Of All the Coffee Places by R. Benedito Ferrao
May You Bear a Hundred Daughters by Meera Ekkanath Klein
On a Quest
by Gayathri Chakravarthy
Celebrating 27 Years of Excellence
may 2013 • vol. 27, no .2 • www. indiacurrents.com
Local engineers graphing global social connections by Gayatri Subramaniam
Trust with Limits
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EDITORIAL BOARD Managing Editor: Jaya Padmanabhan email@example.com (408) 324-0488 x 226 Events Editor: Mona Shah firstname.lastname@example.org (408) 324-0488 x 224 COLUMNISTS Dear Doctor: Alzak Amlani Films: Aniruddh Chawda On Inglish: Kalpana Mohan The Last Word: Sarita Sarvate Zeitgeist: Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
For our twenty-fifth anniversary, my husband and I decided to go out of town for the weekend. We left our house to my octogenarian mother and two sixteen year olds. We placed my spry mother on high alert and took the precaution of informing family and friends of our decision. I clutched my phone like a lifeline during those thirty-six hours, texting my kids (too) frequently. My twins asked me, when I came back, why I didn’t trust them. My answer was a potpourri of evasive explanations. But in the light of recent heartrending events in the town of Saratoga, I have been giving the idea of trust more thought. The tragic suicide of fifteen-year old Audrie Potts is a searing reminder of teenage recklessness. The Saratoga High School girls and boys availed themselves of a parentless house, drank heavily, and three boys raped and debased Potts while she was passed out. Even accounting for teenage hubris, it is very difficult to explain the complete dissolution of morality. There is ample scientific evidence to support teenage risk-taking behavior. A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study shows that in 2005, 20% of 10th graders and 30% of 12th graders drank over 5 drinks at one time in the two weeks before the study. These numbers are staggering and serve as
a prompt to repeat that conversation about trust and consequences with our teenagers. Largely, it is a question of limits. Realization of personal character has to do with the limits that are placed on us by our parents, friends, neighbors, well-wishers and detractors. These limits often act as moral brakes. Most teenagers test and negotiate these limits. I can personally testify to the countless times I’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not fair!” While our immigrant experiences have shaped our children’s lives and expectations dramatically, the hyper-connected world they live in also removes some of those cultural barriers and limits we place on them. For pubescent minds, gulled into the hypnosis of instant affirmation, the world pinpoints into like buttons. There is no reliable algorithm to make sense of this unceasing noise. At a recent school event, a fellow parent confided, “I trust my daughter implicitly.” It alarmed me because I was unable to agree with her. While I trust my children to act responsibly, for the most part, I am hesitant to qualify that trust with the word “implicitly.” Truth is, trust cannot be mistaken for love, neither reality for aspiration. I trust my teenage children within limits. But I love them implicitly. Jaya Padmanabhan
