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Islam and Music

Flavored with Fenugreek

A Guru Minus a Halo

IndiaCurrents Celebrating 26 Years of Excellence

The Supplement

Cocktail

About 55% of Americans believe that health supplements are good for us. Are there any lurking dangers in taking a cocktail of diet boosters?

march 2013 • vol. 26, no .11 • www. indiacurrents.com


Private Access, Public Domain facebook.com/IndiaCurrents twitter.com/IndiaCurrents 1885 Lundy Ave, Suite 220, San Jose, CA 95131 Phone: (408) 324-0488 (714) 523-8788 Fax: (408) 324-0477 Email: info@indiacurrents.com www.indiacurrents.com Publisher & Editor: Vandana Kumar publisher@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x 225 Advertising Manager: Derek Nunes ads@indiacurrents.com Northern California: (408) 324-0488 x 222 Southern California: (714) 523-8788 x 222 Marketing Associate: Raj Singh marketing@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x221 Graphic Designer: Nghia Vuong EDITORIAL BOARD Managing Editor: Jaya Padmanabhan editor@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x 226 Events Editor: Mona Shah events@indiacurrents.com (408) 324-0488 x 224 COLUMNISTS Dear Doctor: Alzak Amlani Films: Aniruddh Chawda Forum: Rameysh Ramdas On Inglish: Kalpana Mohan The Last Word: Sarita Sarvate Zeitgeist: Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

I remember the front doors to my house in India being mostly open (this was 25 years ago). Streams of people entered and left at all times of the day. Neighbors, vegetable vendors, family friends and second cousins. I remember the questions asked of me by curious acquaintances who had little in common with me other than a slight connection to someone with a less slight connection to me. How much do you earn? When are you getting married? How much do you pay in rent? How old are you? I answered the questions reluctantly but truthfully. I knew that any equivocation would result in sharpened interest, heightened probing and more than likely mistaken conclusions. After my relocation to the United States, I adjusted comfortably to the shelters of seclusion, privacy and independence. Then Facebook and Google became verbs of social exchange and everything I had learned about privacy was reset to previously familiar levels. Stephane Leman-Langlois, in his book “Technocrime: Policing and Surveillance” says that “… privacy, or the information that constitutes it, has been transformed into an exchangeable currency.” We know that is true. With Google’s free Gmail service, advertisements are sent to us based on keywords in our private emails and Facebook’s deployment of timeline and private message links is well established. Even while

Mark Zuckerberg was explaining updated security options in December last year, it became clear that privacy default settings on Facebook were a bundle of loose protection parameters, best designed to exploit our friends lists—the powerful currency of privacy in a public domain. The remarkable innovation of companies like Google and Facebook rests on the convincing idea that people will give up privacy for something else they cannot do without. Hence apps like Spotify and Instagram have irresistible “allow” buttons. Yet, I find myself suspicious of any persuasion by these social sites to “monetize” my privacy; use my privacy as their capital. The problem, as I see it, is primarily a lack of control. We are free to subscribe to these social sites just as we are free to leave the doors to our homes wide open. But how much are we willing to give up, without conscious awareness, for the seduction of connection and community? I’ve come to accept that in order to stay “linked in” we do have to open ourselves to technologies. The question to ask is where do we draw the “Lakshman-Rekha?” Can we allow people and surreptitious programs the right to collect information? Or do we really have nothing to hide? Jaya Padmanabhan

Contributors: Jasbina Ahluwalia, Guneet Singh Bhalla, Shailaja Dixit, Madhumita Gupta, Praba Iyer, Geetika Jain, Zenobia Khaleel, Indu Liladhar-Hathi, Arpit Mehta, Tara Menon, Jojy Michael, Ranjani Iyer Mohanty, Lakshmi Palecanda, Mimm Patterson, Rujul Potha, Sujatha Ramprasad, Teed Rockwell, Sanket Shah, Girija Shankar, Preeti Shekar, Ras Siddiqui, Kalpana Sunder, George Valliath 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 © 2012 by India Currents All rights reserved. Fully indexed by Ethnic Newswatch

india currents • march 2013 • 1


Southern California Edition

The Supplement Cocktail

LIFESTYLE

Are there hidden dangers to taking a cocktail of health supplements?

10

PERSPECTIVES

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BOOKS: Tiger Hills and Same Sun Here. By Girija Sankar and Tara Menon

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RELATIONSHIP DIVA: Shooting Out of her League. By Jasbina Ahluwalia

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TAX TALK: Tax Provisions for Investments in India. By Sanket Shah

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MUSIC: Islam and Music. By Teed Rockwell

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REFLECTIONS: Gross Or Fine, It’s All Divine. By Jojy Michael

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EDITORIAL: Private Access, Public Domain. By Jaya Padmanabhan

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FORUM: Could the Sandy Hook shooting have been avoided with more gun control? By Rameysh Ramdas and George Valliath

HEALTHY LIFE: Cold Comfort: Common sense approach to avoiding colds and flu. By Mimm Patterson.

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PROFILE: Infinite Wisdom. By Rujul Pathak Potha

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ANALYSIS: Rewire Rising. By Preeti Shekar and Shailaja Dixit

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ZEITGEIST: Signs of our Time. By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

DEAR DOCTOR: Concerned About Climate Change. By Alzak Amlani

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FEATURE: Harnessing the Power of Stories. By Guneet Singh Bhalla

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OPINION: Brown Karma. By Ras H. Siddiqui

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ON INGLISH: A Guru Minus a Halo. By Kalpana Mohan

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DESI VOICE: Oscars—The Final Frontier. By Zenobia Khaleel

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PERSPECTIVE: Greener Gifts, Please. By Sujatha Ramprasad

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COMMENTARY: Leopard Skin Pillbox. By Ranjani Mohanty

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BOTTOMLINE: Resolute with Good Intentions. By Lakshmi Palecanda

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THE LAST WORD BY SARITA SARVATE: The Feminist Illusion of Girls.

FILMS A Review of David, Murder 3 and Special 26 By Aniruddh Chawda, Geetika Pathania Jain and Madhumita Gupta

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TRAVEL

RECIPES Flavored with Fenugreek

Playground of the Rich and Famous—Baden Baden

By Praba Iyer

By Kalpana Sunder

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DEPARTMENTS 4 Voices 5 Popular Articles 2 • india currents • march 2013

WHAT’S CURRENT 26 Ask a Lawyer

27 Visa Dates

57 Classifieds

46 Cultural Calendar 52 Spiritual Calendar


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voices

A Bold Analysis

Congratulations to Anita Felicelli on the refreshingly bold analysis of the widely-publicized Delhi gang-rape and the ensuing outburst in the media (India Currents, February 2013, “Flames of Outrage”). Amidst the loud clamoring to lynch anything contributing to this outrage (coming more from the Indian writers based in the west than from the Western Press) Anita’s article brings sanity and objectivity to the debate. Arguing against the notion of “what happened is unique to India,” her comparison of American and Indian rape culture presents the proper perspective that rape is a universal problem that cuts across cultures, and there is a “frightening prevalence of negative attitudes towards women” common to India and America. European, African and relevantly Chinese and Japanese experiences regarding rape need study and correlation to the Indian context. The quotes from the best-seller novel “A Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” by Stieg Larson (2008), the basic plot of the novel being the violent and incestuous rapes of a girl, relates some Swedish experience: “Eighteen percent of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man;” “forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man;” “thirteen percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside of a sexual relationship;” “ninety-two percent of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police.” Felicelli suggests parents educating sons in nurturing a healthy respect towards women. Traditionally this had been the practice in Indian families. One wonders whether this has changed recently. Her conclusion that the women’s dress has little to do with inciting such acts seems to be contradicted by the results of a recent survey in a Tamil newspaper. About two thirds answered that that was the root cause of most sexual crimes is women. Arun Sekar, Morgan Hill, CA

Cubans are not Mexicans

Jaya Padmanabhan’s editorial (India Currents, February 2013, “The Shadows of Twelve Million”) addresses the issue of twelve million undocumented foreigners in the U.S. Most of them are from Mexico due simply to the two thousand mile land border between the two countries and the affinity between the demographics of the two countries. A sizeable fraction of territory in the U.S. now was Mexican territory about a hundred years ago. The U.S. is now working on legislation to

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comprehensively address this issue again. The Republican party has seemingly joined in the effort out of necessity rather than conviction, due to the recent national elections. The spokesperson for the Republican party in this matter is the junior Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. He is of Cuban descent. His status in this is anomalous because, the only affinity he has with this large group is the common mother tongue, Spanish. There will not be a single Cuban in this group of twelve million due to special situations. Ever since Cuba was taken over by Fidel Castro (late 1950s) the United States government has proclaimed all his opponents as friends of this country. The doctrine could be called “enemy of an enemy is a friend.” Enabling legislation by the U.S. Congress such as the Cuban Readjustment Act, (1966) and the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy” (1994) are in effect now. The net effect is that a privileged position is offered to any Cuban fugitive who lands on American soil, a “fugitive status automatically.’ This prevents deportation and gives a work permit and a cash award for resettlement expenses. There is also a U.S. Government office in Havana which grants regular immigration visas to 20,000 Cubans annually. The twelve million group is denied any of these privileges, as we all know. They are treated Arizona style, shot at, chased by dogs, looked at suspiciously, and identity checked constantly. Any special role that Senator Rubio is given in the legislative processes is automatically resented by the twelve million group. Rubio is a dead weight on their shoulders hindering their progress. Recent exposure of the senator through his rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union speech has apparently not helped him much either. During that presentation, barring the gulping of vast amounts of water, he generously acknowledged the benefits he has received from the federal government through subsidized student loans for himself and Medicare coverage for his parents. A little later in the speech, however, he quickly reverts to the familiar “talking points” of his party such as smaller government, lower taxes, “makers instead of takers” et al. In this context, I am reminded of Dr. Manette in the famous work, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. Manette, a British physician becomes a French prisoner of war during the revolution and is assigned the duty of repairing French army boots in a dungeon. Back in England after the war, Manette noticed that, under mental stress, he quickly forgets whatever he was before and involuntarily reverts back to the trauma days of war to rush back to his work bench to work on an old pair of boots. Senator Rubio is inconsistent and inarticulate in his speeches. In my view, he is either a consummate hypocrite or “a green eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on.” As for the legislation in slow progress,

I have misgivings in believing that the opposition party will agree to any amnesty that enables these twelve million to become U.S. citizens in due course. In their short sighted view, the Republicans would rather not have a light at the end of the tunnel shine on the sign AMNESTY. P. Mahadevan, Fullerton, CA

Embracing New Skills

Kudos to Gayathri for writing the article on education (India Currents, February 2013, “Is Rote Learning Really the Answer?”) Rote learning is a thing of the past. We are in the 21st century and should be embracing the 4Cs of 21st century skills—communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. These are the skills that our students need in their life and work. The examples provided in the article speak to that and we have to give our children the opportunity and encouragement to bloom. Arati Nagaraj, Saratoga, CA Great article (India Currents, February 2013, “Is Rote Learning Really the Answer?”) summarizing an important issue. We just returned from Hong Kong where we witnessed first-hand many facets of your argument, and concluded it is more important to be creative and innovative than “book smart.” Chris G, online The article on rote learning (India Currents, February 2013, “Is Rote Learning Really the Answer?”) by Gayathri Chkravarthy is excellent. I wish more and more desi parents read this article and stop pressuring their kids into going to all these classes. Lot of times I wonder if the parents are doing all this preparation for their kids or for themselves out of a compliance with peer pressure? Sharad, online

Best Issue So Far

I just came back from Canada and found the February Issue of India Currents waiting at home. It is the best issue so far and it is worse than the next issue that I will be looking forward to read. Akram Hencie

SPEAK YOUR MIND!

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


India Currents is now available on the Kindle Go to amazon.com and search for India Currents

Follow us at twitter.com/indiacurrents Like us facebook.com/India Currents Most Popular Articles Online February 2013: 1) The First Strains of a Raga. Kalpana Mohan 2) Flames of Outrage. Anita Felicelli 3) Is Rote Learning Really the Answer? Gayathri Chakravarthy 4) What is Osama bin Laden Doing on American Idol? Sandeep Roy 5) Kamasutra Wine. Ritu Soni Marwah 6) A Noir Tale. Geetika Pathania Jain 7) Senora Butterfly. Sarita Sarvate 8) Trekking to the Hanging Valley of Gods— Har Ki Doon. Kannan Kasturi 9) Sliced Pi. Benedito R. Ferrao 10)Grandpa’s Table. Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

Online Extras: • • • • • • • •

Easy access to our current content and decade-old archives of diverse articles Special web-only articles and videos Digital issue of the magazine Interactive event listings Advertising access to a niche high-value segment of the community Comments highlighted on home page A full color experience RSS feeds and newsletter subscriptions

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forum

Could the Sandy Hook Shooting Have Been Avoided With More Gun Control? Rameysh Ramdas

George Valliath

Yes, gun control is the answer

No, gun control is not the answer

ith unfortunate regularity, our nation self inflicts tragedies such as the recent Sandy Hook mass murders. The world that continually admires America for our spirit, values and achievement stands baffled at how, in these modern times, our nation’s President and Congress, and indeed our society would allow such carnage in the name of the Second Amendment to our Constitution. The Second Amendment adopted on December 15, 1791, simply states—“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The spirit behind the amendment was to prevent the then newly formed Federal Government from disarming the state militias. And, the arms that existed then were basic from clubs, knives and artillery. In the modern era of 2013, when we have the state police to protect us, and a national army to defend us—the second amendment is irrelevant. There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution, some like the 19th amendment in 1920 that finally gave women the right to vote. Thus, the amendment process was intended as a means to continually better our Constitution, while wisely making it a complex and deliberative process. For over a hundred years, the Courts sensibly affirmed that the second amendment does not confer the right of individuals to bear arms. Even the National Rifle Association (NRA) supported licensing and registration requirements. Then came the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 that reversed many provisions of the 1968 Gun Control Act and somehow established the second amendment to mean unfettered access and possession of not just guns, but, weapons of war, by individuals—a position that has now become the mantra of the NRA and unfortunately, the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan, the hero of the modern day GOP, while being a gun enthusiast, did support sensible restrictions in 1994, when he wrote to Congress in support of the Brady Bill that established a waiting period and mandatory background checks. The Brady Bill, championed and signed into law by President Clinton was for a 10 year term and expired in 2004. Unfortunately, President Obama meekly refused to seek an extension throughout his first term. While I understand that the cultural norms in certain parts of the nation require allowances for recreational hunting, such pursuits certainly do not need weapons of mass destruction that are unfortunately legal to possess today. Criminals have more fire power today than law enforcement officers. Let us, at a minimum, impose rational checks such as a thorough background check, verification of need and usage, a psychiatric evaluation, and stringent licensing requirements on any gun ownership. The NRA claims that 99.99% of its members are law abiding citizens and therefore should have no issues being cleared through this process. Owning a gun should be more difficult than getting a drivers licensewhich unfortunately is not the case today. n

he shooting at Sandy Hook was heart wrenching. The grief of the parents, families and friends over the loss of promising little lives was difficult to bear. The question that is raised here is obviously not an easy one to answer. Yet, the simple answer would seem to be: yes. This seems like the right answer based on an instinctive, gut level desire to prevent this from happening again.We know that guns are dangerous, and in general it is good for society to have some level of control over access to dangerous things to prevent accidental deaths. So, instinctively it might seem as though I am for gun control, just as I am for driver’s licenses which make our roads safer. But then I am reminded that the right to drive is not enshrined in the Constitution but the right to own arms is. Any attempt at circumscribing a constitutional right must be very carefully weighed against the harm that can come from limiting it. Having emigrated from India, I am very much aware of this country’s strengths. And I often ask myself why the United States is advanced in so many ways. I keep coming back to two things: the Constitution and the respect the people have towards the laws that emerge from the framework provided by the Constitution. So any gun controls that we consider must be well thought out to prevent unintended consequences. Given what is at stake, we need to pause and test-drive our instinctive answer which is: yes, Sandy Hook could have been avoided if there was more gun control. The question then is how much more gun control would have been needed to prevent this? Actually Connecticut already had enough controls to stop the shooter. Yet, those gun control laws could not prevent him from stealing the weapons from his mother who legally owned them. So then we are left realizing that more controls do not stop someone who would break laws to acquire them. Only a complete ban on guns could have stopped Sandy Hook. For sake of argument, let us assume an outright ban also made it impossible to acquire guns illegally. Then of course, by force of reason, we would have to conclude that such a ban would have stopped the Sandy Hook shootings. But would it have prevented the killings? We have to look no further than Oklahoma to know that large numbers of people can be killed without guns. So, clearly gun control or an outright gun ban would not necessarily have prevented the killings at Sandy Hook. In hindsight this is somewhat obvious given that people have been killing people long before guns were invented. In summary then, given that we cannot even make a clear argument that more controls would have prevented Sandy Hook, it is hard to rationally support further circumscribing a Constitutional right. Sawing off the branch that you are sitting is not wise unless there is a compelling reason. Something needs to be done to prevent future school shootings from happening. But, as heart wrenching as Sandy Hook is, we are solving the wrong problem if we look to gun controls as the answer. n

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

George Valliath, an expert in display technologies, grew up in Mumbai and now lives in Chicago.

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Owning a gun should be more difficult than getting a driver’s license ...

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... people have been killing people long before guns were invented.


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analysis

Preeti Mangala Shekar, Shailaja Dixit

Rewire Rising

The rising and awakening of one billion

One Billion Rising in California—the Rewire Group

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t’s been a media roll for anti-violence activists since December 2012. A whole generation seems to have suddenly woken up to the alarming realities of living in highly sexualized, violent socio-cultural contexts, be it in India or here in the United States. It is definitely heartening to see mainstream media and the public engage in these issues with a concern and criticality that is quite unprecedented. In the light of the heinous gang rape and the subsequent death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, there has been amplified outrage and a genuine concern in our communities about these ongoing trends of violence. Eve Ensler (of Vagina Monologues fame), tapped into this vein of outrage when she floated her idea of “One Billion Rising” on Valentine’s Day, Feb 14. She sent out a call for a movement to protest the incidence of violence against one out of every three women in the world. In Ensler’s words, “We believed we could change human consciousness and make the world a place where women were safe, free, equal, with agency over their bodies and futures.” In a passionate denouncement of violence against women, she urged people to rise and engage publicly, to walk out of their homes, to express their fury and rage and validate their strength through the creative energy of dance. It was no surprise that her call was answered. Men and women rose across 190 countries and participated in this movement. And when the world floods with waves of empowerment, can those of us in the heart of the liberal world in California remain dry and untouched? In San Ramon, California, a group of women, calling themselves the Rewire Community came together and took up the cry for One Billion Rising. Initially the event was conceptualized as a house party to express solidarity with the One Billion Rising movement. However, as internal discussions grew it became clear that there were powerful thoughts to express and spirited conversations to share. The group decided to make their Rising movement a fundraiser for Narika, a women’s shelter serving and representing domestic violence survivors from the South Asian countries and diasporas of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Fiji, Trinidad, Mauritius, and Maldives. Women’s groups have been working on the ground for years, challenging various forms of violence amidst growing backlash

and resistance—from the flippantly coined “eve-teasing,” (which is street sexual harassment really) to raising awareness about child sexual abuse, marital rape and reversing the stigma and blame on women who are raped or molested. The work and indeed anger of several decades of activism found a voice that was picked up by a media that suddenly woke up to the reality of how overarching an issue sexual violence has always been in our societies. But there is a more silent and sadly, pernicious form of violence that does not get much media attention. It is not the one that happens out on the streets, in public spaces but closer at home. Indeed domestic violence incidents occur even in South Asian homes. The stigma of divorce, anguish over child custody issues, complications with immigration status all make it additionally complicated for immigrant South Asian women in the U.S. to overcome or end abusive relationships. It should be no surprise to realize how pervasive violence against women is: spanning communities and age groups and income levels. In a moving tribute to the Rising movement, sitarist Anoushka Shankar admits that she too faced sexual and emotional abuse as a child “from a man that my parents trusted.” There is no quick fix to a crisis of this magnitude where women’s bodies have been coded as objects of control, as dispensable commodities to exploit and abuse. The only systemic change that we can work towards to truly end these disturbing patterns of violence and to begin imaging a violence-free society is to begin with ourselves and our loved ones. We need to break the silence around violence —a dictum of the domestic violence movement, and indeed the feminist movement.

We need to acknowledge that how we are in our personal, private, intimate lives, is actually quite political. The personal is indeed the political as the women’s movement teaches us. But is one day, one movement enough? A year down the road, will people remember that we as a race, as a community, as a people protested? That we danced for the cause? I think the way to look at these answers is to ask the question how would it have been to not have had the rising. Any steps taken, dance or otherwise, is a step in the right direction. But now the onus rests on us to continue the conversation; those difficult, uncomfortable conversations on sex and sexuality, rights and responsibilities, choice and freedom, with our daughters and sons, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our in-laws, extended family and friends. Awkward and inappropriate as they maybe, that is definitely the key starting place for us to be the change we want to see in the world. Eleanor Roosevelt said it so eloquently about human rights but she might as well have said it about ending sexual violence: Change happens in small places. So small that they cannot be seen on a map. n Preeti Shekar is a feminist journalist and activist. She is currently the Executive Director of Narika, a non profit organization working to end domestic violence in the South Asian communities in the bay area. Preeti is also a freelance radio producer with KPFA 94.1 FM. Shailaja Dixit has a Masters in Mass Communication. She stays busy juggling freelance market research, volunteering, home making, moderating online communities and Rewiring! india currents • march 2013 • 7


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zeitgeist

Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan

Signs of Our Time Will cursive become a victim of time and technology?

