Racism in the Valley
The War on Contraceptives
IndiaCurrents Celebrating 25 Years of Excellence
march 2012 • vol. 25 , no .11 • www.indiacurrents.com
Daring to DREAM—how one undocumented student formed a nationwide group to help others like herself
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Dear Jaya, Welcome to the wonderful world of India Currents. As you take over the role of editor, you must be wondering what to expect from this new job. So here goes: First of all, the reports of the demise of print media are greatly exaggerated. Three years ago, when I joined this magazine, the death knell was already being rung, yet here we are, in 2012, as relevant as ever. Our upgraded website has attracted a new set of readers, but there are many, like me, for whom nothing can replace the thrill of getting a fresh copy in the mailbox, to be perused at leisure with a cup of chai. That emotion is the heart and soul of this magazine, even as we reach out to new audiences and new generations across new media. Your biggest challenge, as it was for me and the editors who came before, is to stay relevant and speak to the hyphenated identity that defines us, even as we take giant steps as a community to integrate, assimilate, belong in this country. When we seek success in the boardroom, or strive for public office, or audition for roles in mainstream television, what parts of our culture are we bringing along? What is uniquely Indian about our struggles? What defines us as separate when we are doing our best to connect? In finding that balance between Indian,
American, and Indian American, you have two powerful allies. The first is our team of writers—insightful, provocative, and thoughtprovoking; their words surprise and inform us. They write of the complications of cultural hangovers, mixed marriages, and generation gaps that cannot be spanned by bridges woven of ethnic experiences. They rue the loss of the traditions that constitute identity, and celebrate the blessings of tolerance and acceptance that are the products of diversity. Whether Indian or Indophile, they revel in the color, the pageantry, and the drama that we add to the American tapestry. Then there are our readers. I believe that the worth of a magazine is determined by the quality of its readers. In this you are truly fortunate, for you could not ask for more discerning critics, more passionate supporters. Measured in their praise and civil in their censure, they will guide you and point the way; all you have to do is listen. As you embark on this exciting journey, I am thrilled for you, but I am even happier that next month my copy of India Currents will be a beautifully wrapped, much anticipated gift, contents unknown. I can’t wait! Vidya Pradhan
Contributors: Jasbina Ahluwalia, Khorshed Alam, Roy Eugene Davis, Jeanne E. Fredriksen, Geetika Pathania Jain, Anu Kher, Anu Kumar, Rishi Kumar, Prerna Lal, Kalpana Mohan, Naresh Rajan, Teed Rockwell, Shanta Sacharoff, Monideepa Sahu, Lakshmi Santosh, Suchetha Sarathy, Mani Subramani, Kalpana Sunder, Vivek Wadhwa Cover Design: Nghia Vuong. INDIA CURRENTS® (ISSN 0896-095X) is published monthly (except Dec/Jan, which is a combined issue) for $19.95 per year by India Currents, 1885 Lundy Ave., Ste 220, San Jose, CA 95131. Periodicals postage paid at San Jose, CA, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to INDIA CURRENTS, 1885 LUNDY AVE, STE. 220, SAN JOSE, CA 95131 Information provided is accurate as of the date of going to press; India Currents is not responsible for errors or omissions. Opinions expressed are those of individual authors. Advertising copy, logos, and artwork are the sole responsibility of individual advertisers, not of India Currents. Copyright © 2011 by India Currents All rights reserved. Fully indexed by Ethnic Newswatch
india currents • march 2012 • 1
Southern California Edition
PERSPECTIVES 1 EDITORIAL: Transitions. By Vidya Pradhan 4 VOICES 6 FORUM: Should India censor social media sites? Two opinions. By Rameysh Ramdas and Mani Subramani
Undocumented, Unapaologetic, Unafraid An undocumented student shares her story of forming a nationwide group to help others like herself By Prerna Lal
ZEITGEIST: Overseas anybody. By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
BUSINESS: Racism in Silicon Valley. By Vivek Wadhwa
PERSPECTIVE: Zombie journalism. By Lakshmi Santosh
25th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: Growing older by the Golden Gate. By Kalpana Mohan
ELECTIONS 2012: Get involved for your kids. By Rishi Kumar
TAX TALK: Optimizing the 2011 tax filing season. By Khorshed Alam
REFLECTIONS: Meditate to unveil knowledge and liberate consciousness. By Roy Eugene Davis
64 THE LAST WORD BY SARITA SARVATE: The war on contraceptives.
LIFESTYLE THE HEALTHY LIFE: How to sleep well. By Suchetha Sarathy and Mona Shah
60 RECIPES: Gluten-free quickbreads. By Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff
61 RELATIONSHIP DIVA: Dilemma of the alpha woman. By Jasbina Ahluwalia
63 DEAR DOCTOR: Seeking the perfect life. By Alzak Amlani
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
The subterranean horrors of the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam By Kalpana Sunder
22 DEPARTMENTS 26 27 62 2 • india currents • march 2012
Ask a Lawyer Visa Dates Uncubed
MUSIC: The blessing and the burden of being Alam Khan. By Teed Rockwell
IN FOCUS: Young dancer Aditi Ahuja. By Anu Kher
FILMS: Review of Agneepath and Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. By Aniruddh Chawda
BOOKS: Review of The Way Things Look To Me, Life Happens and Death Too, and Zelda, the Queen of Paris. By Jeanne Fredriksen, Anu Kumar, and Geetika Pathania Jain
FICTION: Datura. By Monideepa Sahu. Katha Finalist.
WHAT’S CURRENT 46 53 59
Cultural Calendar Spiritual Calendar Classifieds
india currents • march 2012 • 3
Raywat Deonandan’s piece (The Ethics of Surrogacy, February 2012) is concise and complete. Ominous expressions like “reproductive tourism,” “assisted reproductive technologies,” “maternal surrogacy” and “wombs for rent” convey a fictional perspective to a futuristic concept. But the reality is here and now and it is the newest profession to a segment of Indian women and perhaps women elsewhere too. The women engaged in this billion dollar industry are probably correctly identified as service providers. In simple terms, a woman in the childbearing age group contractually agrees to carry a fertilized embryo from another woman, give birth, and surrender the newborn infant to the client for a fee. A key part of the agreement between the parties is a legal document called “informed consent” by the service provider to the client under specified legal conditions. But no amount of legalism can erase a mother’s instinctive bond to her child. Those of us familiar with Hindu religion can marvel at two mythological parallels. The epic Ramayana anecdotally refers to Gautama as the son of Maharshi Vasishta The son is referred to as a “kumbha–ulbhavan” which translates to a “test-tube baby” in modern parlance. The event dates back to the Dwapara yuga, which is at least 51 centuries ago. (The current year in the next yuga, Kaliyuga, is 5113 Kali.) This suggests that in vitro fertilization (IVF) was in practice then. Similarly, another amazing anecdote relating to the avatars of Vishnu narrates that, in order to mislead the evil Kamsa, his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudeva transfer her fertilized embryo to the womb of another wife of Vasudeva, Rohini, who delivers Balarama in due course. The next child of Devaki and Vasudeva is Krishna who, thus, becomes a brother of Balarama (from different mothers). Here is a case of maternal surrogacy, also practiced in Dwapara Yuga. Did we perhaps inherit an ethical edict for surrogacy and IVF from mythological times? This should be equally puzzling to non-believers as well, who will be hard-pressed to expect such projections in pure fiction. P. Mahadevan, Fullerton, CA
Yoga Is More Than Asanas
The commentary (Om My God, February 2012, web only) did not do justice to the essence of yoga. It is true that sheer commercialization ($5 billion industry) has wrecked the principles and practice of yoga. Thus, for most, it is reduced to mere physical postures. Yoga is much more than just few postures, breathing techniques, mind control, and meditation. Yoga is really the sum of all the essential, intelligent, 4 • india currents • march 2012
and activating principles of a person’s endeavor to realize a greater potential. The selfless ancient Hindu sages who developed the principles of yoga did not seek patent or copyright protections but presented the multifaceted, integrative system for the benefit of all. If one performs only the postures, the benefit derived is limited to that extent. As one progresses to the next levels, it promotes greater wellbeing. Yoga has roots in Hindu spirituality. Yoga practitioners need to follow simple, common sense principles of biomechanics the way an athletic trainer or a physiotherapist develops a training/treatment regimen to suit the state of the subject/patient. Recently on Makar Sankranti day (always on January 14), the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh organized a 15-day Suryanamaskar Yagna nationwide at schools and community centers. It received wide media coverage and official proclamations from many cities and states. Yet not a single cent was solicited or raised, as this movement is run by self-motivated modern rishis offering health for humanity. Suresh, Irvine, CA
zation is 100% non-profit, and all the money goes into donations to the poor, clothing for the divine statues, or to build more temples so some believers don’t have to commute, or to upgrade the temple for tourists who come to learn about Swaminarayan Bhagwan. You also blamed your stomachache on the food made in the cafeteria. The truth is, many people get sick from eating in India, (including me), because their stomachs aren’t used to the environment in India. It was most likely your weak immune system that didn’t adapt to the food. I had to laugh at your reference to “Swaminaryan dolls.” These aren’t dolls! They are divine idols made for Swaminaryan devotees who want to have a statue of the Lord at their home. They aren’t meant for tourists who don’t appreciate it. This article did offend a lot of people and I felt writing a rebuttal was the right thing to do. Saahil M. Patel, via email
Religion As A Political Tool
The article by Sarita Sarvate (A Hindu Mecca? Or Disneyland? February 2012) is a distorted representation of India in the 21st century. Like most people who have migrated in the 60s and 70s she seems to have remained frozen in time. As a new immigrant to the United States, I can see the difference in the outlook of people who have come here in the 70s and those who have arrived in the past decade. The author did not know what Akshardham was even though it was in the news a few years ago when the temple in Gujarat was targeted by terrorists. Swaminarayan temples have their presence all over the world and are known for their opulence. There are many Swaminarayan temples in the United States and even in the SF Bay Area! She says her eyes were glazed over by all the elaborate sculptures at the Akshardham temple. But aren’t all the ancient temples in India, including the exquisitely carved Jain temples, also known for their beautiful details and elaborate sculptures. People visit these temples (as well as Akshardham) from all over the world to marvel at their beauty. Her cousin told her that they bring their children to Akshardham to teach them Hindu values. Why is this a problem? Isn’t this common in the United States too? We all want to instill traditional Hindu values in our children and I see this more in the United States than in India. If one can capture the imagination of children with high-tech gadgetry, there should be no complaints about using modern methods. I do not see how this will turn the citizen from a patriot to a parochial fundamentalist.
The so-called secular democracies like the United States and India are hypocritical when is comes to election time. They use religion as a political tool. If you are a democracy guaranteeing freedom of expression, you cannot make exceptions like banning Salman Rushdie from the Jaipur Literary Festival. The argument that it was done for security reasons is a lame one. It is refreshing to read an editorial (The Myth Of The Secular State, February 2012) that upholds freedom of expression, a pillar of secular democracy. Lakshmi Mani, online
Get The Facts Right
In the last issue of India Currents, my mom showed me, a 14-year-old 8th grader, an article that criticized a temple known as Akshardham (A Hindu Mecca? Or Disneyland? February 2012). My family belongs to the Swaminarayan sect which runs this temple. I know that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I also believe you shouldn’t publish an article without doing your research first. I would like to point out some specific details that the author Sarita Sarvate should have known. First of all, Swaminarayan isn’t a guru. There is an enormous difference between a guru and a God. A guru is a man who has God residing in him. He is the one that will show us the path to God. Swaminarayan Bhagwan is the Lord of the universe. Second of all, Akshardham is not a money-making machine, as you call it. The organi-
Why Be Negative About India?
The author concludes by hoping that this turn towards Hindu nationalism does not lead to fanaticism. Hindu fanaticism, history tells us, has always existed—even when she was living in her country “in its day of glory past.” I just hope a depressing and negative portrayal of India will never be “the last word” in India Currents. Vijay Vaishnav, Cupertino, CA Sarita Sarvate’s article on the Akshardham temple generated many negative and personal comments online. The author responds: It is tragic that some commenters, instead of addressing specific points in my article, (A Hindu Mecca? Or Disneyland? February 2012) have chosen to attack me personally. If they had read my column properly, they would have realized that nowhere in my essay have I criticized the Hindu religion. I have simply critiqued the showbiz quality of the temple in question. The emphasis, at least while I was there, was definitely on tourism rather than prayer or worship. Hinduism traditionally has not been an organized religion, but rather a personal one. It seems to be moving more and more toward the former, which worries me. Regular readers of this magazine would also know that I am not any fonder of Catholicism or Islam or any other organized religion. And I don’t see any logic in doing something simply because others are doing it. To correct some other misconceptions, I do not make my living as a writer, but as a professional who is responsible for procuring electricity for California. I was trained as a physicist and respect Einstein. It was Einstein who said: “I do not believe in a personal God ... If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” He also said, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. ” I couldn’t agree more. Sarita Sarvate, via email
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. india currents • march 2012 • 5
Should India Put Restrictions on Social Media Content? Rameysh Ramdas
No, India should embrace Facebook and Google as a part of its strong democratic legacy.
Yes, social media sites have to take responsibility for their content.
hile the talk of the town here in Silicon Valley is on the upcoming IPO of Facebook, across the world in India, Facebook and Google are in the news for different reasons. A High Court judge in New Delhi is threatening to slap criminal sanctions on their sites for “objectionable” content and has warned them of China-style control if they do not impose a self-censorship regime. The basis for this ruling is a law passed in India last year that holds internet companies responsible for the content in their websites—a law that unfortunately does not reconcile the way that social networking or collaboration websites operate by using user-posted content. This could be dismissed as just an overzealous, lone High Court justice’s actions except that the Government of India has also unfortunately joined in with its support of possible criminal prosecution, taking exception to the caricature of political leaders by a few users of Facebook. It is unfortunate that India, long a beacon of strong democratic traditions and a vibrant free press, is now going down the path to curtail freedom of expression online. This sets an unwelcome precedent for other nations with questionable democratic commitment to follow suit. As the San Jose Mercury News editorial on February 8, 2012 opined—“The world’s largest democracy has a serious freedom of speech problem.” India now has the world’s third largest population of internet users, next only to the United States and China. Just like the cell phone revolution, internet access and the ability to collaborate online has leveled the playing field and opened up new vistas to India’s lower and middle class. According to their IP filing, Facebook has seen a doubling of their user base in India in just the past year, with more than 46 million active users. The power of Google search helps even rural children and farmers access to information and knowledge from the world over. I recently received a Facebook Friend request from the son of our family’s former maid in India—a true testament to how the internet and social collaboration websites have provided access to the rest of the world and have inspired the lower economic and educational strata to aspire to become members of the upwardly mobile urban Indian elite. While the Government of India or the courts can reasonably request that content that could jeopardize public safety or national security be removed, any moral policing on user-provided content is misguided, Instead, India can take the true moral high ground that a democratic nation could disagree with an opinion but will defend the right of every individual to state it—even on a Facebook wall!n
ocial media penetration in India is less than 5%. Despite the proposed legislation, the vast majority will have no restrictions on their freedom of expression. Any comparison of a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious democracy like India to communist China is invalid. This regulation is intended to prevent misuse of internet for inflammatory causes with potential of causing violence and threat to social harmony, according to the Daily News Agency. Is it too much to ask social media companies to react with sensitivity and understanding of the society in which they choose to exist? Recently Facebook warned that their revenues could be impacted by content censorship. Shouldn’t the content belong to the company before they can claim censorship? And if it belongs to them shouldn’t they be responsible for it? The main argument is that since users post content on social media sites, the sites themselves cannot be held responsible for the content. This is a very hollow argument, especially coming from Silicon Valley. Just imagine how EBay would have fared if it couldn’t vouch for the quality of the products of its sellers or payments by its buyers. Social media sites have thrived in a totally unregulated environment so far and have had no responsibility for side-effects of their products. For example, parents and teachers in schools around the United States now have to worry about cyber bullying. Besides, freedom of speech does have sensible limitations. As cited in the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Schenck v. United States (1919), there are some circumstances in which restrictions on freedom of speech are warranted. India, with its diverse religious and ethnic identities, is a prime example of a place where incendiary speech could arguably be regulated. Another popular argument is that it would be too onerous for social media sites to track the material posted. Given the extremely talented people who work in these companies I find this argument very weak. While user input cannot be controlled, what is published on the web can. With the advances in natural language understanding and speech recognition it is not far-fetched to imagine a situation where the content could be flagged for review by artificial intelligence algorithms. So instead of valley companies banding together and fighting various governments around the world, let them work on creating a smarter internet where anonymous hit and runs that cause mayhem and panic can be monitored and its publishers face the consequences of their irresponsible behavior. Now that is something all of us can “Like.”n
Social media websites have inspired lower economic and educational strata to join the upwardlymobile, urban Indian elite
Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
6 • india currents • march 2012
Social media sites have thrived in an unregulated environment, without responsibility for the side-effects of their products
Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
Photo Credit: Leoplus
eadlines declare expats flock to India for jobs, excitement. Interviewed Germans-turned-Delhiwallas sight “the future” in India. This is only the latest crest of the wave, still cresting—of jobs, people, companies, capital in its myriad forms—that started with outsourcing and compelled a generation of emigrants from India to return home as former immigrants. Return-to-sender, brain not drained. In Kochi, high-schoolers drink espresso at the Cocoa Tree. Starbucks is coming for them. They are ready. In the mornings, before it gets so late here that I can’t begin my reading, and before it gets so late there that the household is asleep, I sit with my coffee at my work desk and phone my grandmother. Last week, we read the same news story about Newt Gingrich and the moon. Yesterday, we watched Dhanush’s tribute to Sachin on YouTube (me) and heard it on Airtel Super Singer Junior (her). An email has already made the journey between us three or four times this morning—send, reply, forward, reply. So, in a way, we have already spoken today, and yesterday, and last week. In the afternoon, I’ll eat a snack of murukku from Grand Sweets, and my grandmother will read a New York Times bestseller. Between here and there, between Pacific Daylight and India Standard, there are too many time zones to count: Alpha, Charlie, Oscar, Papa, Armenia Summer, Tiempo del Este, Bangladesh Standard, Kuybyshev, Cuba Daylight, Romeo, Tango, Mountain Standard . . . more than one for every letter of the English alphabet, every hourly and half-hourly movement toward and away from UTC, our “Coordinated Universal Time.” We used to calculate our positions relative to Greenwich Mean Time, but UTC more ambitiously clocks the rotation of the earth, ensuring that human time doesn’t differ from the earth’s by more than 0.9 seconds, keeping time so that we don’t lose one second of it, giving us a leap second when it seems that we’re behind. On June 30 of this year, Coordinated Universal Time will give us three seconds, where normally there are two: at 11:59 p.m. we will have 59 seconds, then 60 seconds; 0 seconds, then 1. It’s a funny business, counting nanoseconds in a world of terabytes. The instruments of our technology grow ever more precise, identifying moments on sub-atomic levels and seconds in their naked singularity, as everywhere else the world grows fuzzy. In Delhi, two million people rode the metro yesterday. In Berkeley, a grocery-store owner lines shelves
with Vicco Vajradanti and watches, out the corner of his eye, a pirated Bollywood film. We have heard it so often that it becomes nauseating to repeat: “everything is available in India now.” So, too, “everything is available in the States.” You can eat McDonald’s there; you can buy dosa maavu here. We know this. The requests from family back home grow fewer. Foolishly, we pack overweight suitcases filled with gifts (American chocolate? Velcro? shampoo?) that they shrug at from over iPads. But it’s not the standardization of products that interests me. We are more than what we can buy, other than what we consume. It felt like an accomplishment to have the Naz theaters in Fremont, but does anyone honestly celebrate KFC in Aurangabad? With tongues hanging out, the likes of Wal-Mart and Tesco survey the Indian “market size” and “potential.” But just as corporations are not people, human beings are not markets. It should make our skin crawl to hear the excitement in the voice of a Starbucks executive, rapturous at the thought of half a billion mochas sold. Oh, the twin forces and internal contradictions of capitalism. On the one hand, it flattens the world, homogenizing markets as it globalizes. On the other hand, it diversifies, multiplying distinctions, demanding variation, and creating unevenness in a world of Universal Time. Often, however, the differences seem to reside on the level of Domino’s paneer pizza. This is not meaningful difference. It is just a way for a business to masquerade as authentic so that the unwitting customer feels she’s been heard before laying down her money. Everything is available here; everyone is available overseas. Tomorrow, my grandmother and I will read the same piece by Paul Krugman, syndicated to newspapers everywhere, as if there were only one op-ed that needed to be read in the world. Another blogger will announce that the future has moved to India, although it was already there, in a way, in the half day lived in advance of us, here. A one-year-old baby in Chennai friends me on Facebook, and I deactivate my account. We’ve talked for twenty minutes; my cell phone is warm in my hand. My grandmother tells me that Oprah will be introducing Aishwarya Rai’s baby to the world. We laugh about this, though I’m not sure what we find funny. I talk to my grandmothers now more often than in years before. We email and talk on the phone; once in a way we Skype, and we’re in touch daily. When my parents came to the United States in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it wasn’t even affordable to call. Now the world is small and everyone listens to Akon and the American “O” is hanging out with India’s “Big B.” Maybe we laugh, as they say, to keep from crying. Because despite all the ways that global technologies and media have advanced connections, we remain so very far apart. When everything around you conspires to demonstrate closeness and equivalence, the substantive difference of distance is magnified. The disembodied voice on the other side of the line might as well come from outer space. And how painful it is to say goodbye to a two-dimensional face with the click of an x in the corner of a screen. Did they know, I ask my grandmother, what they were doing when they left home, when they left India to come to the United States? Did they know how far it would be? I knew, she says.n Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.