Contributors: Jasbina Ahluwalia, Madan Ahluwalia, Yatindra Bhatnagar, Gayathri Chakravarthy, Benedito Ferrao, Jeanne Fredriksen, S. Gopikrishna, Madhumita Gupta, Mahendra Jaiswal, Kanniks Kannikeswaran, Meera Ekkanath Klein, Mihir Meghani, Rajee Padmanabhan, Mimm Patterson, Sandip Roy, Shanta Sacharoff, Arun Sekar, Kavitha Sreeharsha, Gayatri Subramaniam, Mani Subramani Cover Design: Nghia Vuong. On the cover: Graph Search Team: Nilesh Dalvi, Sriram Sankar, Kedar Dhamdhere, Rajat Raina, Mitu Singh, Sandhya Kunnatur, Nidhi Gupta INDIA CURRENTS® (ISSN 0896-095X) is published monthly (except Dec/Jan, which is a combined issue) for $19.95 per year by India Currents, 1885 Lundy Ave., Ste 220, San Jose, CA 95131. Periodicals postage paid at San Jose, CA, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to INDIA CURRENTS, 1885 LUNDY AVE, STE. 220, SAN JOSE, CA 95131 Information provided is accurate as of the date of going to press; India Currents is not responsible for errors or omissions. Opinions expressed are those of individual authors. Advertising copy, logos, and artwork are the sole responsibility of individual advertisers, not of India Currents. Copyright © 2013 by India Currents All rights reserved. Fully indexed by Ethnic Newswatch
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INDIA CURRENTS may 2013 • vol 27 • no 2
Southern California Edition
www.indiacurrents.com 1 | EDITORIAL Trust with Limits. By Jaya Padmanabhan
Find us on
6 | FORUM Is President Obama a Good Negotiator? By Mani Subramani and S. Gopikrishna
20 | BOOKS A Review of The Abundance and The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. By Jeanne Fredriksen, Arun Sekar
7 | A THOUSAND WORDS Twice-Born Yoga. By Ragini Srinivasan 8 | EDUCATION Geography, Anyone? By Gayathri Chakravarthy 14 | ON INGLISH Offend Me and You’ll Be Chutney! By Kalpana Mohan 16 | ANALYSIS Of All the Coffee Places. By Benedito Ferrao 18| PERSPECTIVE May You Bear a Hundred Daughters. By Meera Ekkanath Klein 28 | OPINION Boston Marathon—A Runner Remembers By Sandip Roy 30 | COMMENTARY The Bystander Problem. By Kavitha Sreeharsha 44 | IN MEMORIAM Ruth Prawer Jhabvala By Yatindra Bhatnagar 52 | REFLECTIONS Pluralism Reaches a Milestone in America. By Mihir Meghani 64 | THE LASTWORD I Dream of Gardens. By Sarita Sarvate 2 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
15 | RELATIONSHIP DIVA Marital Growing Pains. By Jasbina Ahluwalia
10 | On a Quest Members of the “Graph Search” team discuss why sorting, searching and compiling recommendations on Facebook is an opportunity for enhanced interaction. By Gayatri Subramaniam
42 | Feature Discovering Congruency A Mother’s Day Tribute
38 | MUSIC: Compositions of the Trinity. By Kanniks Kannikeswaran 54 | HEALTHY LIFE Sacred Connection: Body Therapy and the Art of Touch. By Mimm Patterson 60 | RECIPES A Mother’s Day Offering. Roti Wraps with Cashew Chutney Served with Strawberry Lassi. By Shanta Sacharoff
By Rajee Padmanabhan
63 | DEAR DOCTOR The Gift of Feeling Deeply By Alzak Amlani
34 | Films
A Review of Himmatwala, Nautanki Salaa and Jolly LLB
By Aniruddh Chawda
56 | Travel City of Possibilities— London By Shivam Khullar
4 | Voices 4 | Popular Articles 26 | Ask a Lawyer 27 | Visa Dates 59 | Classifieds 62 | Viewfinder
WHAT’S CURRENT 46 | Cultural Calendar 50 | Spiritual Calendar
www.indiacurrents.com | 3
voices Cheering Desi Women
The cover story by Geetika Pathania Jain was very well written (Mistress of Emotions, India Currents, April 2013) and The Reluctant Fundamentalist directed by Mira Nair is one heck of a good movie and possibly her most difficult film project to date. Ras Siddiqui, online Regarding the cover story, (Mistress of Emotions, India Currents, April 2013), congratulations to Mira Nair! I look forward to her new film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It is wonderful to see an Indian woman, and an Indian-African-American woman (as Mira commutes between the United States and Africa) doing a film on a country not her own, and one that had not always been very democratic or inclusive of its own minorities. It is a reflection of the culture and civilization of India; though that has its limits and limitations. It is Pakistan’s turn to make some films, with kindness and goodness, on issues concerning its own minorities. More power to Mira Nair, and I look forward to her other films. I am proud of all our Desi women—inside and outside India! Lets cheer everyone on! Anonymous, online