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ursive, they say, is going the way of cave painting, the compact disc, and the birthday card. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 45 states have now standardized a core, public-school curriculum, and teaching cursive handwriting is not included. Gone is that grade for “Penmanship” for which my generation was routinely assessed. Indeed, when I think back to some of my elementary school peers, the first thing I remember is their cursive: Neha’s plump and perfect curls, written with 0.9 mechanical pencil lead; Michael’s childish, hybrid-print scrawl on the blackboard; my own painfully delicate letters, which barely used 70% of a college-ruled line, until my fifth-grade teacher urged me to live a little between the margins, to make a darker, stronger mark. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a concerned middle-school teacher has formed a Cursive Club, where students learn an art now as arcane as stamp collecting. “By 2016,” the Journal continues, “nearly half of all home loans could be closed electronically, meaning that thousands of people will buy homes without having to physically sign their names …” The writing has been on the wall for the signature for some time. For years, we haven’t had to sign for petty credit card payments. And when we do, it’s with that clumsy stylus attached to the keypad—or, more recently, a finger on an iPad—but never with a traditional writing implement. The signature I sign when I pay for groceries bears little resemblance to the one I practiced all those years in school. It is perfunctory and haphazard, full of the knowledge that it will never be judged by the likes of Visa and found wanting. Life seems to go on just fine without the ritualized repetition of our names in ink, the flourish of old cursive. But the signature was once a matter of deep philosophical contemplation. Jacques Derrida’s game changing, post-structuralist revision of the classical Western theory of writing departed, in part, from an understanding of the significance of the signature. He argued that the written signature exists in “a transcendental form of presentness,” characterized by the fact that, on the one hand, a signature is absolutely singular—a one-time event—but, on the other hand, in order to be readable, it has to have “a 8 • india currents • march 2013

Sheila Gowda's "Stopover"

repeatable, iterable, imitable form.” In other words, the signature on the receipt must match the signature on the back of the credit card; it must be repeatable in order to be recognizable. But the signing of a document—of a groundbreaking legislative act, for example, or a criminal sentence—is a purely unique event, which brings into being a unique set of circumstances and consequences. What have we lost with the loss of the signature, with its digitalization and increasing impersonality? Most people don’t even “sign” emails anymore. They send messages that close with some variation of “sent from my iPhone,” meant to excuse both the brevity of the mail and the lack of a proper signature. Derrida conceived of writing as that which would be readable and repeatable after the death of the writer; he theorized a form of presentness beyond absence, and an absence beyond presence. The irony of digital communication, of all this typing instead of writing, is that more of us are present to each other than ever before, but our absence from the communal record is equally assured—as certain as a computer crash, as inevitable as the obsolescence of every new technology. I was reminded of Derrida and his signature during my recent trip to India, a country full of firsts, daily proclaiming the presence of the new. From December 2012 through midMarch of this year, India is host to its very first biennale, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an exhibition of contemporary Indian and international art held in over a dozen venues in Kochi, Kerala. I visited the main venue, Aspinwall House, and was struck, like many, by the confluence of old and new, antiquity

and modernity, low-tech and high. This, of course, has become something of a cliché in describing and thinking about the “new” India. Nevertheless, amidst the videos and digital images, the snazzy technological innovations of Dylan Martorell’s touch-based multi-user instruments, and the kaleidoscopic hologram-art of musician M.I.A., a quieter installation drew me in—in part, perhaps, because of the strength of its contrast to the LED lights and robotic drums elsewhere on exhibit. Sheela Gowda’s “Stopover” is a multiroom installation comprised entirely of the large grinding-stones that were once found in old south Indian homes, tharavadus, and ancestral plantations. Mammoth ancestor of the mortar and pestle—themselves out of date—the grinding stone was a fixture in the kitchens where women would grind for idli and dosa, and prepare fresh spices for the daily cooking. Today, there is no place for the weighty grinding stone in the modern home, but families are reticent to dispense with them entirely. Some find new lives as plantholders. Others wind up on the street. In “Stopover,” the Bangalore and Switzerland-based artist has arranged 170 grinding stones in a manner reminiscent of both a cemetery and a parade. The stones extend out almost into the sea; they are still and grave, but speak to each other of other lives, places, spaces, people: the hands that would have touched them, the signatures of lives lived and living, and now the legs that walk between them, in pursuit of a view of the Arabian Sea. Gathered together, the stones tell the story of their own absence. Their “stopover” is not, the viewer realizes, their final resting place. But in Derridean terms, Gowda’s grinding stones also foretell the story of their persistence: their presence in every whirl of an electric mixer, their haunting of the spice rack in a 21st-century Indian kitchen. The absence of the grinding stone ruptures the present—like the digital swish of the keys, or block-printed initials, where once there was cursive, and the intimate signing of a name.n Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.


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india currents • march 2013 • 9


The Supplement Cocktail By Arpit Mehta

Many of us, about 55% of adults, have beeen persuaded to believe that supplements are a panacea for physical ailments and boost endurance and stamina in the bedroom, boardroom, classroom and locker room. So we end up taking a cocktail of health pills, including vitamins, minerals, herbals, amino acids and enzymes looking for that elusive and illusive cure-all. But could there be hidden hazards to taking these pills?

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onu Shah, a Southern Californian mother of two, uses health supplements on a daily basis. “They give me energy, and keep me healthy so that I can take care of my two kids and husband,” she said. Shopping at Costco, she likes that she can pick up her supplements in bulk at a low price, along with her other groceries. “I don’t know what I would do without them,” she added. Shah echoes the feelings of nearly one hundred and fifty million Americans who constitute the over twenty-six billion dollar a year dietary supplement industry in the United States. And it is a market that’s on the rise. 10 • india currents • march 2013

Jeevan Zutshi, the author of the book, “The Last Smile,” cautions against falling victim to big company advertising. Zutshi’s son died of cardiomyopathy, or heart failure, from an overload of over-the-counter bodybuilding supplements that left his heart devoid of the sodium it required. This led Jeevan to find out about the role of regulations in the dietary supplement industry, and the connection of pharmaceutical corporations to the supplement brands. Zutshi lost his young son to the fallacious reasoning that health supplements can improve health and his book raises questions on why there were not enough

regulations to prevent the loss of life.

What Is a Health Supplement?

It could be something as common as Vitamin C, fish oil, probiotics, or something catered to a very specific audience, such as muscle-enhancement supplements and protein powders often sold at gyms. From weight-loss to sexual performance to memory enhancement, the supplement industry covers a wide audience with diverse products. However, this mostly unregulated market may prove to be more of a liability than an asset to the overall health of Americans because


the untrained eye of this audience has failed to recognize a crucial distinction between two fundamentally different types of dietary supplements and the effects they have on the human body. This, combined with strong lobbying efforts by pharmaceutical companies, and the inefficiency of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made the dietary supplement market a barrier to American health and well-being.

Supplements Won’t Fix a Crap Diet

O n t h e M e n’ s H e a l t h d i s c u s s i o n board, a member with the online moniker, CollegeStudent16, asked the question, “I am taking Vitamin C 500 mg, Flaxseed Oil 1300 mg, One a Day Mens, Calcium 600 mg w/ vitamin D, and Fish Oil 1000 mg. Is this a good variety of supplements to take everyday? Should I add or exclude any supplements?” The answer to this by the moderator of the site was succinct: “Supplements won’t fix a crap diet.” Indeed, a cocktail of nutritional supplements is no substitute for healthy eating. The questions we should be asking are: Did this student consult a doctor? Does he know the side-effects of the additives he is absorbing? Does he know if any one drug reacts differently when taken with another? Has he read the labels? When it comes to supplements, there is a big distinction between those that help the human body versus those that could have adverse effects. Benjamin Caballero, a professor of human nutrition at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, in an interview for the John Hopkins Magazine stated that supplements are harmless when used in a controlled way. Problems arise when health supplements are overused or are substituted for natural dietary intake. Supplements like Centrum are not dangerous, Caballero explains, “considering the doses of Centrum and all these typical multivitamin supplements. It’s just [producing] expensive urine.” So what kind of supplements should we be taking? CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, says that he is in the habit of taking fish oil/omega 3 supplement since he has a family history of heart disease. As studies have shown South Asians are at a higher risk for heart disease, so does that mean we should all be taking fish oil/omega 3? Not so, indicates Gupta. “I know it is harder than it sounds but the best way to get nutrients is through a wellbalanced diet.” So in other words, loading up on lots of vegetables, fish and leafy greens is the best way to keep your immune system up your heart pumping and your brain working at full speed.

Two Spoons a Day Help Keep Illness Away!

Most first generation Indian American immigrants have heard of the popular food supplement Chyawanprash, the oldest commercial brand of health supplement

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produced anywhere. The market size of Chyawanprash in 2010 was credited to be about 80 million dollars. Chyawanprash has 47 ingredients of which amla or the Indian gooseberry is the main one. Chyawanprash is touted to have anti-aging benefits and according to Wikipedia, it provides relief for cough, dyspnoea, fever, emaciation, heart diseases, arthritis, urinary problems, impotency and speech impediments and increases digestive power, intelligence, memory, complexion and it helps in bowel movements, gives strength to all sense organs, and increases sexual power. Wow! That’s quite a whopper of a remedy. It is widely acknowledged in India that the formula of Chyawanprash was discovered by the sage Chyawan. The story goes that Chyawan married a beautiful and very young princess, but soon realized that the years between them would widen as he aged. So he looked heavenwards for a remedy. The celestial gods came up with the formula for Chyawanprash concocted for the explicit intention to make Chyawan young and strong again. Charak Samhita, the ancient Ayurvedic manuscript written by sage Charak in the 4th century BC has the first historically documented herbal formula for Chyawanprash. But even in this heavily marketed nutritional supplement, ostensibly patented by the gods, there are ingredients that may not be as healthy as assumed. One is the artificial sweetener sucralose, a chlorinated version of sucrose that has been said to impact the kidneys, liver and the thymus gland. The other is sorbitol, which can cause gastrointestinal problems including irritable bowel syndrome.

Concentrated Food Supplements vs. Nutraceutical Supplements

Ronda Nelson, a naturopathic doctor in Redding, California, explains that the dietary supplement market constitutes of two fundamental types: concentrated food supplements and nutraceutical supplements. The former allows the body to liberally use what it needs, while the latter forces the body to act a certain way, much like a prescription drug

would. Concentrated food supplements, as the name suggests, are made from food sources. Consuming supplements like Chyawanprash would be the equivalent of consuming the foods they come from, which is why the human body will treat them like food, taking what it needs and storing or discarding what it does not. The nutraceutical supplements, however, are either made from, or laced with, chemicals, and so, just like prescription drugs, they force the human body to react in a certain way. This means that they have similar adverse side-effects. Dr. Nelson entered the field of naturopathy after her daughter, Rachael, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma bone cancer. Not having any history of sickness or the cancer in the family, she was perplexed. She found that Rachael had previously broken her bone in the exact spot where the cancer had shown up. Rachael’s body never received the nutrition required to heal the bone, which caused her cells to mutate, leading to the rare cancer showing up in her body. This led Nelson to study alternative medicine and get her Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition. But few can take the time or get educated enough to make the distinction between natural and synthetic supplements. “A good number of Vitamin C supplements list ascorbic acid as an active ingredient. This means that they are nutraceutical supplements. Synthetic ascorbic acid is made up of high fructose corn syrup and sulfuric acid, both of

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which are terrible for your body” said Nelson. Most of the supplements sold over the counter are nutraceutical in nature, she stated, and thus bad for the human body. However, from a very early age, part of the disseminated education explains such vitamins to be a healthy means to supplementing one’s diet. Distinguishing between natural and synthetic iterations of the same has become rather crucial to understanding benefits and effects. Consider synthetic Vitamin A supplements for a moment. Consumed by pregnant women, these were found to be responsible for birth defects according a University of Maryland Medical Center study. Yet no warning labels are affixed to these toxic supplements as they continue to sell alongside all the other nutraceutical supplements in stores nationwide. india currents • march 2013 • 11


Shankey Srinivasan

The Last Smile

Shankey Srinivasan, a filmmaker out of the San Francisco Bay Area, is directing his newest film “The Last Smile” based on Zutshi’s book of the same name. Zutshi’s son Amit, was in his twenties when he became a casualty of the supplement industry. Though the doctor did not assign blame to the over-the-counter nutritional supplements Amit was taking, Zutshi believed it was definitely a factor. “Amit’s death could have been prevented had I known about his supplement usage. The doctors won’t share his medical records due to patient privacy issues and it was too late by the time we realized what had gone wrong. I want to make sure no other parent goes through such an experience. The current system is flawed and we, as responsible citizens and parents, must take steps to correct it,” said Zutshi in one of his conversations with Srinivasan.

Body Building Supplements

The growing use of body building supplements in the form of fat burners, muscle enhancers, energy supplements and protein powders is a heavily advertised, catered sector of the dietary supplement market. These supplements carry very shallow warnings to protect themselves, but rarely reveal what causes the human body to change. By listing “proprietary blend” as an ingredient, these companies often use steroids, creatine, diuretics and more to the detriment of their consumers. The Mayo Clinic lists as side-effects to these ingredients the following: hair loss, infertility in men, cramping, diarrhea, dehydration, acne, liver abnormalities, tumors, emotional rage, kidney failure, heart failure, and more. With a population that already struggles with a variety of food-related health issues, the strain that these “supplements” add prompts the question “Is it worth it?”

Supplement Market Regulations

Over the course of reading through Zutshi’s book and researching its contents, Srinivasan found that there is a great deal of consumer naiveté and general misinformation when it comes to the purchase and consumption of body-building supplements. “Their customers look at ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of a person– 12 • india currents • march 2013

usually taken on the same day–to gauge the success of that product. This is a huge problem,” exclaimed Srinivasan. The marketing efforts put into promoting these efforts would appear to have betrayed their customers’ best interests. But there is a bigger problem behind the scenes. These nutraceutical supplements often avoid deeper probing by both consumers as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by claiming they utilize the aforementioned “proprietary blend” considered to be a trade secret. To force disclosure is very difficult, thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). DSHEA was implemented to help regulate the supplement market as a growing health awareness had started sweeping through the United States. However, due to corporate lobbying efforts, this fell short of what it had hoped to do. With the burden of proof on the FDA, nutraceutical supplements ended up on the shelves of most grocery stores right next to the concentrated food supplements, making the same claims without any warnings for the consumers. This, of course, was beneficial to the pharmaceutical corporations that owned many of these supplement brands. Srinivasan found his motive for the movie in the big-money politics of this industry. “I found a very personal and emotional story of a father in the backdrop of corporate American greed that inspired me to write the screenplay for the film,” he said. While it would be quite simple to blame the lobbyists–and the pharmaceutical corporations responsible for them–for this debacle the FDA is just as complicit in, and responsible for, the state of the health supplement market today. By actively not distinguishing between concentrated food supplements and nutraceutical supplements, the FDA sought to treat all health supplements as equal, which understandably resulted in chaos over regulatory consensus. Under DSHEA, the FDA describes a dietary supplement as “a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, an amino acid, a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake, or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any ingredient [above].” This is a very convoluted definition, which is what allowed lobbyists to water down the bill, while maintaining a certain amount of ambiguity as to what a dietary supplement really is.

Lumping it Together

There would be little advantage to heavily regulating concentrated food supplements, yet that is essentially what the FDA called for when lumping natural supplements with synthetic ones. Ironically, the administration is responsible for the same treatment when it comes to food products. In 2010, for example, the FDA sent a warning letter to Diamond Foods, Inc. challenging a product label that stated their walnuts were a heart healthy

choice. The company had to either change the label–to accurately reflect the FDA’s claims–or apply for their walnuts to be considered a drug. It is no wonder that such bureaucratic and burdensome regulations would face resistance, a recent example of which was the failed Proposition 37 in California. The goal of this proposition was to label and identify genetically modified food items, but it was rife with inconsistencies. By allowing exemptions for alcohol, health supplements, meat and poultry that had been injected with genetically modified foods, food served at restaurants and other establishments, the proposition would have given people the illusion of being well-informed and healthy. Nelson believes the solution is a grassroots approach to health education. She encourages and empowers her patients to make healthy eating decisions on a regular basis. “Support local farmers and ranchers by purchasing organic foods as well as grass-fed cattle and poultry,” says Nelson. Education is key to changing the American people’s daily decisions in regards to foods and supplements, she says.

The Good, the Bad and the Useless

According to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta there are some best-selling herbal supplements that fall in the concentrated food supplement bucket that are proven to have little benefit. Studies have shown that “gingko biloba” is virtually useless for memory improvement or to ward of Alzheimer’s disease, both benefits that the industry has been marketing. The popular “echinacea” is basically a dud and does little to fight off a cold and there is no evidence that “St. John’s Wart” works to treat depression. “Not all supplements are bad, however, and some may be required for people with nutritional deficiencies. However, the health complications that can result due to potential side-effects from a cocktail of supplements– makes it necessary for increased consumer awareness. People should consult their physicians before taking anything.” Supplements such as probiotics, dietary enzymes, fish oils, as well as vitamins from food sources work well when supplemented alongside a healthy diet and exercise. A conscious approach to eating habits with the knowledge of the difference in natural and synthetic supplements is the best path to health; there are no shortcuts. It would be a good idea, then, to stop listening to the hype put forth by pharmaceutical companies to increase their market share. And it might be time to stop looking to the FDA to properly regulate what we Americans consume. n Arpit Mehta is a graphic designer and photographer based in California with an interest in politics and entrepreneurship. He hopes to be directly involved in the political system one day.


india currents • march 2013 • 13


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feature

Guneeta Singh Bhalla

HARNESSING THE POWER OF STORIES

Uncovering the people’s history of Partition A Creative Commons image

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felt as though I was there on that warm summer night. The soft patter of hooves streamed past us. A long caravan of oxcarts was hauling mounds of produce to the market, each with its own sleeping sabzi-walla (vegetable-seller) sprawled on top of the vegetable pile. Oil lanterns under each carriage sent patterns of lively yellow shapes darting across the narrow brick road and climbing up the walls of homes. It was dazzling. I was completely immersed in this hypnotic memory from pre-Partition Lahore while interviewing Ajit Cour at her daughter’s art gallery in Delhi, when a visitor entered and the trance was broken. Cour was only 12 in 1947, when the Partition of Punjab forced her family to relocate to Delhi. They left behind their material goods, their heritage, their associations and every aspect of life that they knew. Cour shared memories of the convent she studied in and of chanting slogans in favor of an independent India. They lived on a lane that was exclusive to doctors as her father was a doctor, just as my grandfather was. He too, like Cour’s family, fled Lahore in 1947. Perhaps our families knew each other. But it is too late to find out. He passed on before his story was recorded and Cour was too young then. That August, Muslim refugees poured into Lahore just as quickly as the surviving Sikh and Hindu inhabitants of the city fled for the newly defined India. One such refugee was an eight year old boy named Ali. He had witnessed the massacre of his entire village in Ludhiana District (East Punjab), including his family, by a furious mob that had rounded them up in a courtyard. One gunman shot at him 5, 6, perhaps 7 times, missing each time. Ali suddenly got the nerve to run. He ran fast and right into the knees of another gunman. Quite unexpectedly, the man grabbed him and gently led him away. They walked for two days before Ali was turned over to a Sikh family in a village. Not long after, he was recovered by the Pakistani military who transported him to Lahore. The refugee camp was a miserable place, he remembers. The air was thick with painful recollections, uncertainty and suspicion. He remained there for a month before being discovered by his extended family. 14 • india currents • march 2013

Beginnings

I first learned about the Partition from my paternal grandmother. She spoke of those times rarely, but each time, it was clear that the memory was still fresh and painful. There had been no healing. Lahore was still the home she yearned for. We moved to the United States when I was in middle school and in high school I spent nearly a semester learning about the Jewish Holocaust in Europe. When I brought up the topic of the Partition, I was often met with the same sentiment: surely it was not a significant event if there was no mention of it in our textbooks. I knew then that the world needed to hear about the Partition not from myself but directly from my grandmother and all the others like her who lived through it. The thought nagged the back of my mind for years until a 2008 visit to the oral testimony archives at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. It was very powerful to watch survivors recall their ordeal, more so than reading a book or watching a movie. That is when it clicked. The same needed to be done for the Partition. I began interviewing survivors and recruiting a team in 2010. Experts at Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office proved to be a great resource in helping us develop our interview format. This office prvided the initial camera equipment, while Berkeley’s ASUC Art Studios provided a post production space.