india currents • march 2012 • 7
Racism in Silicon Valley Women are not the only underrepresented minority in the Silicon Valley “meritocracy”
n the May 2011 article “The Non-existent Gender Divide,” I had discussed the dearth of women in technology and the way it polarizes Silicon Valley. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, in 2008, blacks and Hispanics constituted only 1.5% and 4.7% respectively of the Valley’s tech population—well below national techpopulation averages of 7.1% and 5.3%. You hardly find any blacks in positions of leadership in Silicon Valley companies. There is at least an unconscious bias. One of my Duke students, a black woman, Viva Leigh Miller, approached me in March 2010 to help her get a job in Silicon Valley. I have taught more than 300 really smart students at the Duke Masters of Engineering Management program, and Viva was one of the best. With a high GPA, many awards, and degrees in science and mathematics from top colleges in the United States, I couldn’t imagine that Viva would have any difficulty gaining multiple job offers. I was sure she would one day become a hotshot CEO. But Viva couldn’t get a job in the Valley—despite introductions that I gave her to leading venture capitalists (VCs). I could never understand why. During my tech days, I would have hired Viva in a heartbeat. She had the determination, drive, and education that all tech companies look for. Discussing the dearth of black in Silicon Valley is an even bigger taboo than discussing women. I learned this the hard way by having a frank discussion with black entrepreneurs that was recorded by CNN and aired in a documentary titled “Black in America.” In the interview, I relayed my own experience building a tech company in the deep South of the United States. When I was looking for funding for my second startup, local VCs wouldn’t return my phone calls, even though I’d previously helped build a public company with $120 million in annual revenue. In Silicon Valley, an entrepreneur with credentials like mine would have had dozens of VCs knocking on his door. The advice that other successful Indians gave me was to have a “white guy” on my management team who would deal with the VCs. My company was growing rapidly, and I needed to hire a president and chief operating officer. So I hired a white guy for that role, and killed two birds with one stone. After that, it was easy raise 8 • india currents • march 2012
millions of dollars. After a pre-screening of the documentary, a heated discussion broke out on Twitter about the documentary and my comments. TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington, who is considered to be the tech industry’s most influential blogger, tweeted: “the Indian guy is viveck (sic). he always plays the victim card.” When I confronted Arrington on his comment, he retorted: “@wadhwa you got rich starting companies in America. I don’t understand why you then complain you weren’t given a chance.” He insisted “there’s negative bias in [Silicon Valley]. VCs are dying to invest in women & minorities just so they don’t have conversations like this.” Arrington then “blocked” and “unfollowed” me on Twitter— the ultimate social media insult. In the documentary, Arrington had said that he didn’t know a single black entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Then he said that he had once put one black entrepreneur on stage at a TechCrunch event—but would have done the same even if the black entrepreneur had been running a “clown show.” These are blunt comments, and they exemplify the dark side of Silicon Valley: that it is composed of an elite group of power brokers totally ignorant of the hurdles faced by minority groups. Venture capitalists routinely tout their “patternrecognition” abilities—they say they know a successful entrepreneur when they see one. Sadly, the patterns they see merely represent those who have achieved success in the past: typically young, white males. Silicon Valley is indeed a meritocracy for those who meet these criteria. But others— the blacks, women, and Hispanics—find it an private club from which they are excluded. The good news is that these obstacles can be surmounted. First, let’s stop pretending that the tech industry is perfect and admit that there is a problem. All of us have biases, whether we realize it or not. Research published in September 2011 by the Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI) revealed that hidden biases within the I.T. workplace caused women and blacks to have negative workplace experiences far more often than their male and white counterparts. They were more likely to say they had difficulty balancing their work and family responsibilities, had been excluded by cliques, or were bullied. Not surprisingly, this leads to lower job satisfaction and increased
Let’s stop pretending that the tech industry is perfect and admit that there is a problem. Silicon Valley is indeed a meritocracy for young, white males. But others—the blacks, women, and Hispanics—find it an private club from which they are excluded. turnover among members of these groups, creating a significant cost for employers and a loss of talent for the sector. LPFI founder Freada Klein says that to fix the bias problem, corporations need to systematically collect anonymous data from employees on their perceptions and experiences. Otherwise, she says, there is no way for hidden biases to become apparent. She says that companies need to create a workplace culture in which differences are respected and people can speak up about inadvertent, unintended bias or exclusion. A critical mass of underrepresented groups is important; one or two token hires will always be in the spotlight. It’s obviously unfair to ask one person to represent an entire gender or race, and the pressure to do so has been shown to lead to
Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. You can follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa and find his research at www.wadhwa.com.
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stilted performance. Companies should always hire the most qualified candidates regardless of race and gender. But because of hidden biases, they don’t always make the right decisions. Telle Whitney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, says that companies should interview at least one woman and member of a minority group for every open position. Simply ensuring that recruiting efforts include a diverse slate of candidates can substantially affect team composition, she says. And there should be at least one woman and minority-group member on the hiring team. Academic research has shown that people tend to hire those who are similar to them. The current demographics of the hiring team and company can therefore influence the outcome of hiring. In the startup world, success is all about networks and mentors. Learning from people with experience and getting introductions to investors and customers can make a huge difference. This is where the success of Indian immigrants in Silicon Valley provides valuable lessons. By establishing their own mentoring networks and actively helping each other, Indians were able to transcend discrimination and stereotypes and become the dominant group of immigrant company founders. Despite constituting only 6% of Silicon Valley’s working population in 2000, this group founded 15.5% of the Valley’s startups in 1995–2005. The first generation of successful founders took it upon themselves to teach and mentor the next generation. This is a model that all other groups can emulate. The venture capitalists that startups meet with have their own biases. These firms are dominated by white males—mostly from elite institutions such as Stanford, Harvard, and Cornell. The interns there are recruited from the same schools. These firms should make a conscious effort to recruit from second- and third-tier colleges—particularly those with large minority populations. And yes, they will find extremely bright, capable people from these schools. This diversity in VC firms will help change perceptions and stereotypes and will open the door for members of groups that are always left out. Despite all the issues I have raised, I still believe that Silicon Valley is the most open, inclusive place in the world. There are hurdles. But once you cross these, the Valley readily accepts you. I know of no evidence of deliberate intent to exclude people on such arbitrary bases as their sex or color. Rather than arising from conscious prejudices, the bias that is rife in the Valley is based on simple ignorance. This can be fixed—and groups that are left out can share the economic bounties that the tech industry offers.n
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Undocumented, Unapologetic, Unafraid By Prerna Lal
walked into the San Francisco Immigration Court for my initial deportation hearing right before Christmas 2011. The courtroom was packed with immigrants mostly from India and Mexico, awaiting their deportation to countries they had left behind years ago. One by one, they stepped up; someone entered a plea for asylum, someone asked for more time, and many others accepted their fate: imminent separation from their family members. When they came to my name on the docket, I took a seat next to my attorney, fully prepared to hear and battle the charges against me.
10 â€˘ india currents â€˘ march 2012
o the average desi, illegal immigration is a “Hispanic” problem. Indeed, from the rhetoric that swirls around this issue, one gets the sense that every undocumented immigrant has skulked across the Mexican border at night, desperate to milk the American welfare state and steal good old American jobs (an argument whose efficacy seems to be uncorrelated with its inconsistency!) But the undocumented have many stories to tell—of escaping persecution in their homeland, of arriving as employees and staying on past their visa expiry dates because of their ties to this country, of unscrupulous employers and terrible immigration attorneys mishandling their cases. Or, as in my case, arriving as a child and “aging out” before I could petition to change my status. And yes, Indians cross the border from Mexico too. After Latin Americans, Indians are the largest group of immigrants caught at the Southwest border. And we’ve been doing this since the late 1800s—entering the United States without inspection through Mexico and Canada.
he Notice to Appear (NTA) document read, “She entered the country around November 13, 1999 and was authorized to stay till November 10, 1999.” The Honorable judge smiled. “Well, obviously that is wrong. Would you like to suggest a friendly amendment?” The government lawyer shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m not clear. It says in my files that she entered at or around May 2000. Is that not true?” The attorney assigned to represent me looked sideways at me with her eyebrow raised. I returned the raised eyebrow and shook my head. “That’s not true,” she countered. “In that case, I don’t know what the facts are,” the government attorney declared in apparent frustration. I don’t blame him. A lot has happened in the past 13 years that his job as a prosecutor would never allow him to consider beyond arrival and departure dates. From what I can recall, I was around 14 when my father decided to pack our belongings and move us to the San Francisco Bay Area all the way from the islands of Fiji. He said he was running away from years of ethnic violence against Indians in Fiji. The rest of us did not have his sense of urgency but he wanted out and it didn’t matter if anyone else understood. I’ve often wondered about his reasons but no longer think the question holds any relevance.
old dreary weather gave me a warm welcome to the United States. We came to live with one of my uncles in Hayward, CA. I was enrolled in a public high school and expected to pick up right where I had left off, as if nothing had changed. My grandmother—a U.S. citizen—filed papers for us and I was told
not to worry about immigration matters. My older sister had been studying here on an F-1 student visa and there was no reason to believe that I couldn’t do the same upon graduation from high school, and then eventually adjust my status to a green-card holder. In hindsight, South Asians would ask me why I wasn’t smart enough to just stay on a student visa. It’s actually illegal to attend a public high school in the United States on an F-1 visa without compensating the school, and I couldn’t afford that. Besides, I was a dependent on my father’s visa and attended high school legally. I ended up graduating near the top of my class with admission to attend several reputable schools but discovered that I was unable to accept any of the offers because the newly formed United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied my application for a student visa. Apparently, the visa petition filed by my grandmother when I was brought here was evidence of immigrant intent. In order to be an F-1 international student, I had to prove ties to my former country. USCIS emphatically declared in their denial letter that I was unable to prove any ties to Fiji and that the visa petition filed for my parents by my grandmother meant that I intended to live here. The irony in all of this is that had they allowed me to study here in legal status, I would have probably left the country after college. However, because I started to accrue “unlawful presence” due to the visa rejection, leaving the country triggered a senseless 10-year ban. I became someone who could neither live here nor leave here. I became undocumented.
hat is how a lot of South Asian immigrants live in America. We make up a significant number of the undocumented immigrant pop-
ulation in the United States but we are also conditioned to stay silent and remain fearful about our status. For a long time, I lived in fear of my life. Afraid to go to hospital when I broke my hand, afraid to talk about the abuse I underwent at home, afraid to ask for help if I was involved in an accident, afraid to tell teachers and friends in college that I was undocumented and needed financial support, afraid to apply for jobs or seek scholarships out of fear that someone would find out and report me to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). My mother constantly told me not to worry about my immigration status. According to her, all I had to do was work hard and go to school, and things would eventually sort themselves out. With the little money she had saved up from cleaning hotel rooms and working a fast-food job, she bought a small cleaning business. She enrolled me in a local community college. The college was more than happy to take me even without the proper immigration paperwork. I would go to school in the day and work for the cleaning business till the crack of dawn. I didn’t have work authorization. I was paying out of state tuition for school with no access to student loans. I could not drive so I would bike and take public transportation up to six hours daily to get to college. I had no identification besides a passport with a photo that no longer resembled me, so I could not travel. For a long time, I dealt with these barriers by compartmentalizing them and throwing myself into my studies.
worked hard and somehow graduated from college and graduate school before I was 22. By then, I had spent my entire adult life looking over my shoulder, waiting for the axe to india currents • march 2012 • 11
to complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning, they would obtain temporary residency for a six year period. The legislation went nowhere for several years and was later tied to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 and the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) as low-hanging fruit. With the failure of “comprehensive reform” legislation, Senator Dick Durbin (Ill.), the chief proponent of the DREAM Act in the Senate, made its passage a priority for his office.
Prerna, right, at a rally
come down on the life we were leading in this country. Fortunately, my parents finally became eligible for a green card and we went to a lawyer’s office to file for adjustment of status. Then a new wrinkle appeared. “What do you mean, she aged out?” my mom asked the lawyer, perplexed. “She is too old now to qualify for a green card with you. You would need to file for her again separately, after getting your green card. She will have to wait in line again. Alternatively, there’s always the DREAM Act (a piece of proposed legislation that would give certain undocumented youth brought to the United States before the age of 16 a pathway to legal residency).” “How many more years does she have to wait? She has already waited 8 years for her green card.” “7-8 more years. There is no way to tell. Maybe she should consider getting married.” “I keep telling her to find a boy,” my mother said, agreeing with the lawyer. “She has plenty of time. Just make sure he
12 • india currents • march 2012
is a U.S. citizen.” It hurt. Up to that point in time, I had kept quiet about the fact that I was gay. I’m sure my parents knew but they refused to acknowledge it. Depressed, lonely, and frustrated with living multiple lies, I tried to kill myself on several occasions. When my mother and sister started to look for prospective husbands for me, I decided that the only way to put an end to it was to be as out as possible. The best way to protect myself was to break through the barrier of invisibility. And that was the first step to breaking my chains.
he DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act is a proposal that was first introduced in the U.S. Senate on August 1, 2001. This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain undocumented youth of good moral character who graduated from U.S. high schools or gain a GED, arrived in the United States before the age of 16, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. If they were
n October 2007, after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act once yet again, I met other undocumented youth like me on an online portal, who were willing to do more than just sit around in fear and live in the shadows. There was Mohammad Abdollahi, brought here from Iran at the age of three, whose attorney had filed the wrong fee for his dad’s work visa and then failed to appeal the adverse decision, which made the entire family undocumented; Kemi Bello, brought here at the age of six from Nigeria by her mom because her severely handicapped sister could only get medical treatment in this country. I found and created family in these students. Little did I know that the family I was created through email, GChat, Facebook, and phone conversations would evolve into an entire network of fierce and envied immigrant rights activists in just a few short months. With the little cash I had from doing odd jobs, I bought a web domain—DreamActivist.org—and started working on building a website to act as both a resource and action center for undocumented youth. The Internet allows users to be anonymous, so it was a safe way to gather and share our stories while protecting our identities, meet other undocumented youth in the same state and forge friendships as well as alliances. I traveled to dozens of states, teaching undocumented youth across the country how to use the web and social media to share their stories. Immigrant rights organizations started noticing our growing network and reached out to us to speak at events and conferences across the country. After all, we were building the very base that they purport to fight for and support with their money. Currently, we have more than 13,000 followers on Twitter, 80,000 on Facebook, and over 100,000 members on the mailing list and growing—a network that even multi-million dollar immigration reform campaigns have been unable to match. With the support of an entire community behind me, I was no longer afraid to take on the system. So when the largest newspaper in the country, USA Today, decided to brand us as “illegal students,” I wasn’t going to allow them to get away with it. The label “illegal” has a way of dehumanizing the person involved, and from there it is a quick step to creating an unknown and amorphous bogey-
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man who is responsible for all the ills befalling citizens. I directed thousands of emails and calls to the newspaper asking them to change their discourse. A retraction was printed within days and the reporter quit her job a little later. Inspired by the small campaign, Colorlines, a news site focusing on issues of racial justice, launched their “Drop the I-word” campaign, asking media professionals to stop using the word.
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hrough my work, I found other undocumented South Asian students in various parts of the country. One such student was Taha, who was brought here at the age of two and lived in New Jersey for 16 years. He was being deported back to Bangladesh in less than a week. But due to the shame and stigma of being undocumented, his family wanted no media exposure. We had to launch a behind-the-scenes campaign, urging his Senators to stop his impending deportation and directing a few thousand faxes to the Department of Homeland Security. Senator Robert Menendez wrote to the Department of Homeland Security on Taha’s behalf, requesting that they defer action on Taha’s deportation because “our nation benefits more by his presence than by his absence.” Indeed, one recent UCLA study estimates that between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion in taxable income would be generated for the economy over a 40-year period by DREAM Act beneficiaries successfully obtaining resident status through the legislation. A week later, at a June 2009 United We Dream governance convening, I learned that Taha and his family had been granted deferred action—a stay of removal that authorizes a person to live and work in the United States. That amazing realization that we could now stop any deportation holds mostly true to this day.
ince then, immigrant rights organizers and attorneys across the country have banded together to halt deportations in similar cases. Every week, friends, families and organizers gather to fax, email, call, and arrange meetings with officials in the Obama Administration. Some of this momentum has led to the formation of new organizations with numerous local alliances, such as the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) in Chicago. Undocumented students have started to realize that their growing numbers 14 • india currents • march 2012
and visibility actually help their cause. Undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic is the new mantra of the movement. As part of this movement we attend City Council hearings, organize educational workshops for community members, hold rallies, and lobby legislators to support the DREAM Act. The more courageous ones partake in civil disobedience actions—from hunger strikes to shutting down streets to occupying Congressional offices to placing themselves in detention to gather evidence of ICE abuses against detainees.
ut in the open, nothing seems to be impossible. We have stopped hundreds of deportations. We have found ways to get undocumented youth employed by creating limited liability companies. We have creat-
ed Undocuhealth.org to battle the shame, stigma, and stress of being an undocumented youth. And I have embarked in my own form of civil disobedience—placing myself in deportation proceedings while attending law school in the nation’s capital. Given the current immigration court backlogs in San Francisco and the pending litigation with regards to my case, I probably won’t be scheduled for an individual deportation hearing till 2015. By that time, I should actually be able to get a green card through my mother. Till then, I am “an alien authorized to work” in the United States. I did pay a heavy price. My mother was hospitalized upon hearing about my impending deportation and she is now suffering from depression. My father does not speak to me because I am openly gay. As a poster child for the DREAM Act, I have a tougher time gaining and keeping employment because people assume that my undocumented status means that I don’t have work authorization or clearance, which is a classic case of job discrimination. I’m not writing this to garner widespread sympathy or empathy regarding my deportation. I am writing this story to ask everyone to live their lives as honestly and openly as possible because living in the shadows and hiding our problems doesn’t do anything for us as a community. My experience has clearly shown me that finding people in the same situation as me and working together to fight the system has been tremendously successful. Some would deride my personal journey and battle as a sense of entitlement. Some would extoll the courage and conviction I have displayed in the face of adversity. I’d peg it down spending half my life figuring out how to keep my family together by making a broken immigration system work for us. I sometimes question whether the struggle has been worth it but my dream is to sit on the beaches of Fiji sipping coconut water with a green-card in my wallet. n Prerna Lal is a law student at The George Washington University Law School and the cofounder of DreamActivist.org. She can be reached at Prerna@ dreamactivist.org
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s journalism dying? Is the party over? Perhaps those of us that keep writing are the stragglers at the end of the night—insisting on sticking around as the host takes down the streamers and collects the empty cups. Actually, journalism is dead. But halfway through the autopsy one of its legs started twitching. It leapt from the laboratory table flailing its arms from side to side. Purposefully, it limped towards the open door. It stood blinking in the sunlight as passerby stopped to stare. Yes, this is it: the zombie of journalism. Pieces of new media—blogs, microblogs like Twitter, news compilation sites like Digg, and even social networks like Facebook are cobbled together onto the leftover torso of print media. This ugly brute is the new journalism—a slightly rabid, incongruent creature who behaves little like the polished gentlemen he once was.
