyptus poles. The look inside was contiguous with the exterior, with the exposed thatched ceiling, pleasantly old-fashioned furniture and a floor which the room boy explains has mud mixed into the cement to give the rustic look but without lacking in luxury. In the courtyard was a Jacuzzi (some rooms have a plunge pool) surrounded by the mud-covered walls of the cottage. For lunch we had chicken curry called koli saru, chitranna rice, a flat sweet bread called obattu, the meat dish called handi mamsa huridu, paliya (a side dish with beans), with a sweet note given by khus khus payasa (poppy seed dessert). Over lunch, George Ramapuram, director of the Orange County resorts explained, “The tagline of Orange County is Spirit of The Land. Thus, we followed the Kurumba tribal village style of architecture and used mainly locally available materials, planted indigenous trees and grasses in a natural manner rather than doing formal landscaping so that the resort blends with the riverine and forest landscape, and

Marsh Crocodile at Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary

On the Kabini River

used clean and renewable energy sources. Sewage water and organic solid waste is used for gardening, foam flow faucets reduce water consumption, wine turbines generate a considerable share of the power requirements of the resort, and guests are encouraged to drink water pumped from a reverse osmosis plant to each room rather than bottled water to prevent plastic generation. We have incorporated many other environment-friendly principles too, including more subtle ones like reducing noise and light levels considering that we are just across the river from the core of the Nagarhole National Park.” After lunch, we started out in motor-

boats for a river trip which goes through the Nagarhole and Bandipur National Parks. These national parks are part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, comprising of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. We saw lesser adjutant stork, black-headed ibis, a flock of spotbilled duck, cormorant, a basking crocodile and river turtles in the first 30 minutes of the trip. As we chugged past stands of forests, we were treated to the sight of a herd of spotted deer, the noble visage of a magnificent sambar stag walking along the river with its huge antlers, sambar deer and their hinds drinking

Juvenile Painted Storks in Ranganathittu | 57

on the riverfront, and a herd of gaur or Indian bison. The great prize came when we reached a wider expanse of the river—a huge herd of cow elephants, with their sows, on the banks, and a massive lone tusker wading in the river, pulling out aquatic grasses which it downed at regular intervals. By evening a number of elephants had begun to arrive at the waterfront for their evening drink. During the dry season and the beginning of the rains, elephants are drawn to the Kabini not only for water but for the fresh grasses that grow along the receding river. Some of the herds comprised more than 30 elephants each, and the sight of more than 100 elephants in all within a short distance is remarkable in India. As the boat brought us back to the resort, we witnessed a spectacular sunset.

In the morning we set out for a drive in the Nagarhole National Park. This involved taking a boat from the resort to the other shore where open-topped vehicles were waiting to take guests into the park. Right at the entrance we saw a spotted deer. Soon after entering the park, we saw fresh pugmarks of tiger but they led into dense forest tract—waiting produced no result and we moved on. The trees were trilling with birdcalls. One of the striking birds we saw was a pair of Malabar pied hornbill, a large black-and-white bird with a massive yellow bill capped by a concave casque, feeding on the figs of a tree. We watched attractive birds like green pigeons, woodpeckers, parakeets and flycatchers among the trees, and ground-dwelling birds like grey jungle fowl, red jungle fowl and quails scuttling among

the bushes. This being the breeding season of peafowl, we saw the peacocks strutting with their gorgeous trains of feathers fanned out to attract the peahens. Further ahead, we were rewarded by the sight of a sloth bear engrossed in digging up a termite mound. As we headed back to the gate, a bull elephant with long tusks was standing near the track. He fanned out his ears threateningly and began to come menacingly forward with a curled trunk but the driver drove us out safely back to the gate.

How To Get There

Nagarhole is about four hours drive from Bangalore. Kabini Orange County is one of the luxurious places to stay beside the river. The Kabini River Lodge is an excellent place for wildlife enthusiasts, in close proximity to the Nagarhole National Park entrance with excellent natural history services. Cicada, Bison and Kings Sanctuary are other good places to stay in Nagarhole. You can combine a visit to Kabini with BRT Hills Sanctuary as well as Bandipur National Park.

BRT Hills Sanctuary

The Biligiriranga Hills is a wildlife reserve located in Karnataka. These forested hills are important habitats for elephant, tiger, leopard, sloth bear, gaur (Indian bison), sambar deer, spotted deer, etc. They are also good for birdwatching. The BRT Hills sanctuary gets its name from the Biligiriranga Swamy Temple, the shrine of Lord Ranganatha or Lord Venkatesha in the forests.