The story collection effort took me on my first solo-trip through East Punjab that winter. Away from the safe bubble my family had constructed, Punjab was suddenly a whole different country. Caste disparities were openly on display, and solo traveling women were most certainly an oddity. From city to city I was joined by distant cousins, friends or new hosts I was meeting for the first time. We traveled along the border regions, stopping at villages and driving past the last untouched ancient burial mounds (thanks to a heavily militarized zone). On one such afternoon I interviewed 93 year old Bhim Sharma in a dusty machine parts shop in Batala, Punjab. He recalled the day his village in District Narowal (West Punjab) was surrounded by mobs. The entire village was holed up in one house. When hope was nearly lost, three women rode in from behind a hill on horseback. Masked as men with turbans on their heads and straps of ammunition wrapped around their bodies, they caught the mob unexpected and lobbed grenades at the leader. He was killed instantly and the mob dispersed. The women then escorted the villagers to safety. Months later, and thousands of miles away in Morgan Hill, CA, Kuldip Kaur corroborates Sharma’s story and recalls the three women on horseback who defended the caravan she was in when it was being attacked by mobs.


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ince those early days, over 30 citizen journalists have joined the effort and preserved nearly 500 stories. The stories come from diverse geographies, from Assam in the East to Hazara in the West, as well as Great Britain, Israel and North America. While language limits my exposure to stories from Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi speakers, other interviewers such as Farhana Afroz, a software engineer from Silicon Valley, have ventured deep into the villages and Partition refugee camps of Bangladesh, amplifying narratives that may have never otherwise been heard.

From East to West Punjaban Interview by Yasser Zaman Khan

Mohammad Yunus Chowdhry was born in April 1932 in Amritsar where his family lived in the Katra Karam Singh neighborhood near the Golden Temple. His father was a well known land owner with 400 acres of land near the Beas River. The fruit from his orchards was shipped all over South Asia. At the time of the Partition, young Chowdhry studied in 9th grade in Mohammaden Anglo High School. He remembers watching Noor Jehan’s movies such as Khandan, in one of several cinemas in Amritsar, namely Nishat, Rialto and Chitra cinemas. Communal violence escalated in the month of March 1947, in Amritsar. Chowdhry’s family fled Lahore which in August 1947 become a part of Pakistani Punjab. They migrated in a kafla (caravan) on foot. Once in Lahore, his father descended into a state of deep depression along with one of

Yasser Zaman Khan with Mr. Chowdhry in his California home in August 2011

his brothers who also suffered from asthma. His brother’s declining state of mind and poor health, combined with inferior living conditions as refugees led to his death in 1948. Today Chowdhry is the only surviving member out of his six siblings, still here to tell us about his family’s tale. n

Stateless in Dhaka

Interview by Farhana Afroz

A Century of Displacement

From the 150 or so narratives that I have personally been involved in collecting, some patterns have certainly begun to emerge. The stories reveal that while city dwellers had access to the emerging political thoughts of the time and became increasingly polarized, villagers were largely unaware and caught mostly off guard when unknown mobs appeared on their doorstep. I have also been intrigued by narratives describing the diverse roles of women in pre-Partition society. I have heard of families, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh, where mothers worked closely with fathers in running businesses and farming affairs. They patrolled the family farm on horseback while their husbands were off selling the crop. I have interviewed women who were pursuing graduate education in the 1940s. Especially diffcult to fathom are the tales of double and triple displacements. There are those who fed the Japanese invasion of Burma in the early 1940s and escaped to Bengal on foot, only to be displaced again in 1947. Some were once again displaced during the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. In East Punjab, yet another communal clash and mass-displacement took place in 1984.

Loss of Life, Culture and Knowledge

Begum Khairunnisa (r) with her daughters in their Geneva Camp home in Dhaka

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egum Khairunnisa left Bihar in 1947 after the riots broke out. She carried her new born daughter, Julekha who was 13 days old and walked for days to cross the border into East Pakistan. Her husband Sher Khan was a railway worker. They came to Parbatipur in a freight train and lived in Syedpur till after the war of 1971, and the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan. In 1972 they came to Dhaka and were allotted a room in the Geneva refugee camp where, as Urdu speakers, they awaited their turn to relocate to Pakistan. Their turn never came and today she continues to live in the Geneva camp in Dhaka with her daughters, Sultana and Julekha, along with several grandchildren. They remain stateless people as neither country, Pakistan or Bangladesh, will recognize them as citizens.When asked why she remains in this camp, she said in Urdu, “Kahan jayenge?” (Where will I go?) She added, “Achcha ya bura, mujhe yahin rehna hoga. Partition, ye theek nahi hua.” (Good or bad, I have to stay here. Partition was not right.) Like many other stranded Biharis of Bangladesh, Khairun Nisa feels that they are the worst victims of the 1947 Partition. Despite the passage of 66 years, the Biharis of Bangladesh, have yet to find a place to call home. n

“I looked left and right, East, West and North. Everything was on fire,” recalls Razia Sultana. She was studying to be a doctor in Delhi on a full scholarship from the Nizam of Hyderabad, a strong believer in women’s education. When news of the riots reached the Nizam, he sent armed escorts to rescue Hyderabadi students studying in Delhi. They were flown back to Hyderabad in a private jet. She pauses for a deep breath. “Delhi was burning on all sides. I saw libraries go up in flames. Some had one-of-a-kind books. So much life was lost. So much culture and knowledge as well.” The great loss of knowledge and disruption of cultural continuities are seldom a focus of discussion. One example that comes to mind is that of the mysterious “junglis” of Lyallpur district. We know today from researchers such as D. Gilmartin, that this derogatory term was used to describe the pastoral people that once roamed West Punjab. Memories about them sometimes surface during our interviews. “I had to walk by their village to get india currents • march 2013 • 15


to school. I was afraid of them. They sometimes raided our village at night.Our ancestors had taken their land and they were bitter.” Or as another interviewee recalls: “They wore long black robes, had fair skin and hair, and small features. They spoke a different language and had unusual ceremonies.” Many urban centers in West Punjab were developed in the late 1800s by the British. East Punjabis were lured West and encouraged to convert the jungles to farmland, imposing on pastoral lifestyles. How did the pastoral communities assimilate with mainstream culture? Did their lifestyle embody the way Punjabis lived once upon a time? “In our area of Punjab, Hindus were largely traders, Sikhs held knowledge of the land while Muslims were bearers of ancient musical traditions and fine craft-manship,” an interviewee recalls. This begs the question: What happens when profession is coupled to religious associations, like it has been in South Asia? How does society cope with the sudden loss of experts in a certain profession, (i.e. entire links that form its economic chain) in the aftermath of a situation like the Partition? How has this impacted modern economies in South Asia? Much remains to be explored and much, unfortunately, has already been lost and may never be known.

Towards a Democratic History of Partition

The popular debate surrounding the Partition often focuses on political leaders and nation states. The leaders we are taught to remember most today are those who held close associations with the British leadership, both through personal relationships and their British educational backgrounds. I feel that focus on their limited experiences has obscured the larger narrative, and neglected contributions from those other community leaders who were less plugged into the British system of governance and upper society. It is these gaps that we at the Partition Archive at Berkeley wish to fill by recording, preserving and freely disseminating the people’s history of Partition. We aim to empower all citizens, ordinary and extraordinary, to record stories from survivors on video and submit them to the archive for preservation. Our organization is set up to provide the training, tools and mentor-ship. It is also our core belief that citizens from all ethnic, religious, economic and gender backgrounds must come together to build the Partition Archive. The story of the Partition entails vastly diverse experiences. I feel it is critical for the next generation to come to terms with all aspects of the Partition, especially if we are to dismantle the cold war the subcontinent is currently embroiled in. It’s often said that things happen when there is a need. Since we began this work, the sheer number of individuals who have come forward to volunteer their skills or to share their stories demonstrate a clear need to connect with and understand the Partition on a human level. n

16 • india currents • march 2013

From West to East Punjaban Interview by Ranjanpreet Nagra

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ahadar Singh Nagra was 16 years old at the time of the Partition. He was born in the Matteke Nagra village, now in Punjab, Pakistan. The village had a diverse population consisting of Muslims, Sikhs, Brahmins, potters, Rai weavers, and Christians. His father had 12 acres of land on which they grew wheat, corn, sugarcane and cotton. Following harvest, the excess crop was sold in Sialkot. They also had four oxen, a horse and about eight buffaloes. At weddings, he remembers, they would get “loofah”—a bowl made of thick leaves with wedding foods in it. He also recalls popular local fabrics from that period, including, “chabbi da latha,” “chabbi di malmal,” and “khaddar.” During the Partition, Bahadar Singh Nagra and his family walked east to Batala. At one point, they were hungry for about 2-3 days before they found food and shelter. Along the way they saw bodies in Alipur Saidan where migrating groups had been slaughtered. They stayed at Narowal Theyh for some time and in Dera Baba Nanak for about 10 days. Bahadar Singh Nagra lost both his parents during the migration east—

Ranjanpreet Nagra (l) with Bahadar Singh Nagra (r) at his home in village Khanpur, Punjab, India.

his father, Kherha Singh died of dysentery at Daska camp and mother, Budho Kaur Kaler passed away a month later. In India, Bahadar Singh worked as a coolie at the Batala railway station for 1 year. He lived in village Mannana for 3 years and came to his current residence in village Khanpur in 1955. n

Staying Back in Mymensinghan

Bhattacharjee was a housewife and a mother of six children. “Life was quiet and peaceful in Interview by Farhana Afroz our small town ... Hindus and Muslims lived as friends and neighbors ... children were not restricted by religious boundaries and everyone played with everyone,” said Mr. Bhattacharjee wistfully, as he spoke about the way things were in the East Bengal of his childhood. In 1947, Bhattacharjee was a high school student. He remembers those days very well. He remembers that many of his Hindu neighbors migrated to India. They felt that they would not have the freedom to practice their religion or live with dignity. The Bhattacharjees, however, felt differently. His father did not want to leave the land of his ancestors and therefore chose to stay back in East Pakistan. As a college student in Dhaka, he wore a dhoti, the typical outfit for Hindu men of that time but never faced any discrimination. Following the Hiralal Bhattacharjee with Farhana Afroz at his riots in 1964 in Dhaka, and at the urging of daughter’s home in CA. his father, Bhattacharjee moved to Calcutta. irarlal Bhattacharjee was born in Ne- Later, he moved to Mumbai and found a job in trakona, Mymensingh (currently in the city and settled there. Today, he is a proud Bangladesh) in British India. His fa- father of 3 and a grandfather of 5 children. He ther, Suresh Chandra Bhattacharjee worked is retired and lives in Singapore with his son. n as a Sub Registrar. His mother Surodhoni

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This article is reprinted with permission from Khabar and Center for South Asian Studies at U.C. Berkeley. The 1947 Partition Archive is dedicated to documenting, preserving and sharing eye witness accounts of the Partition of British India in 1947. The archive was founded by U.C. Berkeley post-doctoral researcher, Guneeta

Singh Bhalla. Guneeta moved to the United States when she was 10. She has her Ph.D. in condensed matter physics and is presently winding up postdoctoral research at U.C. Berkeley. She is passionate about collecting stories and bringing the joy of story collection to others.


india currents • march 2013 • 17


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opinion

Ras H. Siddiqui

Brown Karma

18 • india currents • march 2013

A Creative Commons image

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he closing weeks of the year 2012 did settle the debate about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world. Thankfully we are all still here. But the year also ended on a very troubling note in both South-Asia and within its diaspora here in the United States. We have held vigils and demonstrations for Jyoti Singh who was gang-raped (and murdered) in Delhi, and for the female workers in Karachi shot dead for trying to help in the battle against polio, and the atrocity committed against the Shia Hazaras in Quetta, Pakistan. But this article is centered around events closer to home right here in our United States and how our reactions frame the way we handle ethnic stereotypes. The shooting last August at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which killed six people of the Sikh faith was troubling enough but 2012 closed on another grim note for our community when on December 27, a native of India, Sunando Sen, was pushed to his death on to the rail tracks of the New York subway by one Erika Menendez, who later explained her actions with these words: “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they took down the twin towers. I’ve been beating them up.” Mental illness might be the likely cause of homicide here but this tragedy could not have materialized without the imagery associated with 9/11/2001 itself. One can argue that only time will heal all wounds. Our nation was certainly attacked by a vicious and murderous group of people close to 20 in number whose active support group may run into a few thousand worldwide. That they quite incorrectly claimed to represent over a billion people of the Islamic faith is a topic for another day but the images that we have seen on and of that day (of the WTC towers falling in New York) have become etched in our minds. Like the rest of America, we South-Asians were horrified at what we saw and heard on 9/11. Soon after, a tall individual with brown skin and wearing something resembling a turban on his head was identified as the man behind the worst attack that the United States has had to face since Pearl Harbor. Understandably, Americans of all colors, races,

ethnicities and origins were mad as hell. We wanted an enemy. And South-Asians, especially members of the Sikhs faith fit the description of the villain because Sikhs are brown skinned, often tall, and are required by religious convention to wear a turban, to conceal their long uncut hair within it. It has now been over a decade since 9/11 and Osama bin Laden is dead. In America, an era usually ends after a movie is made on it. The movie Zero Dark Thirty about the hunt, capture and killing of Osama bin Laden is out on the silver screen now. Once again what was “overlooked” in this film was the cooperation provided by some of our people in finally locating him. Today, why are we South-Asians in America still paying the price for something that we had no part in? That was one question amongst others that was on the minds of people who attended

a vigil on August 10 in Sacramento at the California State Capitol, after the deadly attack on a Sikh place of worship in Wisconsin. At that vigil, local attorney and activist Amar Shergill from the Sikh American Political Action Committee, while addressing the participants, said that when his relatives who lived in Wisconsin asked some in the neighborhood what was going on because they were prevented by police from entering their gurdwara, the neighbor said that “there was a shooting at the mosque. Imagine. That is a neighbor from the community who thinks that he/she lives next to a mosque!” Nobody is asking our government in Washington that it should let its guard down when dealing with terrorism. But more than eleven years have passed since 9/11 and desis are still being attacked. Our outreach work has not been as effective as we would like it to be. What we need now is assistance from our


elected representatives and the Obama administration, to help us deal with hate crimes. The mainstream media in this country has not done enough to spread this message. Our collective liberties as American citizens have also been impacted. We need to be heard and for that we have to come out of our cocoons. Not everyone can sift through the news over time and conclude that the person taking an order at a fast food joint, at a gas station cash register, the doctor or engineer at work or just one of our senior citizens walking down the street with a brown complexion is not the enemy. Some South-Asians in this country are rich and immensely successful. But that high achievement has still not translated into a change of perception and we are still foreigners who can easily become targets of anyone who hates us because of the way we look. In another bizarre case, during the first week of December 2012, an altercation took place at another New York subway station which claimed the life of a 58 year old AsianAmerican, Ki Suk Han. During this sordid episode Han was pushed onto the rail tracks allegedly by one Naeem Davis a homeless possibly bi-polar 30-year-old man. Both alcohol and drugs may have been involved in this incident, one which has attracted attention and acquired notoriety because it was photographed in a gruesome closeup by a SouthAsian and the pictures were subsequently published in The New York Post newspaper. One cannot think of too many places in the world besides America where an immigrant from Korea is pushed to his death by an immigrant from Sierra Leone in a subway station while being photographed by a free-lance photographer originally from Pakistan. (The ethics of the photographer R. Umar Abbasi has come under question. It was a most chilling example of exploitative behavior.) South-Asians can no longer remain mere spectators. Voyeurism is a luxury we can no longer afford in America. We have to remain collectively alert to details which we may have considered too small to attract our attention earlier. We also need more desis in law enforcement and the media. Till the number goes up in a significant way we must establish close links with all branches of the security apparatus in this country. If we Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis etc. look in the mirror we are looking at our first calling card to any possible bigot or potential perpetrator of hate crimes—our brown faces. Whatever may happen politically “back home” between our countries of origin (or between them and our adopted country), it should not divide us here in the United States. We have to remain more united than ever before. Our karma in post 9/11 America is tied to our skin color! n Ras Siddiqui is a South Asian writer and journalist based in Sacramento.

IndiaCurrents

www.indiacurrents.com india currents • march 2013 • 19


IC

books

Tara Menon

Fishing for Friendship A coming-of-age, young adult, epistolary novel SAME SUN HERE by Silas House and Neela Vaswani, Candlewick Press, 2012. Hardcover $6.68. 288 pages.

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hen I picked up Same Sun Here, the first thing that struck me was that it was written by two authors, Silas House and Neela Vaswani. I was intrigued because Vaswani is a very accomplished writer who has won an American Book Award. It turns out the epistolary young adult novel was co-authored for a very good reason—it features a duo of voices. There is no statement in the book that sheds light on whose voice is whose though one could easily match the right pairs—the girl’s narrative belongs to Vaswani and the boy’s to House. Twelve-year-old Meena and River are unlikely best friends as they have never seen each other, but they manage to bond through their missives. The girl and boy disclose their problems and their deepest secrets in the frank manner of children. They also exchange information about aspects of their culture, important personalities, and what they’re passionate about. Meena was born in Mussoorie and came to New York City when she was nine years old. River is from Kentucky and lives with his mother and half-Cherokee grandmother, Mamaw. His father went to find work in Biloxi, Mississippi, after he lost his job as a coal miner. However, in spite of their disparate backgrounds, the children bridge their differences in myriad ways and they also manage to see how similar they are. As the girl says, “You know what goes with rivers? Fish. My name is Meena and that means ‘fish.’” River says his ancestors were originally from Scotland and Ireland and that everyone has originally come from somewhere else. They possess a fierce fondness for their grandmothers and a shared love for the dogs in their lives. Through their letters, vivid portraits of their selves and their grandmothers emerge. House, an award-winning novelist, displays his forte in characterization in Same Sun Here. River is a throwback hero, preferring letters to emails and spending time with Mamaw rather than cruising the Internet. His grandmother, an opinionated and formidable woman, who is also an activist, serves as a role model for him. She ultimately inspires him to perform one brave courageous act. Vaswani makes it easy for us to conjure up Meena’s familial life and the problems they

20 • india currents • march 2013

face as immigrants. The girl’s mother works as a nanny and is home for the weekends, whereas the father, who works in a restaurant in New Jersey, only visits once a month. Her older brother has a girlfriend their parents don’t know about. The family dwells in a rentcontrolled apartment illegally subleased from Mrs. Lau. They live in constant fear of being found out. Meena does Mrs. Lau’s chores and walks her dog. The building manager harasses his tenants in order to get them to move out so he can sell the apartments. As Meena’s family is in the process of becoming naturalized citizens, the stakes are high if they are found out. They feel the tension of their subterfuge. The missives of the children bring out the flavor of their respective places. New York springs to life in Meena’s prose. River is upset that trees are being flattened on the mountain overlooking his town. He then explains about mountaintop removal, removing the summit of a mountain to extract coal. The excavated material is dumped in a valley, which, River complains, causes flooding. Mamaw fights against the mountaintop removal. The situation becomes worse when some of the boulders dislodged by the excavation slam into his school and injure his friends. Meena tells River that her family relocated to Mussoorie from their village after the government built a dam there. She also writes about the Chipko movement, its leader, Gaura Devi, who was Dadi’s (grandmother’s) friend, civil disobedience, and ahimsa. The educational insights don’t drag down the novel. On the contrary, they heighten our interest in the children’s personalities and their unfolding lives. Vaswani adapts a lyrical style whereas House possesses the more consistent voice. Vaswani deliberately mixes Indian English and American English, making the latter stronger as the book progresses. However, I was more enamored by the child’s perspective of the world, which Vaswani splendidly depicts. The following scene in Same Sun Here reminded me of the secrecy in Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and the way Anne’s family hid from the Nazis in the attic of an office building: “We called Daddy and put him on speaker-phone and everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ We sang quietly in case the landlord was lurking in the stairwell. Mum gave me socks and some of Mrs. Rankin’s old books.

David Copperfield, The Wind in the Willows, and a biography of a scientist named Marie Curie …” In another Anne Frank-reminiscent instance, Meena almost sounds like a reincarnation of the girl in the charming way she manipulates words and makes candid revelations: “By the way, the reason why Ana Maria is a big secret is because Mum wants Kiku to marry an Indian girl. She says if he marries an American girl, she will die of GRIEF and SHAME. She also says I’m not allowed to EVER go on a date EVER and that she will pick out a nice boy for me when it’s time to get married. Kiku and I already have a plan that I will look ugly and act like a wild animal whenever I meet these boys Mum wants me to marry. And when I’m seventeen, I will have a secret boyfriend FOR SURE.” Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl inspired me, as a child, like countless other young readers, to start my own diary. Quite a few boys and girls will be influenced to get a penpal after a delightful immersion in Same Sun Here. Hopefully, they will try to emulate Meena and River, who use thoughtful prose and contemplate the meaningful events in their lives in the context of what is happening around them. The best way to understand different cultures and places is to be educated about them, and friendship remains a powerful path toward enlightenment. As Meena quotes Mrs. Lau, “There’s good and bad people everywhere.” And as River writes in one of his last letters, when he’s telling Meena about how his father realized that people of color were not bad, “I told him I did know that. I didn’t tell him that I knew that because of you, because you are my best friend and that our friendship is better because we are different but also because we are so much alike, too.” n Tara Menon is a freelance writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts. Her fiction, poetry, and book reviews have been published in many magazines.