n some ways the zombie journalism performs its functions better than the old. It might prove to be a better watchdog on politics than the notoriously elitist media outlets of yore, controlled by a small number of people and sometimes fed by one particular political party. While the Wikileaks phenomenon would be classified more as activism than journalism, the discoveries published on the site were initially propagated over blogs and lesser-known media streams before being picked by the larger players. Low barriers to entry to online publishing open multiple avenues to writers looking to find consumers for their content. Websites like Jezebel and Curbed.com target a specific niche of people with an interest in particular topics. Jezebel states that it follows “Celebrity, sex, and fashion...without airbrushing.” while Curbed.com is a popular real estate site covering upscale residences. This allows for specialization and depth. Even online news sites have begun taloring themselves to attract particular kinds of readership. At the same time, having so many news sources creates a hyper-competitive atmosphere. And when this is combined with the speed of information exchange it can create frenzies of media coverage, such as during a crisis. News of a country’s default or stock market crash spread faster than ever. This can create a panic which is difficult to control especially when people get their news from a disaggregated collection of sources that are sometimes trying to outdo each other in 16 • india currents • march 2012
sensationalism. This can lead to a misdirected flurry of information that can be inflammatory. It seems the zombie doesn’t quite know what to gnash its teeth into sometimes.
here is one more problem for zombie journalism—and that is making money. This can be seen most dramatically when well-known magazines like U.S. News and World Report, Businessweek, and Newsweek shut down, declared bankruptcy, or restructured/merged with other media entities. Others, like the New York Times, have been forced to reduce newsroom staff. It’s still possible for journalists to join the flood of content on the internet. Throw your hat into the ring or your username into the blogosphere. But while numerous feisty models for online news have sprung up, many support only a handful of writers. Some of these operations are blog aggregators that provide a platform for professionals, politicians, and experts in various fields to reach their audience. ScienceBlog is compilation of blogs by scientists while Huffington Post, which chiefly provides a news service, also has celebrities and businesspeople blogging on their site. However, blog aggregators are often unable to compensate contributors in the same way as news outlets and magazines. Most bloggers, as a result, usually have a paying occupation other than blogging. For those who want to be full-time journalists, networks like Patch.com and Gothamist employ a cohort of writers to report on arts and culture, news, and politics in suburban and urban neighborhoods. But even these enterprises have been unable to grow to the size of existing media giants. But their entry has added to the shake-up of old media, with larger publishing groups struggling to make profits.
espite their financial woes, the old guards of journalism, known mostly for their print product, still function as the center of the new journalism environment. While many newspapers and magazines could benefit from beefing up their online presence and making their content available on multiple devices, the larger publications still set the agenda for the type of news and topics that are covered. This is partly because they are often the only ones with enough resources to cover some of the stories. The expose on the Koch brothers that the New Yorker ran last
Writers will be able to manage their content and own it in a way that they haven’t before. But the responsibilities of generating revenue will shift to them as well. year is something that a smaller operation might not find feasible. Established organizations are also better able to withstand any backlash an investigation may produce. Finally, they grant a stamp of credibility to whatever issue they are covering. People writing during this new phase of journalism should carry with them an entrepreneurial outlook. Writers will be able to manage their content and own it in a way that they haven’t before. But the responsibilities of generating revenue will shift to them as well. Journalists will be producers of content seeking storefronts in the form of news sites, magazines, and blogs. Writes may simultaneously contribute to websites like iVillage and Salon.com while maintaining a blog of their own. Some authors already have an online following and they take advantage of a variety of portals when reaching their audience. The winners and losers from this arrangement are yet to be seen but journalism continues. The zombie marches on, his locked legs shifting back and forth. And while he does alarm people with his haggard appearance, that’s only because he is both dead and alive. n Lakshmi Santhosh worked as a researcher at the San Francisco Business Times and is currently working towards a Master’s in Biotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania.
india currents • march 2012 • 17
25 years Growing Older By The Golden Gate By Kalpana Mohan
emma, why won’t you cook fresh for my son every morning, even when your mother-in-law and I are back in India?” my father-in-law asked me three years ago when he visited us in the United States. The question was innocuous at first sip, like the first taste of pepper in a mulligatawny soup. In minutes, however, it stung. When a man assumes that I was born to hold a spoon or a ladle, I begin to shudder. I morph. When I smell the faintest whiff of male chauvinism, I become the eighteen-handed Hindu demoness: behold Durga, brandishing a weapon in each hand. My spoon unfurls into a dagger. My fork transmogrifies into a trident, its middle prong elongating fast. My pestle bloats into a mace. My knife twists into a pen with a jalapeno nib. My tongue stretches and curls. “I’m a writer in the day,” I told him that morning, in a voice with a serrated edge. “My kitchen will be closed in the morning. My husband, your son, may eat at Subway.”
This is I, Kalpana Mohan, the warrior daughter-in-law who plays a duel role in the home. I am the Occupier. I am the Occupied. That pepperjack me is an upgraded version–after an arranged marriage, an American graduate degree, two children, half a dozen parking tickets, half a dozen speeding tickets, three surgeries, two whiplash injuries, four property moves, four cars, many cordless phones from Costco, $500 in Santa Clara Country library fines, countless mammograms, many margaritas and mojitos, innumerable pap smears, twenty department store cards, a dozen close friends, sciatica, many acupuncture visits, and 1200 Facebook friends. But most of all, this is I, the writer, after a half century of a hyphenated life as an Indian and an American on the global stage. And for my voice, for my point of view and for my courage in all my dealings, day after day, to do what I do and say what I say, I thank India Currents, the very first publication in the United States that gave my mind a forum and my pen a page.
’ve lived in the SF Bay Area for 27 years, longer than I’ve lived in India. In that time, I’ve grown older and fatter, just like the India Currents magazine. I remember how IC looked when I first wrote for it: like me, it was eager, lean and mean, and several ounces lighter. It had fewer advertisements and far less savvy and wisdom on its pages. Like this publication, I had little to talk about in the eighties. Today, three decades after I first rolled my hing-filled suitcases through the green channel at the San Francisco International, I realize that I, too, have a lot I can advertise. “Want to know the secret to a stable marriage? Worry NoMo. Consult with KalMo.” “Want to know about the best music teachers in the Silicon Valley? Call 1-800-TIGERMOM.” Heck, full-page ads aren’t enough for me these days because I have so much to say. I need to rent space. I need billboards with lights–the glittering, holographic kind that litter US 101 en route to San Francisco.
n so many ways, the evolution of this magazine has been tied to my own personal revolution–as a woman, as a mother, and as a writer. After ten years in the infinite loop of a programmer’s life, I decided that all I wanted to do was to write. IC gave me my first break. I began my journey into the world of letters by writing about my year in Paris: “Of Pooshnikkais and Paris” (November 1999) was my story about finding a little bit of home in the City of Love. Since then I’ve freelanced for many other magazines and newspapers. I’ve learned many different aspects of the writing craft while working with editors at various local, regional, and national publications. I held the notion in the early days that I must write exclusively for mainstream publications to establish myself as a “real” writer. What I discovered, along the way, was that the more I wrote for consumer magazines, the more I began selling my soul to the devil. They seemed to care little for the individuality of the writer. They cared only about their bottom line and their personality. An experience with one of my writing assignments at a national magazine still stands out in my mind. I got paid a handsome amount per word for the job; but the editor took my submission (an essay), stripped it of everything but its research, smothered any sorry shriek of a voice 18 • india currents • march 2012
that might leap into view between the words and published his essay in which the only thing that was honestly mine was my name as printed in the byline. That was one of the turning points of my writing life. Since then, I have refused to write for anyone who will not publish me the way I intended myself to be heard. The truth is that no publication has trusted my voice and respected my writing in the way that India Currents has. Its editors have become my lifelong friends. And, month after month, I’ve gleaned small and big things about being Indian in the diaspora through the wonderful, colorful, writers whose voices rise from the pages of this publication.
uring the years I’ve written for India Currents, I’ve fussed over two awkward children and a wayward husband, made human beings of them, fed them beans curry and rasam at home, yelled at them like a witch when they didn’t do their part in the house, locked my daughter in the garage so she would introspect and practice her abhinaya pieces before her arangetram, locked my son in his room so he would practice his music, slipped into jeans and sat around with baseball mothers never knowing when to clap and cheer, slaved over my daughter’s science project at Challenger School and then turned offensive when she did not get first prize, whipped up the first version of my children’s college essays which they vomited over (after telling me that I must get a life and not leak into theirs), screamed at my husband for uploading photographs while not unloading dishes from the dishwasher, and posted statuses on Facebook announcing the same. Mostly, I wrote about what I was seeing, hearing and living. I wrote about Karnatik music in “Karnatik Revival,” (May 2008) and its resurrection in the 90s and beyond, thanks to the interest of Indians in the United States. When my mother passed away after a threeyear battle with cancer, I wrote how her death had torn the sails of our family frigate. “A Queen Flies The Coop”(July 2007) was hard to write; I had to work on it between memories, regrets, and sniffles. Then I wrote about entrepreneurship. I was astounded by Mani Krishnan’s pluck and creativity in finding fulfillment and money, in that order, in the business of food. “Desi Food Nation” (March 2008) made the cover and, for a while, that story was hotter than the dosas at Bangalore’s MTR.
t rare moments, I do feel a soupcon of regret for having shunned a predictable monthly paycheck to write full-time for money that, in my father-in-law’s opinion, wouldn’t be enough to buy a two-ply package of Charmin toilet tissue. He was right, after all. But I’ve been fortunate enough to be the wife of a man who was smart enough to pay the bills and eccentric enough for me to write
about my maniacal life with him. I’ve been lucky in raising two children who had the sense of humor to grow up around a mother who was missing more than a byte or two in her registers. “If I’m weird and nasty, I’m happy to say it’s all thanks to my mom. Proud of you, dear mother!” my daughter wrote after she saw a particularly stinging post of mine below someone’s photograph on Facebook. I quickly ran to delete my post but the damage was done. But the friend didn’t care. “We’re friends,” she wrote back. And really, what else could she expect from me, of all people, anyway? Now those are the sorts of friends I’ve made far, far away in the United States where friends often end up replacing relatives and taking over our lives.
ndia Currents celebrates its 25th anniversary this year; I’ve been celebrating my 50th. On my birthday last October, my friends of the last three decades in the San Francisco Bay Area made puree out of me. They diced me. They sliced me. They braised me and claimed they praised me. They raked up all the sexual innuendos for which I had become infamous. They made chutney out of me using habanero chilies and tamarind, with sugar on the side. My husband, the eternal paparazzi, shared 70,423 photographs of me having the time of my life so my relatives and friends around the world could partake in the dressing down of a woman who had given so many friends and relatives hellish over-the-hill memories. I remember how I was assaulted by fears of my own mortality in the days leading up to that big birthday. That same week, a friend’s husband who was buckling to brain cancer took a turn for the worse. The Monday of that week, I was at a cremation service for an acquaintance who, within eight months, lost the battle to advanced lung cancer at 48. More and more, I find myself in memorial services as I enter the golden years in my adopted land. The memorial service for Susie Nagpal, a Saratoga councilwoman whom I had just got to know, became my inspiration for a timely discussion on the topic of death. “Rites of Passage” (February 2011), a service piece I wrote on the logistics of death, became an important piece for IC’s readers. Life in the Silicon Valley can be serene, despite the material cacophony wrought by success and competition. For me, it has meant a quiet life away from the din I had been used to in India, away from the roar of traffic, the yelp of stray dogs, the prattle of street fights or the sudden blare of a dappankuthu song. Suburban America has offered my family a clinical existence, one stripped clean, as you can see, of sound and smell and roadside brawls. But life within the four walls of our home hasn’t been all détente and roses. On many days, our family room feels like Tahrir Square.
In so many ways, the evolution of this magazine has been tied to my own personal revolution–as a woman, as a mother, and as a writer. When our daughter arrives on her break from college, don’t come home. It’s World War III at the Mohans and the word “nuclear” means fission, not fusion. India Currents has been privy to those landmines, thanks to Pavithra Mohan, our daughter, who educated Indian American parents on what they needed to know about teenagers growing up in America. I heard her frustrations with me through IC’s pages and especially in these times when she has been far away, I have tried to listen more, judge less and support her through challenging times.
s a writer, I’ve cherished the freedom I’ve had to speak my mind. My husband has—while lamenting every April about my not pulling the financial cart—become a friend, philosopher, guide, banker, and photographer in my writing career. He has taught me that becoming the best in one’s profession is often about networking, building bridges, and forging mutually beneficial friendships with rivals. I’ve realized that the only way to become better is by encouraging others and being encouraged. And so, every few days, I’m at a writing group where we’re discussing one another’s stories, or at a reading where I’m learning something more about the process of writing and publishing, or at a social meeting with colleagues over wine or coffee just for the heck of it. These friends and mentors, along with my husband, have allowed me to dream about writing the book that’s in my heart, a collection of narratives about India. I do, of course, worry about this new post50, post-intermission segment of my life. If I go first, will my husband water the curry leaf plant in our home that I tend to with love, multi-vitamins and expired folic acid? How will he spend my IC check should it, perchance, arrive posthumously? Who will take over my weekly blog posts at saritorial.com? The problem is that life is complicated, long after we ride into the sunset with Yama. Still, whatever happens, I hope I’ll keep laughing, and writing, until my screen goes black.n Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga. To read more about her, go to http://kalpanamohan.org and http://saritorial.com. india currents • march 2012 • 19
Get Involved For Your Kids We will never truly integrate if we are not involved in the political process
here I was, doing a precinct walk in a small suburban town in Northern California, armed with campaign flyers, a badge, and lawn signs sitting in the trunk of my car. My mind flashed back to a nostalgic moment in Bombay when a bunch of us 6th graders watched an election jeep go by, interrupting our cricket match, and raising a flurry of dust on a humid summer day. There were election signs all over our town—slogans imprinted on boundary walls and light poles. The wannabe politician went by, waving and signing “Namaste.” The intention was to display humility, an effect somewhat marred by the “campaign team” standing by menacingly. It was an impressive spectacle, but politics could get ugly and even outright dangerous in those days. It was not surprising that politics and I were poles apart. Since then I have been a city commissioner, campaign manager, and consider myself completely entrenched in local city issues in my city of Saratoga. What led to this transition? Why did I get involved in local politics? The contrast between Indian and American politics is glaring, in spite of both being large democracies. I have discovered that politics is palatable in the United States and getting involved to make a difference is not that difficult.
ollowing the American dream was the mantra for many of us who came to this country after engineering school. The American political system was far from my mind as I focused on acing my grades, maintaining my research assistantship, winning season tickets to watch UCONN basketball, and listening to Aerosmith. I had just defended my Masters thesis in 1992 and was floundering around as I worked on my Ph.D. when I bumped into a presidential campaign stop in Storrs, CT. Jerry Brown, the current Governor of California, was then running in the Democratic primaries. It was my first introduction to a political rally, and I noted the interest his arrival had raised on my college campus. The auditorium was packed with students. In those days I was the epitome of apathy for all things political, but I was intrigued. In 1993, when I interned at a local company, I helped an Indian American friend lobby his state and local representatives to get his wife permission to immigrate to the 20 • india currents • march 2012
Rishi (far right) with the late Susie Nagpal campaigning outside Gene’s Fine Foods in Saratoga
United States a tad faster than the process mandated. I learned a very important lesson; our locally elected representatives are accessible and will listen.
ast forward a few years to my move to the Silicon Valley. As a newly anointed U.S. citizen, I wanted to get “involved” and understand the process. I heard about an Indian American candidate who was running for city council in my town. In a small town like Saratoga, being part of the election campaign seemed very feasible and I felt that the proceedings would be run with decorum. I rolled up my sleeves and joined the campaign team. Over the next few weeks, we strategized and brain-stormed ways to get our candidate elected. It was a little bit like the one-eyed dude leading the blind, but we leveraged our contacts. After all, it takes a village to win an election. The process was very energizing, and I had tasted blood. As a result I developed an interest in Saratoga’s local issues. Every week, I opened up the local Saratoga News, poring over happenings, issues, and letters. I found that I truly cared for my adopted town. That experience eventually stoked an in-
terest to apply for a city commission position. I was probably more surprised than anyone else when I was appointed Saratoga’s Planning Commissioner. I learned about Saratoga’s land use issues along with the complexity of local politics. I met a fellow commissioner, Susie Nagpal, who had decided to make a run for city council. Susie and I crafted a road-map for her campaign together. I ran a lot of the rudimentary behind-the-scenes, day-to-day campaign tasks. I helped organize the precinct walk, the campaign retail presence, and campaign sign placements. Our inevitable victory turned out to be a bittersweet memory as Susie slowly succumbed to lung cancer. But Susie was a trail-blazer, and her run has opened doors for many Indian Americans in subsequent years. In the next election, Pragati Grover decided to run for the city council spot. As her campaign manager I worked across many teams and groups to run a clean and, I believe, exemplary campaign. Recently, I have been also involved with Kathleen King’s Santa Clara County County Supervisor run, and am supporting Ro Khanna in his endeavors. As I juggle a tech job in the valley with
a young family’s daily run-around, my hands are full. People wonder why I do it. My friends ask me, “What’s your agenda? I insist that Indians need to be politically involved. I point to the Jewish community which is much more established in this country politically. Their involvement has not only built political clout, but is also creating synergy between the homeland and the motherland. I can understand why a political agenda does not sound attractive to many of us caught in the rat race. But that attitude eventually leads to apathy! Take the example of Measure Q that was a hot button for the 2010 Saratoga elections. In a nutshell, Measure Q aimed to restrict commercial buildings to two stories in Saratoga. There was a lot of posturing from both sides, but I was dismayed to see my friends pick one side of the argument or another without taking the time to truly understand. Are we any different than the illiterate segment of the voters in India who cast their vote blindly? When an Indian American runs for elections, we often hear him/her declare “I am not banking on the Indian vote,” as only a small percentage of Indian Americans vote. Is that something we should be proud of? If your excuses is, “I just don’t know where to vote,”
or “I don’t have the time to vote,” have you considered registering as an absentee voter? Makes the voting process a breeze. So here is food for thought: If we all pass on this political apathy to future generations, how do we see our Indian community evolving, integrating into America? What is the long term impact of making the wrong election choices by not being informed, or by not voting at all? For us to truly leave our mark, encourage the next generation to embark on careers in public service, help them make the most of the opportunities available to them, get our voices heard, and position Indians well for the future, we need to shirk our political apathy and get involved. The time is now!n Rishi Kumar lives in Saratoga, California with his wife and two boys. Rishi works in the tech industry in software sales. In his spare time, he loves being involved in city issues and local politics. He also produces a TV show called “Saratoga’s Got Talent.”
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A Subterranean Life O
n a big television screen in the visitor’s center the Vietnam War plays on: B-52s drop bombs, villagers run for cover but, outside, it is easy to forget that this was what writers Tom Mangold and John Penycate called “the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated, and generally devastated area in the history of warfare.” This is the site of the Cu Chi tunnels, a network of underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, that are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Cu Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War, and were the Viet Cong’s base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968(Source: Wikipedia). Now rubber and eucalyptus trees have been allowed to grow again and the area looks like any other tranquil forest. Originally carved out of the clayish, red earth by the Viet Ninh against the French in the late 1940s it was re-excavated by the Viet Cong (VC) guerillas in the late 1960s. The locals dug these tunnels with hand tools, filling reed baskets and dumping the dirt in bomb craters. The web-like Cu
Cu Chi tunnels today
Chi tunnels, 30 miles from Ho Chi Minh City, allowed the VC to control a huge slice of the rural area, almost up to the Cambodian border. Some of the tunnels even ran under the U.S. military base. It stretched over 150 miles, allowing the VC to communicate between different pockets of their territory that were separated by the South Vietnamese and American bases, and wage an unrelenting guerilla war. The Vietcong would execute hit-and-run raids and simply melt away in their subterranean world. The original tunnels were quite narrow and have been widened for tourists now.