Spotted Deer at Nagarhole

Bandipur National Park

The Bandipur National Park and Tiger Reserve has sizable populations of elephant, gaur or Indian bison, barking deer, sambar deer, spotted deer, wild boar and other ungulates. It is also an important habitat of the dhole or Indian wild dog, leopard and tiger. n

Lone Tusker at Nagarhole

Gaur or Indian Bison Elephants in rainy weather, Nagarhole

58 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

Anil Mulchandani is the author of travel guidebooks published in U.K., India and other countries. He travels and writes on tourism, industry, business, food and cuisine, environmental and social development initiatives and not-so-usual people for books, magazines and newspapers. Dinesh Shukla has traveled extensively across India shooting photographs for his collection that covers myriad subjects like pictorial scenes, landscapes architecture, interiors, religion, food, wildlife, fairs/festivals/events, automobiles, handicrafts, art, agriculture, etc. His photographs have been published in numerous coffee table books, travel guidebooks, prestigious magazines, newspapers and journals.

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Cool as a Cucumber By Praba Iyer Benefits

• A cucumber contains 95% water and helps in hydrating the body and thereby eliminates toxins. • The B vitamins in cucumbers make it an instant energy booster. Therefore a cucumber is a great substitute for soda or coffee without the bad sugar. • Cucumbers eliminates hangovers and headaches as they contain a good amount of electrolytes to replenish the body. • It is a great digestive. The burpless cucumbers are especially known to help with digestion. • According to the World Health Organiza tion, the lignans (phytoestrogens) in cucumbers are anti-carcinogenic and are shown to reduce the risk of estrogen-related cancers. • The beta carotene and Vitamin C in cucumbers make them anti-oxidants and antiinflammatory. • We all know that cucumbers tighten the collagen in our skin and help reduce wrinkles and cellulite. But did you know that the natural silica and sulphur in cucumbers helps in

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60 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013




Happy Father Day


remember the summers in Chennai as hot, humid, ever thirsty and sticky. Street vendors would bustle in with juicy mangoes, coconut water, sugarcane juice and my favorite crunchy kakdis or cucumbers. The kakdiwala would stack his small cart with these green cucumbers and sprinkle water on them periodically to keep them fresh. He had an army knife tucked in the side of the cart, which he pulled out to slice the cucumbers lengthwise. He would then sprinkle some masala powder and salt and give it to us. I loved cucumbers then and I still love them now, thanks to my kakdiwala. Cucumber is an undervalued, less appreciated fruit, but according to Ayurveda the benefits of adding it to our daily diet is multifold. This versatile crunchy fruit of the gourd family has a mild sweet flavor. You will find dishes from Asia, Egypt, Lebanon, Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey to the Americas incorporating cucumbers. Here in the United States we have three varieties that are widely used. They are called slicing, pickling and burpless cucumbers.

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hair growth? • This silica is also essential in reducing joint pain especially in arthritic patients. • The phytochemicals in cucumbers help in eliminating bad breath. • The potassium in cucumbers helps in regulating blood pressure. Apart from all these benefits the ancient Romans were known to use cucumbers in the cure for scorpion bites and bad eyesight. They also used cucumbers to get rid of mice. Cucumbers are also defoggers (bathroom mirrors) and used in keeping slugs and bugs away from vegetable gardens. Make sure to pick fresh green cucumbers that are unbruised. Slice the ends and taste it first. If its bitter at the ends, it is overripe and will be bitter throughout the fruit. Here are some recipes that will enhance your summer menus. n Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the SF Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at

For the Garnish lemon zest (chiffonade) sliced green onions Method Mix all the ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil. Puree the ingredients into a chunky soup with water. Adjust the seasonings. Refrigerate the soup for about 2 hours and serve chilled with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest and green onions.

A Creative Commons Image

Gazpacho with cucumber

Korean Cucumber Kimchi This is a spicy pickled cucumber that is eaten with rice in Korea. The Gochugaru chili powder used can be purchased at any Asian food market. Cayenne pepper can be substituted. Ingredients 3 pickling cucumbers cut crosswise 1” long pieces 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt 3 green onions chopped fine 1 tablespoon Korean chili powder (Go chugaru) 2-3 cloves garlic minced ½ teaspoon fresh ginger minced 1/4 teaspoon sugar 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 1 teaspoon sesame seed Method Sprinkle the coarse sea salt on the cut cucumbers and set it aside for an hour.