Girija Sankar

Painting a Tale TIGER HILLS by Sarita Mandanna, Penguin Books India, Paperback, $10.00, 593 pages.

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iger Hills is a story of familiar themes set in extraordinary settings. Spanning over 60 years in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries in colonial south India, the novel rests heavily on the splendor of the Coorg hills in Karnataka. If Kerala is God’s own country, then Coorg would be God’s own heaven, for such is the imagery that Sarita Mandanna paints in her well-intentioned and mostly well-crafted narrative. Verdant, lush and rich, the Coorg in Mandanna’s Tiger Hills could very well be considered the main character. The story follows Devi, Devanna and Machu, three Coorgis drawn together through the ties of kith and kin. Devanna, a studious young boy, grows up adoring Devi, and Devi falls for Machu after a chance meeting at a party to celebrate Machu’s slaying of a tiger—an event that had not been accomplished in three decades. Devi and Devanna grow up together and when Devanna loses his mother to tragic events, he clings to Devi “like a bedraggled puppy.” The two of them become staple fixtures in town, “the pale-skinned firebrand and her scrawny worshipper.” But, Devi soon meets Machu and is immediately smitten. Love triangles are rarely without complications, and neither is this one. The protagonists grow up, marry and begin families, even as they are thrust closer together and forced apart by circumstances beyond their control. Set in colonial times, social changes offer a supportive backdrop to the human drama. The author deftly weaves in modernization, technology and the independence movement into the broader story arc. The novel is strongest in the character development of Devanna. Notwithstanding his many faults and misjudgments, the reader may find herself drawn to Devanna primarily because the novel traces his story more thoroughly than others. Equally compelling is Mandanna’s portrayal of Gundert, the head of the local Christian Mission and the head master of the school that Devanna attends. The Coorgs, according to Hermann Gundert, the tall and stoic German priest, “were stubborn, toddy-loving sybarites, too attached to their pagan ways to change.” But, in Devanna, Gundbert finds a lost son and nurtures his brilliant mind by educating him in the secrets of the lush, botanic world around them. The skill that he inculcates in Devanna would prove to be a game-changer for Devi and Devanna much later, at another turning point in the story.

Do You Have a Picture That Tells a Story? India Currents invites readers to send in a picture and caption to publish in our magazine. We’ll pick the best picture every month and award a cash prize to the winning entry. Entries will be judged on the originality and creativity of the visual and the clarity and storytelling of the caption. So pick up that camera and click away.

Send the picture as a jpeg image to editor@indiacurrents.com with Subject: A Picture That Tells a Story. Deadline for entries: 10th of every month.

Sixty years is a long time, especially in a place of much socio-cultural dynamism as preindependent India. The larger context suffers from perfunctory treatment and consequently, the novel seems to lose focus towards the end. The denouement is not quite fitting for the grandiosity of the beginning, with the story straying tangentially between Hitler’s Germany and the Afghan frontier wars. Mandanna’s prose, while mostly stylish and descriptive, is weighed down in some parts by writing more suited for a harlequin romance: “Why did he make her feel like a recalcitrant child?” Devi asks herself, and in doing so, echoing millions of other heroines spurned in their attempts to snare the dashing, tall, dark and handsome hero, or in this instance, Machu. The chemistry between Devi and Machu is very reminiscent of Scarlett and Rhett from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. The similarities between Mitchell’s epic and Tiger Hills are equally evident in Devi’s eventual station in life as the owner of Nari Malai (Tiger Hills), a coffee estate and plantation. Nevertheless, Tiger Hills is a brave attempt by a first time novelist to render a familiar trope in a hitherto unfamiliar yet magical setting. The reader hopes that the author’s future works will showcase her ease with prose as evidenced in Tiger Hills with a more cohesive and restrained storytelling that is not merely carried by the novelty of a setting but by also the depth of the characters. n Girija Sankar lives in Atlanta and works in international development. Her writings can be found in a variety of online and print publications.

Friends on Canopy Road A Creative Commons Image

india currents • march 2013 • 21


IC

on Inglish

Kalpana Mohan

A Guru Minus a Halo guru: noun: Hinduism. a preceptor giving personal religious instruction; an intellectual or spiritual guide or leader. Origin: 1820–30; < Hindi guru < Sanskrit guru venerable, weighty

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n the morning after Afzal Guru was hanged following the conviction for the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, I wondered about the number of young men and women who have turned militant in the war-torn areas of India simply due to the accident of birth and circumstance. I’m left pondering the odd juxtapositions of the names contained within the full name “Mohammed Afzal Guru.” The words “Mohammed” and “guru” refer to a personal religious teacher and spiritual guide in Islam and Hinduism, respectively. “Afzal,” in Urdu, means “superior.” The word “guru,” whose origin is Sanskrit, refers to a teacher who is an intellectual guide. I wondered about the life of this young man. How much of it was owing to a nonexistent guru, one who may have offered the promise of love and hope in a land teeming with fly-by-night gurus brandishing their own scepters of faith? How much of his destiny was due to geography? For three and a half months, I’ve watched tumult in the country of my birth. A horrific gang rape in the capital city was followed by several others in many parts of the country and roused many to action. I’ve been privy to two capital punishment deaths during this long stay—of Ajmal Kasab in November in Bombay and of Afzal Guru in February in Delhi—both of which occurred with little prior warning and minimal fanfare and generated much national debate. Both these state-sponsored deaths are believed to be vote stunts by the ruling party. All three events sparked international uproar and the people of India, instigated by the media and civic organizations, have begun to ask questions. They have realized that there simply isn’t a man or woman around to shine the light and lead the way in desperate times. The new skepticism and feistiness in India gives me hope, even though the continued tendency to want to build a halo around people’s heads makes me cringe. I was blinded by the halos floating over writers’ heads in Jaipur. I arrived in Jaipur hoping to meet, casually, some of the men and women whom I considered my gurus in thought and the craft of writing. But when I arrived at Diggi Palace I realized that many of them had isolated themselves—by choice or by the weight of their halos. These writers and panelists, mega celebrities for the time that they were in Jaipur, assumed a Vishwaroopam that India thrusts on anyone who gains a modicum of success in a given field. Like the Dalai Lama, most of the writers and panelists moved with an entourage of security staff, a core group of organizers and a trail of journalists hanging on to their tail. The stampede inside the Tata Steel Front Lawns at Diggi Palace on two different days—on the days that Dalai Lama and Shabana Azmi addressed the crowds—made the JLF feel like the Kumbh Mela in Prayag where Shiva, Ganesha and Karthikeya had decided to crash the party. Shabana Azmi was brilliant during her panel on Sex and Sensibility but several journalists felt that she treated them as if they were pariahs. She signed the autographs of a relentless few in the audience with glum disinterest, as if she were folding laundry in an apartment in the Bronx on a gloomy Nemo kind of day. Gurcharan Das, a man whose writings I revere, was so busy he didn’t have time to mingle. If he or others talked to people at all, it was merely for a few seconds when they autographed the book a reader had bought and wanted signed. Pavan Varma, another writer whose works I admire, wasn’t so admirable when he showed his acerbic, patronizing face to several panelists during two sessions. I didn’t attend Gayathri Spivak’s famously soporific lecture now im-

22 • india currents • march 2013

mortalized by J.D. Daniels in The Paris Review but I was at the panel titled “Gandhi vs Gandhi” led by Faisal Devji with Richard Sorabji, Ananya Vajpeyi and Charles Di Salvo. While Sorabji, Vajpeyi and Devji drove front-benchers away with language that shimmered with arcane profundity, Di Salvo salvaged the situation: he summarized, in plain language, the experiences in Mahatma Gandhi’s life as a lawyer in South Africa that helped him integrate his professional life, his politics, his morality and his spirituality so “they were all one” by the time he returned to India to incite India towards independence. Unfortunately, the very gurus I was interested in meeting in person at Jaipur were the people I was disenchanted with after I heard them speak. When there was a talk about craft and process in the panel called “The Art of Biography,” the moderator Wade Davis—who spoke for eleven elastic minutes before he asked his first question—was so bloated I worried he might float away like Aunt Marge in “The Prisoner of Azkaban” even as Pico Iyer, a pint-sized man who occupied a quarter of a chair on the Jaipur stage, grew larger in stature. But even Iyer rubbed emery cloth on me on the first day of the JLF: at the end of his discussion with Akash Kapur he announced that he was sorry he had no time to talk to any of his friends after the session because he had a very busy afternoon ahead of him. Last October at The New Yorker Festival I remember how author Martin Amis descended from a swanky sedan in Manhattan. Heads turned. A curious chatter rippled through the line as people discussed the man and his thirteen books. But that was it. Jaipur, on the other hand, hammered halos around the heads of writing gurus. Where, I wondered, could I find a guru, minus his halo and his agenda, who might sit with me at breakfast and tell me how I must be the best I can be? I thought, then, of that impressionable young man in the nineties who, like me, was disillusioned and struggled to find a guide. Afzal Guru had finished his first year of medical school when he was encouraged to drop out and join a militant group for the liberation of Kashmir. A fork in the road led him to the gallows down the road. n This month Kalpana Mohan writes from Chennai, India. To read more about her, go to http://kalpanamohan.org and http://saritorial. com.


I C relationship diva

Jasbina Ahluwalia

Shooting Out of Her League anticipate that the feedback from the men she dates would consistently be that there’s no attraction or chemistry. I would share that feedback candidly, together with suggesting that as the empowered woman she is, she has two options from which to choose. One would be to open herself up to guys who appreciate her physical traits; or alternatively take measures to change those physical traits which appear to be an issue for the guys she’s choosing to limit herself to.

Q

Q

My Client is 36, successful and attractive, but a bit on the curvy side for some men’s preferences. Yet she’s really selective. Basically, she shoots out of her league in the visual department. What would your advice be to her without pissing her off?

A

I’d consider introducing her to a few

men with the physical traits she seeks, where there’s a match in terms of life goals, values, and world-views. If she’s shooting out of her league in the visual dept, I’d

A

Do you like to share negative feedback? How do you share it in a compassionate way?

It can be so hard to get outside of ourselves, and from the very beginning of our process I convey to prospective clients that frank and candid feedback is an extremely valuable component of our matchmaking services. This is another example of where it’s

helpful to remind our clients that we give our own meaning to circumstances, and importantly, the meaning we give is actually a choice we make. I encourage our clients to view negative feedback as empowering. Sharing negative feedback in a compassionate and constructive way gives my clients the golden opportunity to seize control by becoming aware and then taking steps to change what may not be working for them. I also like to sandwich any negative feedback whenever possible. In other words, start with anything positive their match said, then share the negative feedback, and then share something else positive. 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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I

was recently asked to present at an international conference for industry professionals from around the world, and field questions from other matchmakers and dating coaches in attendance, pertaining to my presentation topic of “Creating and Maintaining a Sterling Reputation through Stellar Client Service.” From the numerous questions posed at the conference, I’ve selected those which I believe would contain insights of most interest and pertinence to readers here.

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india currents • march 2013 • 23


24 • india currents • march 2013


india currents • march 2013 • 25


I C ask a lawyer

Indu Liladhar-Hathi

Status Exemptions and Waivers Q

I am currently in the United States on an H-4 dependent spouse visa. I am interested in starting my own printing business. Since the printing will be done entirely from India, I do not believe that I will be in violation of my H-4 status. Is that an accurate assumption?

A

I am so glad that you have posed this question because this issue comes up very frequently. Your assumption is incorrect. Your efforts towards establishing and maintaining this business will be considered “unauthorized employment.” It does not matter that the printing (or the core business) will be taking place in India. If you do engage in this activity, then you may have problems obtaining any type of visa, including being able to adjust your status to that of a permanent resident.

Q

In 2002, I came to the United States without inspection, that is, by crossing

the border through Canada. I am now getting married to a U.S. citizen. I have been advised that I will need to seek a waiver because I came into the country without adequate documentation. I am worried that if I depart from the United States for my immigrant visa appointment, I will not be able to return. What can I do?

A

You are in luck! In January of this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a regulation, which will, as of March 4, 2013, allow persons (like you) who entered the United States without inspection to apply for a provisional waiver, so that they are “excused” for their unlawful presence in the United States. Thus, once this waiver is approved by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS), you will be eligible to attend your immigrant visa appointment (for your “green card”) overseas. There are certain qualifications that must be met and I suggest that you review the

information at USCIS.gov/provisionalwaiver. Final Note: The USCIS will start accepting H-1B petitions for the fiscal year 2014 beginning April 1, 2013. As the readers may be aware, currently the law puts a ceiling or a “cap” of 65,000 on the number of new H-1B petitions that may be approved in any fiscal year. This year, it is forecasted that the H-1B cap can be used in the first few days in April. We are therefore urging H-1B employers to plan accordingly. With the H-1B cap limits on the hiring of needed foreign workers, alternative visa classifications should be kept in mind. These include: J-1 for Exchange Visitors, E-3 for Australians, L-1 intracompany transferees, O-1 for individuals of extraordinary ability, H-1B1 for Singaporeans and Chileans, and TN for Mexican and Canadian Nationals. n Immigration and business attorney Indu Liladhar-Hathi has an office in San Jose. (408) 453-5335.

LAW OFFICES OF

SUNITA N. SOOD & ASSOCIATES

• IMMIGRATION

- Petition, Citizenship, Sponsorship, Employment

• FAMILY LAW

- Divorce, Child Support, Visitation, Adoption

• BANKRUPTCY (CH 13/11/7)

- STOP! Garnishment, Foreclosure, Repossession, Judgment • WILLS We speak Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu.

CALL (714) 480-1600 Offices in Santa Ana, Los Angeles, Upland, Riverside, Lake Forest

The Ghosh Law Group AMY GHOSH

• Immigration: Non-Immigrant & Immigrant (Employment-Based and Family-Based) Visas, Citizenship, Asylum and BIA, 9th Cir. Appeal.. • Employment: Hour and Wage Law Disputes, Wrongful Termination, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination • Family Law: Custody, Visitation, Other areas: Bankruptcy, Chapter 7, 11 & 13, Entertainment, Intellectual Property • Business: Incorporation, Franchising, Negotiation, Contracts, Litigation, Taxation, and Immigration.

www.amyghosh.net 3255 Wilshire Blvd, #1530, Los Angeles, CA 90010 26 • india currents • march 2013

JOANNA GHOSH

213-479-8349 • 213-365-2370


IC

visa dates

Important Note: U.S. travelers seeking visas to India will now need to obtain them through Travisa Outsourcing. Call (415) 644-0149 or visit http://indiavisa.travisaoutsourcing.com/ for more information.

March 2013

T

his column carries priority dates and other transitional information as taken from the U.S. State Depart­ment’s Visa Bulletin. The information below is from the Visa Bulletin for February 2013. In the tables below, the listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed. “Current” means that numbers are available for all qualified applicants. “Unavailable” means no numbers are available.

FAMILY PREFERENCE VISA DATES Preference Dates for India 1st 2A 2B 3rd 4th

Feb 15, 2006 Nov 22, 2010 Mar 01, 2005 Jul 15, 2002 Apr 22, 2001

Note: For March, F2A numbers EXEMPT from per-country limit are available to applicants from all countries with priority dates earlier than Nov 15, 2010. F2A numbers SUBJECT to per-country limit are available to applicants with priority dates beginning Nov 15, 2010 and earlier than Nov 22, 2010.

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Preference Dates for India 1st Current 2nd September 01, 2004 3rd November 22, 2002 Other November 22, 2002 Workers 4th Current Certain Current Religious Workers 5th Current Targeted 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://www. travel.state.gov/visa/bulletin/bulletin_5885.html

1-888-ROOT-LAW (1-888-766-8529)

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Our experienced immigration attorneys are ready to serve all your family, employment, business and U.S. Immigration court needs * Fast preparation time (15 days in most cases) * Personalized attention (8 hour response time to your question) * Unsurpassed approval rate (95% in most cases) * Exclusive immigration law experience (over12 yrs.)

ROOT LAW GROUP, Offices Located in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Fernando Valley, Redlands Email: info@rootlaw.com | Website:http://www.rootlaw.com india currents • march 2013 • 27


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tax talk

Sanket Shah

Tax Provisions for Investments in India

F

or a U.S. Person (U.S. Citizen, Green Card holder, F1, H1 and L1 visa holders) there are many tax compliances within and outside of the United States. Most Non Resident Indians (NRIs) have some form of investments or assets back home in India. Let us look at some of the provisions.

INCOME TAX

• A U.S. Person is required to disclose his/her worldwide income and file U.S. Income tax return (regardless of where he or she resides). Example: A U.S. Person residing in India and having NO source of income in the U.S., is still required to file a U.S. income tax return, if he or she has income in India.

•The income that is tax free in India is still taxable in the United States.

• The highest tax rate in India is 30%, where as the highest tax rate in the United States is 39.60%. • Non filing of the income tax return can lead to both civil and criminal prosecution. Civil would include interest and late penalties. Criminal would include the following:

• If a U.S. Person owns shares of an Indian Company in excess of 10%, he or she is required to disclose it to the IRS. Non disclosure penalty is $10,000 to a maximum of $50,000 per year. • If a U.S. Person has an interest in an Indian Partnership firm with more than 10% share, they are required to disclose it to the IRS. Non disclosure penalty is $10,000 to a maximum of $50,000 per year. • If a U.S. Person has financial interest with any financial institution outside the United States (eg: in India, UK, etc.) and the aggregate value of all foreign account exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year, then they are required to disclose it to the U.S. Treasury Department. Non disclosure penalty is $10,000 per year.

ESTATE (INHERITANCE) TAX

• The Estate Tax is a tax on the transfer of property at your death. The amount of tax is determined by applying the relevant tax rates to the taxable estate (that is the gross estate reduced by any deductions). • The value of property that is included in the gross estate is its fair market value on the date of the death. • For the year 2013, estate upto $5.25 million (inflation adjusted) for an individual and

28 • india currents • march 2013

$10.50 million for a couple is exempted from estate tax. Anything beyond that is taxed at 40%. • Estate includes worldwide assets. • Non U.S. Persons, whose kids are U.S. Persons need to plan for the future. Example: Mr. A who is an Indian Citizen has a son Mr. C who is a U.S. Person. Mr. A has assets worth $2 million. On Mr. A’s death all assets are transferred to Mr. C. Mr. C has assets of $5.25 million. Mr. C has a son Mr. Z. On Mr. C’s death, an Estate duty of $0.8 million would be required to be paid before the assets are transferred to Mr. Z. Indirectly the assets of Mr. A are also taxed in the estate duty. n Sanket Shah is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of NS Global—an advisory firm founded by certified professionals from the U.S. and India to provide multi jurisdictional tax solutions to individuals having assets and/or an income base in India and the United States. www.nsglobal.com.


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desi voice

Zenobia Khaleel

Oscars—The Final Frontier The Bollywood factory has yet to decipher the Oscar formula

30 • india currents • march 2013

Photo Credit: A Creative Commons Image

O

scars 2002. We as a nation, sat glued to our TV sets in the early hours of the morning, as the event was telecast live from Los Angeles. The foreign film category was being announced, and as we watched it seemed as though Aamir Khan subconsciously got up from his seat when the decisive envelope was opened. Lagaan—a movie tailor-made for awards, with an impeccable hero, captivating narrative, excellent performances, all tied up neatly with melodious strains of music. But it was not to be. The nation felt a collective remorse when the movie lost to No Man’s Land. Since then, India’s Oscar dreams have been redeemed by Rehman, Gulzar and Resool Pookutty bringing the prized statuette home, albeit for foreign productions. But the astounding fact remains that for the third biggest movie factory in the world, which churns out more than 1000 films annually, our movies have only managed to garner three Oscar nominations through the years, let alone make the final cut. Do we lack talent of international caliber? Hardly. Many an Oscar winning director has professed to learning the cinematic craft from our masters like Satyajit Ray. Ray is the recipient of the Oscar lifetime achievement award, an honor rarely bestowed to Hollywood outsiders. Indian cinema is routinely showcased and extolled in International film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. So, why do we underperform at the Oscars, year after year? Because, the Oscar audiences do not get to see our truly exceptional movies. Baradwaj Rangan, National Awardwinning film critic and Deputy Editor of The Hindu, voices his opinion on why Indian movies fall short at the Oscars. “We don’t always send the right films. It’s important to remember that the Oscar jury consists mostly of Americans and we need to send a story that resonates with them, but with our local color. There is a strong, cutting-edge, body of work that does that, but we never consider these films and instead send movies that must seem strange to them and ultimately unworthy.” The biggest pothole on our path to the Oscar red carpet appears to be The Film Federation of India (FFI), the organization that determines the official entry to the Oscars. Time and again, this body has been dogged by controversy be it questionable choices of entries, lack of transparency in its functioning, or the bureaucracy involved.