I agree with Jaya Padmanabhan’s point in her editorial (Sandberged and Prototyped, India Currents, April 2013). Leaning in could have unintended consequences—depending on who is doing the “leaning-in.” Each woman who aims for success must do it in her own way, intelligently analyzing her own situation, options and possible costs. Chitra Divakaruni, TX
Regarding the recent editorial (Sandberged and Prototyped, India Currents, April 2013), I have one question for you: Who the heck is Sheryl Sandberg? And why the heck should you care what this rich corporate woman says, thinks or does? Send Amy Goodman or Goodberg to do some analysis on Sheryl Sandman or Sandberg ... and put it all over Facebookerberg with Zuckerberg. Leave it at that! Anonymous, online 4 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
An honest and pragmatic editorial (Sandberged and Prototyped, India Currents, April 2013). The stars were aligned for Sheryl Sandberg and she took advantage of every opportunity that came her way. Kudos to her for that and for using her position to inspire other women. If even ten women are energized by her to fight for what’s rightfully theirs, then it’s worth it. But not everyone is lucky enough to have the best education, upbringing, marriage and career breaks. And even if they did, should taking the world on as COO be the only option? I love this editorial for raising these doubts on how some who have it all can inadvertently look down on others who don’t. I hope that for every ten women she inspires, she doesn’t make ten others feel inadequate! Vidhya, online
Learning From Our Children
I loved the article about learning from our children (A Mother Grows Up, India Currents, April 2013). I could relate to all the experiences that were so eloquently conveyed in the article. I, too, feel that I’ve grown up with my son and he has perhaps taught me, and is still teaching me all the intricacies of using a computer! Madhumita, online
Leagues and Bounds
I disagree with Jasbina Ahluwalia’s advice in the Relationship Diva column (Shooting Out of her League, India Currents, March 2013). What does “out of her league” mean? Most women look for intelligent men who will be their companion, help them reach the goals they deserve and support them in ways that they would like to be supported. Most women find strong confident men attractive. Does that constitute reaching above themselves? You would be better served by teaching men how to pursue relationships with sensitivity, instead of teaching women how to be less than themselves. Ranjita Sai, online
SPEAK YOUR MIND! Have a thought or opinion to share? Send us an original letter of up to 300 words, and include your name, address, and phone number. Letters are edited for clarity and brevity. Write India Currents Letters, 1885 Lundy Ave. Suite 220, San Jose 95131 or email email@example.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 on facebook.com/India Currents
Most Popular Articles Online April 2013 1) Is That My Karma in the Envelope? Kalpana Mohan 2) The Scorpion’s Diet. Rajee Padmanabhan 3) Epsilon’s Worldly Possessions. Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan 4) Mistress of Emotions. Geetika Pathania Jain 5) Sandberged and Prototyped. Jaya Padmanabhan 6) The Lone Traveler. Dilnavaz Bamboat 7) The Mystique of the Past. Chitra Divakaruni 8) A Clarified Taste. Malar Gandhi 9) Bridging the Gap Between Bollywood and Hollywood. Shyamal Randeria-Leonard 10)The Entrepreneurial Way. Rajesh Oza
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Is President Obama a Good Negotiator?