Maharashtrian Cucumber Peanut Salad (Khamang Kakdi) Ingredients 2 English cucumbers peeled and chopped 1 teaspoon of salt ¼ cup of roasted peanuts chopped fine 2 tablespoons fresh grated coconut 1 Thai green chili chopped fine ¼ cup fresh cilantro chopped fine 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon sugar salt to taste For the Garnish 1 teaspoon oil 1 teaspoon mustard seeds 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 3 curry leaves a pinch asafoetida Method Place the chopped cucumber pieces in a bowl and sprinkle salt over it and set it aside for 30 minutes. Drain the liquid out and squeeze out excess liquid from the cucumbers. Mix them with the roasted chopped peanuts,

Photo Credit: Praba Iyer

green chili, freshly grated coconut, chopped cilantro, lemon juice and sugar. Mix well. Heat a small pan with oil, add the mustard seeds and once they splutter, add cumin seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida. Pour this seasoning into the cucumber peanut mixture and mix well. Serve at room temperature as a side side or salad.

Cucumber Margarita This refreshing blender drink was invented by the bartenders at Straits restaurant. Ingredients 2½ ounces Tequila ½ ounce triple sec ¼ ounce simple syrup 2 ounces sweet and sour 1 four-inch cucumber, peel on, cut in three pieces, plus two thinly sliced rounds for garnish Salt(optional) Method Put Tequila, triple sec, simple syrup, and sweet and sour in blender. Add the cucumber pieces. Fill a 16-ounce glass with ice and pour it into the blender as well. Blend until incorporated. Pour into glass, rimmed with salt if desired, and garnish with cucumber rounds.

Cucumber Margarita

A Creative Commons Image

Ingredients 3 English cucumbers, peeled, chopped 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped 2 stalks of green onion, only white bulb chopped and used 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks with juice 1 jalapeno chili, chopped ½ cup of packed cilantro leaves Juice of 1 lime ½ cup of water salt and pepper to taste 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Mix the rest of the ingredients including the green onions, gochugaru chili powder, ginger, garlic, sugar, vinegar and sesame seeds together. Drain the liquid from the salted cucumbers mix the salted cucumbers with the spice mixture, making sure that all the cucumber pieces are well coated with the spice mix. Place it in a glass bowl, cover it and let it ferment overnight. It can be then refrigerated and used after 2-3 days.

A Creative Commons Image

Korean Cucumber Kimchi

Spicy Green Gazpacho | 61

A Risky Proposition


By Kiran Ken Sampat

winne r This picture was taken at the Grand Canyon South Rim (Mather Point). Sampat found it interesting that people go to such great lengths to have their pictures taken. Kiran Sampat is a Silicon Valley techie by profession and a photographer by passion and can be reached at

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 | June 2013

dear doctor

The Art of Mindful Eating By Alzak Amlani


I have gained about ten pounds in the last few months, without much change in my lifestyle. I have noticed that I am snacking more often and wanting to eat more food later into the night. It’s not that I am necessarily hungry. However, I feel like I could keep eating for hours if I let myself. It doesn’t seem normal to me. I just keep opening the refrigerator and pantry looking for something to chew. How can I stop this?


The first step is to see what in your life has changed in the last few months? Has the stress increased? Is there a major change in your relationship or family set-up? Have you moved or have there been money or health changes that are scary or difficult to cope with? Any kind of major change will often destabilize hunger and eating patterns. Increase or decrease in movement or exercise will also change metabolism and therefore interest in eating. Start to bring awareness to what you are feeling when you are in front of the fridge or cupboard. Take a moment, breathe and sense your body and feel your emotions.

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This is actually more challenging than it sounds because it is a practice that is essentially asking you to stop and feel what you are probably avoiding through eating and binging. Food is a powerful substance. Like a drug, it alters our mood, but it also has lifelong associations of nurturing and soothing. Most of us can recall times when we were upset and our parents gave us something to eat. We also saw adults drink and eat as a way to socialize and deal with difficult news. For some people food is safe sex. Many people start to get a bit lonely, bored and even down or depressed in the evenings and before bed. Food can soothe and settle people temporarily. Of course we all know about comfort foods such as khichdi, mashed potatoes and pudding. This food is a like substitute for mother’s warmth and love. Some people like to eat crunchy foods such as chips and nuts where they get to use their jaws to bite and chew more. This is a very different experience than eating soft and warm food. Mindful eating is a wonderful practice

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when you have a few minutes. Take a raisin or a slice of fruit and silently hold it, smell it and just notice its shape and size. Think about where this little piece of fruit was grown and all that it took to get it to your table. Then put it in your mouth and feel the sensation and texture. Let the flavor slowly seep into your mouth and throat before you even start chewing it. Chew slowly without letting your mind drift to more food or something else. This exercise will bring up associations, feelings, issues and impulses that will give you much insight into what is going on with your eating pattern. Look at this and learn what you can without blame or judgment. Then you can more skillfully decide how to work with your deeper needs, rather than numbing or temporarily satisfying through food. n