The FFI seem oblivious to the different audience expectations in the two countries. For us Indians, movies are our trips to fantasy land. We watch movies to vicariously live through the infallible hero’s exploits or to snigger at the absurdity in them and feel intellectually superior. The shirtless superheroes that we adore are relegated to teen flicks in American theatres. Hollywood loves characters with tragic flaws. A recurring safe bet at the Oscars is the hero’s emancipation despite these flaws, a theme that’s particularly hard to pull off in our movies. “The FFI needs people who understand what the Oscar jury looks for,” Rangan believes. “This is not just about selecting the best film from among Indian releases, but selecting the right kind of film that plays well to an American audience. The Oscars have a tradition of considering serious films, and Barfi! comes off as a trifle, a mere entertainment as opposed to a movie that says something

meaningful about life, like Amour.” A glaring error in the selection of Indian nominations is the skewed ratio of national versus regional cinemas. In the past 55 years that we’ve been sending our films for Oscar consideration, 30 movies have been in Hindi, a smattering of Bengali, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Marathi movies make up the rest of the list. “Regional movies have been selected on and off, but really strange ones like Jeans. In fact, it’s the regional films made by the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Girish Kasaravalli that will make for excellent choices, because they are local stories told in the language of international art cinema,” says Rangan. “We do make stories that are capable of “wooing” the Oscar committee. These films have the necessary technical chops, acting prowess and storylines to make the grade. It’s just that we never look at them. The length of our movies may deter the attention span of


Zenobia Khaleel is a stay at home mom who dabbles in a lot of adventures (and misadventures), and is passionate about writing, traveling, acting, direction, girl scouts, and community volunteering. Some of her articles have been published in The Hindu and The Khaleej Times.

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the international audience, but there are long foreign films as well. And if other things work, then length shouldn’t be a problem.” Networking is another colossal juggernaut that film makers have to override. Young, up and coming directors who invariably have the most interesting stories to say, are daunted by networking expenses, which might add up to twice the budget of their production costs. Rangan comments, ‘The Oscars are a huge campaign, and not everyone can spend that much money, to go to Los Angeles and show the film to the right people and make sure DVDs reach the right hands. It’s a lot of work, unless some of that work has been done for you by critics, as in the case of Amour. It was so universally acclaimed that it automatically became the frontrunner.” Bhanu Athaya for Gandhi; Rehman, the musical genius behind Slumdog Millionaire; and now Bombay Jayashree for Life of Pi, have been recognized by the Oscars, when the movies are helmed by foreign filmmakers. It is a chicken-soup-for-the-soul feeling to see Jayashree stand out like a dark horse among international powerhouse perfomers like Adele and Claude-Michel Schönberg . Oscar snubs aside, Hollywood is increasingly looking eastwards for stories, talent and landscape. The success of foreign movies set in the Indian milieu has brought fringe benefits to our film industry too. Indian stars like Irfan Khan, Tabu and Anil Kapoor are increasingly finding footholds for themselves in Hollywood movies. Pondicherry and Munnar never looked so beautiful, as when seen through the eyes of Ang Lee. Movies like Life of Pi and Eat, Pray, Love are generating a tourism boom in India. Curiously, the west seems enamored by our classical art forms like Karnatik music, which gets bypassed or morphed beyond recognition by our populist industry. For an artist, receiving an Oscar is the pinnacle of achievement, the validation of excellence of craft. For the nation, it instills a sense of national pride. But feel-good factor apart, the tangible benefits are limited. As Rangan puts it, “It’s just an individual recognition, like a medal in the Olympics. It makes an individual famous but doesn’t necessarily do much for the sport.” The Indian movie industry has the unenviable task of catering to a culturally diverse audience of 1.3 billion. It would be quixotic for producers to alter their winning formula that appeals to the whole population, in quest of Oscar glory. Let’s face it, Bollywood films centered on poverty porn do not get into the 200 Crore club. n

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The Shakti Dance Company & Kalapeetham Foundation jointly present

A production choreographed by Leela Samson Featuring - Padashri Leela Samson and her ensemble of dancers 'Spanda', (a vibration) is symbolic of the enduring and perpetual energy that is the life force of the universe. It incorporates the philosophical concept of Prithvi as the center and source of energy in the universe and equates it with the nabham, the womb as the origin of energy in the human body. Padmashri Leela Samson, director of Kalakshetra, is considered one of the most eminent Bharatanatyam dancers of our time. Her technical virtuosity and the poetry and polish she brings to the stage make her an unforgettable dancer.

Sunday April 7th, 2013 — 4:00 p.m. Venue - The James Armstrong Theatre 3330 Civic Center Dr. Torrance, CA 90503

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DANCERS Leela Samson,Bragha Bissell,Bilva Raman, Jin Shan Shan, Satyapriya Iyer, Christopher Guruswamy, KV Arun, Harikrishnan Nair, Sai Santosh Radhakrishan

Tickets and Information Viji Prakash 310.428.5875 danceyatra@yahoo.com info@shaktibharatanatyam.com www.shaktidancecompany.com Kalyani Shanmugarajah 818.892.4890 kalapeetham1990@gmail.com www.Kalapeetham.com

32 • india currents • march 2013


india currents • march 2013 • 33


IC

films

Aniruddh Chawda

Boys, Interrupted

DAVID. Director: Bejoy Nambiar. Players: Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vikram, Vinay Virmani, Tabu, Nasser, Lara Dutta, Isha Sharvani, Rohini Hattangadi, Monica Dogra. Music: Mikey McCleary. Theatrical Release (Reliance).

I

n a new movie season replete with inexplicable or mundane sounding movie titles (Murder 3, Special 26), a title like David at first glance may be scoffed away as sophomoric. The truth couldn’t be farther. In a startling array of stories that brings together three finely etched characters by the name of David, Nambiar’s superb David is, simply put, enigmatic filmmaking that puzzles, unexpectedly teases and delights the senses. The tres Davids are as divergent from each other as the era they inhabit. The first David (N.M. Mukesh) is a mafia enforcer in London circa 1975. The second David (Vikram), whose adventure is set in 1999, is drinking his way up the beach in Goa while the third David (Virmani) is a struggling Mumbai musician looking for a break in 2012 under the watchful eye of his church-going father (Nasser). Period pieces are challenging in that they must constantly pay attention to the staging to keep up the illusion of an alternate time window. Getting the staging to jive seamlessly is the thankless task that has let down many of the best of cinematographers. The work of 34 • india currents • march 2013

three different cinematographers that aid David creates an appealing visual symmetry that is difficult to dismiss. Sanu Varghese’s London is a sumptuous black and white vignette set against bell bottoms and choppy sideburns while P.S. Vinod’s Mumbai is a blue-tinted urban jungle synched with the torrential monsoons that frequent the vistas. Compared to those two pieces, R. Rathnavelu’s Goa sets are bright yellow, tapping into the sun-drenched cliffs and town squares. Making the three far flung settings interesting on their own makes it that much easier for director Nambiar to make the plot gel. These three extremes—like three angles of a vast triangular canvass—have a much broader, more urgent message to impart. The three settings successfully sell three base realities of modern life. David in London is swimming backwards against the tide of his illegitimate birth while searching for his father; David in Mumbai single-handedly fights religious bigotry thinly disguised as political theater; while David in Goa is a love struck middle aged man smitten with his best friend (Sharvani). The acting is uniformly first rate. This may be the first instance of Mukesh coming through as a serious performer. Toronto-born Virmani nicely traverses from dreadlocked singer to a one-man street fighter. Hattangadi as a hate-fomenting Bombay (as it was in 1999, remember?) politician, Dogra as a Muslim girl being forced to marry against her will in London and Dutta as upscale single mother add nuanced credits to their roles. The emotional pendulum of the story, however, beautifully swings between Mukesh’s London gangster and Vikram’s love-struck Goan fool. Ultimately Vikram’s ruffian wins over not only in acing the country bumpkin

but also because of the presence of Tabu’s massage parlor owner Frenny, a lady of not inconsequential repute. The platonic friendship between Vikram’s David and Tabu’s Frenny-the-temptress is a brilliant interplay between David wanting something he can’t have and Frenny standing as the David’s conscience, keeping him grounded to the straight and narrow. The soundtrack, which features Remo Fernandez, Modern Mafia, Bramfature and Mikey McCleary, packs an eclectic song pack that captures a surprise or two. A standout is the sensational re-working of the classic qawalli “Dama Dam Mast Kalander,” rendered with gusto by Rekha Bharadwaj and orchestrated by New Zealand native McCleary. McCleary’s version retains the tune’s ecclesiastic ethos even with trumped up electric keyboards and a rock guitar. Staged during a sumptuous wedding and voiced on the screen by veteran Sarika, the tune taps into a bygone era of low-hanging chandeliers in party rooms themselves reminiscent of low-light opium dens. The winter time may be optimal for getting into serious films, at least some of which are no doubt released to stay in the forefront of critical voting for the annual film awards season already under way on the sub-continent. Relative newcomer Nambiar now has an appropriate calling card where and when it counts. n EQ: A Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

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Geetika Pathania Jain

Love Ka Murder

MURDER 3. Director: Vishesh Bhatt. Players: Ranjeet Hooda, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sara Loren. Music: Pritam Chakraborty. Theatrical release: Fox Star.

S

ome films deserve to be seen in a theater, the silver screen illuminating every inflection of the actors’ expressions, highlighting the mastery of the wizards who create a fictional world to which we can escape. This film is not one of them. No, I’m not suggesting that you see this film when it is available on DVD. I am suggesting that you not see this film at all, unless you are unusually masochistic or are writing an article titled “Ten Worst Movies of the Year.” Is there anything else left to say? And since it has been established that you will not be wasting your time and money on this film, the spoilers can flow, free and unfettered. The writer is Mahesh Bhatt. A cursory examination of the plot reveals several male fantasies at play. All the women are sexy and somewhat empty-headed. They appear to be irresistibly drawn to to Vikram (Ranjeet Hoodia) despite his marked lack of any obvious attractive qualities. The narrative involves Man, Woman #1, Woman #2, and Woman #3. The Man is a photographer who lives in a creepy mansion with a creepy manservant (bluebeard like). Is there a room in this creepy mansion with a secret? The large Victorian key must open something, but what? Woman #1, Roshni (Aditi Rao Hydari), is a sexy architect who is a bit like the mad wife in the attic in Jane Eyre, except that Woman #1 is not mad. However, she does get quite mad when she can’t help noticing that her man is romancing a rival, Woman #2, Nisha (Sara Loren). What both of them do not realize is that the man has been secretly tryst-

ing with Woman #3. (Again, the question emerges about what all these women actually see in the Man) This should cause Woman #1 and Woman #2 to bond. Instead, the narrative takes an unusual twist. Woman #2 is a sexy and gullible waitress who, apparently, has never heard of stranger danger, date rape or Jack the Ripper. When the Man is too inebriated to drive home, she takes him to her own apartment, even though it is clearly a dim-witted move on her part. The next morning, while wearing the least possible amount of fabric imaginable, she serves him hot chai. (Beware: male fantasies at work.) She then moves into his creepy palatial home, and is served by his creepy manservant. It is becoming clear to me that this film was made by men, and clearly plays out several male fantasies. Let’s go through the list. The formula of sexy girl(s) wearing hot outfits. Check. Multiple sexy girls wearing multiple hot outfits. Multiple checks. Exotic locales (South Africa qualifies, right?) Check. Love triange. Check. Love quadrilateral. Check. Love pentagon (no, not you, General Petraeus). Check. Catfight over the Man. Check. Twist in plot. Check. Cop as incompetent bumbler. Check. Cop as lapsed love interest? OK, whatever. Check. Unrealistic lifestyle on meager salary. Check. Dangerous symbolic animals and reptiles. Check. Enough. Can I have the check, please? n Geetika Pathania Jain is a Bay Area resident. She is currently teaching at DeAnza College. india currents • march 2013 • 35


IndiaCurrents

Madhumita Gupta

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SPECIAL 26. Director: Neeraj Pandey Players: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpai, Jimmy Shergil, Divya Dutta, Rajesh Sharma, Kajal Aggarwal Music:M M Kreem Theatrical Release: Viacom

T

here is reason to cheer! Continuing the trend of good storytelling set in 2012 with Barfi, Paan Singh Tomar, Vicky Donor, Kahani, Gangs of Wasseypur and to some extent Talaash, Special 26— despite the formulaic title is anything but. Neeraj Pandey’s second offering after winning the Indira Gandhi Award for Best First Film of a Director, for A Wednesday, is as gripping as the first. After years of shaky steps towards finding the perfect balance between blockbuster “mainstream” and niche “art” cinema, finally, it seems Bollywood has discovered what it takes to get out of the woods and deliver good, wholesome entertainment! There is no heavy drama, no mindless violence, crude comedy or “item numbers;” not even a full-blown romance but the movie works on the strength of a good script, credible performances and excellent editing. After years of larger than life heroes we’ve now found our “real” hero in the common man. In Pandey’s A Wednesday it was a common man who brought dreaded terrorists to justice and here it is the guys-next-door gang of con-men who lead the entire police-force of a country on a merry dance solving fake income-tax raids. The film is based on a real-life incident that occurred in 1986-87—that of the daring robbery at a well-known jewelry show-room in Mumbai. A robbery planned and executed so perfectly that till date the robber is still at large and the police have no clue as to his identity. Ajay (Kumar) and P. K. Sharma, with their two friends are your regular guys, doing regular things like falling in love, getting their children married, washing clothes—in fact, they’re the unlikeliest looking group to pull off the boldest cons of the country. They target big businessmen, corrupt ministers etc.,

they act fast and disappear faster into thin air. They count on the fact that since black-money is involved these people do not take any action and in the unlikely case of their doing so, their own commonness provides them an effective cover till their next strike. Everything works well till they dupe a police-duo Ranbeer (Shergill) and Shanti (Dutta) into helping them assist in a heist. Ranbeer Singh is suspended as a result and decides to bring the foursome to book under the bull-headed cop Wasim Khan (Bajpai). What follows is an edge-of-the-seat cat and mouse game between the wily conmen and the hound-like policeman. On the side, there is a love-story when Ajay falls for the pretty girl (Kajal) next-door and promises to change for good after one last big heist. Of the performances Kher is decidedly the scene-stealer. One marvels at his body-language and the sheer mobility of his features which can change an intense scene to a comic one apparently without any effort. As for Akshay Kumar, after Oh My God!, this is another movie in which he presents more than just brawn and ribald comedy—he performs the quick-witted master-mind act with panache. A perfect counterpart to these two is Bajpai, credible in this role of a determined cop. Shergill, with his sheepish look at having been taken for a ride by conmen is believable, as is Divya Dutta—the constable, whose dialog is a dead giveaway, the import of which one realizes only towards the climax. One impressive facet of this movie is its cinematography which takes us to the 80s with its white Ambassadors, Vespa and Lambretta scooters. Care has also been taken to show the roads less crowded, the newspapers in black and white, old movie posters and even the time relevant advertisements. The tight script, excellent direction and superb editing make this movie a must-see. The script is complemented by crisp dialogs, which does not take the lazy-writer’s recourse of expletives to keep the audience interested. But the biggest doff of our hat goes to the director for keeping the film knit perfectly with its tracking camera shots, which add to the pace of the film, steering clear of superfluous sub-plots and never letting a scene exceed the audience attention span. The one thing which could’ve been done away with is the love-angle which hampers the speed a bit. All in all a marvelous must-watch. n EQ: A Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and a teacher.


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Islam and Music A closer look at traditional scholarship

T

he Web is now abuzz with the story of three teenage Kashmiri Muslim girls, who were forced to disband their newly popular rock band “Praagaash” because of threats and a fatwa issued by a local cleric. Their facebook page now has over three thousand “likes” from all over the world, with comments urging them to stand up to the religious authorities. When The New York Times interviewed a professor at a music school in New Delhi, he expressed support for the girls, but added “the overwhelming majority of Islamic scholars are against music.” But does Islam itself actually forbid music? Many Muslims think so, and many of those Muslims are in positions of power and influence, thanks to the oil money that finances conservative Salafi teachings. But the majority of Muslims believe otherwise. Almost all of my music teachers are Muslims, and almost every Muslim culture-Pakistan, Arab, Egypt, Persia—has a rich and beautiful musical tradition of its own. So where does this idea of music being forbidden come from? There is nothing in the Koran that specifically forbids music. This prohibition comes entirely from controversial interpretations of the hadiths, the sayings of the prophet that were written down by those who interviewed people who had known Muhammad. I think that studying the hadiths is very worthwhile. Muhammad was an extraordinary human being, and one can learn a lot from seeing the skillful and creative way he dealt with the challenges that were given him. Perhaps more importantly for Muslims, it’s impossible to understand the Koran (or any other text) unless one is familiar with the historical context in which it was written or spoken. However, Muslim scholars have never treated the hadiths with the same level of reverence as the Koran, and this is how it should be. There is a complex ranking system used for evaluating the reliability of the hadiths, depending on who was speaking and who was writing them down. Also, It would be blasphemous to say that Muhammad’s words, admirable though they are, should be given the same authority as the Koran. If the Koran is the word of God, it would be idolatry to forget that Muhammad’s words are literally sacred only when God is speaking through him. There are two equally effective ways for criticizing the hadith scholarship that produced the ban on music. First of all, the three hadiths that are cited are of questionable au38 • india currents • march 2013

thenticity, and secondly the anti-musical interpretation is ambiguous. Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is a conservative Islamic scholar who has been criticized by many progressive Muslims, and has These three Muslim teenage girls, Aneeqa Khalid, Noma Nazir a television show on Al Jazeera with and Farah Deeba, just want to play rock and roll and heavy metal an estimated audience of over 60 mil- music. lion. Nevertheless, he unequivocally rejects both the historical reliability and the musical celebrations by Muhammad’s people anti-musical interpretation of these hadiths. in Medina. The music-haters respond to this In the first hadith, Muhammad criticizes idle by saying that these documents only describe talk, which for some reason is interpreted by music made with voice and drums, and therea cleric named Ibn Masud as referring to sing- fore what is forbidden is instrumental music, ing. In the other two hadiths, Muhammad particularly stringed instruments. Apparently allegedly speaks of an apocalyptic time in the the assumption is that whatever isn’t specififuture when the Ummah will be punished cally permitted is forbidden. Al-Qaradawi points out however, that by Allah for doing a variety of sinful things. Amongst the activities listed are wearing silk, there is a famous passage in the Koran which adultery, drinking alcohol, listening to female says exactly the opposite, and gives a second singers, and playing stringed instruments. way of responding to these arguments. The Al-Qaradawi points out that there is not an Koran arguably forbids the whole procedure of unbroken line tracing these hadiths back to inferring any sort of taboos and prohibitions the prophet himself and thus they are ques- from any hadith. To quote Al-Qaradawi again: “We do have a good example to follow from tionable. In Al-Qaradawi’s words: “all these hadiths one of our earlier pious scholars. Imam Malik are declared ‘weak’ by the followers of Ibn (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: ‘It Hazm, Malik, Ibn Hanbal, and Ash-Shafii.” In was not the habit of those who preceded us, his book, “Al-Ahkam,” Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Arabi the early pious Muslims, who set good examsays, “None of the hadiths maintaining that ple for the following generations, to say, ‘This singing is prohibited are considered authentic is halal, and this is haram. But, they would say, (by the scholars of the Science of Hadith “I hate such-and-such, and maintain suchMethodology).” The same view is maintained and-such, but as for halal and haram, this is by Al-Ghazali and Ibn An-Nahwi in “Al- what may be called inventing lies concerning Umdah.” Ibn Tahir says, “Not even a single Allah. Did not you hear Allah’s Statement letter from all these hadiths was proved to be that reads, “Say: Have you considered what authentic.” Ibn Hazm says, “All the hadiths provision Allah has sent down for you, how narrated in this respect were invented and you have made of it lawful and unlawful? Say: falsified.” Al-Qaradawi also points out that Has Allah permitted you, or do you invent a this text could be seen as a general descrip- lie concerning Allah?” (Yunus: 59) For, the tion of license and excess, with the details of halal is what Allah and His Messenger made drink, music, etc. added to show the kind of lawful, and the haram is what Allah and His atmosphere created by excess. Just because all Messenger made unlawful.’” And if I may provide one more argument of these things together are forbidden, that of my own: If Allah wanted to institute a does not mean that each of them would be. Those who accept these hadiths as au- command as radical as banning music, isn’t it thentic and/or anti-musical must also account highly implausible that he would have buried for the fact that there are numerous other it in a couple of highly questionable hadiths? hadiths in which Muhammad permits and en- He could have eliminated all doubt by simply courages music. There are stories, for example saying “Don’t play music” in the text of the that tells of some of Muhammad’s people Koran itself. n who were celebrating by singing and dancing. When Muhammad’s counselors complained, Teed Rockwell studied with Ali Akbar Khan for Muhammad said that they should continue many years, and is the only person in the world to sing and play. In one case, Muhammad to play Indian classical and popular music on specifically ordered that a singer be sent to ac- his customized touchstyle veena. You can see company a wedding ceremony. There are also and hear videos of his musical performances at numerous historical documents describing www.bollywoodgharana.com.