Our guide, Pencil, dives through the door
The now-widened tunnels 22 • india currents • march 2012
e start by seeing a black and white propaganda film in a large briefing room, with a very one-sided account of the Vietnam War. Our guide Thung first explains the layout using a model of the Cu Chi tunnels—a three-level ingeniously planned underground maze, with meeting rooms, hospitals, bedrooms, kitchens, and even cavernous rooms for staging political plays! The tunnels were built using bare hands, tiny hoes, and wicker baskets by farmers who would hide these implements and pretend to work in the fields. We see underground kitchens. Our guide
explains how the chimneys were several meters away, and had flat vents, so that the smoke just diffused gently, instead of a plume. How did the soldiers breathe? Bamboo poles were stuck through the ground into the tunnels to provide air and were disguised as termite mounds from the top. There are camouflaged trap doors all over the grounds—the Vietcong even used to hide the openings in pig pens so that they would not be discovered. Our guide suddenly parts the leaf litter, and opens a miniscule, camouflaged wooden hatch. He is of small build, like the Vietnamese usually are, and in the blink of a second, he does a pencil dive into the small trapdoor that leads to the tunnels. My daughter follows his example, but I am wary and choose to avoid getting stuck! No wonder the United States had “tunnel rats”—a special force selected for their small size and bravery—whose job was to enter these tunnels and flush out the Viet Cong. Armed with just a torch and a pistol, these tunnel rats played a deadly game of hide and seek, where many met their end, either from deadly booby traps or grenades or even vipers and scorpions. The Americans sprayed chemical defoliants aerially, and ignited the vegetation with napalm and gasoline. But the tropical air reacted with the intense heat to cause cloudbursts. When the Americans used German shepherd dogs to ferret out the trapdoors, the VC started washing with American soap and putting on captured Americans’ uniforms to confuse the dogs. There are workshops with models which show how the VC lived. They made their weapons and land mines using recycled metal from bomb shrapnel in a most dangerous procedure. Their very rudimentary but durable footwear was made from strips of old
Bomb craters at the Cu Chi site
rubber tyre treads and inner tubes. There is an unnerving section devoted to the different traps used by the VC—the tiger trap has a hinged trapdoor that flips up and throws the person into a bed of bamboo spikes, tipped with poison, and a rack of nails that fits into a door frame. The war experience is made more real by the snack that we are served here: boiled tapioca and a mixture of peanuts, sugar, salt, and sesame seeds. The Viet Cong subsisted on this kind of bland food for months. There is a souvenir shop with war memorabilia: planes and toy tanks from Coco Cola cans, dog tags and jewellery from bullet shells, and fake Zippo lighters (copies of those carried by American GIs) with messages carved on them. The ultimate touch in a kind of combat theme park: Our guide takes us to the shooting range and says, “$1 for 10 bullets—you can choose an AK 47 or a American M-16!”
We move away, choosing to finish our experience here by actually crawling into a tunnel. My daughter crawls behind the guide in army fatigues; there are escape exits every 20 metres if you change your mind. She reaches the end of the tunnel and says, “How did they even spend a couple of hours here?” War tourism is not confined to the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. Another very popular tour is to the DMZ or the De-Militarized Zone on the 17th parallel, extending from the Laotian Border to the South China Sea. It’s a bleak terrain with barbed wire and napalm-burnt ground. The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City has grisly images, photos of war crimes, deformed fetuses in glass jars, and mock prisons. There were losses on both sides and the war was never over for many—some were maimed, others suffered from post-traumatic stress disorders. But most of the locals are not interested in the War—it makes sense because more than half of the population was born after the Vietnam war. But the Vietnamese have also realized that there’s money to be made from painful memories … and maybe that’s not such a bad thing for a country trying to heal. n The author is a Japanese language specialist and travel writer based in Chennai, India
FACT FILE FOR CU CHI TUNNELS:
One of the traps set by the VC
How to get there: Fly to Bangkok and take a flight by Vietnam Air to Ho Chi Minh City. From Ho Chi Minh City drive down forty kilometres to the Cu Chi Tunnels or take a guided tour. Where to stay: Hotel Movenpick 253, Nguyen Van Troi Street, Ho Chi Minh City. Visit http://www.moevenpick-hotels.com When to go: The dry months of December to April is the best time to visit the Cu Chi tunnels. Local Currency: The Vietnamese Dong. india currents • march 2012 • 23
DESI FICTION CONTEST 2012
First Prize: $300 • Second Prize: $200 • Third Prize: $100 • Two Honorable Mentions
1. One submission per individual. 2. Submissions should consist of one short story or extract from a longer work up to 3,000 words in length. 3. Entries should be unpublished works and should not have won previous awards or contests.
E-MAIL YOUR STORY as a Word File Attachment to:
email@example.com with Subject: KATHA
In the Word file, include only the title and the story itself. In the body of your e-mail, write this statement: Here is my submission for Katha: Desi Fiction Contest 2012. Title of Story: Word Count: Name: Address: Email Address: Brief Biographical Statement: (Include publication or award history if applicable) I warrant that I am the sole author of, and have exclusive rights to the enclosed material. I hereby release full rights for the enclosed material or any segment or portion thereof to the Katha sponsors, and authorize the Katha sponsors to use my name and work in any publicity or promotions for Katha. I also understand that if my story is not shortlisted for publication by the Katha sponsors, the rights will revert back to me on March 30, 2013. —(your full name) Submissions not following these guidelines will be automatically disqualified from the contest. Disqualified entrants will not be notified.
DEADLINE: MARCH 30, 2012
All entrants will be notified of the results by e-mail by June 30, 2012. Winning entries will be considered for publication in upcoming issues of India Currents and Khabar.
India Currents is a leading Indian-American monthly with features, reviews, opinion, analysis, and a detailed calendar of Indian events. For more information: (408) 324-0488 firstname.lastname@example.org 24 • india currents • march 2012
Khabar is the largest community magazine in the Southeast. For more information: (770) 451-7666 email@example.com
india currents • march 2012 • 25
I C ask a lawyer Naresh Rajan
The Stigma Of The Sex Offender The scope of registration requirements can be unreasonable sometimes magine that, because you were convicted of a crime, you couldn’t go to your child’s high school graduation. If you lived with children or within 2,000 feet of a park, you would have to move. Your residence, your date of birth, and the fact that you broke the law would become completely public and available to anyone with internet access for the rest of your life. These are the realities facing people convicted of a variety of sex offenses. Registration for sex offenders seems to be a formalization of the stigma that has always existed against child molesters and rapists. Unfortunately, the registration requirement’s scope is much too broad. The same registration requirement and restrictions apply whether the crime is annoying children without touching them or forcible rape. A 20-yearold who has consensual sex with a 17-year-old, if convicted of statutory rape, must register for life, the same as the person molesting
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ing people convicted by faulty evidence, untrue testimony, and overzealous prosecutors. Although requiring sex offenders to register may not seem unreasonable, the fact that this information is easily accessible by anyone makes it outrageous. Registration is, of course, additional to the normal penalties of incarceration, fines, and parole or probation. The penalties are no less harsh than they were before registration. Even for the guilty who are justly punished, to be subject to lifelong registration, to be forbidden to live where they please, and to be forced to miss key events in the lives of their loved ones is more than anyone deserves. That these people suffer this burden after completing their punishment and repaying their debts to society is a travesty. Some common sense has to be restored to this law. n Naresh Rajan is an attorney in San Mateo County. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Note: For March, 2A numbers subject to percountry limit are available to applicants with priority dates beginning July 1, 2009, and earlier than July 22, 2009.
EMPLOYMENT-BASED VISA DATES Preference Dates for India 1st Current 2nd May 1, 2010 3rd August 22, 2002 Other August 22, 2002 Workers 4th Current Certain Current Religious Workers 5th Current Targeted Current Employment Areas The Department of State has a recorded message with visa availability information at (202) 663-1541, which is updated in the middle of each month. Source:http://travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5664.html india currents • march 2012 • 27
Optimizing the 2011 Tax Filing Season
he 2011 tax filing season has already kicked off as the IRS has already started accepting e-filed tax returns as of January 14, 2012. Individual taxpayers will have until April 17 to file their tax returns. Taxpayers are being given an extra two days to file their returns due to a legal holiday in the District of Columbia. However, waiting till the last minute to file your tax return increases the chance of errors. Besides, the earlier you file the sooner you will get a refund if applicable. One of the biggest procedural changes this season is the need for paid tax return preparers to obtain and use a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). New IRS regulations require that all tax preparers have a PTIN, as part of an ongoing program by the IRS to regulate tax professionals. The IRS has launched an online PTIN registration site where preparers can obtain or renew their PTIN. The preparer (whether signing or nonsigning) must provide his or her PTIN. If your tax preparer doesn’t have one, find another preparer. There are several other changes in the 2011 tax filing requirements. To mention just a few, there are changes to Schedule C, a new Form 8949 (Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets) an annexure to Schedule D, changes to Schedule E, and a another new Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets) which needs to be filed along with the tax return and is required of all U.S. persons holding assets overseas to the tune of $50,000 (single) or $100,000 (married filing jointly) as the case may be. This is in addition to the separate filing requirement of the Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) for taxpayers having a balance of $10,000 or more in an overseas account. You can cut down on the number of hours you spend preparing your 2011 taxes by taking a few simple steps as noted below. These steps if followed will save time, money, and hassles down the road.
Acquaint Yourself With Tax Changes Of 2010
A System For Organizing Documents
You need to study these forms very carefully because many of the changes are embedded into the forms without any warning to the taxpayer of the change. You’ll get to know this when you put your 2010 form next to the new 2011 form. Familiarizing yourself with the form will help you be prepared in completing it correctly. These forms are usually available at your local library or post office. Also, the forms can be downloaded from the IRS’s website www.irs.gov.
Your system can be as simple as a large envelope or an accordion file. Just designate a specific spot and keep all your tax related documents there.
Review of Tax Documents
Take a moment to review each document so that you can correct any discrepancies well before your start preparing your tax return.
28 • india currents • march 2012
Several tax law changes were made in 2010 that impact credits and deductions in 2011, plus many 2009 tax credits have expired. Be sure you know the new 2010 tax rules so that you can take advance of every tax credit and deduction possible. For example, the itemized deduction limitation has been repealed, which means that taxpayers can deduct the full amount of their itemized deductions. The personal exemption phase out rules also do not apply in 2011. The 2010 Tax Relief Act included a patch of the AMT exemption amounts for 2010 and 2011. This Relief Act also extends the ability to use nonrefundable personal credits to offset AMT into 2011. It’s easier to take the standard deduction, but you may save a bundle if you itemize especially if you are self-employed, own a home, or live in a high tax area. It’s worth the bother when your qualified expenses add up to more than the 2011 standard deduction of $5,800 for singles and $11,600 for married couples filing jointly. Don’t forget deductions which are deductible if the combined amount adds up to more than two percent of your adjusted gross income such as tax preparation fees, job-hunting expenses, business car expenses and professional dues.
Decide If You Need Professional Help
Note that the U.S. tax code is more than 18,000 pages long and so complicated that it is difficult to comprehend even for the professionals working years together in this field. About 60% of the population pays a professional to help prepare their taxes. Therefore, if you are going to use a professional make sure that the tax professional is authorized to prepare taxes for fees (i.e. has a PTIN) and make your appointment as early as possible.
Collect 2011 Tax Forms Early
Gather Your Tax Information
You already have a multitude of information that is helpful in the preparation of your tax return. Income tax can only be reduced by taking off as much tax deductible expenses you have incurred and you need proof of such deductible expenses. Even before you receive a single tax document you can start by making a list of all your 2011 tax payments and tax refunds. Gather up all receipts and information, collect credit card bills and checkbooks for possible deductions and sum up charitable donations (cash and non-cash). Make sure you know the price you paid for stocks or funds you have sold. If you don’t call your broker before you start to prepare your return. Know the details on income from rental properties. Don’t assume that your tax-free municipal bonds are completely free of taxes.
When a refund is anticipated it is better to file electronically because the taxpayer receives the electronic refund much faster than when a paper return is filed. Additionally, electronically filed tax returns get checked out automatically for errors and accuracy. Furthermore, the IRS acknowledges receipt of your tax return.
Get Refund/Pay Taxes On Time
If you can’t finish your return on time, make sure you file Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time) by April 17, 2012. Form 4868 gives you a six month extension of the filing deadline until October 15, 2012 for filing your tax return. On the form, you need to make a reasonable estimate of your tax liability for 2011 and pay any balance due with the Form 4868. It should be noted that filing an extension does not extend your time to pay taxes if you have a balance due to the IRS. 2011 tax time is now in progress and it will be over before you know it (within the next few weeks). By following the simple steps outlined above you can make the process easier, save time, and save money.n The information contained in this article is of a general nature. Please consult your tax attorney or finance professional for details. Khorshed Alam is a practicing CPA and business valuation analyst. Check out http://alamcpatax.com or call (408) 445-1120.
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The Blessing and the Burden Alam Khan takes on the responsibilities of the family tradition
hilosopher Patrick Grim says that we have two kinds of heroes: those who are both enviable and admirable, and those who are only admirable. We admire the Beatles’ musicianship, and also envy the success and adulation they received. But although we admire Abraham Lincoln’s courage and devotion to his country, very few of us are eager to change places with him, and endure the depression, hardships, and agonizing decisions that were his lot. In cases like these, this distinction seems plausible. However, there are other cases where it is not at all clear-cut. As we watch Play Like a Lion, the new documentary on the intertwined lives of Alam Khan and his father the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, we see much in each of their lives which seems far from enviable. Ali Akbar Khan (or Khansahib, as he was respectfully addressed by his students) was forced by his father, the great Allaudin Khan, to practice constantly, and he lived with the threat of beatings and missed meals if he ever tried to have anything resembling a normal childhood. And yet when those of us who play music hear him, we cannot help but wonder “Could it have been worth it? Would I have been willing to endure what he endured if it meant that music of this quality could have flowed from my hands and heart?” Most of us will never be given the opportunity to make that choice. Play like a Lion tells the story of how Alam Khan was given that choice, and the grace and courage with which he made it.
hansahib would never have forced his son to endure what he had endured, and he made it clear that a music career was not a parental command. Instead, Alam’s love of music blossomed slowly and naturally. “My father never forced me to play music, but from an early age I was always either drumming on something or singing something I had heard. His relationship with his father was so strict, he didn’t have a close relationship with his father beyond the music. He obviously didn’t want that same relationship with me. He gave me that freedom he never had, and we had a very loving relationship.” For much of his younger life, Alam Khan played music playfully. For a while, he was a rock and roll guitarist, jamming with his mother and brother in the family living room. Later he was a rapper in Marin clubs, and was often 30 • india currents • march 2012
seen around the Ali Akbar College in a black stocking cap and low-hanging blue jeans. Today, however, this young man in his late 20s is the senior instructor at the Ali Akbar College, and plays classical sarod concerts all over India and America. With the passing of his father, music is no longer a game for Alam, but a spiritual calling. “When I was 13, I was playing Jimmy Hendrix, Grunge, Nirvana, but I also started to listen to my father’s recordings. The melodies, the sounds, the kinds of vibrations you would feel inside, the moods it brought out—that has never left me. It was like recognizing an old friend. Today, my whole life is to play this music and try to keep it alive and continue it.” Was his choice enviable as well as admirable? The distinction between the two seems to turn on the suffering that results from such decisions. for Alam, however, the suffering was clearly part of the point. “There have been many times in my life when I’ve thought about doing something else. This music was beautiful and I loved it, and I was connected to it, and I had an ability to play it and learn it. But was that enough? I finally decided that it was. Difficulties and obstacles arise in life to test you, because nothing is worth having unless you work for it. It has to be important if you spend your whole life doing it. It’s just a question of are you going to give up, or are you going to work through it. And working through it can take years.”
lam has already spent years learning his father’s music, and now has reached a level of virtuosity that the rest of us can only dream about. Is his condition enviable as well as admirable? In one sense, he has a deeper awareness of his family’s music than any of us will ever have. And yet, paradoxically, he will never be able to enjoy it the way the rest of us do, because his critical eye is always colored by an awareness how much better he could be. “Since I am in this family, the expectations I have for myself are probably higher than I can meet. That’s something I’m going to have to come to terms with in my life.”
Alam has already spent years learning his father’s music, and has now reached a level of virtuosity that the rest of us can only dream about. Yet he will never be able to enjoy it the way the rest of us do, because his critical eye is always colored by an awareness how much better he could be.
lam’s younger brother Manik, who also plays sarod, acknowledges that his brother’s burden is unique. “Being the second son in the family, I don’t have the responsibility that Alam does. Alam has taken a huge responsibility on his shoulders.” This perfectionism has made Alam hesitant to release any recordings, despite the fact that many people privately hoard their bootleg recordings of his superb live performances. Shades of Sarod, his first album without his father, came out this year and is clearly shaped by Alam’s determination that nothing is recorded until he is certain it deserves to be. The standard format of a Hindustani performance, which Alam usually follows in his concerts, is to devote the bulk of the evening to exploring all the nuances of a single raga. Apparently Alam feels that these live performances don’t measure up to his own tough standards, and so he has elected to do shorter versions of four different ragas, to make sure that there is no hint of mechanicalness or redundancy. He is accompanied by Salar Nader, one of the finest tabla players of their generation, who carries on the style of Zakir Hussein in much the way that Alam preserves his father’s tradition. The result sounds uncannily like Khansahib himself playing in a tight economical manner, but with complete authority and control. It is a sobering reminder that the rest of us are too willing to tackle the most difficult aspects of
Khansahib’s music way too early. The son had completely mastered one small region of his father’s genius, and only then was he willing to let himself document what he had accomplished. A lifetime of such accomplishments lies before him, and we can all look forward to hearing them.
his does not mean that Alam is merely a conduit of his father’s tradition. Despite the uncanny similarity in their styles, Alam has emerged with a musical mind of his own. This is eloquently demonstrated by Alam’s final words in Play Like a Lion, and the fiery climactic performance that follows them. “People have always said ‘It’s going to be on you next.’ That’s true, but my father was bigger than any one person, and it will take many people to carry that responsibility. Obviously I’m grateful for the gifts he’s given me, and that’s what my life revolves around. But I’m not the next Ali Akbar Khan. There will never be another Ali Akbar Khan. I’m Alam Khan. That’s what I’m going to realize in my life and be okay with that.” n For more information on the movie and album, go to playlikealion.com and alamkhan.com Teed Rockwell has studied Indian classical music with Ali Akbar Khan and other great Indian musicians. He is the first person to play Hindustani music on the Touchstyle Fretboard.
Dancer, Cellist, and Animal Rights Activist!
hen you think of a teenage artist’s debut, New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall isn’t the first venue that comes to mind. But that is the place 15-year-old Aditi Ahuja chose for her arangetram, which was held on Oct. 7, 2011. For a bharatnatyam dancer of her age, this is a quite an accomplishment. Aditi was only six years old when she started bharatnatyam training with Guru Swati Gupte Bhise, who has been performing the dance extensively in the United States and in India to the acclaim Aditi Ahuja
of critics as an intelligent performer with a keen sense of aesthetics. After years of hard work and practice with Bhise, Aditi was raring to go on stage. “Bharatanatyam has always been a bittersweet experience for me, and at many times, more bitter than sweet,” says Aditi. “To many who accidentally asked, ‘What is bharatanatyam like?’ I would give a long-winded answer explaining how difficult it is. They would learn of all of my aches and pains, and how tiring each class is. Then I would teach them a step or two and force them to sit in aramandhi to prove my point,” Aditi explains. During the recent months leading up to Aditi’s arangetram, her view of this art form changed slightly. “Of course, on a shallow level, my body still ached, even more than before due to the increased intensity of the practice menu. But along with the feelings of fatigue and pain came a sense of accomplishment,” says Aditi. She went to Goa for two weeks to immerse herself in the culture and practice of bharatnatyam. Her daily rou-
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Email: firstname.lastname@example.org tine there included studying for three hours with Guru Goswami, a renowned professor of bharatanatyam from the ancient Kalakshetra tradition who has taught for 27 years. After a lunch break that she says always seemed too short, Aditi would have another two-hour lesson with Bhise. “The fact that I could actually complete long classes made me proud. I can now say with confidence that I have come very far. I believe that this feeling can only be achieved through hours of strenuous practice and hundreds of aching muscles that I am now grateful for,” adds Aditi. A sophomore at the Riverdale Country School in New York, Aditi is also a valued member of Riverdale’s Upper School Orchestra and Riverdale’s junior varsity field hockey team. Bharatnatyam isn’t the only art form Aditi excels at. She has studied the cello intensively since age six under David Krieger and is a student at Hoff-Barthelson Music School where she plays in the festival orchestra. She has performed at the Summit Music Festival in New York and the Burgos International Music Festival in Spain, among others. Aditi’s achievements go even further. She is passionate about animals and is the president and founder of the Riverdale School for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and is also an ASPCA ambassador. n india currents • march 2012 • 31
Phone: 714 681 2099
Welcome to the Spring 2012 Concert Season The Academy is Proud to Present A Double Feature SATURDAY, MARCH 10, 2012 @ 5 pm SHASHANK K. SAI GIRIDHAR HN BHASKAR
Flute Mridangam Violin
The Academy Proudly Presents SATURDAY, March 24, 2012 @ 5 pm
SANDEEP NARAYAN MYSORE SRIKANTH NEYVELI VENKATESH
Vocal Violin Mridangam
The Academy Proudly Presents SATURDAY, April 14, 2012 @ 5 pm UNNIKRISHNAN EMBAR KANNAN ANANTHA R KRISHNAN
Vocal Violin Mridangam
NOTE: NEW VENUE Rameswaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Tustin, CA 92780 (Only for this concert)
The Academy is Pleased to Present SATURDAY, April 28, 2012 @ 5 pm RANJANI/GAYATHRI HN BHASKAR MANOJ SIVA
Vocal Violin Mridangam
All the Concerts will be held at the Hoover Middle School Auditorium, 3501 Country Club Drive, LAKEWOOD, CA 90712 Tickets: Regular - $25; Seniors/Students - $20. Credit cards accepted ONLINE ONLY.. Cash or Check please at the hall.