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the last word

Should Women Lean In or Lean On? By Sarita Sarvate


heryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, believes that women have themselves to blame for not succeeding in business and profession. That is what her opponents are saying anyway. Still, taken at face value, her message seems worth listening to. In her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, she encourages women to overcome internal psychological barriers, break out of traditional roles as nurturers and sexual partners, and climb up the corporate ladder. She wants women to stop assuming second-rate careers in anticipation of motherhood and family life. Put this way, the message is of course a no-brainer. It is clear that women do need to build confidence in negotiating their lives, be it in the corporate sector or within their families. She points out that complaints and excuses about gender bias won’t get women anywhere. Instead, Sandberg asks women to believe in themselves and give their careers their all. She asks women to “lean in” and “don’t leave So what should before you leave.” In other women do? Should words, women should not their ability to comthey relentlessly pursue doubt bine work and family, and thereby edge themselves ambition? Or should out of plum assignments they keep looking for before they even have a baby. Leaning in can proMr. Right? mote a virtuous circle, she believes. If women simply assume that they can juggle work and family, they will step forward, succeed professionally, and position themselves to ask from their employers what they need in terms of work-family balance. Women are not only insecure about their ability to step into leadership roles, she says, but they are quick to admit their weaknesses to others, something men rarely do. She encourages women to get rid of their fears and assume a confident stance. Sandberg’s critics have correctly pointed out that simply “leaning in” is not enough for women to make inroads into positions of power. Public policy is an important factor. But in the era of sequester and budget cuts, government support is waning, not rising, for working families. In times of economic hardship, companies find it easy to hire only those who have no private demands on their time. For example, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, recently announced that her employees would no longer be able to telecommute. Never a more retro policy had been coined. The truth is that in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, where traffic problems and long commutes make it impossible for most people except the very young and unattached to abide by a 8 to 5 work day, telecommuting is not just a luxury but a necessity. Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg may have families or hired help to take care of their kids, but most parents do not have that option. Not to mention that most parents do not want to miss out on important milestones in their children’s lives, like school recitals, baseball games, and swim meets. Without my parents or other family members to support me, I found it difficult to rise up the professional ladder and raise a family

64 | INDIA CURRENTS | June 2013

of four children including two stepchildren. I was forced to go on the Mommy track. Sandberg also does not address the issue of racial inequality in the workplace. Many women of ethnic backgrounds find that white women have an edge when it comes to advancement. I, myself, was once told by a manager, “We have promoted all these women so we have satisfied the affirmative action requirement; we no longer need to promote you.” The women who had been promoted were all white, of course. During workshops on diversity, I have heard people argue, “It is natural for managers to promote people like themselves,” as an excuse for not advancing women or minorities. Sandberg is right in some ways. Women are obstacles to their own progress, but not quite in the way she claims. My own observation is that when it comes to getting ahead, women are their own worst enemies. In my working life spanning nearly 35 years, I have found women managers to often be petty, rigid, and insecure. Instead of mentoring other women, they try to fit into the old boys’ network. When the rare woman manager tries to support and nurture her female employees, she is seen as soft and weak. It is also ironic that Sandberg herself did not have a female mentor but a male one in the form of Larry Summers, who, early in her career, tapped her for a post at the World Bank. Growing up in India during the post-Independence era, I was admired by my teachers and my community for my outspokenness and my ambition, but in the United States, I often found other women resenting me for these very qualities. And yet, I am glad that I progressed as far as I did, so that now I am dependent on no one for my financial security. I have the satisfaction of looking back upon an interesting, rewarding, and important technical career in the energy field. I am happy that I followed my passions, like writing, even if sometimes it meant sitting in front of a computer rather than doing arts and crafts with my children. If anything, I wish I had pursued my career with more zeal. So what should women do? Should they relentlessly pursue ambition? Or should they keep looking for Mr. Right? Should they feel incomplete if they do not have true love, perfect children, and a successful career? The truth is few people have it all. Many women are married, but unhappily so. Many find themselves inadequate as mothers. Others crave for a Prince Charming. Almost every woman I know falls short of her own expectations. Perhaps women still lack the ability to be confident and secure in their choices and the resulting outcomes and have a tendency to blame themselves when things do not work out. At the same time, simply having confidence and bolstering inner lives is not enough. Women also need to lean on society, by campaigning for telecommuting, flexible working hours, subsidized childcare, paid maternity leave, gender, racial, and ethnic equality, and male respect in love and sex. Above all, they need to lean on our society for acceptance of female assertiveness. Only then will women lead successful, and more importantly, happier lives. n Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visit


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June 2013 Southern California Edition  

India Currents Magazine June 2013 Southern California Edition

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