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india currents • march 2013 • 41


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perspective

Sujatha Ramprasad

Greener Gifts, Please!

42 • india currents • march 2013

Photo Credit: A Creative Commons Image

I

grew up in a household where there were no garbage bins. Nothing was thrown away. Everything was reused or recycled; except the term recycling had not yet been coined. Kitchen waste was thrown into a huge pit near the pavazamali plant in the backyard. We thought a hundred times before buying anything new. The most revered people of that time were the ones who could get an extra mile out of what they already had. My grandmother always took a second decoction out of the coffee powder and yet her filter coffee tasted fantastic the second time around, too. When our ballpoint pen ran out of juice we would go to this kid Prahalad who’d deftly pull the nib out of the refill and blow air through the other side until every remaining atom of ink moved to the very end towards the nib. He would then casually put the nib back and hand it back to us. I swear, I could write five whole sheets of paper with the Prahaladified pen. Due to this conditioning, I dislike the idea of wasting. So, it disturbs me to see how much is frittered away by way of gifts. The statistics regarding gifts being wasted—unused or rarely used—is pretty shocking. North of 50 percent of Christmas gifts end up in the trash within a year. Does your nephew really need a Nexus tablet when he already has an iPhone, Kindle and iPad? But you give it to him anyway because you are out of other gift-ideas. No wonder kids these days hardly value their expensive e-toys, let alone their insignificant pens. Gift giving is an integral part of today’s society. Gifts are substitutes for apologies, affection, and even remorse. Then there are the calendar year gifts, birthday gifts, New Year gifts, Christmas gifts, got-back from vacation gifts, return gifts and Golu gifts. After Navarathri, I nervously counted three incense holders, one picture frame, four lamps, five candles and three pictures of Lord Balaji. Like a tiger waiting to pounce on its prey, I am anxiously waiting for the next suitable event to palm them away. Re-gifting, though, requires a lot of thought. Seinfeld fans can never forget the hilarious episode where Tim Whatley re-gifts the label maker that Elaine gives him to Jerry. Elaine finds out and the whole gang ostracizes Tim. Re-gifting needs careful Venn diagramming and advanced probability theory. You cannot give the gift back to the original giftgiver, ever. Neither can you gift it to a close

friend or relative of that person. But, you can only strategize so much. All bets are off if your precocious six year old catches you red-handed, “Amma, why are you giving this to Latha Aunty? Remember, Priya Aunty gave it to us.” A gift-less, waste-free society is a utopian dream. I sadly realize that it is unpractical. Gifts are used to show appreciation and in some cases, to show respect. Recorded history of gifts dates back to the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, the tradition of gift giving at Christmas is said to have started when Magi or the three wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh as gifts for baby Jesus. Given that gift giving is a necessary evil, can we as a society, try to make it less evil? Does appreciation always need to be in the form of material gifts? Can we think outside the gift-wrapping and find novel ways to celebrate the important people in our lives? How about treating your friend to a homecooked meal? What about penning a letter to your sister, for the New Year? It is surely okay to give your gardener some extra money instead of a box of chocolates. I took a fitnessfreak friend on a daylong hike when she first moved to the area. The lush green hills, the chirping birds and our non-stop chatter amidst the strenuous climb warmed both our hearts. That definitely beat a twenty-five dollar gift card from Pier One Imports. For my birthday, the men in my life decided to give me the gift of their clean-shaven faces. I had hated my husband’s mustache and my brother’s goatee. Both of them shaved

it off for me on my birthday. I thought that was the cutest gift ever! Even better, they can keep giving me the same gift every year. Sometimes though, we keep racking our brains but just cannot come up with a useful gift-idea. What do you take to your friend’s father-in-laws’ eightieth birthday party? I thought long and hard. What do you give a person who has it all? Then it struck me. Nothing! Yes, it is okay to give nothing. I was ecstatic when this Archimedean Eureka moment hit me. I convinced my family and myself that it is perfectly okay to show up empty handed at a party rather than presenting a useless item that will never get used. It just needed some courage. After doing this a number of times, l’ve found that Newton’s fifth law of gift-giving, is absolutely accurate. This law states that the number of gifts you receive is directly proportional to the number of gifts you give. Yes, the fewer photo frames and scented candles you hand out as gifts, the lesser you will receive. So, go ahead to your next party, empty handed. When you see shiny presents on the table, you’ll feel like a chain-smoker deprived of nicotine. Breathe. Don’t give up. Think about all the unwanted gifts stacked up in your garage. Smile. Pat yourself on the back. You are doing it for a greener planet! n Sujatha Ramprasad loves to read poetry and philosophy. She is an ardent fan of Harry Potter.


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india currents • march 2013 • 43


IC

recipes

Praba Iyer

Flavored with Fenugreek

A

fter the birth of my first child, my mother wanted me to follow a strict, all natural, postnatal diet with no processed foods. I soon realized that the predominant herb/seed in my diet was fenugreek. with its strong smell and distinct bittersweet taste. Fenugreek is from the pea family (a legume). It’s used as an herb, sprout or seed. It’s known in Latin as trigonella foenum-graecum or Greek hay. It dates back to the 14th century, when the ancient Egyptians used it

in embalming mummies, and the Greeks used it as fodder for cattle. Fenugreek is native to Western Europe and North Africa, where it is used as a medicinal herb. It is widely prevalent in the Mediterranean region and known by many names like Abish, Hilbeh, Cemen, and Trigonelle. In Chinese medicine it is known as Hu Lu Ba. We know it as methi, mendhiyam, vendhayam, or uluva in Indian cuisine. As a new mother, I had a steady diet of fenugreek in all of its forms. The seeds were

soaked and ground into menthiya dosa. I had uluva kanji for breakfast (porridge with sprouted seeds) and a bhaji (vegetable) of fresh sauteed methi leaves. Most dishes had a bitter aftertaste. Over the years I had watched my grandmother and mom use methi in the treatment of various ailments as a home remedy. Now fenugreek plays an important role in my kitchen too. n Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the SF Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at rocketbites.com.

Benefits of Fenugreek as a dandruff remover and an air freshener. My grandmother made fenugreek infused hair oil to add glossiness. She also made facepacks with fenugreek powder and yogurt for a clear smooth skin.

Lactation in Nursing Mothers

Fe n u g re e k h e l p s b o o s t t h e production of milk in lactating mothers.

Prevention of Heart Disease

Fenugreek serves as an antioxidant and helps prevent heart disease. According to research from the Biochemistry department of Kerala University, the mucilage in fenugreek helps lower bad cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides.) It prevents the hardening of the arteries, and prevents fat deposits on the arterial walls.

Other Medicinal Uses

Fenugreek is known to reduce kidney disorders, liver ailments, gastrointestinal disease (dyspepsia) and in reducing edema. It is not recommended for pregnant women as it induces labor. It also has anti-carcinogenic properties, to fight cancer. It is advisable to consult a doctor on dosage and intake of fenugreek as it is quite potent and has side effects if used in excess.

Anti-Inflammatory

My grandmother used the powdered methi seeds as a topical cream. This paste was dabbed on infected wounds, boils, burns and on mouth sores. My uncle who was asthmatic was given fenugreek tea. According to Chinese medicine, fenugreek is a phlegm remover. It reduces the mucus in an infected lung, thereby helping an asthmatic patient to breathe easy. It is a natural expectorant as contains musilagins, thereby alleviating cough and congestion.

Treating Diabetes

My mom used fenugreek quite frequently in her diet. She would make menthiya kuzhambu (a flavorful tamarind sauce with fenugreek), methi theplas (bread), vendhaya sambar and more. She said that it helped to lower her blood sugar and kept her diabetes in check. According to diabeteshealth.com fenugreek helps to increase blood insulin receptors. It stimulates insulin secretion and helps in the proper utilization of glucose. Dr. Sharma in the

44 • india currents • march 2013

Nutrition Research Journal writes about the benefits of fenugreek to diabetic patients who were given 100 gms of fenugreek a day. It helped moderate and control blood glucose levels.

For Sexual Performance

Fenugreek is also used as an aphrodisiac. It is said to increase the levels of testosterone, prevent erectile dysfunction, impotence and hernia in men. In women it is used as a natural hormone balancer. In ancient Arab harems, women consumed fenugreek to enlarge their breasts. It was a lot cheaper than breast implants!

As Beauty Treatments The Egyptians and Greeks used fenugreek as a remedy for bad breath, in beauty creams,

Culinary Uses

We are familiar with methi in an Indian kitchen. It gives out a sweetish aroma when heated and is used prominently in the South Indian thakkaali thokku (tomato sauce), and the North Indian aloo methi. Fenugreek seeds are used as imitation vanilla and maple syrup. It is used in baked breads and marinades. Fenugreek is used in cuisines around the world. Here are a few recipes from Georgia (Eurasia) and Ethiopia. (Sources: “Nutritional Healing” by Philip Balch; “The Indian Spice Kitchen” by Monisha Bharadwaj; article by Dr. Richard Palmquist: “Fenugreek: A Food or a Medicine?”; www. foodreference.com; gernot-katzers-spice-pages. com)


Khmeli-Suneli (Georgian Herb Mix)

This mix is used in stews and soups, and in a famous walnut sauce called Satsivi. Mix a tablespoon of each of the following: dried marjoram, dried dill, dried savory (an herb), dried mint, dried parsley, ground coriander, dried fenugreek leaves, ground fenugreek seeds, and ½ Tbsp ground black pepper, 2 crushed bay leaves. Keep in an airtight container.

Satsivi (Walnut Sauce)

This sauce can be used as a dip or served as a dressing for grilled eggplant. 1 tbsp butter 1 small yellow onion chopped fine 3 cloves garlic minced 1 ½ tsp all purpose flour 1 cup of vegetable stock 1 tbsp Khmeli Suneli spice mix (recipe above) 1 tsp paprika 1½ tbsp vinegar 1 cup walnuts ground to smooth paste salt and red pepper to taste. Heat the butter in a sauce pan and saute the chopped onion and garlic. Sprinkle the flour and mix well to cook the flour. Add the paprika, Khmeli Suneli mix, vegetable stock, salt, cayenne and vinegar. Lower the heat and stir in the walnut paste. Check seasoning and serve.

Berbere (Ethiopian/Eritrean Spice Mix)

This spice rub can be used to spice up pan fried potatoes or cassava, or a bowl of lentils. Dry roast the following and powder it into a dry spice mix. 2 tsp. cumin seeds 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds ½ tsp. black peppercorns ¼ tsp. whole allspice 4 whole cloves 2 tbsp. sweet paprika 1 tbsp. hot paprika 1 tsp. ground cardamom 1 tsp. ground ginger 1 tsp. kosher salt 3/4 tsp. ground coriander ¼ tsp. ground turmeric 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Ye Misir Wot (Spicy Ethiopian Lentils)

1 cup split masoor dhal 1 cup split masoor dhal 1 tbsp butter 1 tbsp garlic minced 1 tsp fresh ginger minced 1 red onion minced 2 tbsp Berbere spice mix 2 tomatoes pureed Salt to taste Heat the butter and saute the garlic, onions and ginger till brown, Add the tomato puree, berbere, lentils and about 2 cups of water and cook until the lentils are mushy. Add salt to taste. Serve warm with injera, dosa or rotis. n

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Edited by: Mona

Shah

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special dates Maha Shivratri

March 10

Now Roz

March 21

Holi

March 27

Good Friday

March 29

Easter

March 31

Ugadi

April 11

Gudi Padva

April 11

Baisakhi

April 14

Tamil New Year

April 14

Ek Shaadi 100 Baarati—A play, April 13

Drive, Los Angeles. $15-$35. (310) 825-2101. ticketscap@ucla.edu. cap.ucla.edu.

IC March

cultural calendar

2 Saturday

An Evening with Rudresh Mahanthappa. Presenting two contexts

with two distinct sets and ensemble configurations. The first with Gamak (a modification of his quartet featuring David “Fuze” Fiuczynski on guitar). The second with the tabla and guitar studded IndoPak Coalition, presenting a playful take on the symbiosis between the music of his ancestors and jazz. Organized by CAP UCLA. 8 p.m. UCLA Royce Hall, 340 Royce

46 • india currents • march 2013

March

3 Sunday

Hindi Reading, Writing, and Conversational Classes. Interactive

Hindi classes are offered every Sunday. Ends March 24. Organized by I Learn Hindi. 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Quest Learning Center, 11976 Arteisa Blvd., Artesia. First class is free. (562) 546-3870. anshu@ilearnhindi.com. www. ilearnhindi.com.

March

19 Tuesday

Music and Dance Festival. The festival

has a line-up of world renowned vocal and instrumental artists of both the Hindustani and the Karnatik music. The festival will also celebrate the musical legacy of Bharat Ratna Ravi Shankar. Ends March 24. Organized by Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego. 7:30-9 p.m. Jewish Community Center, David and Dorothea Garfield Theater, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla . $25, $200 (festival pass). (858) 442-1586, (858) 663-8251, (858) 229-5696. shekar.viswanathan@gmail.com, rajinathan@hotmail.com, divyabhinaya@ yahoo.com. www.indianfinearts.org.

March

23 Saturday

Holi on the Beach 2013. DJ Sukh

spinning the best of Bollywood and Bhangra


IC

recommends

Shyamal Randeria-Leonard

Indian Music and Dance Festival comes to San Diego

C

ome March and San Diego will be harmonizing to the beat of Indian classical music as roughly 70 world renowned artists flock here to play, sing and dance to traditional Karnatik and Hindustani music at the six-day, 6th Annual Indian Classical Music and Dance Festival. The intention of this festival is to bring the ancient and resplendent tradition of Karnatik music to Southern California “to create an environment of learning” says Shekar Viswanathan, president of IFAASD. Celebrating the quaternion artistic legacies of: the late Bharat Ratna Ravi Shankar, the bicentennial anniversary of Kerala’s Maharaja Swati Tirunal, a patron to arts and the mohiniyattam dance style, the centennial anniversary of K.P. Kittappa Pillai, who contributed to the development of Karnatik music and bharatnatyam dance, and Sangita Kalanidhi Pinakapani, a medical doctor and vocalist who received one of the highest awards in Karnatik music. The significance of Shankar’s influence between the Karnatik and Hindustani styles of classical music and its introduction to the West will be omnipresent at the festival. Dubbed as the “global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage” by many, Shankar introduced music from the Karnatik South to Northern India where some of the ragas were popularized. In turn, he also popularized North Indian music in the South and connected Karnatik and Hindustani musicians to the West (per Viswanathan). A few of the must-see events during the festival are: March 22: Ajoy Chakrabarty, a Hindustani classical vocalist, has composed a special performance in the late maestro’s honor entitled “Ravimalika” which will consist of many melodies Shankar liked. March 23, a felicitation ceremony with honorary guests San Diego mayor Bob Filner and Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner, will pay respect to Hindustani classical vocalist and sister-in-law to Shankar, Lakshmi Shankar. She will be joined on stage with Karnatik veterans such as vocalists Trichur Ramachandran, Gayathri Venkatraghavan and N. Ramani amongst other cherished artists who will sing and imitate many of the late maestro’s compositions. The homage to Ravi Shankar will end in a spectacular grand finale on March 24, as some of Shankar’s past students engage in a flute and shehnai jugalbandi showcasing a contrast of styles between similar instruments. The Southern style will be distinguished from Northern style, which has

Photo credit: of Oviya Design

blends of Persian and Islamic influence. The dance portion of the festival will feature three bharatanatyam performances and one mohiniyattam performance. An item which is sure leave an enduring image for dance buffs is the March 20 presentation of Kalidas’ “Celebration of Sringara Rasa” often knows as the queen of all rasas due to the range of complex emotions and expressions dramatized throughout the performance. The program is choreographed by Radhika Shurajith, (director of the television show, Thaka Dhimi Tha). On March 24, Gopika Varma, a leading artist of the mohiniyattam style will present “Dance of the Enchantress,” the mystical ocean churning tale from the ancient Hindu epic Bhagvata Purana. A daily platter of performances from famed artists and their accompanists will continue to entertain music enthusiasts. Other festival highlights include a lecture demonstration from legendary Karnatik percussionist, Trichy Sankaran and Trichy Thayumanavan, Karnatik music vocalist duos, the Malladi Brothers and the Trichur Brothers, noted South Indian flutist Mala Chandrasekar and expressions in dance by Leela Samson, just to name a few. For the untrained ear, such Indian clas-

sical music may seem daunting, but the festival is not reserved for music aficionados. Although Karnatik music is not limited to spirituality, it is likened to a state of divinity. Rather than wondering about the utility of improvisational exchanges and intricate timing of notes one can simply close one’s eyes and soak in the blends of melodies demonstrated through the magical lilts and drones of vocals, and instruments such as the flute, veena, violin, mridangam, kanjira and tabla which will be showcased at this must see event. Karnatik music with its emphasis on vocal music primarily sung in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, is an art form which was once dependent on the patronage of royal houses and is now ablaze in popularity thanks to private institutions and non-profits such as IFAASD whose events garner thousands of attendees on a yearly basis.n March 19– March 24. David and Dorothea Garfield Theater, 4126 Executive Dr., La Jolla. Tickets, $30. www.indianfinearts.org/concerts/6th-annual-ravishankar-memorial-concerts. india currents • march 2013 • 47


48 • india currents • march 2013


much bigger than expected. The planning of a simple wedding becomes convoluted and simple plan turns into complex, and a frustrated Karina decides to cancel the wedding. Organized by Hamid Daudani and Group. 7:30-10:30 p.m. Poway Center for the Performing Arts, 15498 Espola Drive, Poway . $20, $10, $7. (858) 279-5677, (858) 652-0901. daudanih@yahoo.com. www. daudanigroup.com.

Rhythms of Asia, honorimg Pradeep Khosla, March 24

beats. Organized by AID LA-OC. 11 a.m.3 p.m. Will Rogers State Beach (between towers 5 and 6), Pacific Coast Highway and Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades . General $10 (advance), student with valid ID, $12. (843) 503-2133. aidlachapter@gmail. com. www.aidla-events.org/holionthebeach/.

March

24 Sunday

Organized by San Deigo Indian American Society. 3 p.m. Poway Performing Arts Center, 15498 Espola Road, Poway. $50, $20, $15, $10. (858) 748-3353. www.powaycenter.com.

April

13 Saturday

Ek Shaadi 100 Baarati-A Play. Revolving

Rhythms of Asia. A multi-cultural music

and dance show, honoring Pradeep Khosla, First Asian American Chancellor of UCSD.

around the planning of Karina’s wedding, whose fiancé is a non-conformist who doesn’t believe in traditions. His idea was to have a small and simple marriage but as the event comes closer, the wedding gets

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reflections

Jojy Michael

Gross Or Fine, it’s All Divine! “As a mother watches over her child, Willing to risk her own life to protect her only child, So with a boundless heart, should one cherish all living beings, Suffusing the whole world with unobstructed loving-kindness.” – Metta Sutta (of Theravada Buddhism)

T

he Concourse is an office complex located on Technology Drive, between Airport Pkwy and Skyport Dr. in San Jose. If you ever happen to be in the area, be sure to visit a water sculpture called Melquiades by Roger Berry 1(727 Technology Dr.). A pump lifts the water The waterfall at the Melquiades East and West. (currently not working, but will be functional soon) from a pool and lets it spill out to the east achieves its boldest and most divine expresbetter expressions of the divine. and the west from a central spout. On the sion yet. We express it in our pursuit of hapLove is consciousness at its subtlest, the West side, the water falls in thick sheets piness, in our seemingly irreconcilable desires divine pinnacle of human emotion. Love is over large concrete steps, creating a very for the bonds of love as also for bondless gentle but forceful, powerful but humble. masculine boom. On the opposite side freedom, and, in our incessant quest for the Love is simple, natural and universally accesof the spout, the east side, the water runs meaning of life itself. If the divine impulses sible, requiring no special skills or training. down like a gentle brook over numerous within humans get any stronger, they will All religions extoll the virtues of love. small bricks, producing a very feminine surely be angels or Gods? St. Paul, an early follower of Jesus wrote murmur. The water sculpture is a favorite Of all human endeavors, perhaps none in one of his epistles, “faith, hope and love break spot for the office complex tenants. has greater universal appeal than music. are the great virtues, but the greatest is love.” When I worked in the complex many And of all human emotions, perhaps The recent slaughter of innocent children years ago, I had spent many an hour none is more natural than parental love. in Newtown, CT reminded us of the force of admiring the sculpture. I would whimsiThe verses of Oscar nominated Pi’s Lullove in our lives. The nation mourned with cally think during my visits that the two laby written and sung by Bombay Jayashree the residents of Newtown. President Obama, water falls that emerged from a single to music by Mychael Danna is a celebration in his speech at Newtown, so elegantly precentral spout, went their opposite ways in of love through poetry and music. Jayashree sented the quandary and challenge that every dramatically different fashion, but finally sings: parent faces—“Someone once described the came together again at the base were symjoy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivabolic of the emergence from, and return “Oh my precious child, pearl of my eyes, lent of having your heart outside of your to, a single divine principle or consciousbody all the time. There’s only one thing we Are you the peacock or its dance? ness by the myriad life forms on Earth. can be sure of, and that is the love that we Are you the nightingale or its song? Our planet is covered with living have—for our children, for our families, for Are you the moon or its shine? things that cover a wide spectrum of each other….that fierce and boundless love Are you the eye or its dream? consciousness from the grossest to the we feel for them, a love that takes us out of Are you the flower or its honey? subtlest. The grossest expression of life ourselves, and binds us to something larger Are you the fruit or its sweetness? energy is in plants; they live rooted to a —we know that’s what matters. We know Sweet dreams, gentle child!” spot on earth and are unaware of anything we’re always doing right when we’re taking but sunshine, soil, water and insects. Life care of them, when we’re teaching them well, The mother’s heart struggles to find in the animal kingdom is marked by its when we’re showing acts of kindness. We an image that is fit to receive the blossoms mobility; be it fish, fly, snake, bird or bidon’t go wrong when we do that.” of love that spring forth at the sight of her son, it is no longer tethered to one spot Truly blessed are those among us who’s child’s face. Note how the author each time on earth. Animal life still retains the gross consciousness has evolved to such sublime picks an object but immediately moves toimpulses for survival and its obeisance to levels that they can love the whole world like wards a transient, intangible quality of the the rhythms of nature, but the finer tenit is their child! n object. Is the translucent shine of the moon dencies for family bonds and social life are the more rightful image than the moon evident even among insects. The folds of Jojy Michael dedicates this piece to all Great itself? Is the flighty dream in the eye better life that shroud the consciousness within Teachers, and to Great Music, which for him is than the eye? This progression from the gross are lighter; the texture of the consciouscurrently personified in the soothing, uplifting to the fine is appealing to us because we inness within is beginning to shine through. voice of Bombay Jayashree. nately know that the subtler objects are the And finally with humans, consciousness 50 • india currents • march 2013


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IC March

spirituality and health

3 Sunday

The Eternal Blessings of a True Guru.