Please Renew Your Membership! New Members are Welcome! — No Photography, Audio or Video Recordings permitted at any concert
For latest info on all the programs, visit: www.simala.us • (714) 681-2099 • email@example.com
32 • india currents • march 2012
india currents • march 2012 • 33
A Slippery, Thorny Slope AGNEEPATH. Director: Karan Malhotra. Players: Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt, Rishi Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Om Puri, Zarina Wahab. Music: Ajay-Atul. Theatrical release: Dharma Productions.
ukul Anand's Agneepath (1990) was one of the very last successful forays Bachchan made into the socalled Angry Young Man persona, about the same time that he briefly waded into politics. Anand’s movie featured a neo-feudal archetypal central character forced to balance a thirst for revenge while maintaining fidelity to his familial origins. For this timetested formula to be successful in 2012—in a country that has taken a giant leap forward—a remake would have to be special indeed. With this remake, however, director Malhotra delivers a cinematic masterstroke that carves up its own new archetype that resonates with contemporary hooks. Brooding and brawny Vijay (Roshan) whiles his time away as a Good Samaritan in a Mumbai slum even though he is haunted by the childhood memory of his father being brutally murdered by the crime lord Kancha (Dutt). Struggling to make good in a drugs- and gangsinfested wasteland, and estranged from his mother (Wahab), Vijay patiently waits, as if for the clock to strike a certain hour. Grabbing the opportunity to strike an alliance with Rauf Lala (Kapoor), another underworld chieftain, Vijay embarks on a tumultuous path that alters his destiny. The setting is often dark and sways between a dreaded island where Kancha rules with impunity and the Mumbai slums where Vijay lives. Malhotra, with insight from producer Karan Johar, no doubt, carves up a starkly desolate world where just about every dream imagined has at best a slim chance of succeeding. The overbearing sense that no proverbial good deed will go unpunished makes the plotline unique for a mainstream Hindi movie and the story’s fine execution is equally striking. Malhotra, who previously assisted on My Name is Khan (2010) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008), and cinematographer Kiran Deohans construct two extreme worlds. The slum that 34 • india currents • march 2012
Vijay inhabits brings together celebratory Hindu festivals that relive Krishna’s adventures in stealing butter from high-hanging pots and a tight-knit down-market community. At the other extreme, Kancha’s torrid remote island enclave forcibly tears apart a sea-battered barren rock that Kancha has transformed into a living hell. Roshan’s Vijay suffers silently—almost too silently—seldom betraying the inferno raging inside him. While outwardly hewing to a revenge theme, the unintended consequence of this modern treatment is that Agneepath emerges as a big screen deconstruction on
from characters that overtly tap into any contemporary anti-heroes. Kancha’s brand of evil is so protracted in its purpose, so void of any humanity, and so obsessed with bomb explosions that he brings to mind a certain arch-terrorist neutralized at a posh villa in Abbottabad last year. Dutt, who always appeared somewhat ill at ease in leading male roles, gorges on Kancha’s supporting role character. His Kancha is a black-robed post-apocalyptic incubus on self-imposed exile at a remote island, deviously plotting a “homecoming” to Mumbai where subdued masses would be forced to welcome him with open arms as he claims his fiefdom. Tora Bora caves, anyone? With Agneepath’s $5 million gross in the international market, Roshan is already proving to be the second biggest Hindi lead outside India, behind only Shah Rukh Khan. With a particularly strong opening weekend and continued muscular box office returns, Agneepath has been certified a super hit for Karan Johar. In the handful of recent entries that have balanced brains and brawn of various stripes (Singham, The Dirty Picture), Agneepath finds great company.n EQ: A-
the nature of evil. More precisely, Agneepath (“path of fire”) graphically illustrates the slippery slope leading to the delivery of a no-win endgame. Through this prism, Rauf Lala is only slightly less evil than Kancha, in that Lala has intensely strong family roots, even as he traffics drugs and girls. Kancha is clearly the greater baddie in that his brutality won’t allow even his own father to get in the way. In addition to Vijay being overtly retrained, the only other distraction—and a significant one, at that—is the short exposure that women have in the narrative. Wahab is terrific in the truncated role of Vijay’s estranged mother and, as Vijay’s love interest, Chopra’s Kalli also holds her own. Perhaps what most sums up the lack of a strong female presence is that in Vijay’s world, Katrina Kaif has be brought in for an “item” song. Surely the female characters have more to say. Barring an occasional mention of Dawood Ibrahim, apolitical Hindi movies shy away
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.
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It Happened in Vegas EK MAIN AUR EKK TU. Director: Shakun Batra. Players: Imran Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani, Ratna Pathak, Music: Amit Trivedi. Theatrical release (UTV).
aran Johar has a knack for directing megabudget box office hits (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, My Name is Khan). For movies that Johar produces under his Dharma Productions banner, however, he prefers modestly-budgeted, smartly made romantic comedies that even turn tidy profits (Dostana, Wake Up Sid). If Dharma’s Agneepath qualifies amongst their heavyweights, then Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (EMAET) is an appropriate mid-market counterbalance to round out the banner’s 2012 repertoire. While the novelty factor of setting his movies in the United States may have ended with Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna (2006) and My Name is Khan (2010), EMAET is one more American hand for Johar to play. An overtly Americanized script, co-written by Batra and Ayesha Devitre, nicely ping pongs between Vegas and Mumbai. Rahul Kapoor (Khan) is a mousy, introverted architect who has a run in with the chatty, slacker hairdresser Riana Braganza (Kapoor). He has just lost his job and is afraid to tell his domineering, rich, snobby parents (Irani and Pathak). She is destitute and needs a place to crash. After a night of drunken carousing, Rahul and Riana wake up to find themselves, in true Vegas fashion, married to each other—even though they barely know each other’s names. The Americanization of the plot line is credibly etched with Rahul being pink-slipped (in a delayed newsflash, the Great Recession finally hits Hindi movies! Ed: I think Desi Boyz got there first!) and Riana being kicked out of her apartment for not making rent. To drive home just how hip and mod they are, Rahul and Riana somehow find the wherewithal to use skateboards as the favored mode of transport along The Strip—traffic be damned—and when not boarding, they constantly carry mugs from a popular franchised coffee beanery in their hands—as if the truest identity for being “American” is having a certain brand of coffee mug in your hand. 36 • india currents • march 2012
The description “smartly made” gets a bit of a workout here. The plot’s most Hollywood-influenced narrative, ironically, is in the part that takes place in Mumbai. Riana’s family in Mumbai is a strikingly “non-conventional Hindi movie” family. They don’t care that Riana brings a (nice young) man home. They don’t care that the two may may have dallied in premarital salad tosses. They don’t care who Riana marries, provided that she is happy with her choice. The fact that an unmarried single woman is given this much choice to control her destiny is, without a doubt, new territory for Hindi movie storytelling. The other element to consider is the interplay— and curious role reversal— in how the male and female leads are drawn up. It is Rahul who is meek and struggling under his parents’ domineering control of every aspect of his life, down to his tie selection and haircuts. And it is Riana who is allowed to stay out late and is trusted to be on her own. She is older than he is (yes, script anarchy right there!) Also, both of them are comfortable with seeking psychiatric help. Their sophomoric, psychiatric couch attempts at self-actualizing are an absolute hoot. This whole gender-neutralization, carried out with surprising effectiveness, is satisfying and humbling to watch. As Rahul’s snobbish parents, Irani and Pathak marvelously nail the caricatures of 1-percenter, nouveau riche desis playacting as victims of their own excess. As Riana’s grounded middle-class parents, Zenobia Shroff and Akshar Verma capture the full flavor of naturally gray, slightly pudgy, urban middle modernity. We don’t mind that Kapoor and Khan each build upon one or two of their previous roles. Kapoor’s role is one credit card short of the bossy runaway she played in Jab We Met (2008) while Khan is an only slightly betterdressed version of the uber-nerd campus misfit from his breakout role in Jaane Tu… Ya Na Jaane (2008). If Karan Johar and company continue to devise slower-faced, not-too-deep entries like EMAET, we will keep coming back. n EQ: B+
Crossing the Language Barrier In conversation with film director Gautham Menon
enon cut his directorial teeth in 2001 with Minnale, a love story in Tamil that was both critically and commercially acclaimed. Success followed him with Kaakha Kaakha, a cop saga starring Surya, and best remembered for its racy screenplay and peppy music. The wave of success continued with Vettaiyadu Villaiyaadu, a thriller led by veteran Kamal Hassan. Catapulting him into the spotlight was his fifth venture, Vaaranam Aayiram(VA), a romantic film that hinged on a father-son bond, and brought home several awards, including the national award for Best Feature Film in Tamil. His film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (VV), a realistic take on unrequited love made simultaneously in Telegu and Tamil, was a huge commercial success in the South, prompting a Hindi remake titled Ekk Deewana Tha. Shot in Chennai, Agra, Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Kerala, the film has music by A.R. Rahman who has retained the same tunes for the Hindi version.
The Hindi version stars Prateik Babbar and introduces British model Amy Jackson to Bollywood. It is not Gautham’s first film in Hindi. His earlier outing was Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein, (2001) a remake of Minnale starring Madhavan and Diya Mirza that made no ripples in Bollywood. Menon, despite a hectic schedule with post production work and shooting for his trilingual upcoming film, made time for a chat. What changes were made in the story of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa to suit the Hindi audience? The story is the same. Sachin an engineering graduate and an aspiring film maker, falls in love with Jessy, a Christian girl, who is
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Prateik Babbar and Amy Jackson in Ekk Deewana Tha
older than him. I have made some changes to keep my own interest alive since this is the third time I am working on this story [after Tamil and Telegu]. Some moments in the film have been changed to reduce the length of the film from the Tamil one. And the climax is different from the original. What was the thinking behind casting Prateik Babbar and Amy Jackson? We wanted fresh faces and not stars. Ranbir [Kapoor] and Imran [Khan] were on my wish list, but I don’t know if they had heard about me and my work. Prateik is a director’s actor. You keep drawing stuff from him. While working with him, I found him more vulnerable and endearing than aggressive, unlike Simbu who was the lead in the original. So I toned down the aggressiveness in his character and brought out his vulnerability. Yet his angst comes through. As for Amy Jackson, I wanted someone fresh and new who would walk into the audience’s heart just like she walks into the hero’s heart. She is very good. We had no problem with her lip sync. She worked so hard on her lines, despite not knowing the language. To get her accustomed to Indian attire, we got her wearing Indian clothes even off the sets. Since this was your second outing in Bollywood, how did you ensure that you did not repeat the mistakes of Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (RHTDM)? I don’t think there were any mistakes with RHTDM. When it was made, I was not ready for a Hindi film. Besides, I realized within ten days of working on the film that it was no longer in my control, but in the hands of the producer who planned the locations, costumes, and dialogues. Maddy [Madhavan] 38 • india currents • march 2012
was not keen on losing weight. It clearly was not progressing the way I wanted it. Although the film did not do well initially, it was popular on television. What are your plans this time around? I wanted to share the story of VV with a larger audience and 99% of the film has been in my control. If the film does not do well with the Hindi audience, I take responsibility for it. And if it fares well, I take the credit. What made you choose a career in films? I worked for a year as a mechanical engineer before following my heart. My interest in the performing arts came to the fore in college where I wrote short stories and actively participated in cultural events, singing, and choreographing shows. From an introvert I grew into finding what I wanted to do in life. I realized then that I wanted to make films. I was exposed to old Tamil and Hindi melodies as well as Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt films, thanks to my parents. I was fascinated by those love stories and black and white pictures. Later Mani Ratnam’s Nayagan defined my interest in films. How has your family responded to this career? I would not be here had it not been for my family. My parents never had a problem. Yes, there was a time they wanted me to become an engineer and go abroad but when I explained my ambition, they were supportive. Being totally unrelated with the film industry, their only concern was “How do you go about this?” I told them that I would have to work under someone initially. Thankfully my sisters were supporting the family and they took the burden off of me. Who would you consider your mentor?
I learnt the ropes while assisting Rajeev Menon on the sets of Minsaara Kanavu. I also learnt to shed my inhibitions after observing Menon on the sets. Rajeev would act out scenes for his actors. Watching him I learnt that you have to demonstrate what you visualize. Initially I was reserved and conscious of people around but, with Minnale, I overcame that. When it was released, I was clueless about how it would fare and what I would do next. In fact, I was not too happy when I saw [the finished film] in the theaters. I felt I could have improved on some scenes. Scriptwriter, director, producer and a family man—how do you juggle between the various roles? That’s what we all strive to do. I set aside time early morning for writing. While travelling, I jot down things on my iPad. Where do you get the ideas for your films? I write my own scripts. They are all inspired from life, not just my own, but people around me. My stories are relatable. People can identify with the characters. In my films, there are bits about me. Vaaranam Aayiram is semi-autobiographical. Many moments that I shared with dad were translated onto screen. When my father passed away I was not in town. On the flight back home, I penned down memories and used them in the film. It was my way of holding onto those memories. The mother’s character is drawn from my mother and the daughter-in-law's character in the film was drawn from my wife. She was my friend before we got married. What are your upcoming movies? Coming up is Neethaane En Ponvasantham, a trilingual in Hindi (with Aditya Roy Kapoor), Tamil (with Jiiva) and Telegu (with Nani). Tamil and Telegu actress Samantha plays the love interest in all three films. Seventy percent of the production is complete. It’s a love story but the treatment is different and has been structured differently. Once again, it has been inspired from life. On the anvil is Yohan: Adhyayam Ondru, an action thriller with Vijay. What about Friday blues? Yes, I am nervous before a film’s release and withdraw into a shell. People around tell me, “It’s just a film.” For me it’s not just a film. It’s something I have created and you want people to like it. When Nadunisi Naayga did not work, I was upset for two weeks and then moved on. What gives me joy is when people tell me that they could relate to a character or that the story is a leaf out of their life. Or that they knew someone like one of my characters. When people relate to your film, that’s when you’ve achieved something. n Mythily Ramachandran is an independent journalist from Chennai, India.
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All in the Family Jeanne E. Fredriksen
THE WAY THINGS LOOK TO ME by Roopa Farooki. St. Martin’s Press: New York. $25.99. 352 pages. stmartins.com. roopafarooki.com Available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.
y mind is not like a neat and tidy garden; it is a vast untidy wilderness, full of irrelevancies, but with lots of places to wander and get lost,” states Yasmin Murphy in recognition of her Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and synesthesia. The 19-year old is the youngest of the three Murphy orphans and the fulcrum of Roopa Farooki’s fourth novel published in the United States, the character-driven The Way Things Look to Me. Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a mystifying state of being for those who do not have it. Classified as an autism spectrum disorder, it manifests itself through a lack of proper social interaction coupled with repetitive actions, behaviors, and interests that become all-consuming. Spontaneity and change are causes for extreme distress. Asperger’s differs from other autism categories because it impairs
42 • india currents • march 2012
neither language nor learning capabilities. Synesthesia, a lesser-known condition with over 60 variations, is the uncontrollable heightening of the senses and the translation of sounds, sights, movement, and/or emotions into colors, stripes, bubbles, and other expressive outlets. Numbers or letters are assigned specific colors. Music elicits swirls and waves. Distance and space may even apply themselves to days of the week or months of the year. Farooki’s voyage into AS, with a side helping of synesthesia, is a complicated, edgy family affair that digs deeply into wounds that were unintentionally inflicted early in the lives of the two oldest siblings because of Yasmin’s rigid world. Asif, 23, is the family overseer, the one who took responsibility for the family when their mother passed away. A rising star at Cambridge, he gave up his studies and a successful future to become Yasmin’s caregiver. Yet, despite being the head of the family, he suffers from an excruciating lack of self esteem. Lila, 22, is the family rebel, the artist who lives an outward life on what she thinks are her own terms. She runs wild, suppressing her talents, as she strives to avoid becoming Yasmin’s caregiver. And she suffers from an agonizing case of eczema that she painstakingly hides from the world. Yasmin, the youngest sister, is the one who sees life at its most frustratingly literal. Asif and Lila represent both sides of the Yasmin issue—obligation and rejection— and the novel presents a moving, duality-based study of this trio as they cope with each other while a documentary is being filmed about Yasmin. Farooki chose AS for thoughtful reasons in her quest to construct a young family grappling with growing up and achieving harmony without adult guidance. “I specifically wanted to explore a situation where all the siblings weren’t treated equally—I knew that the youngest sister would have to be ‘special’ in some way, to merit special treatment from her parents beyond that sometimes accorded
to the baby of the family,” Farooki said in an e-interview. But why Asperger’s specifically? “I also knew it couldn’t be an obvious physical disability or even a traditional disability at all, as that would make it hard to keep sympathy with the siblings as they struggle with their feelings of resentment. [Asperger’s Syndrome] … allowed Yasmin to be academically successful, self-aware, and highly functional, but her different way of interacting with the world still made it necessary for her to have full time care.” Wrestling with conflicted feelings about themselves and each other, Asif and Lila deal with their truncated lives as best they know how. Neither is living the life they had hoped for or wanted. They fret, fume, and beat themselves up internally and emotionally. Constantly struggling with the subtext of his name, “As If,” Asif often wonders why his mother never told him that she loved him. Lila, once awarded a scholarship to a prestigious school, deliberately creates a life as unlike her home environment as possible. Yasmin, entirely unaware of her brother’s and sister’s inner conflicts, goes about her daily routine without batting an eyelash, never expecting or being able to manage change. She is perfectly bright—albeit lacking in certain critical thinking skills—and able to pass her A levels at school, but she is devoid of social graces outside of actions she was taught. Yasmin perceives everything in the plainest and most exacting terms, but when she slowly begins to make her own decisions affecting change, her family is too self-absorbed to notice until it’s too late. Challenging herself in scope, topic, and theme, Farooki never fails to produce a mesmerizing novel. She has the ability to remain a storyteller first without a hint of sentimentality toward her characters even when the reader feels great compassion for them. In The Way Things Look to Me, she took an enormous risk with AS, but her meticulous research prior to writing was rewarded with favorable reviews by Psychology Today magazine and Action for Autism. “To be honest, I did far too much research—I read everything I could get hold of, spoke to educators in the AS community and used my personal experience of those I knew with AS,” Farooki explains. “The research was paralyzing, as for about six months afterwards,
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An Honest Gaze LIFE HAPPENS AND DEATH TOO: STORIES AND POEMS by Latika Mangrulkar. Strategic Book Publishing. $13.50. 182 pages. Available in paperback and e-book.