No, Obama is not a good negotiator
Yes, Obama is a good negotiator
By Mani Subramani
By S. Gopikrishna
resident Obama is a good orator, a good communicator, a visionary and a thinker. But he is just not good at striking a good deal with the opposition on matters of policy. He often compromises his advantage before the other side has shown their hand. This was evident in the health care debate when he gave up on the public option—a government run health care agency which would compete with the other health care agencies—which he campaigned for in 2008. The Republicans had not so much as presented their plan at the time. In fact they never did present an alternative. Instead of using the public option as an exemplification of free market capitalism and bludgeoning the opposition with it, he pretty much gave up the argument, conceding defeat before the debate began. The apparent reason for the unilateral compromise was to get bi-partisan support. In the end merely three Republican senators joined the Democrats in supporting the Affordable Health Care Act. The debt ceiling fight in 2011 is another example of his inability to use his leverage. Instead of showing up the Republicans for their intransigence in refusal to raise taxes he offered them a “compromise” of three times the spending cuts as tax increases. At a time when it would have been easy to explain the stimulative effects of spending increases, he tried to strike a broad deficit cutting deal with the Republicans. Fortunately, Republican inflexibility prevented the deal from being adopted. Obama believes in the Yet again, in recent misconstrued notion times, with the battle over gun control, the President that if he compromisto compromise by es, then the opposition tried meeting the Republicans will follow suit. mid-way and giving up on a complete ban on assault weapons and merely seeking comprehensive background checks. It was a telling statement on his negotiability that he was not able to muster the 60 votes required to pass the bill. Maureen Dowd in her New York Times editorial asked the crucial question, “How is it that the president won the argument on gun safety with the public and lost the vote in the Senate?” Isn’t it ironical that Obama won re-election by making an issue of the Republican party’s uncompromising political stance? He believes he can use emotion to sway the opposition. He discounts the influence of political lobbies. Obama believes that if he compromises, then the opposition will follow suit. Obama has not understood the nature of the beast he is dealing with. The Republican party is made of two main segments—the faction which rejects evolution and the medieval wing that rejects global warming. There can be no negotiation with people with unreasonable ideas. How can there be a compromise on the size and role of government when one group is trying to deliver the most efficient government while the other is intent on destroying the government entirely. So President Obama needs to go into his campaigning mode and persuade the opposition to act, instead of giving away strategic leverage and putting the middle class in a compromising position. n Mani Subramani works in the sem-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.
6 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
ince history repeats itself, we should reflect on the work of the last president from Illinois, President Lincoln in order to understand the possible impact of President Obama’s work. Lincoln’s reputation rose from contemporary condemnation to eventual validation and veneration. Lincoln’s slow and steady victories rested on his ability to rise above the daily din and focus on a long term vision and pursue the same through skilful engagement of the opponents and persuasiveness—the same qualities that define Obama. As demonstrated with the Lincoln legacy, success is better reflected in incremental progress rather than immediate victories. The negotiation process is often a reflection of how well two sides choose to eventually tango after the initial and obligatory tangling. Obama’s ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by preventing America from going over the financial cliff more than once is a tribute to his negotiating abilities. Good negotiation alternates between conceding and conquering depending on the relative strengths of the negotiators. In June 2011, Obama realized conceded ground to the Tea Party in order to preserve the larger goal of preventing the financial cliff. However, in 2013, with the Tea Party on the wane, and a strong second mandate, Obama did what a steely and good negotiator would—he stared the Republicans in the eye, refused to blink and challenged them to raise taxes on everybody when ... Obama’s strategy revisiting the crisis. The results: minimal spending may not have the dracuts coupled with a boost matic flair of his orain tax rates—both anathema to the Republicans. tory skills, but results In true Flying Dutchman in slow, steady and style, when the dispute over the suspension of the sustainable victories ... debt ceiling rears its head again, on May 19, 2013, I believe Obama will push the Republicans towards the wall incrementally but not dramatically. A negotiator needs to be able to design and access alternative methodologies to achieve one’s goals, a move that the President has proved to be adept at, especially when it comes to advancing progressive social policies. Obama reengineered the make-up of the Supreme Court, shaping the thought platform to be on the forefront of progressive social agenda and bypassing the righteous rightwingers who lack popular support but have the numbers to slay progressive legislation. The appointments of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan translated into surprise victories, just as the overhauling of the Health Care Act was. True, he was not very successful with legislating background checks on gun control, however, Obama is a man of patience and the chapter on gun control is not over as yet. Obama’s strategy may not have the dramatic flair of his oratory skills, but results in slow, steady and sustainable victories, which, I believe, history will look upon favorably. n Toronto based S.Gopikrishna writes on issues of pertinence to Indians and Indian-Americans.