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

In Praise of Shiva. Sunday lecture by

David Nelson. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 6:30 a.m. Vedanta Society of Southern California, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood. (323) 465-7114. hollywood@vedanta.org. www.vedanta.org.

March

4 Monday

Valmiki Ramayan Lectures by Swami Ishwarananda. Swamiji will be referring to

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

March

10 Sunday

Choosing to be Happy. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 5430800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org. Ramakrishna on the Threshold of Spiritual Experience. Sunday lecture by Swami

Sarvadevananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Society of Southern California, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood. (323) 465-7114. hollywood@vedanta.org. www.vedanta.org.

52 • india currents • march 2013

March

17 Sunday

Do We Live Many Lives? Sunday Service.

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

Ramakrishna Puja. Sunday lecture. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 10 a.m. Vedanta Society of Southern California, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood. (323) 465-7114. hollywood@vedanta.org. www.vedanta.org.

March

24 Sunday

The Deeper Teachings of Jesus Christ.

Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org.

Death and Dying as a Spiritual Practice. Sunday lecture by Pravrajika Saradeshaprana. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Society of Southern California, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood. (323) 465-7114. hollywood@vedanta.org. www.vedanta.org.

March

26 Tuesday

Non-Violence Launch Event. A National

movement to be aware of the power of NonViolence to a country that is a victim to over 10 million crimes a year. Make your voice heard. Organized by Non Violence: No Higher Calling. 7:30 p.m. Center of the Art of Living Foundation, 948 W Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. secure.artofliving.org.

March

31 Sunday

The Resurrection of Christ Within You. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006.

Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org.

April

1 Monday

Lectures on Valmiki Ramayan by Swami Ishwarananda. Swamiji will be referring to

traditional commentaries of ancient scholars during his lecture. Ends April 4. Organized by Chinmaya Mission Los Angeles. 7:30-8:30 p.m. Chinmaya-Rameshwaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Tustin. Free. (714) 832-7669. www. chinmayala.org.

April

7 Sunday

Getting Acquainted with God. 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.

April

14 Sunday

Healing Through Understanding the Nature of Communion With God. Sun-

day 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.

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IC

commentary

Ranjani Iyer Mohanty

Leopard Skin Pillbox

Is it time to invent a smart pillbox like a smartphone?

Y

A Creative Commons Image

ears ago, a friend gave me a tiny antique pillbox. It was silver, had a blue stone on top, and just enough space to hold a single pill. But the times, they are achangin’. Whereas the pillbox of yore was a simple ornament to store the daily pill, the pillbox of today is a complex and necessary organizer. In our family, my father began the practice years ago with a single-row pillbox with one square for each day of the week. He then graduated to a 7x4 pillbox, with 4 compartments for each day of the week. My mom joined him some time later and now has a single row pillbox for the morning and one for the evening. Seeing how useful the system was for my parents, I introduced the multi-compartment pillbox to my in-laws last year. And now, having turned 50 myself and with my daily medications increasing, I think my time has come. Pillboxes are ubiquitous and necessary these days for three reasons. Firstly, in many western countries the population is aging. Secondly, with advances in treatments, we are living longer to have chronic illnesses that require regular medication. Thirdly, the pharmaceutical industry has developed a plethora of drugs—some must-haves and some niceto-haves. These reasons are combining to give rise to the issue of medication inadherence: people not having their medication as prescribed. The best solution is the pillbox. The plastic single-row pillbox and matrix pillbox are probably the most common. However, today’s pillboxes also come in metal, sterling silver, china, and wood. They can be enameled, jeweled, or topped with murano glass. They may be circular, oval, heartshaped, or molded like a carabineer. They may have English, French, or braille text. They can have a logo printed on them like Hello Kitty or Lacoste. It could have “Diamond Jubilee” engraved on it; the Queen may have one on her bedside table. And perhaps Bob Dylan, who is the same age as my mother, has a leopard-skin

Leopard Skin Pillbox

one, just for old time’s sake. The more practical pillboxes come with a timer or multiple alarms to remind you to take the medicine. Some are also intelligent enough to initiate another alarm or blink if you have ignored them the first time around. To work in conjunction with the various pillboxes, iTunes now offers “MedAlert:” an app to remind you to take your medications on time. Perhaps Steve Jobs’ successor can think up of an iPhone with a compartment for pills. Like a smart phone, a smart pillbox. Apart from proving very useful to an aging population, it could also provide some social cache. So according to the schedule you set, an alarm rings, and a drawer slides open on your phone, revealing the pill of the moment. You excuse yourself from your General Counsel meeting or lunch with your circle of close friends, with a serious “Sorry, but I must take this.” With a toss of your silver-gray curls—being careful not to throw out your back—you swallow the pill with studied carelessness. If the pill is for some deadly or rare disease, your standing in the eyes of others will rise. If it’s atenolol, which half the elderly are on, this can be a great icebreaker and lead to a conversation on shared drug experiences. If it’s merely a vita-

min, say nothing at all. Because I was occasionally forgetting to take some of my important medicines, I started a pillbox a few months ago and since then it has grown. My parents encourage me to have Omega 3 so I can escape inherited heart disease. My in-laws suggest homeopathic medicines for what they think ails me. My husband tries to slip in extra thyroid hormone and Ginkgo Biloba—hoping that I’ll have more energy to finish all my tasks and also the memory to remember what those tasks are. He doesn’t realize that there is no pill yet for laziness. Like an Agatha Christie novel, we seem to be entering the Mysterious Affair of the Growing Pillbox. There have been news stories of seniors or even entire nations being over-medicated. My father once got a large pillbox once to fit in all the big-size vitamin supplements; we referred to it affectionately as his snack box. Sometimes, out of frustration with taking so many pills, my parents threaten to one day throw all their medication out the window. You hear stories of individuals who did just that and miraculously felt all the better for it. Of course, those that did this and died the next week were not around to regale their family with their tale. While visiting my parents, I see them at their Sunday morning ritual. Winter sunlight streams in through the windows. Classical music plays softly in the background, while the foreground is filled with little clacks and clicks. They sit at the kitchen table with all their bottles of medicines and their prescription list, and fill up their pillboxes for the coming week. I watch them for a while, focused and hunched over their respective pillboxes. Then I go and get mine. In the jingle jangle morning, I’ll come followin’ you. n Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and increasingly close observer of pillboxes. india currents • march 2013 • 53


IC

the healthy life

Mimm Patterson

Cold Comfort: Common Sense Approach to Avoiding Colds and Flu

I

was too weak to protest. I’d been in bed for seventy-two hours, unable to eat. A troupe of miniaturized Taiko drummers were using my cranium for rehearsal space while I alternated between deep chills and wracking sweats. I was sick. Really sick. And my friend and I didn’t think to Google an answer to the question: How high does one allow a fever to rise before seeing a doctor? That’s how I ended up being driven to Stanford’s emergency room on a Saturday afternoon in late January. We hear stories of ERs filled with people miserable with colds and minor bouts of flu. We all know that visiting an emergency room when it isn’t necessary wastes precious resources and time. It distracts medical personnel away from patients in true need of urgent care and has the potential of spreading the virus through an unsuspecting and susceptible public. Yet there I was, simmering at a balmy 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with my fever-addled brain I knew I’d be sent home with a few ibuprofen and instructions to stay in bed. My kind doctor took time to explain why he wasn’t a fan of Tamiflu, told me I was dehydrated and suggested I be given intravenous saline. I turned down the IV with a promise to drink more water, paid my co-pay and then made my way back to the lobby where my friend was waiting. This was my second run-in with a dose of something bad. Prior to this past November I’d not been ill since the winter of 2009, when a cold laid me out so flat I spent five days between Christmas and New Year passed out on the couch with a marathon session of “ER” (the Clooney years) on continuous loop. What did I do different this past winter to deserve being knocked down in the prime of mid-life twice in twelve weeks by some nasty virus on the party circuit? Was this karmic payback for demonstrating a lack of compassion when a co-worker had the sniffles? Or was it just my turn? After enjoying three years of cold-free living had my resilience weakened or had this year’s bugs mutated to the point where resistance was futile? I’ll never know. What I do know is that after seven days of Ibuprofen, water and bed rest I was strong enough to go back to work. The complementary health care in54 • india currents • march 2013

dustry is booming. As a nation we spend up to thirty-four billion dollars on alternative medicines every year. I’ll admit, I’m one of those folks who runs for my favorite echinacea and zinc lozenges at the first indication of a scratchy throat. My two recent bouts of illness, however, arrived with a sudden onset and not with a sore throat but a chesty cough. Before I knew it I was well past the point of echinacea and zinc. Still, I take comfort in those lozenges and I swear they work although it’s probably the comfort that I find healing, not the purported benefits of echinacea on the immune system. Comfort is a good thing. But breaking the bank on alternative remedies with dubious efficacy? Not so good. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a holistic approach to warding off colds and flu. But it’s a question of balance. Our bank balance and the balance that promises optimal health. So why not begin with lifestyle changes that don’t cost a dime? During flu season we obsess about boosting our immune system, yet our bodies’ systems work synergistically. Rather than focusing on immunity alone, we need to consider keeping all our systems in homeostasis. Equilibrium. If we want to avoid colds and

flu or at least lessen their severity, we need to stop trying to boost our immune system and begin embracing balance. But how? After the fever broke I cruised the interweb for answers. When it comes to health and wellness, my favorite websites are the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Wellness, WebMD and, despite the broken heart I’m nursing from Lance Armstrong’s deceit, Livestrong. Yahoo Health is good, too, for quick, easy answers and links to more information. Pulling together tips from all these sites I’ve come up with ten suggestions that, while they don’t address colds and flu directly, might stave off the next bug that comes calling. Yes, they’re going to seem obvious but that’s my point. It’s simple common sense that will keep us well.

Stay Positive. And proactive. An optimistic

outlook pays dividends. Besides, smiling just feels better. In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to stay present by reminding us that when we feel overwhelmed taking a moment to smile gently softens not only the expression on our face but also our heart.


Chill Out. We’re too busy to relax. Right?

Wrong. Taking time to reduce stress through meditation, yoga or peaceful walks is a powerful health booster. In addition, it increases our energy and clears our mind.

Sleep. We are chronically sleep deprived. Sleep gives our body and spirit the opportunity to rest and repair. Six to eight hours of uninterrupted shut-eye is like money in the bank. Party On. Staying social contributes to our emotional and physical wellbeing. Friends are our support group. Knowing there are people who care and can help keeps us happy and healthy. Wash Your Hands. It’s obvious, right? The big secret to avoiding germs and viruses is something our mothers have been trying to get us to do since we were knee-high to a grasshopper and digging for worms in the back yard. Hands Off. Once you’ve washed your hands, avoid touching restroom door handles, restaurant menus (or at least don’t allow them to rest on your plates and cutlery), condiment containers, grocery carts, magazines in doctors’ offices—the list could go on but maybe it’s just easier to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with you. Drink More Water. We often mistake thirst for hunger and while I don’t wear a water bottle like a fashion accessory, I try to be mindful of when I’m thirsty and then, instead of grabbing a sweet or a soda I grab a bit of water. It’s a habit. But it’s a good habit to cultivate.

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Eat More Greens. In fact, eat a rainbow.

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Sneeze into Your Elbow. Last but not least, if you do feel yourself coming down with a spring bug, do us all a favor. Stay home. Or at least sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow and not into your hand. My immune system, as well as my endocrine, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, muscular-skeletal, nervous, integumentary, lymphatic and reproductive systems, thank you.n Mimm has been a yoga teacher, massage therapist, reflexologist and writer. When she’s not balancing in Ardha Chandrasana or wrestling with a sentence, Mimm’s either playing her guitar or doing homework. She is working towards a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology.

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india currents • march 2013 • 55


IC

travel

Kalpana Sunder

Playground of the Rich and Famous Baden Baden—A German story-book town

A

ll I can hear is birdsong and the sonorous babble of water. As I walk through the 350 year old Lichtentaleer Alle, a protected park, looking at exotic trees, an English rose garden and stepping over iron footbridges, I am reminded of the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol’s words, “The position of the town is wonderful. Everything is one garden.” Richard Wagner, Bismarck, Verdi and Brahms ... all have been here before me. This town was called Aquae in Roman times and Roman Emperor Caracalla, was one of the earliest people to discover the therapeutic powers of the hot springs, when he built a bath for himself, his horses and his soldiers. The German story-book town of Baden Baden is located in a picturesque flower-strewn valley of the River Oos, in the foothills of the Black Forest. Even today the hot springs are the raison d’être of this town—200,000 gallons of hot curative waters surge daily from 12 thermal springs. The waters contain minerals like boric acid, silica, magnesium which are touted as a panacea for all ills. My Indian prudery keeps me from “baring it all” at Friedrichsbad, a Roman-Irish bath dating back to 1869, which opened under the guidance of an Irish physician called Dr. Barter, and has a three hour and sixteen stage bathing ritual starting off with a scrub, followed by soaking in pools of differing temperatures and finally being swaddled in a hot towel in a “sleeping room.” This was the spa which inspired Mark Twain to say, “After ten minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes you forget the world.” There is only one dress code here: you have to be in the buff or what the Germans call a “non-textile” bath. My guide informs me that it’s a mixed bathing day which means members of both sexes in the altogether, will meet during the marathon bath! I head instead to the Caracalla Therme, which thankfully requires one to wear a swimsuit, and looks like an exclusive club spread over 32,000 square feet with seven different pools, fountains, whirlpools, saunas and solariums. I get a plastic wristband with a locker key and head towards a large dome under which canoodling couples and families share the sybaritic pleasures of warm waters. I wallow for hours in the pools of differing temperatures, loving the super-relaxed vibe here. I end my day at the Salina Sea Salt grot56 • india currents • march 2013

Streets and shops in Baden Baden

Friedrichsbad, a Roman-Irish bath

to constructed with salts from the Dead Sea and the Himalayas which helps to strengthen the immune system and cure respiratory problems. I spend a peaceful hour relaxing on a comfortable lounger in the salt room, with pinnacles of salt hanging over me like stalactites. Our hotel the luxurious Dorint Maison Messmer used to be the Kaiser’s residence and has stunning views of the forest from its windows. Over the next few days, I discover the town with its luxurious Belle Époque villas, treelined avenues filled with Ferraris, stylish hotels, attractive cafes and high-end shops. I hear that there are over 1,500 protected buildings in this pint sized town where changes are not permitted without permission. My favorite is the chestnut lined alley with two rows of elegant boutiques that leads to the Kurhaus which is the social


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Kurhaus—Baden Baden

meeting point of the town—where receptions and banquets are still held. It also houses the oldest casino in Europe inspired by the rich salons of Versailles and oozing a Casino Royale vibe. I take a tour of the casino with its red carpets, exquisite Chinese vases, murals on the walls and ceilings and gilded brass chandeliers. Walking through this casino is like going into time travel; its illustrious guest book shows visitors from Aga Khan to Marlene Dietrich who called it the “most beautiful casino in the world.” My favorite is the lavish Florentine room, the casino’s most popular gaming room also called the “Hall of the thousand candles.” Five large chandeliers, sculptures of women and gilded mirrors set the tone. It used to be a ball room and the ceiling comes alive with a celestial orchestra of cupids and angels framed with coats of arms of the Baden towns. I am happy when I hear that 85% of the casino’s takings from gambling are put back into the town’s upkeep, social development, and public works of the town. A casino with a conscience! The town has more millionaires than any other German city and is a great favorite with rich Arabs, Russians, European aristocrats and spa devotees, many of whom have sec-

Trinkhalle, Pump Room of Baden Baden 58 • india currents • march 2013

ond homes here. I walk through the Trinkhalle or the Pump room of the town which is an impressive building, with its terracotta stone, Corinthian pillars and ornate loggia decorated with murals of Black forest legends and myths. The building also houses the tourist office, where I take a sip of the local spring water from a faucet—this elixir of youth has been bubbling for centuries, touted for its healing qualities. I follow the writer’s trail to the Dostoevsky House where the famous Russian novelist lived, when he

wand, revealing a green expanse—rolling hills, and the town at the foothills. My local friend Anne Greth Paulus tells me that there is no dearth of entertainment in this town—there are horse races, concerts and even ballooning! I am lucky to be in town at the time of the International Old-timers Meet when vintage cars drive here from all across Europe. I speak to the organiser Marc Culas, whose father started this tradition 36 years ago. Marc is a vintage car enthusiast owning fourteen cars himself. He talks with passion about the oldest car present at the meet which is a 3HP Benz Velo from 1899, with a speed of 12 miles per hour! I see people in period costumes with wine glasses in hand posing near their gleaming cars. Looking at the artful window dressing of chocolate figurines and fancy biscuits, in

Vintage Car Rally

incurred colossal losses, and frittered away his wife’s jewels, playing roulette at the local casino. My tryst with luxury is at the swish Faberge Museum filled with exquisite treasures like snuff boxes, cigarette cases and silver objects shaped like animals. Located in a 19th century townhouse over four storeys with bullet proof cases and video cameras, this is a collection worth around $1.5 billion. Offering a contrast is the modernistic Frieder Burda Museum set in the verdant Lichtentaleer Alee, designed by American architect Richard Meier which showcases modern and contemporary art with sleek glass and metal interiors. I take a break from opulence and art, riding one of Europe’s steepest funiculars to Mt Merkur named after the Roman god of commerce, for a panoramic view of the Black Forest and distant France. Once there, I am disappointed by the blanket of mist that enshrouds the peak. Sipping on a hot chocolate I bide my time and am rewarded by the mist clearing as if waved away by a magic

shops like the iconic Rumpelmayer, makes me forget about my waistline. Cafe Konig with its gilded mirrors and peach interiors claims to be the home of Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, the original version of the Black Forest gateau. Smoked ham and trout is on the local menus as well as Gansewurst, a sausage made from smoked goose and handmade Spaetzle (a noodle specialty of the region). I wash down my meals with the local wine sold in distinctive round Bocksbeutel bottles. My best meal is at the rustic Traube Hotel at the foothills of the vineyards in the small town of Neuweier on the outskirts of the town, followed by a soulful church concert. By the end of my stay in this town, I am bewitched by its positive energy and restorative qualities. Dostoevsky lost his money in this town. Mark Twain lost his rheumatism; Emperor Caracalla lost his arthritic aches and I simply lost my heart to Baden Baden. n Kalpana Sunder is a Japanese language specialist and travel writer based in Chennai.


How To Get There

Fly Lufthansa Airlines from San Francisco to Frankfurt. Baden-Baden can be reached easily from Frankfurt airport within one and a half hours by train.

Where To Stay

Stay at the luxurious Dorint Maison Messmer which used to be Maison Messmer— the Kaiser ’s summer residence and has stunning views of the forest and hills from its windows. It is fabulously located just next to the Kurhaus and the casino and a short walk from the thermal baths. It has two restaurants and a royal spa. Doubles start at around 270 Euros per night. Visit http://www.dorint.com/en

Where To Eat

Have a meal at the Restaurant Stahlbad (Augustaplatz 2) Tel:+49 7221 2569. It has a wonderful ambience with a terrace overlooking the verdant Lichtentaleer Alle, and food with French and Mediterranean influences. Order the local wine sold in distinctive round Bocksbeutel bottles

Where To Shop

Sophienstrasse and Gernsbacher Strasse are tree lined streets with upscale boutiques, including that of designer Escada.