I felt that I couldn’t write a word from Yasmin’s viewpoint … I was too afraid that I’d find myself fictionalizing someone else’s real life experience, and that Yasmin wouldn’t be her own character.” So how did she forge ahead with Yasmin? “I forced myself to think how she would think, what she would observe, and what she wouldn’t, and write it down as a long and never-ending list, a constant round of detailed snapshots of seemingly unimportant minutiae, that eventually formed into coherence. So Yasmin was informed by the research, but her personality and voice grew out of my own imagination and observations.” Asif, Lila, and Yasmin are characters that linger long after the story is finished and, in a bookishly-selfish way, hang around to remind us that our own situations may not be as insurmountable as we think. In short, the Murphys walk right off the page and into your heart. Farooki’s grasp of her characters’ contradictory perceptions and thought processes is honest and deep. She paints vivid and vibrant pictures of how an invisible condition, a damaged childhood, and an abridged path to adulthood have an impact for life. She is masterful at showing the way things look to her characters, yet she offers that glimmer of hope everyone needs in order to survive the worst. “I’m an optimist when it comes to human relationships,” she states simply, “and I wanted to create a world in this novel where good things happen to good people, and where those who are less good can still hope to be redeemed.”n Farooki’s next novel, The Flying Man, is scheduled to be published in the U.K. in early 2012. The Way Things Look to Me was longlisted for the Impac Dublin Literary Award 2011 and for the Orange Prize in 2010, and the novel was voted one of The Times Top 50 Paperbacks of 2009. Jeanne E. Fredriksen reads and writes from Wake Forest, NC. 44 • india currents • march 2012
n the story, “Waiting,” Kusum, an elderly lady, still retains her fierce independence of spirit. It is much against her will that she succumbs to the demands and humiliations old age enforces but, even then, her strength of personality can be intimidating. She does not hesitate to mince words when people cross her path, and makes her wishes clear when others appear far too ready to write her off as doddering and senile. To her daughter and her family, Kusum is still the matriarch who ran the family effortlessly, and so when the time comes to break a particularly hard bit of news, the family settles on her beloved niece, Meena. In this story, easily my favorite in this new short story collection by Latika Mangrulkar’s, there is much insight into the little-understood and yet frightening world that old age inhabits. Old age, and especially old women rarely figure as a subject in Indian writing; one that comes to mind is Mahasweta Devi’s collection of two novellas titled Old Women (translated into English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), which deals with women left behind in Bengal villages. Kusum traverses worlds in Latika Mangrulkar’s story. Even though her life unfolds in a few pages, it is really evocative, for, while enduring her present day daily humiliations
and tribulations, she relives her past, her rich life in her mind, which no one else has any inkling about. And therein lies the tragedy of old age—an entire life becoming invisible to younger generations. Latika’s stories are about people in all their various contradictions and complexities, the dilemmas that can appear starkly simple to the reader/other, but end up playing a centrally large role in shaping the characters’ lives. These are lives lived out within traditional expectations, and there could be hidden pain, betrayals, never fully expressed but carried within oneself. The stories have a deep interiority; there is a gradual unraveling of the many layers a life can hold. Often told from the immigrant standpoint, they speak of dual identities—those within and without, and the demands that come from living in and adapting to a country that is now a second home. One story in the collection, “Strange Connections,” is about Sheila, middle-aged and comfortable in her own skin, and her encounter with a younger man at an airport lounge. As Sheila and Satish converse in the lounge and in the flight, Sheila allows herself a flashback through her own life, and wonders if this is a new chance at happiness. But this, too, turns out to be elusive.Sheila realizes that her sophistication, gathered over the years, is ultimately something of a veneer. Some stories dwell on the painful dilemmas of being a father and husband; how a man can be torn apart by the demands of family. Few stories written by women authors feature a man’s perspective,.Here the male characters and relationships are explored with sensitivity. The poems that intersperse these stories are of a somewhat different texture, with themes of love, dreaming, and acceptance. Many of the stories in the collection, displaying, as they do, a complex tapestry of people, emotions, and conflicts, could have worked better as novels or even novellas. Still, in the Balzacian world she has unraveled, Latika gives us a glimpse of ordinary lives; in those simple lives, with their petty conflicts and irresolvable dilemmas, entire universes can be concealed. n This review first appeared in sawnet.org. Anu Kumar’s novels include Letters for Paul (2006), The Dollmakers’ Island (2010) and the forthcoming, It takes a Murder. She has also written for younger readers, and was twice awarded for her short stories by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association.
Geetika Pathania Jain
An Inter-species Love Story ZELDA, QUEEN OF PARIS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE LUCKIEST DOG IN THE WORLD by Paul Chutkow. Lyons Press. 209 pages. $22.95.
etween Zelda, a mangy slumdog (before Danny Boyle made slumdogs fashionable), and Paul Chutkow, American reporter, emerges an alchemy of deep adoration. The book is a warm account of an inter-species love affair between Zelda and her human. Paul Chutkow, it turns out, has had a rather interesting life. His reporting career with the Associated Press took him to India, and subsequently to Paris. Not only does he have the élan of the foreign correspondent who can speak with familiarity of Jor Bagh in Delhi, and Mother Teresa in Calcutta, but he has stories of how he lost his heart in India. Zelda’s frolicsome antics fill most of this light-hearted book, and surely there is something magical about the complete devotion of a dog to his master. The narrative is interesting enough—man meets dog, grudgingly falls in love, travels the world and watches dog turn into canine diva. Chutkow smiles indulgently
even at Zelda’s most grievous misdeeds. Yes, Zelda is a biter, but how sweet she looks during, and penitent after having bitten, you can hear him say. Acts of celebrity selfdestruction can make for a fascinating read, yet lacking access to sex, drugs, or rock and roll, Zelda restrains herself to despoiling the pristine Parisian sidewalks and biting various unsuspecting innocents. Yet far more interesting than issues of dog misbehavior is the description of the world that Zutkow inhabits. Two things became clear as I read the book. One is that surely Zelda was Queen of Paris in simpler times. One yearns for those certainties, when the lines were clearly drawn between the good guys (us) and the bad guys (them). Chutkow’s aversion to the Iron Curtain and his satisfaction at the end of the Cold War bears a certain historical authenticity. His convictions appear unclouded by any niggling doubts of the legitimacy of alternative viewpoints or competing ideologies. Communists were, quite simply, bad people who had to be destroyed, or at least wrongheaded zealots from whom the world had to be shielded. So devoid of nuance is his uncomplicated world-view that I found myself remembering the George W. Bush Presidency’s “axis of evil” with a terrifying nostalgia. My second insight was that surely Zelda was Queen of Paris at a time when news gathering was a far more lucrative occupation. First class flights from Delhi to Paris? I was quite impressed by the glamor of a writer’s life in the 50s. And surely it is somewhat unseemly that Zelda feasts while other slumdogs eke out a miserable existence? Chutkow does seem sensitive to the large inequalities that exist between him and his domestic staff in India. There is evidence of the benign paternalism that seems emblematic of U.S.-Indian relations at the time. Take pause to remember the geopolitical context of the time, especially the legacy that tied food aid that the United States had supplied to the humiliated India. Struggling to stay non-aligned in the cold war, and not yet having offered up its lucrative domestic market to global corporations, India’s foreign reserves were low and its
self-esteem bruised. Chutkow’s world reflects the geopolitical realities of its times. This was the midseventies, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India. Chutkow’s references to the Emergency bring the realization that for many Indians living through this draconian period of Indian history, the international press was a more reliable source of credible news than the muzzled Indian press. So one imagines that after what would have been considered a “hardship” assignment in Delhi, Chutkow embraces the familiar comforts of his Paris assignment with a discernible sigh of relief. Surely croissants and weekend seaside excursions hold greater promise of
Chutkow’s references to the Emergency bring the realization that for many Indians living through this draconian period of Indian history, the international press was a more reliable source of credible news than the muzzled Indian press. salubrious times, but the book lost some of its charm for me and became rather bland as Chutkow departed Delhi. I suppose I wanted more of India’s grittiness, and let me place some blame at the feet of Danny Boyle, who has made poverty porn a sub-genre of voyeuristic fetish. I was missing the mirch-masala. Dogs, like children, have often been emblems of social status and denoters of privilege. Zelda’s slumdog status notwithstanding, she confers upon her owner the ability to recount tales of proximity to John Kenneth Galbraith, to Mother Teresa, Julia Childs, and Mariel Hemingway, among other notables. In the end, the book is about Paul Chutkow’s favorite, who, I must acknowledge, is rather less than a paragon of virtue. It was, after all, Hemingway’s son who clearly saw this: Zelda was a bitch.n Geetika Pathania Jain is an educator and writer living in the SF Bay Area. india currents • march 2012 • 45
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Jashan: A Celebration. Every year, MAD
Bollywood Studio celebrates its students on a prestigious platform with colors, lights, and applause. This year MAD takes us on a journey through India as Jashan explores different forms of dances, each characteristic of different parts of the nation. We have the powerful yet sensual Lavani dance from the state of Maharashtra, the colorful and folksy Bhangra from the state of Punjab, Kathak the dance of storytelling from the northern states, as well as the graceful and spiritual Manipuri dance from the state of Manipur. Stay tuned for a detailed history of each of
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Musical director Harihar Rao at Kala Sagar, March 31.
these dance forms, along with each group of dancers’ progress in mastering these dance forms. MAD Bollywood promises a colorful festival of traditional and contemporary Indian music, dance, and culture, with Chief Guest of honor, Terence Lewis. Organized by MAD Bollywood Dance Studios. 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Pearson Park Amphitheater, 401 North Lemon St., Anaheim, 92805. $20, $25, $30, $35, VIP $50. Student discounted tickets priced at only $15. (714) 368-3424. www. madbollywooddance.com.
Annual Holi at the Beach 2012. Holi,
celebrated by millions of people across the world is one of the most colorful festivals of India. Through all the fun and frolicking, the event also hopes to raise funds to promote and sustain development work by various grassroots NGOs that AID supports. Organized by Los Angeles chapter of Association for India’s Development (AIDLA). 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Will Rogers State Beach, Pacific Coast Highway and Temescal Canyon Road (between towers 5 and 6), Pacific Palisades, 90272. $10 for general, $15 for general (at the door). (714) 269 3081, (843) 503 2133. firstname.lastname@example.org. www. aidla-events.org/holionthebeach/.
Sharad Gupta Performs Gazals. There
Maestro Ravi Shankar T
he Center for World Music and The Indian Fine Arts Academy (IFAASD) of San Diego along with The Ravi Shankar Foundation present internationally acclaimed music virtuoso Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar for an evening of classical raga and rhythm set to delight Southern California’s multi-generational music loving audience. “Bharat Ratna” or “Jewel of India,” is India’s highest civilian award presented for public service in areas such as art, literature, science, and politics. Shankar received the award in 1999. Although fortune bestows itself to the lucky few, it is how one utilizes the proverbial silver spoon which distinguishes a winner which Shankar aptly proved in his lifetime. Born into a well off Brahmin family and self admittedly spoiled by a life of world travels, Shankar explains how he adapted to the rigors of discipline. “My brother Uday Shankar inspired me to value the importance of the quality of performance and presentation while being a part of his company,” he explains. Shankar had already earned early success as a musician and dancer and “realized that if I wanted to become an excellent sitar player I had to make the choice of giving up everything and to go and live in the village with my guru and contend with a very basic life.” Shankar expands, “usually a student becomes eager to perform after learning a little, I fortunately did not have this urge as I had already experienced the thrill of performing in front of large audiences and instead spent more years than most students with my guru Baba Allauddin, a traditionalist who took me under his wing and taught me the true Gurukul style.” On the evolutionary shift of Indian music and training Shankar recommends good teachers and personal sincerity to upcoming artists but also comments “the combination of technological advances and the desire to do something new have caused rapid changes which are sometimes jarring. Indian classical music is not just about display of speed, virtuosity and technical achievements. It is marked by the navarasa and bhavas or emotions. It is a deep spiritual and meditative approach as long as the musician does not lose his or her music it will be beautiful.” The maestro also reflected on one of his favorite performances which occurred in the mid-seventies. Shankar performed for the
sage of Kanchi Maha Periyaval. “It was the circumstances under which I played which was memorable. An elephant was nearby and the sun was right above us, in scorching heat I was completely wet with sweat. Normally the instruments would have been problematic under those circumstances but strangely the sitar did not go out of tune once through the entire hour long concert.” Shankar continues, “Dear Bhai Alla Rakha, my regular accompanist for 25 years was with me on that day, it was beautiful, I played Todi and Bhairavi. Everyone was in a trance.” At the enriched age of 91, Shankar is far from winding down and is constantly rejuvenating his musical repertoire with new compositions of ragas and songs. When asked how he relaxes and maintains his health with such a busy schedule Shankar admits, “fortunately my wife makes sure that everything is always in order.” The upcoming concert is sure to be a memorable concert and although most of Shankar’s performances are improvisational, Shankar typically begins with a melodic meditative prelude on sitar nudging the audience to introspection with its low and mournful yet ecstatic phrases which often introduce notes one at a time. Shankar will later escalate to select evening
ragas to accentuate not only the raga’s tonal beauty but also to stimulate moods and emotions in the audience particular to the time of night. Smattered within the night’s musical finale will be a presentation of Ragamalika or a garland of ragas. Music flows and ragas smoothly transition from one to another as audiences revel in Shankar’s favorite original compositions with a bold fast-paced mix of Indian folk songs and ragas that exercise freedom, spontaneity and showcase the intense training of each artist. Shankar’s sister-in-law, Lakshmi Shankar a well known vocalist will make a unique guest appearance and will perform as well. Shankar will be accompanied by Tanmoy Bose (tabla) who is an “indispensable member in the global fraternity of percussion” per Shekar Viswanathan, managing trustee of IFAASD. Global artist Ravichandra Kulur (flute) and his senior disciple Parimal Sadhaphal (sitar) will accompany him as well.n
Sunday March 25, Long Beach Convention Center, Terrace Theater, Long Beach. 7:30 p.m. $35 - $70. (562) 436-3661, (800) 7453000. http://www.ravishankar.org. india currents • march 2012 • 47
48 • india currents • march 2012
will also be talk on spiritual significance of Shivratri and meditation by Brahma Kumaris along with bharatnatyam performance by Savithri Arts Academy students. Organized by The Brahma Kumaris. 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Jain Temple, 8032 Commonwealth Ave Buena Park, 90621. Free. (323) 933-2808. email@example.com. www.bklosangeles.org.
Holi Ke Rang. Holi celebration with family,
friends, Indian food, music, dance, refreshments and colors. Organized by Hindu Temple and Heritage Foundation; a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing and preserving India’s cultural and social values. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Arcadia County Park, 405 South Santa Anita Ave., 91006 (on Huntington Drive, next to BBQ picnic area opposite Methodist Hospital). Free. (626) 3510664, (626) 579-9649, (626) 795-5539.
Buena Park, 90621. $20-$40. Tickets: http:// sulekha.com. (562) 860-1135, (714) 9944360, (310) 753-8990.
Bharata Natyam Dance Conert.
An unique solo performance by A. Lakshman of Chennai. As a performer he has earned a formidable reputation. Acclaimed as the best male dancer by many connoisseurs in the field, and by the media. Organized by Arpana Dance Company in cooperation with the Ektaa Center. 6 p.m. William Bristol Auditorium, 16600 Civic Center Drive, Bellflower, CA. Advance Purchase $15, door $20. (949) 8743662. firstname.lastname@example.org. www. arpanadancecompany.org.
A Magical Journey into the World of Melody, Mood and Rhythm. Raga Rasa
A Riot of Colors - Holi Re! The annual festival of the welcoming of Spring returns with another round of Holi fun at Will Rogers State Beach. This annual festival brings hundreds of people together for a day of colors, music, food and fun. Colors will be provided. Organized by NetIP LA OC. Noon-4 p.m. Will Rogers State Beach (Towers 5/6). North of Temescal Canyon Road on Pacific Coast Highway Pacific Palisades, 90272. $10 for NetIP members, $15 for nonNetIP members. Door price:$15 Members, $20 non members. (562) 595-2213. hardik@netipla. orh. www.netipla.org. MAD MAD Comedy Drama. Hilarious, new Gujarati play for the whole family, staring Sarita Joshi, Bakul Thakkar, Shruti Gholpa, Hemant Bhatt, Vikram Mehta, Jai Pandya Ashwini, and Mehul Joshi. Produced by Show People and Kaustubh Trivedi; written by Aslam Parvez and Nilesh Rupapara, and directed by Vipul Mehta. Organized by Keyash Entertainment. Jain Center Cultural Hall, 8072 Commonwealth Ave.,
presents its first public event. A rare and unique opportunity to hear live in concert: Sarod legend Aashish Khan, one of India’s greatest living sarod players and maestro of the tradition. Arup Chattopadhyay (tabla) one of the leading exponents on tabla of his generation and Indrani Mukherjee, a young rising star in the field of Hindustani vocal music. Organized by Raga Rasa - Kartik Seshadri’s Center for Indian Classical and Improvised Music. 7:30-10 p.m. The Neurosciences Institute, (This concert is presented as part of the Performing Arts at The Neurosciences Institute Program.), 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego 92121. General $30, students $15. (760) 753-2860. email@example.com. www. ragarasa.org.
World’s First Muslim Spelling Bee.
Registration for the competition is open to Muslim children (ages up to 14 years) from Islamic school, public school private school and home school. The regional event will include a competition, bazaar/carnival and cultural programs. Organized by TMA Worldwide. Orange Crescent School, 6426 N. Spaulding Ave., Garden Grove, California. (773) 5369786. firstname.lastname@example.org. www. muslimspellingbee.com.
E-waste Recycling. Accepted items:
Display units, laptops, desktop computers
Solo performance in bharata natyam by A. Lakshman of Chennai, March 11
and peripherals (printers, fax machines, scanners, etc.), networking and telecom equipment, consumer electronics, printer cartridges, cell phones and chargers. Ends March 25. Organized by Whitney Indian Parents Association. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Whitney High School, 16800 Shoemaker Ave, Cerritos, 90703. (310) 968-6899. smita.bagla@gmail. com.
Fifth Annual Indian Music and Dance Festival. Festival will feature approximately
70 artists from India. The festival will also celebrate legendary sitar master Ravi Shankar’s 92nd birthday and felicitate violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman. It will include the celebration of Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, and centenary celebrations of V. Lakshminarayana, Palghat Mani Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer, and Brindamma. The six-day festival is expected to attract 6,000 people, and will also highlight vegetarian delights from various regions of India. Ends April 1. Organized by Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego. 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Jewish Community Center, David and Dorethea Garfield Theater, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla, 92037. $25 per event. (858) 638-0744, (760) 729-4971, (858) 229-5696. email@example.com, srpraba@ india currents • march 2012 • 49
yahoo.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. www. indianfinearts.org.
5655, 3(10)569-5569. email@example.com. www.barclay.org, www.odissidancecircle.com.
Kala Sagar: Music of North and South India. Festival 2012! brings both new and
The 21st Annual Swati Tirunal Day.
Swati Tirunal (1813-1846), Maharaja of Travancore, India, composed music in both Hindustani and Karnatik styles and is perhaps the finest-ever composer of music for dance in India as well as one of the earliest writers of modern Hindi poetry for music. The program consists of several renditions of Swati Tirunal’s compositions (Ragamaalikas, Navaratri Kritis, Kirtanams and Padams) by well-known local musicians and artists. Maharaja’s Hindustani compositions are also featured. Organized by Organization of Hindu Malayalees. 8:30 a.m.9 p.m. CMLA-Rameswaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Tustin, 92780. Free. (949) 856-3225, (562) 916-3521.
familiar musical sounds and the fascinating rhythms of India’s great Hindustani and Karnatik classical traditions into one occasion that also celebrates the founding of the Music Circle and the birthday of its musical director, Harihar Rao. Numerous artists entertain at this four-concert event. Over two days, the deeply traditional and
Sarod Legend Aashish Khan, March 16
Rasrang, Moods of Kathak. A dance
Suman Laha at the Ritukailas benefit concert, April 8
spiritual vocal style of dhrupad performed by the Gundecha brothers will be heard along with the contrasting vocal style of South India, executed by the young Toronto brothers, Ashwin and Rohin Iyer. The contemporary sounds of the Divine Strings orchestra that merges traditional South Indian artists with western musicians both preserves and promotes the dynamic nature of the art. The beautiful tapestries of the classical ragas are featured on the sarod by Partho Sarothy and the violin under the virtuosities of Aishu Venkataraman, and Arun Ramamurthy accompanied by exciting rhythms on the tabla or mridangam. At the performance interludes, food, celebration and other activities continue the theme of Indian festivals. Ends April 1. Organized by The Music Circle. 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Herrick Chapel at Occidental College, 1600 Campus Road (end of Alumni Drive. past Campus Road), Los Angeles (Eagle Rock), 90041. $35 Single Concerts; $60 Day Passes, $100 Two Day Pass; Students with ID $10-$20. (626) 449-6987. MusicCircle@aol.com. www. musiccircle.org.