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Getting Around

The town is perfect for walking around. Even the locals rarely drive!

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit is between May and october. If you visit Baden-Baden in the summer there are a lot of events in town, e.g. the International Horse Races, the International Vintage Car Festival and the Philharmonic Castle Concerts. If you like winters, then make a visit at the end of December when the town looks like a fairy tale with its Christmas markets.

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www.indiacurrents.com A tree lined street filled with upscale boutiques india currents • march 2013 • 59


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Rujul Pathak Pota

Infinite Wisdom C

almness surrounds the magnificent dome structure around the Palace of Fine Arts auditorium on this unusually warm autumn day. But once inside the hall, a completely different scene unfolds. The foyer is teeming with an eclectic mix of people—there is the chic thirty something marketing communications director from Marin County, a group of health psychology majors from UCSF, an elderly retired local sports writer, and a middle aged venture capitalist from Palo Alto. Finding commonality seems almost improbable, yet there is. The reason for this melting pot gathering is Deepak Chopra—the man, the celebrity, the brand, who in the last two decades has been catapulted to elevated levels of popularity especially in the psychospiritual zeitgeist. Chopra is on a whirlwind tour across the United States to promote his latest book: “God: A story of Revelation.” In between he manages to squeeze in a meeting with Oprah Winfrey, which he describes as “my super soul Sunday event” and teaching the soul of leadership course at the Kellogg School of Management where he is adjunct professor. Heralded by Time magazine as one of the top 100 heroes of the century and “the poetprophet of alternative medicine,” Chopra has been called a “new age super-sage” and “one-man-healing-machine”—more evidence of this man’s iconic status. Dressed in a black overcoat, with a red and black silk shirt and dark blue denims with the single auditorium light focused on him, he looks more like a magician than a spiritual thinker or doctor. Chopra starts out by talking about the universe and the dark energy. He shares statistics about the age of the universe, the Anthropic principle, which states that whoever created the universe did that for us. Slowly he eases into the basis of his book that he describes as being about the “ten great people who were the Einsteins of consciousness.” He explains that if there ever was a way to understand the true meaning of life—you would find that through this book. Suddenly he raises his hands and exclaims, “Listen to your soul not your mind.” Your mind is the one who says “I should have gone to the bathroom before I sat for this lecture” drawing laughter from all of us gathered there. He continues, “Your soul is the ground of your being, the reason for your existence.” Born and raised in New Delhi, Chopra’s 60 • india currents • march 2013

father was a doctor and mother was a homemaker—“they were parents who encouraged a childhood rich in story-telling, mythology, adventures, and imaginative experiences,” he shares. A physician himself, Chopra taught at the medical schools of Tufts University, Boston University and Harvard University. As a young man, Chopra’s desire was to become a journalist, but he declares that he was inspired by a character in the book “Arrowsmith” by Sinclair Lewis and decided instead to become a doctor. Married to Rita, a homemaker since 1970, Chopra has two children—Gotham and Maalika. In the 80s, bogged down by endless hours of work, fighting fatigue and stress; Chopra was in a frustrated state of mind when he had a chance meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—the proponent, leader, and guru of the “Transcendental Meditation” (TM) movement. He describes these meetings as “life-changing” and “enlightening” and says it made him realize that his calling in life was much more than being a physician. In the late 80s, Chopra was awarded the title “Dhanvantari” (Lord of Immortality), “the keeper of perfect health for the world” by the Maharishi. To the basic question, who or what is God, Chopra chuckles, “I am being asked, after years of reading, self discovery, and spiritual revelation, how would you answer the complex question that man has asked for eons of years: who or what is God?” Smiling confidently Chopra delivers, “When you achieve divine consciousness, God is not difficult to find, God is impossible to avoid because there is nowhere that God is not” Chopra quotes freely from the works of Socrates, Gandhi, and J. Krishnamurthy, and has been influenced by them at various points in his life. His life has garnered such deep interest both from the media as well as the common man that Chopra agreed to have a documentary filmed on him. Decoding Deepak is a feature-length documentary film directed by his son Gotham Chopra released in October 2012. Chopra has written more than 65 books with 19 of them becoming New York Times bestsellers. His books have been translated into 35 languages and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. As a global leader and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine, he started the Chopra Foundation whose sole mission is improving health and well being, cultivating spiritual

Photo Credit: A Creative Commons Image

Enlightened by Deepak Chopra

knowledge, expanding consciousness, and promoting world peace for all members of the human family. He says Chopra Foundation is committed to creating a peaceful, just, sustainable and healthy world. The Chopra Center was opened with his friend and colleague late Dr. David Simon in 1996 to help people experience physical healing, emotional freedom, and higher states of consciousness. Located in Carlsbad, California, this center offers a wide variety of programs, retreats, and teacher training programs that integrate the healing arts of the East with the best in modern Western medicine. Talking about how we often judge ourselves continuously he states, “Take it easy! Be joyful, playful, and create impermanent patterns for happiness.” He further articulates by quoting Krishnamurthy, “The highest level of human intelligence is the ability to observe yourself without judging yourself!” So how does one achieve happiness and contentment in life? Again Chopra delivers in his characteristic style by combining his excellent verbal abilities with his powerful thinking—“you have to do this through four levels; first: being through meditation, second: feeling through acts of love and compassion, third: thinking through creativity, and fourth: achieving satisfaction through service.” Another age old question pops up. Is unconditional love a cliché? Chopra believes if you love your own self without conditions you will also be able to love someone else unconditionally but this is hard he says, “Very hard!” This Indian American thinker has metamorphosed into a brand. Chopra can be described as a new age scientific spiritual thinker and guide. Deep understanding and intelligence as a physician coupled with the illumination derived out of his experiences with meditation, and alternative medicine makes for a winning combination. His meteoric rise is due in part to his skill at leveraging the political game. Cho-


pra maintains impeccable relationships with power names from a gamut of professions. Bill Clinton has described Deepak Chopra as “The pioneer of alternative medicine.” Jackie Kennedy regularly had breakfasts with him. Prince Charles personally invited Chopra to an academic forum. Oprah Winfrey, Naomi Judd, Demi Moore, Sarah Ferguson, David Lynch, and Donna Karan (just to name a few) devotedly express their profound esteem for his work. Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of him as “Undoubtedly one of the most lucid and inspired philosophers of our time.” Of course, he did come in for a fair share of criticism following his spectacular rise. According to a 2008 article in Time magazine, Chopra is “a magnet for criticism,” primarily from those involved in science and medicine. Some critics say that Chopra creates a false sense of hope in sick individuals which may keep them away from effective medical care. Chopra says he didn’t always handle criticism well. Then, he says, a quote from Nelson Mandela changed his approach forever. Mandela said having resentment against someone is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill your enemy. Chopra says he never forgot that. So since our mind, body, and soul are so closely interconnected, how does our brain really function? “Your brain is the instrument through which you express yourself” states Chopra. He also talks about the continuous conflict between art and science. “Art is an expression of spirit and soul. To be an artist is to be a very spiritual human being. Art comes from going inside your own self—whether you make music or write a screenplay. Science comes from going out there. Art is an expression of higher consciousness.” “Tell me that ONE thing, the fastest way to improve the world?” he asks rhetorically. And his answer: through the empowerment of women. He explains that the financial, economic and psychological empowerment of women as healers is the fastest way to improve everything in the world. He talks nonchalantly about death. “Karma is the software of our souls. Physical death is cutting lines of communications but the karmic software, the matrix, the probability clouds of thoughts are still there and are incubating before they take their next creative leap,” and finishes with, “death is the highest expression of our creativity. Without death we would all be doomed to eternal senility.” That last sentence made me laugh. And all of a sudden, it all begins to make sense. I had just gained everything I had gone for; a sense of peace, wellbeing, and enlightenment through comprehending some of life’s most uncertain and intriguing questions. n

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Rujul Pathak Pota is a program manager for a computer networking company, an Indian classical vocalist, dancer, and freelance writer based in the San Francisco bay area, where she resides with her husband and two children. india currents • march 2013 • 61


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Lakshmi Palecanda

Resolute With Good Intentions The trouble with New Year’s resolutions is keeping them

T

he last days of December are the best days of the year. For most of us, it is the time to do all the things that we shouldn’t be doing, like partying, eating excessively and skipping exercise altogether. After all, we’re going to be turning a new leaf come the new year, right? No matter which day of the week New Year’s Day falls on, it feels like a Monday. Or, worse, a working Sunday. This time too, my mind was filled with the burden of my resolutions. “You’d better shape up, you promised,” threatened my Conscience. For most of us who blithely, resolutely, concoct our resolutions, in the serene confidence that Jan 1st would never come, we are now peering blearily at the dreariness of our good intentions. But I was resolved to make good on my own promises to make a better me in 2013. Licensed, so to speak, to partake of pleasure in the last few days of the year, I spent a sybaritic week indulging to the best of my ability and then New Year’s Day dawned beautiful, bright and sunny. Well, actually, it dawned cloudy and gloomy. A sunny day can at least get you out of bed, but a cloudy day, when it is bliss to bury yourself under the blankets, come on, where’s the fairness in that? Still, I dragged myself out of bed, bared my teeth at the family, wishing them a happy New Year with determined cheer, since one of my resolutions was to be nice to them. Exercising and writing in my daily journal were two more of my resolutions, and I managed to do both of them to some extent for the first three days, purely because of circumstances. We were on our little coffee estate in Coorg, where I had no domestic help, so I had to sweep the house; that took care of the exercise. There was nothing else to do all day except look out and dream; four sentences in the journal was all it took. Piece of cake. Which brought me to my next resolution, which was to stick to a low-fat, low-calorie diet. Being on the estate meant everything had to be brought in, so perforce, I didn’t have too many chances to break my diet. The fourth day, we got back to our home in Mysore … and I zoomed back to last year’s final days. Resolutions … what resolutions? I stayed up too late watching a movie on TV, which of course meant snacks, and then overslept the next day. I felt rotten and snapped at the kids, I didn’t exercise, and I was performing so badly so why would I want to record it 62 • india currents • march 2013

in my journal? All my good intentions went to hell in a hand-basket in one lousy day. Remorse swiftly followed. Remorse is cheap and satisfying for the moment, while it really does nothing useful, like a rubbernecker at an accident site. “How could I break my resolutions so soon?” I wailed silently as I idly surfed the internet (another resolution no-no). And now I had to wait for another 350 odd days before I got on the wagon again! A news snippet caught my eye. People belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church were celebrating their Christmas not on the 25th of December, 2012, but on Jan 7, 2013. Their New Year’s day was therefore 13 January, 2013. I brightened. This meant I had another chance to restart my resolutions: on Jan. 13. Though the date was coming up fast, I resolved that that would be the day. It was … of Sankaranthi. The festival of Makar Sankaranthi or Pongal fell on that day, a Sunday, which was taken up with cooking special festival food and eating it. A wasted opportunity. Now, I began to search the internet feverishly, for if I missed the Russian Orthodox Church’s New Year, I could fall back upon the Chinese New Year: February 10th. My not being Chinese was immaterial since everything I own is a cheap Chinese knockoff anyway, and therefore I live Chinese. But I had reckoned without that great monster that lurks in school calendars, the Test. My ten- and fourteen-year-olds had to study for some critical tests that week, and I was having the usual test terrors. It is funny how I never cared so much about tests and finals when I myself was taking them. But now that it is my children’s turn, I feel terrified each time one of those dratted examinations show up on the calendar. When we returned to India, I swore I wouldn’t obsess about my children’s school work, but parental peer pressure makes you think that if you aren’t having a nervous breakdown about your kids’ education, you’re just a bad mom. Even so, I wasn’t doing too badly, until we were at the school bus stop on the morning of February 10th. “Well, I hope you’re prepared,” I remarked generally. Which was when my ten-year-old said, “Actually, I don’t have the text book or the notes for today’s test.” I lost a year’s growth when I stared at her in horror. “But you … studied! I saw you!” I

stammered. “I studied for the next exam,” she said calmly. “I knew you’d lose it, so I didn’t tell you. Anyway, not to worry. I have an hour on the school bus till I get to school, I’ll study then.” (Statutory warning: This has been performed by an expert. Please do not practice this at home.) It took the rest of the day, until she came back and announced her results, for my poor heart to get back anywhere near normal. New Year’s resolutions? Huh, I needed a week’s R&R. But eventually, I got over my panic attack, and went back to the internet, and that was when things got really interesting. I was thrilled to find out that Nowruz, the Persian New Year, happens on March 20th. I could start then, couldn’t I? Now, I’m resolved: I am going to start my New Year’s resolutions on March 20th. But this time, I’m also going to make sure that I have a fallback plan. If I do happen to mess up on Nowruz, a slew of New Years’ are coming up in April 2013. April 11 happens to be Telugu/Kannada New Year or Ugadi. Unfortunately, Gudi Padwa, celebrated in Maharashtra and Rajasthan is also celebrated on the same day, but then, you’ve to take some roughs with the smooth. Three days later, the Punjabis celebrate Baishakhi, the Tamilians celebrate their New Year, and Malayalis celebrate Vishu, on April 14th. The next day, Bengalis celebrate Pohela Boishakh, on April 15. I can get my act straight by then, I know. If not, mercifully, there is always Navroz, the Parsi New Year on the 20th of August. But what if? Well, I’ve got that covered too. If I don’t get working on my resolutions by August 20, I swear on my favorite snack, potato chips, that I will get started on Gujarati New Year’s Day, I guarantee. It is on Gowardhan Puja Day, the day after Diwali. Date: Nov. 4, 2013. If I cannot begin to keep my New Year’s resolutions even by Nov. 4, I resolve to start keeping them come the International New Year’s Day: Jan. 1, 2014. n Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana to Mysore and is still adjusting. She can be reached at Lakshmi.palecanda@gmail.com


I C dear doctor

Concerned About Climate Change Q

Since the tsunami in Thailand and India in 2004, and the other subsequent hurricanes and natural disasters, I have become more aware of climate change issues. As I keep learning about mass extinctions of animals and coral reefs dying, limited oil supply without alternatives developed and in place and the feeble responses that come from the public, the government and industries, I feel we are headed for a disaster. I don’t see many people involved in recycling, driving less or even driving more fuel efficient cars, eating less animal products and processed foods which consume much higher resources and doing other things that can help reduce our carbon footprint. I end up feeling alone and helpless. When I see documentaries about some of the environmental issues, I feel very worried and anxious. I don’t quite know how to deal with these overwhelming feelings.

A

It is indeed overwhelming to consider the range of issues that you have named. Your need to research and seri-

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ously consider the effects of our lifestyle, policies and practices upon the environment is an act of strength and a sign of your willingness to not be in denial about this phenomenon. To wake up to reality, especially a negative one with potentially massive consequences, is courageous. If what you are reading is true, then how could you not feel worried and anxious? It is akin to your very home and your own family members being seriously threatened. Our health and survival and the planet’s ecosystem are at risk. Our bodies are made of the earth and we are so dependent upon the planet for all of our physical nourishment. As long as you keep educating yourself on climate issues, you will feel a certain amount of worry and despair. Ask yourself why you aren’t ignoring this information. What keeps you interested and concerned? Is it just fear of losing what you have or concern for your future? Are there feelings of care, attachment and love for the nature and our planet? If we really take the time to feel, we realize that we are so deeply

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Alzak Amlani

connected to the biosphere—the plants, animals, rivers and sky. Our ancestors lived so close to the land and other species. It is only in the last hundred years that many of us have become so estranged from the natural world. Fortunately, there are other people who feel similar to you and are also participating in range of activities to help make a difference. This includes cleaning up oil spills, being part of simplicity circles, joining organizations, using less fuel, growing vegetables, or writing articles and books on the subject. There are hundreds of ways to be proactive and contribute to the healing. The feelings and concerns you have are too intense to deal with individually. Additionally, it is a systemic problem rooted in our relationships to ourselves, each other and the world at large. No one person can solve it or carry the weight of feelings associated with the issues. 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 2013 • 63


IC

the last word

Sarita Sarvate

The Feminist Illusion of Girls

T

here is a a debate raging among American feminists about whether the show Girls on HBO is good or bad for the cause. Girls depicts four white young women and their romantic and sexual partners in New York City. Even though some members of the media have pointed out the lack of ethnic diversity on the show, the debate surrounding it has mostly focused on issues of gender and class in America. But it is important to discuss Girls in the context of international politics and culture today. Girls is a sensationalist comedy, which, on HBO, implies lots of sex, foul language, and nudity. This in itself is not a problem. What is a problem for some people is the show’s descent to new lows of female subjugation. I must confess that at first I found Girls entertaining and clever. But, somewhere along the show’s second season, which is currently airing, I found myself squirming. There is something about the main character’s thoughtless immersion into sexual subjugation that evokes an earlier era, of concubines, geishas, and polygamists. A friend who has two daughters the same age as Girls, cannot watch the show because of a suspicion that her daughters are having adventures similar to those depicted on it. Lena Dunham, the writer and creator of the show, belongs to a certain artistic milieu in Brooklyn. Therefore, she can safely depict her TV character as a desperate girl who, to get attention, will do anything, like having onenight stands, exposing her chubby body, and serving men sexually. But the reason so many women feel squeamish about the show is that, at its core, it depicts how desperate young women are today. It hits a nerve because it tells a profound truth about the status of women in the contemporary world. The show, of course, ignores colored women; to show them in such situations would evoke this country’s history of slavery and discrimination against immigrants, so it keeps well away from all that. But Girls’ covert message is unmistakable; women still lack power in the boardroom and the bedroom. It is clear that with their submissive, self-effacing behavior, women are not demanding men to recognize and respect them, but rather, giving them license to treat them badly. Sexual degradation and humiliation is only a step away from rape and violence. What is notable about TV and film today is that even though we allegedly live in the post-feminist era, sexual encounters, however rampant, are rarely depicted as being centered around the pleasure of the female. Then there are the Fifty Shades of Grey books—a movie is on the way—which I haven’t read, but which perhaps only prove my point. Why is sexual power important? Why should women assert themselves in bed? Oscar Wilde’s words come to mind. He said, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Truer words were never spoken. If you look at a scene in Girls in which the Lena Dunham character lets a young man degrade her in bed from this lens, you will find it troubling. When you consider that the

What is notable about TV and film today is that even though we allegedly live in the postfeminist era, sexual encounters, however rampant, are rarely depicted as being centered around the pleasure of the female.

64 • india currents • march 2013

right wing today claims rights over a woman’s sexual life and womb— Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut because she lobbied for free contraceptives—the scene will take on troubling overtones for you. If you are a woman who has recently been dumped by a man in a way that made you feel as if you were nothing more than a sex toy, the scene will hit you in the solar plexus. And if you are a South Asian young woman who has been marching against the recent gang rape in Delhi, Girls’ depiction of a sex scene involving the character named Marnie, who is sexually dominated by an artist whom she worships, might make you angry. The fact that she continues to adore him afterwards is nothing short of nauseating. Feminists today write long articles about subsidized childcare and sharing housework but by and large stay away from a discussion of power politics in bed. Having fought for sexual liberation in the ‘60s, they are perhaps loathe to comment on what lack of sexual power does to women’s psyches. But the truth is that a larger proportion of women than men find it difficult to engage in sex without emotional attachment. This creates an imbalance of power between the genders. Sexual liberation for some women has come at a cost of loneliness and abandonment. Like Rush Limbaugh and the right wing, the Catholic Church is responsible for the suffering of millions of women around the world because of unwanted pregnancies and disease. Journalists commenting on Pope Benedict’s recent resignation pointed out that he chose to remain blind to the rise in global population and the need for women to have access to contraception and healthcare. Ironically, Lena Dunham and Girls in many ways have shown equal disregard for women’s health by depicting reckless sexual encounters that seemingly involve no contraceptives or concerns about safety. In one episode, the Dunham character does have an STD scare, but subsequently, she seems not to worry about it. The question for me, therefore, remains, how do women, young or old, claim power in work, in art, in love, and in sex? Feminists have compared Girls to Mary McCarthy’s The Group. I read the novel with the voyeuristic awe of an inexperienced young woman long ago, in India; the main characters’ plight of lack of recognition at work and at home did not resonate with me then; I envied instead her freedom from a constrained life I predicted for myself. But now I see the book as a tirade against male domination. When a woman got out of control back then, she was either subjugated or branded crazy. And today? Perhaps she is just humiliated or ignored or both. Is this progress? Sexual politics is as important as employment politics or real politics. After all, love, romance, and sex are what give humanity hope and inspiration. In this so-called post-feminist era then, why are intelligent and talented women like Dunham not depicting women who are claiming such power? Why are young women not setting a higher standard for their treatment in the bedroom and the boardroom? But then again Dunham is an artist. She is in the business of portraying reality, not necessarily changing it. Perhaps young women will see themselves mirrored in the main character and realize how pathetic they seem. Or perhaps, as the show continues, the main character will claim sexual autonomy and respect as her right. I sure hope so. n Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visit www.saritasarvate.com


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March 2013 Southern California issue  

March 2013 Southern California issue

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