50 • india currents • march 2012
performance by the Nupur Academy, Artistic Director, Prachi Dixit. Featuring music by Ajeet Pathak (tabla), Ranjeet Pathak (vocal), Sheila Bringi (Flute) and Michael Hamlin. (sitar). 6 p.m.-8 p.m. J. Norris Theater. 27570 Norris Center Dr., Rolling Hills, 90278. $20 (advance) $25. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ritukailasa - A Benefit Concert For Bharat Sevashram West. Ritukailas
is a dance drama by students of Odissi Dance Circle, directed by Nandita Behera. Instrument percussion trio by Suman Lah (veena), Abhijit Banerjee (tabla) and Sri Somnath Roy(ghatam). Suman Laha an exceptional artist is one of the most talented instrumentalist in contemporary Hindustani music. His performance on the veena has earned him an international reputation of considerable distinction. Through his various concerts and music lessons, Suman continues the tradition of Indian classical music. A premier disciple of Padmabhusan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, Nandita Behera is a leading exponent of the odissi dance style. As the artistic director for the past twenty years, Nandita has become a highly regarded instructor and choreographer. Organized by Bharat Sevashram West. 5 p.m. Irvine Barclay Theater, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine, 92612. $50,$35,$25, $15. (949) 854-4646, (714) 521-
STOP PRESS Zakir Hussain and Masters of Percussion Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain’s Masters of Percussion offer a thrilling exploration of the depth and breadth of Indian music. From meditative classical ragas to high-energy rhythmic drumming and dance, a fascinating musical journey will unfold. Joining the 2012 performance are Fazal Hussain, Fazal Qureshi, rakesh Chaurasia, Abbos Kosimov, Uma Shankar, Sabir Khan, Navin Sharma and Joy Singh, with special guest Antonia Minnecola. 8 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall. 111 South Grand Avenue Los Angeles, 90012. (323) 850-2000. http:// www.musiccenter.org.
Place your event for free at: w w w. i n d i a c u r r e n t s . com/submit-event
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Roy Eugene Davis
Meditate to Unveil Knowledge and Liberate Consciousness
o quickly unfold superconscious states, meditate long and deep with special techniques and advanced practices. Instead of meditating for 15 to 20 minutes for physical and psychological health and gradual spiritual growth only, schedule longer and more frequent practice sessions. If you are a beginning meditator, maintain your short daily sessions and include a 30 minute session once a week until you acquire more proficiency in practice. If you have been meditating on a regular schedule for several months, extend your daily session to 30 minutes or an hour, adding another daily session after another few months. Balance meditative practices with intentional living routines and maintain a keen interest in accomplishing purposes and performing duties. In this way you will avoid becoming so preoccupied with investigating subjective states of consciousness that you lose interest in secular life. When meditating, concentrate completely on knowing the truth about yourself and awakening to God-realization. When not meditating, remain established in Self-knowledge and live effectively. It is not necessary to completely withdraw from the world and from activities and relationships to be spiritually free. When we clearly comprehend that we are spiritual beings in a consciousness-energy-manifested universe sustained and ordered by a Higher Intelligence, we can maintain inner realization and live successfully in relation to the world and its processes. Having a private meditation sanctuary can be helpful. This may be a small, secluded room, or place set aside in a larger room. Separate it for the purpose of meditation and philosophical reflection. Install a comfortable chair. If desired, have a picture of your guru or of saints whose spiritual attainment inspires you. Keep your sacred space simple and clean. When you go there, thoughts of secular matters will be replaced by thoughts of your relationship with God. Aspiration to Self-knowledge will be nurtured and superconscious meditation will more easily be experienced. If you sincerely want to be fully awake to your true nature and know the reality of God, meditate with focused intention impelled by devotion to God and firm commitment to accomplish your purpose. 52 â€˘ india currents â€˘ march 2012
Remain alert and observant. Practice techniques to elicit physical relaxation and mental calm, then direct your attention to discovery of what you want to know about God, your relationship to God, and cosmic processes. Contemplate clear states of consciousness and awaken to them. Directing attention in this way is meditative contemplation, which is successfully accomplished when concentration and meditation culminate in insight or realized experience as determined by your aspiration and focused intention. Examples of accomplished meditative contemplation are (1) discernment of knowledge; (2) actualization of the soul qualities of peace, happiness, compassion, wholeness, and exceptional functional skills; (3) vivid experience of refined superconscious states and transcendent realizations. When the intellectual faculty is unveiled and purified, superior powers of discernment can be demonstrated. When intuition is unveiled, the truth about whatever is examined can be directly and immediately known. When awareness of our true nature is no longer obscured by illusions and delusions, we are enlightened; our Self-revealed knowledge is reflected in our illumined mind and expressed
through our refined physical body. When permanently established in this realization and consciousness is no longer influenced by the qualities of nature or of cosmic forces, we are liberated. Affirm with confidence: *Established in Self-revealed knowledge, I am whole in God. *Wisdom-directed, I live freely, easily, and enjoyably in a God-governed, supportive universe. *The understanding and happiness I now have, *I lovingly wish for others.n Saturday March 24, 10 am to 4 pm. Meditation Seminar and Kriya Yoga Initiation will be held at the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, 1146 University Ave, San Jose. www. CSEcenter.org. Roy Eugene Davis is the founder and Spiritual Director of the Center for Spiritual Awareness, www.csa-davis.org. He is a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and was ordained by him in 1951.
spirituality and health
Regain your Divine Heritage. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 2950170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yoganandasrf.org.
Controlling the Power of Habit. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 2950170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yoganandasrf.org
Classical Ragas and Indian Crossover.
Performance by Paul Livingstone and Hom Nath Upadhyaya and special guest Sheela Prema. Organized by 5 Elements Mystic Music series. 8-11 p.m. Museum of Music and Instruments, 711 Hampton, Venice 90291. $15. (323) 839-0793. www.tanpura.com.
An Evening of Soulful Indian Ragas. An evening of soulful Indian ragas with Hom Nath Upadhyaya and Paul Livingstone. Organized by Yoga House. 8-11 p.m. Yoga House, 11 West State St., Pasadena, 91105. $18/$20 (presale/door) students $10. (626) 403-3961. www.tanpura.com.
The Secret of Spiritual Sucess. 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. Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings on Sundays Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second March Sunday Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) Peace: The Alter of Heaven. Sunday Ser295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by vice. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Self Realization Fellowship. www.yoganandaSunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454srf.org. 4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. March Monday (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Afternoon Ragas and Sadhana CD release. Paul Livingstone and Hom Nath Upad- Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 hyaya perform. Organized by Ravi Bellare Arts First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call Foundation. 3-6 p.m. House Concer, 14865 temples for times. Organized by Self RealizaSummit Trail Road, Chino Hills, 91709. $15 tion Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org. (light dinner included). (909) 636-6092. www. tanpura.com. © Copyright 2012 India Currents. All rights
reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited.
Have you had an inspirational experience?
Raja Yoga meditation. Raja Yoga medita-
tion helps us to rekindle the peace, love and happiness at the core of the self and be more aware of our inner values and strengths. Learn how to meditate and explore a positive process for change. Organized by The Brahma Kumaris. 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Ektaa Center, 2691 Richter Ave., #104 Irvine, 92606. Free. (562) 430-4711. email@example.com. www.bklosangeles.org.
Share it with the readers of India Currents. We are accepting spiritual or religious-themed essays for print, from any religion or denomination, or lack thereof. Send your 600- to 800-word submission to: Mona Shah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P l a c e y o u r e v e n t f o r f r e e : w w w. i n d i a c u r r e n t s . c o m / s u b m i t - e v e n t india currents • march 2012 • 53
the healthy life
Suchetha Sarathy and Mona Shah
How to Sleep Well D id you sleep well last night? If you say no, who is responsible for it? Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to sleep. Tossing and turning. Your mind is racing, going over everything that happened today. Night noises keep you awake. What can you do? Read on and learn some new tricks to sleep well. A good night’s sleep keeps you healthy both physically and mentally. It boosts your memory, getting more quality sleep will help you remember and process things better. It reduces inflammation in the body; it may also help in keeping cancer at bay. Quality sleep makes you more alert. It reduces body weight, keeps the heart healthy. When you are deprived of sleep you feel lethargic, your routine is disturbed, your hormones are not doing there normal work and you feel sick. Here are few common sleep killers: Stress: Stress and sleep deprivation seem to go together. Unfortunately, stressed and busy people tend to get less sleep than they need. Some people handle it better, while others cannot withstand the smallest change in their routine. When one does feel stressed they may find it difficult to sleep due to the decrease in the level of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Overscheduling: A hectic, busy life can rob you of time you can actually dedicate to sleep. If you find yourself pushing your bed time back further and further to get things done, or getting up earlier and earlier in the name of productivity, you may feel tired a lot of the time but not realize the toll lack of sleep is taking. Pain: In any form, such as simple headache, backache, arthritic pain tends to reduce the quality of sleep. Similarly, acid reflux or belching, especially after a later-than-usual, heavy meal, in females premenstrual syndrome, as well as menopausal hormonal fluctuations are bound to mess up the body clock hence the sleep. Caffeine: The world’s most widely used stimulants are coffee, alcohol and nicotine. It acts on the blood by increasing the levels of serotonin thereby increasing the levels of alertness. You may down cups of coffee because of a deadline or may enjoy excess colas just because they taste good with your pizza, but these contain caffeine. The dura-
54 • india currents • march 2012
tion of effect depends on the amount of caffeine ingested, tolerance levels and time gap between the intake and sleep. Quiet and Comfortable: Environmental matters like light, temperature, noise are the external factors that affect the quality and restfulness of sleep. Our ancestors followed the simple law of nature; they were awake while the day lasted and went to sleep at the first signs of night. Some people do find a “white noise” machine helps lull them to sleep. Deep sleep is most sensitive to temperature-related disruptions. For example, we may find it difficult to sleep when it is too hot or cold. Too lumpy or too hard a pillow may lead to not just back and neck pain, but also a sleepless night. So, choose the right ones that are comfortable for you.
Get the sleep you need
Have dinner early. Two or three hours before you sleep. Avoid bed time snacks it not only disturbs digestion but also raise your blood levels. If you still feel hungry you can choose a fruit or a glass of fruit juice or milk with dash or honey. Aerated drinks, alcohol and caffeine should be avoided 2-3 hours before sleep. Don’t take naps. This will ensure you are tired at bedtime. If you just can’t make it through the day without a nap, sleep less than one hour, before 3 pm. Cultivating good bed time habits like listening to soft music, reading a book, listening to spiritual
talks will get good sleep. Develop sleep rituals. It is important to give your body cues that it is time to slow down and sleep. Listen to relaxing music, read something soothing for 15 minutes, have a cup of caffeine free tea, do relaxation exercises. One of the best therapies to get good sleep a de-stress your body and mind is Shirodhara. “Shiro” means head and “dhara” means to flow. Shirodhara involves gently pouring liquids over the forehead, more specifically stated, on the “third eye.” It is the chakra point just above and between the eyebrows which is said to be the seat of human consciousness. Shirodhara is a unique form of Ayurvedic therapy which includes pouring oil on the forehead from a specific height and for a specific period continuously and rythmically allowing the oil to run through the scalp and into the hair. Shirodhara is a purifying and rejuvenating therapy designed to eliminate toxins and mental exhaustion as well as relieve stress and any ill effects on the central nervous system. The liquids used in shirodhara can include oil, milk, buttermilk, coconut water, or even plain water according to the prakruti or the nature of the individual. If you can’t get to a spa, massage your scalp at home, with a mixture of ghee, sesame oil and Brahmin taila or jatamamsi taila for about 20 minutes daily. People with predominance of vata can use sesame oil, pitta people can use ghee or coconut oil, and kapha predominant ones can use mustard oil. A mixture of powders of vacha(sweet flag),amla(Indian Gooseberry) and brahmi(bacopa) in equal quantity taken with milk or honey rejuvenates the central nervous system and hence useful in sleep disorders. Nutmeg powder can be made paste with milk and applied over the eyes and forehead to get good sleep. A cup of chamomile tea at bedtime is truly beneficial for inducing sleep. It is a coveted remedy throughout the world. The earlier you adopt good sleep habits, the easier it will be to sustain them through the years. n Suchetha Sarathy is chief Ayurveda physician at a hospital in Mysore, India. She can be contacted at ayursuchi(at)gmail.com.
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he milky dhatura gum would siphon out my soul toward enlightenment. They said I needed it to face sorrows that could lacerate even a princess. I obeyed the sages and rolled a pea-sized ball on my tongue. Its bitter-acrid taste melted into a jasmine-scented mist, revealing a hibiscus opened to engulf the world and me into its crimson velvet embrace. I slid-danced, twirling my limbs around its delicately firm stamen. The anthers stroked my face, tracing my sword-sharp nose, the curve of my cheeks, like adoring fingers, streaking my quivering body with golden pollen. As it sucked me into its pulsating vortex, I heard each thudding heartbeat and sensed each breath freeing and gripping again my floating body. Then the hibiscus deposited me onto a lush world
56 • india currents • march 2012
specked with reds and blushing fuchsia. The familiar yellow-brown undergrowth of the Panchavati forest turned aquamarine, jade and emerald tints, thirsting no longer for rain. I moved on, floating with the gentle breeze. I saw them moving through the foliage; two doll-like creatures, small like the comicalgrotesque dwarfs who juggled balls and did somersaults to amuse jaded courtiers in my father’s palace. Yet these two were perfectly formed, their arms twined around stout bows. The creatures moved like clockwork toys, the playthings my father, the monarch of Lanka, commissioned master craftsmen to fashion for me. I was, I am a princess, the daughter and sister of powerful kings. They would barter their lives, their kingdom, to prevent even a single tear from forming in the corner
Katha 2011 Finalist
of my eye. The dhatura led me on, encasing the world in a crystal drop more vivid than mere reality. I followed the darling little ones to their hut in a clearing. Another doll emerged, a woman even more delicately formed than her toy men. I stood alone hiding behind the foliage, yearning to share their laughter and sink my sharp fangs into the yielding, juicy flesh of the ripe mangoes in their basket. I would learn later that they were Lord Rama, his brother Lord Laxman, and wife Sita; godly incarnations who would be immortalized by Indians in their great epic, the Ramayana. “Will you play with me?” I remember having emerged from my hiding place and asked. A princess must be welcomed with honour and never need to ask. The dhatura made me
forget that childhood lesson and stay, yearn. Enlightenment would follow some day, but not then, not there. Their poets would one day teach all humanity that Lord Rama was the perfect man, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. His woman, they would preach, was the true and good one to be worshipped in temples, the princess who obediently plunged into the flames, no questions asked. The dhatura made me playful. They knew I had floated then beyond my finite self, so their poets spread their own version of what followed. I was festooned with ridicule and with a final stroke, decapitated; the ultimate scapegoat, the grotesque fallen one. My truth is different. If the dhatura intoxicated me with desire to play with those doll-men, I did no wrong. Don’t men forever desire to play with women? I should not have obeyed those sages and let the dhatura take charge. Didn’t I savor every drop of life even without such crutches? It came as naturally as waves breaking against rocks for us rakshasas to dance free and wild. In our palace, evenings of pulsating revelry stretched into the lavender and pink hues of dawn. We relished each hot, sweet, or sour morsel, chewing the fibrous flesh and sucking salty-metallic blood still dripping from freshly slaughtered meat. We drank and drew deep breaths of potent smoke that dissolved all hesitation. I would dance on those nights. The monsoon breeze would stroke my burnished ebony skin as I tossed off my brocade garments to the clang of cymbals and throbbing drums. As the gongs boomed to a frenzied crescendo, I would unclasp my last shackles, golden chains studded with diamonds and rubies. My beauty did not need to be smothered by silks and ornaments. My father the monarch and my brothers the princes of Lanka encouraged me to play and dance my way. On that day in Panchavati, the doll-men sensed my mind floating with the breeze. They teased and urged me on. I remember watching those tiny men with dhatura-drawn wonder. Longer, stronger limbs would make them more like our vigorous rakshasa men. It was fantastic, imagining them as plastic shapes flexing to my will. I would comb the tangles out of their hair, and whisking off their rough loincloths, dress them in silken robes embroidered with rare gems. I pictured them growing, then shrinking in my mind’s eye, like stretchy slivers of chewed gum that could never match up to a virile rakshasa. Men! They must have thought I was admiring, desiring them. When I’d only wanted to play. As I stepped forward and offered my hand, they said I was beautiful and I knew that was true. How could I have suspected that their perceptions were skewed? I didn’t yet understand their human sarcasm and taunts, their games of half-truths. They toyed with me, as though they were ready to play with me. I did not understand their satirical
barbs, for we rakshasas scream out our rage and laugh as freely as we declare our love. To justify their craven vicious act of mutilating me, human poets later wrote in their epic that I had lusted obscenely after them. Lust! Those two creatures together wouldn’t have matched a bold and free rakshasa. Their songs also lied that I wanted to eat their doll-woman. Shrewd creatures, humans were born to manipulate. They knew that lies told and retold relentlessly would seep into weaker minds as truth. On that fateful day in Panchavati, bored of their jests, the smaller man drew his bow. The less puny of the two creatures egged him on and... The flash of sunlight on polished arrows stunned me. And in that blinding moment, flames of pain seared my body. Blood! Oh… my nose! Such dire punishment for being playful! Oh my clothes, my hands... Red rivers of crimson drowned out the gentle blues and greens of my world. Wave upon wave of agony crashed through my body. Terrified, I ran away howling from those bloodthirsty, malicious brutes. I stumbled countless times upon the rocks and fainted from the pangs of soul-deep wounds. Sharp branches tore my clothes and hair. My feet cut on jagged rocks, as I ran I knew not where to escape those treacherous men. The throbbing pain dogged me until I slumped into my dear brother Khara’s protective arms. Supernovae flashed in Khara’s eyes as he stroked my hair free from the gash where my nose once had been. “Who has done this?” his voice boomed making birds spiral downward in mid-fight. Girding on his sword, he marched into the forest with his trusted aides Dushana and Trishiras. A wizened crone had not yet cleaned and dressed my lacerations, when a lone attender trudged back in bloodied tatters, head downcast. My brother Khara, his brave generals, all... all were gone forever in a flash of vengeful wrath. The holocaust was yet to come. If only they had listened to me, my brothers. Instead they rushed headlong to settle scores; an eye for an eye, to avenge a mutilated sister, they abducted Lord Rama’s wife. Armies of our brave rakshasas marched forth to battle the advancing columns of the race of monkeymen led by their tiny human gods. None paused to think that honor, valor, and vengeance are sapped of all significance by death. After the epic battle the puny humans and their vanara followers left our empire of Lanka in shambles. They left me with no story to tell; a mere laughing stock of a footnote in their epic of godly feats. They knew the best way to eliminate a threat was by stifling its voice, by nipping it gently as it emerged tender and pale green from the dark, monsoon drenched earth. Sworn to protect all life, they simply defiled me so it never pricked their
They knew I had floated beyond my finite self, so their poets spread their own version of what followed. I was festooned with ridicule and with a final stroke, decapitated; the ultimate scapegoat, the grotesque fallen one. My truth is different. exalted conscience. Their epic screamed for millennia of their glory and our humiliation; that we rakshasas were wild, debased demons incapable of higher emotions and intellect like themselves. That served humans well in their endless spirals of wars and hostilities and justified the violence they thrust upon us as conquerors. They razed our powerful armies, left our verdant Lanka in the death grip of a nuclear winter. From a citadel of mothers, sisters and widows, we rakshashis emerged to seek our loved ones among the corpse-littered battlefield. I moved through bloody slush, stepping carefully among our fallen rakshasas and soldiers of the enemy vanara armies entwined in mangled heaps. “Water.” The feeble cry for life in this field of death rose above distant thunderclaps and the shrieks of carrion birds circling overhead. I stepped over bodies, covering my face against the stinging flies and stench of rotting flesh. There! A raised hand moved as that voice cried again. He lay twisted and bleeding, still throbbing with hope. His helmet and breastplate had cracked to reveal shattered bones. One leg lay limp, twisted in a skewed angle, but I had learnt from the sages how to set that right with splints and plasters. I drew myself to my full height and heaved the soldier on to my shoulder. As I trudged back toward our citadel, I heard more cries. Searching, I found others who had cheated death. They weren’t much larger than the doll-men, but any rakshasi would have instantly recognized the broader shoulders and larger heads of boys of our rakshasa race. Was it my own brothers who had trapped them into a war they understood nothing about? How had they been condemned to fight with lethal weapons and trained to kill? They should have been chasing butterflies in the fields or swimming in lakes, those young boys. I returned with my handmaidens to scour the field for more survivors. india currents • march 2012 • 57
The older soldier with the broken leg hovered closest to death. Sponging the dried blood to clear his wounds, I noticed. He had coarse, thick hair covering his arms, legs and chest. Through the rust coloured hair, I could see his skin, the hue of fired terra cotta. Quite unlike the tamarind seed brown-black skin of our own men. He was clearly an enemy vanara. Days and weeks passed. “He’s opening his eyes!” my girls clapped their hands and hugged each other. “Thank... you... for saving... my life,” he rasped hoarsely in a flash of lucidity, fixing his gaze on me. “Are you... an angel?” All the dark, vengeful pangs pent up within me made way for a tide of bubbling laughter. “I’m Soorpanakha, the princess without a nose or kingdom,” I said. “I’m a rakshasi, not an angel.” “You are to me. Thank you for… my life.” He then closed his eyes, exhausted. I watched his broad chest rise and fall gently. True, he was no match for our own mighty soldiers. But the rippling muscles on his torso showed strength far beyond those toy-men’s. The war was over. Now this vanara was a survivor like me. He winced in pain, and I reached out to stroke his forehead. He opened his eyes again, more golden than light brown, and looked around the room, and then at me. “Where am I?” “This was once the palace of the monarch of Lanka. Now it belongs to the victorious godmen. My sole surviving brother Vibhishana manages it as their puppet.” “Lanka?” His eyes widened and he gasped. “The enemy’s stronghold… bloodthirsty demon rakshasas. But... But this chamber... It’s magnificent. How could demons and monsters carve those polished marble pillars and weave such magical tapestries?” “We aren’t monsters, any more than you are from a race of monkeys,” I said, seeing the deceit which had created enmity between our people. “Me, a monkey!” he thundered. “I’m a vanara warrior, a general in my king’s army.” “They fostered enmity,” I said, the bile rising bitter on my tongue. “They bent our minds with lies to make us fight in a war that need never have happened. Thanks to them, I’ve lost my dear brothers and our kingdom.” “May I, princess?” the vanara asked. I nodded. He stroked my hand and sighed. I continued. “While tricking me with their cunning games, the toy-men cut off my nose. This their epic the Ramayana admits to, despite all their sophisticated half-truths. Then they eagerly reached for my nipples and sliced them off to disfigure my beauty and teach me a lesson. Quick to mutilate, they were too squeamish to talk about this second valiant deed. Yet the truth did emerge in a few versions of their tales. Their web of deceit has 58 • india currents • march 2012
too many flaws. They called me ugly and repulsive, yet they rushed to deface the beauty they refused to acknowledge.” “Perhaps they were afraid, or simply overawed?” The vanara arched his bushy eyebrows. “They taught us to fight the feral rakshasas, yet you say you are one of them.” He paused to regain his breath. “I understand now, they spread lies to make us hate and fight each other.” “You are recovering now.” I looked at his stocky body regaining strength from our care. “Soon, you can go home and enjoy the spoils of victory. We women will remain weeping forever in the ruins of Lanka.” “Their victory means little to me.” The vanara sighed, wiping his eye. “We were duty bound to serve in our king’s army. I watched
“They fostered enmity,” I said, the bile rising bitter on my tongue. “They bent our minds with lies to make us fight in a war that need never have happened.” my father and brothers die in the battlefield. There is nothing left for me in my homeland. My king and the men he fought for are rejoicing, but I lost all that mattered to me. “ “If they hadn’t intruded into our land, my dearest Khara, Ravana the brave, they need not have died,” I replied. Outside my window, the field strewn with corpses stretched into grey, still-smouldering infinity. Rakshasa or vanara, race no longer mattered. Death had claimed them all. “If I had met you before that cursed war, I would have taken you into the forest and made love.” His pupils widened and flecks of gold sparkled in his amber eyes. Oh! My hand reached for the gash where my nose had been. I had been alone far too long to bother how others saw me. He focused on my gaping wound. Yet neither his gaze nor smile faltered. He spoke my language, and his eyes spoke to mine. In a world destroyed, we still lived. To rise from the ruins of the holocaust, we needed more than mere brute strength or bestial cunning. From my teachers, I had learnt to calm my soul and ponder. I turned to my knowledge of herbs and thought of things never tried before. Could I draw bones and flesh from other parts of my body to renew my vandalized beauty? I drew a knife and holding its gilded hilt, thrust it into purifying fire. And then, the blade still glowing, I sliced out strips of cartilage from my clavicle to fashion a base for my new nose. Flashes of agony sent
me reeling. The dhatura dulled my pangs and steeled my mind. When the cartilage base healed, I drew flaps of skin from my forehead and moulded a new nose. And then with dainty strokes, I fashioned new nipples. With waves of pain still pulsating through me, I worked upon the surviving soldiers, offering dhatura to keep them calm. Their broken bones I set for painless movement. Their scars I scraped for new, smooth skin to grow. Months passed. With our stores of dry grains and nuts depleted, we ventured out in search of food. The dead grey sky was fading to reveal blue spring. Rains had washed the blood from the battlefield. The flesh of decaying corpses had given life to vultures and maggots. Their bones had mixed with dust. We marched on through the field of death, my handmaidens and I, side by side with the young soldiers. The gravel made way for grass, first a few shy green blades, then bolder viridian patches rife with tender clover. “Look! Trees ahead,” cried the vanara general. We raced on to meet the horizon, inhaling the sweet scents of ripening fruits and flowers. Our fortress melted into the hazy distance as we entered thickets of bamboos and leafy trees. Refreshed by fruits and enticed by a gurgling stream, we ran, tossing off our clothes before plunging into cool water. We laughed as we splashed each other. A koel sang out from the foliage. A flock of cranes flew off from the river bank in a flash of pristine white. We held hands, rakshasas and vanaras together, helping each other up as our feet slipped on the stones of the stream bed. My new nose took in the scents of clear water and moss. A silvery fish swam around me, teasing my freshly budded nipples to rise. A kite whistled high overhead. My vision flew with it into a distant time, a world burnt, raped and mutilated by human greed. Deafened by bombs, choked by noxious chemicals, blinded by the flash of a thousand suns, I foresaw darkness everywhere. The humans’ treacherous toys had snuffed out the prattle of their own children. The sea heaved dark and viscous, plastic scrap and dead gulls mired in oil slicks floating on its slimy surface. When men’s death games had ended, we would rise from this forest, singing songs of the wilderness. We would dance, scattering drops of clear stream water, seeds and pink and yellow flower petals to revive their charred world. And we would strew dhatura seeds which would grow and make them forget. My final revenge would be sweet. n Monideepa Sahu is an internationally published writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her fantasy-adventure novel for young people, Riddle of the Seventh Stone is published by Zubaan Books. Her short fiction has been included in anthologies from Marshall Cavendish Singapore, Puffin, Tranquebar, Scholastic, and elsewhere.
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Vegan and Gluten-free Quick Breads
eing a vegetarian at home was not a problem; my Hindu family had made the decision for me: “Thou shall not kill for food.” But then I moved to upstate New York to attend college, and the menu on campus was mostly meat, with a few canned vegetables. I was motivated to experiment with ingredients and recipes to create nutritious and flavorful dishes, and I became interested in creating recipes for those with other dietary restrictions due to health or ethical issues.
A Vegan Diet
A vegan diet contains no animal products at all; no meat, no dairy, no eggs. Some vegans believe that humans do not need to exploit animals for food. Others question the nonsustainable use of farmland to raise animals instead of growing plant foods. Food activist Frances Moore Lappe frames it this way: If we all eat more beans, more people can have beans.
The cuisine of India already uses a variety of vegetables, and grains. Therefore it can be easily incorporated into a vegan lifestyle.
Back in India, women make fresh roti for the family every day to enjoy piping hot with meals. These rotis are made from millet, corn, wheat, or other grains, the most popular being wheat. Indian wheat breads are world famous for their flavor. Currently many people here and in India are discovering that they suffer from Celiac disease, which is associated with eating gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found primarily in wheat, rye, and barley. It is the magic component of wheat that makes bread rise and make it spongy. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include abdominal pains, headache, and skin rashes. Gluten sensitivity can vary. Some people can eat a small amount of gluten with no adverse effects, but suffer if they eat
Homemade Green Corn Tortillas
Tortillas are delicious and easy to make. Here I have incorporated some leafy greens to make them colorful and increase their nutritional value. Ingredients: 2 ½ cups of gluten–free masa harina flour. (Bob’s Mill brand is good for those with severe sensitivity) 1 cup mixture of finely chopped spinach leaves, and mustard greens (wash, drain, and remove any stems before chopping) 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno pepper 1 cup warm water ½ teaspoon salt a few tablespoons of oil
Mix the masa flour with the salt, chopped greens, and jalapeno peppers. Add the warm water a small amount at a time to form a dough that is neither sticky nor dry. Cover the dough and let it stand at room temperature for about 40 minutes. Divide the dough into 10 small pieces and compact each piece using the hollow palms of your hands. Set them aside. Then, using two pieces of waxed paper, or a small amount of masa flour on the surface of the counter, roll each piece into a five- to six-inch disc. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle on moderately high heat. Gently place a tortilla on it. Turn it after a minute to cook on the other side for two minutes. Turn it again, spread a small amount of oil over the surface, and cook for another minute. Turn and spread the oil on the other side. The tortilla is ready when it shows a few speckles on both sides. Serve with rice and beans or dal. Note: You can roast the tortillas without oil, but adding a little amount of oil while roasting makes them soft and easy to store.
This gluten-free version of corn bread is less puffy than you
60 • india currents • march 2012
more. Others cannot consume any gluten at all, and must even avoid anything that is made in a facility that processes grains that contain gluten. Whether one has a known gluten allergy or not, avoiding gluten can have other health benefits, as much of the gluten in our diets comes with other unhealthy ingredients. Most crackers, cookies, pastries, and breads are made with an abundance of processed flours, fats, and salt. However, some homemade versions of these foods can be healthier. Here are two recipes to try; both are vegan and gluten-free. n Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager and coowner of Other Avenues, a health-food co-op.
might be used to, but as delicious as corn breads that use wheat flour to make them rise. Adding some garbanzo flour (besan) fortifies this corn-bread nutritionally. Ingredients: ½ cup brown or white rice flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1 ½ cups corn meal (gluten-free) ¼ cup besan (garbanzo flour) ½ teaspoon salt ¼ cup maple syrup cup oil 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice ¾ cup water, and more water as needed Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously oil the sides and bottom of a 9” or 10” cast iron pan. In a large bowl, sift the rice flour with the baking powder using a flour sifter or a sieve. Add the corn meal, garbanzo flour, and salt. Stir the mixture well. In a separate small bowl, whisk the liquid ingredients briefly. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, stirring only as much as necessary. Add more water, little at a time, to create a batter that is a bit thicker a pancake batter. Spread the batter evenly in the greased pan and sprinkle a little oil on top. Bake the corn bread for about 45 minutes or until the surface seems dry and when a fork is inserted, it comes out clean. Turn the oven to broil and cook for just a few minutes longer to allow the surface to become golden brown, being careful not to burn the bread. Serve this bread hot with vegetables for a nutritionally complete meal. Add rice or beans as desired. The corn bread also goes well by itself with the afternoon chai.
I C relationship diva
Dilemma Of The Alpha Woman Are working women perceived as too controlling?
Given what I do for a living I come across as a powerful woman, often criticized by the men I date as “too controlling.” Is there a way to maintain the integrity of my personality without being perceived as too controlling?
Let me assure you that you are not alone. As a matchmaker and dating coach to powerful men and women, I come across this issue frequently. As a powerful woman, how do you feel when others try to control you? Once you put yourself in a guy’s shoes, it’s easy to appreciate that women who act controlling tend to repel men. Self-empowered women, on the other hand, magnetize men. Your integrity lies in being a self-empowered woman more so than a woman who exerts control over others, including men. So how do self-empowered women act? • They tend to be comfortable in their
own skin, making those around them comfortable as well. • Empowered women tend to have a strong sense of self, allowing them to be accepting of themselves and others. I'll leave you with one final thought: Selfempowered women realize that their true power lies in their ability to control their own thoughts and actions, leaving little need to control others.
In the past when I’ve been involved in a relationship, I feel like I’ve lost my identity in the process. These days I’m very careful to not seem needy, but I’m worried that I’ve got a wall up. Can you help?
It sounds like your behavior may be originating from a fear of rejection. Consider shifting your focus to strengthening your sense of self-worth. A strong sense of self allows you to risk
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emotional vulnerability without risking your self-worth. You sound like an introspective person. This quality will serve you well in finding and maintaining a great relationship. Why not make a list of all your other great qualities? This may help build up your sense of self. Building intimacy in a relationship involves emotional vulnerability. There's just no way to get around it. You can safely allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable once you believe that you are strong enough to handle any outcomes. Your power lies within you.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. Jasbina@intersectionsmatch.com.
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india currents • march 2012 • 61
Krishna M. Sadasivam is the cartoonist behind UNcubed, a weekly online auto-bio comic, focusing on life as an Indian guy in the United States. When he’s not creating comics or working as a freelance illustrator, Krishna teaches full-time in the Media Arts and Animation department of the Art Institute of Tampa in Florida. See more of his work at http://www.uncubedthecomic.com/.
62 • india currents • march 2012
I C dear doctor
Searching For The Perfect Life Q
Recently I have been struck by how many contradictory feelings and thoughts I have each day. For example, one moment I will want to get out and exercise and the next moment I want to sit and read a book. I really love my wife but I find myself feeling bored sometimes or not even liking her much. I seem to enjoy my work, but then I catch myself looking forward to something better. Even when I am eating my favorite meal, I find myself not fully relaxing and enjoying it. I feel distracted, worried, or I criticize the food because isn’t as healthy as I think it ought to be. How do I deal with this?
We are by nature immersed in the opposites of life—day and night, male and female, gay and straight, inner and outer, sex and spirit, sun and moon, light and dark, joy and sorrow, separateness and connectedness, and love and hate. The dance of life involves these opposite qualities and forces to contradict, complement, and unite. As children, we have to contend with a big
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range of feelings immediately, as we are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain for survival. When a child is fed and warm, he feels pleasure. When he is afraid and uncomfortable and the mother isn’t there to soothe him, he feels pain. When mother gives him what he wants or needs, then he sees mother as good and when mother isn’t available or gratifying him, then she is seen as bad. As we grow up, we experience so much of life through this bipolar lens. Some people are able to accept that life comes in various shades and are not as torn by differing viewpoints or decisions. Others get stuck, feel ambivalent, and are highly challenged in making a choice or committing to one thing. Often, fear of failure and fear of the unknown are underneath this dilemma. Also, modern culture places an undue emphasis on getting it perfect. Sounds like part of what you’re dealing with is accepting the good that you do have in life. Do things need to be perfect before you
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can actually appreciate and enjoy them? Do you have idealized and, perhaps, unrealistic expectations from you life and family? Flaws and imperfections are very much a part of the human experience. Accepting the limitations and messiness of life allows us to actually be more real about ourselves and the nature of life. People who are able to hold both realities—the “good” and “bad”—as part of one life, are more content and appreciative of what they have. The Zen monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh sums it up well: “My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flower bloom in all walks of life. My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans. Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.” n Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www. wholenesstherapy.com.
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india currents • march 2012 • 63
the last word
The War on Contraceptives I n 1959, Margaret Sanger, the American pioneer of the birth control movement and the founder of Planned Parenthood, urged President Eisenhower to resist pressure from the “Roman Catholic hierarchy” to reject foreign aid programs supporting contraceptives. She went so far as to publish a letter to the editor of the New York Times and other major newspapers, urging the government to listen to the voice of the majority of American voters who believed that proper medical care including birth control and contraceptives were the right of people around the world. Sanger was such an American stalwart that she not only managed to change President Eisenhower’s opinion, but eventually persuaded him to serve as President of Planned Parenthood. One of the reasons Eisenhower changed his views was his serious concern for rising world population. Yet, the world population was only three billion then. In spite of the efforts of Eisenhower and Sanger, world population passed the seven billion mark in the autumn of 2011. Some argue that population is not an issue for the United States because the country has a zero growth rate (not counting immigration). But we no longer live in an insular world. Our national policies have global influence. Sanger and Eisenhower recognized this 50 years ago. The Republican Party of today does not. The recent kerfuffle over Obama’s decision to include free contraceptives in American healthcare plans has highlighted the retro policies of the Republican right wing. It appears that the Catholic Church is once again dictating the future of our planet. What century the Vatican lives in is anyone’s guess. It would be interesting to conduct a survey to find out how many wives and daughters of right wing politicians use contraceptives. Studies of Catholic and fundamentalist Christian women have shown that an overwhelming majority uses birth control. The trouble is, this is not just an issue of women’s reproductive choices and personal freedoms any more. It also is also an issue of our planet’s survival. Nowhere in the debate on contraceptives is the word “population” even uttered. As if it were a taboo. Yet, it is evident that the most effective way we can reduce the human carbon footprint is through population reduction. Polls show that a majority of Americans still support foreign aid for healthcare, including contraceptives. Why, then, has the U.S. government not done more for this cause? Because the Republican right wing has managed to undo the gains of the last half a century and taken us back to where America was in 1959. On his first business day in office, President George W. Bush signed the “Global Gag Rule” that was ostensibly against U.S. funds going towards abortion services in developing countries, but ended up removing access to comprehensive contraception and family planning services in at least 16 African countries. (The executive order was later repealed by President Obama.) What conservatives gain by encouraging poor women to have
Nowhere in the debate on contraceptives is the word “population” even uttered. As if it were a taboo.
64 • india currents • march 2012
more children is beyond me. When I try to analyze their motivations, I end up going in circles. Here are some facts. The right wing generally only worries about rich people. Its tax policies are a case in point. The Mitt Romneys of the world even go so far as to openly confess that they are not worried about poor people. Why then would they want to multiply the ranks of the poor by refusing them free contraceptives and thereby inciting them to have more babies? By the same token, why would they want to refuse birth control to women of Africa or India and thereby encourage them to have more children? Do the same people who want to build a wall to prevent all these poor brown immigrants from entering their country also want the same brown people to increase their numbers by billions? It does not compute, unless you attribute sinister motives to these politicians, such as the desire to keep the poor populations around the world poorer by encouraging them to have more children? That sounds like a plot only a villain in a James Bond movie would conceive. Newt Gingrich as a Dr No? The mind boggles. Why has population policy been on the back burner? It is not just the right wing which has neglected this issue. Many liberals too believe that America has no right to tell the so called “third world” to reduce its birth rate. Just as they find it offensive to tell India or China to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, many liberals find it culturally insensitive to tell them to stop having babies. So instead, the liberals are busy inventing technical fixes for the survival of our planet. Such as constructing energy efficient green buildings. Such as manufacturing electric cars. Or growing food in hydroponics ponds. Or desalinating water. Many citizens of developing countries are under no illusion, however. During my recent travels in India, people constantly told me that they thought population was the sole culprit in the breakdown of infrastructure in their country; that the place was splitting at the seams because of demand for resources. The Indian government, too, states that even though it has made progress in reducing population, it has not yet reached a replacement rate or a negative growth rate. It is imperative that countries like India should achieve a population growth rate equal to or less than replacement if they are to survive. If we are all to survive. Or else the ice caps will melt, the oceans will rise, and earth’s climate will irrevocably change. The planet will run out of clean air, water, and eventually food. A first step in mitigating these problems is to have free contraception easily available around the world. Obama is taking steps in that direction; by mandating that healthcare plans should provide free contraceptives to Americans and by removing the restrictions that George W. Bush’s administration put on foreign aid for contraceptives. But more needs to be done. A study by the World Watch Institute shows that foreign aid for birth control has steadily declined since the advent of the Reagan revolution. This is clearly a result of the “moral majority’s” grip over the White House. Planned Parenthood is one organization that is still fighting for the cause. We all need to join it. n Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visit www.saritasarvate.com
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