a thousand words
Twice-Born Yoga By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
erkeley is a veritable mecca for yoga practitioners. Here, studios are (happily) more numerous than Starbucks, each offering its own specialty: Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Yin yoga, Hatha Flow, Vinyasa, “Hot Vinyasa,” restorative yoga, passive asanas, and something incredibly popular in my neighborhood called Forrest, which blends Hatha yoga with the teachings of the Oglala Lakota Sioux. It’s commonplace to see Berkeleyites in grocery stores with multicolored yoga mats strapped to their backs. Some have babies strapped to their fronts, too; others manage to bicycle with yoga kits perched behind them. Once, I even saw a unicyclist balance his PVC-free harmony mat on his way to “yoga for the people.” Yoga here is a way of life. Certainly, it is a key contributor to the local economy. Yoga has never been my thing. Despite years of training in bharatanatyam, I’m not remotely flexible, and the closest I’ve come to meditation is runner’s high during a half-marathon. But in the past few months, given the occasion of my pregnancy and walking-distance proximity to a dozen studios, I have become a prenatal yoga regular. Weekly, I don the only pair of stretch pants that still fit, inexpertly roll my mat, and roll myself over to yoga class, where I join other “mamas” in queen’s pose, downward dog, the one-legged pigeon, cat and cow, and all the other animal-inspired postures you can assume with a belly the size of a four-square ball. My yoga class, like many of them, is taught by an American woman with a Sanskrit chosen-name. She opens each of our sessions with a mindfulness meditation, at the close of which we join hands in “anjali mudra” over our hearts and chant “Om” three times, before offering an invocation to Ganapathi. We chant the “Sahana Vavatu” Shanti mantra, or what she calls the teacher-student prayer. Most of the students, non-Indians, join enthusiastically in reciting the invocations and prayers. Often, our collective “Om” resounds with power and peaceful intention. Over the past many months, I have learned that my teacher considers herself a student of Tantra, prays to Saraswati, and listens to New Age music of the Deva Premal-variety. None of this surprises me. For decades, yoga has been embraced by legions of non-Indians in the United States, whether through the teachings of Vivekananda, the example of Madonna, or the likes of Deepak Chopra. Yoga here is veritably twice-born, of India and America. It was inevitable that the range of teachers and schools on offer would proliferate a subculture of musical, spiritual, and somatic identification. My teacher’s “Namaste” at the finish of class is offered sweetly with a smile and is returned joyously by most of those in attendance, and I’ve never thought to criticize or question what some might term the willful appropriation of what is perhaps only nominally Hindu practice. Others, apparently, aren’t as content to let things be. In a suburb of San Diego, a debate has been unfolding over whether or not yoga can legally be taught as part of the physical education curriculum in public elementary schools. In December, the New York Times reported that a group of parents at Paul Ecke Central Elementary have been protesting the Encinitas Union School District’s institution of thirtyminute yoga, breathing, and relaxation classes. They are apparently
unmoved by the school’s opt-out clause and are convinced that what the teachers call “gorilla pose” and “mountain pose” are part of a broader Hindu proselytizing movement. The parents’ cries of First Amendment-violation have drawn considerable media attention in recent months. “Namaste. Now Nap Time,” articles declare. “Relaxation or religious indoctrination?” But despite the manufactured hysteria over yogic indoctrination (which seems somewhat akin to Oklahoma’s fear of Sharia Law), yoga is currently being introduced at schools all over the country as part of health and wellness programs. Others have been more creative about tempering the purported Hindu religious content. The Wall Street Journal reports that Chabad schools in New York have their students chanting “shalom” instead of “Om.” Does it matter what the students chant? Is yoga a secular practice? The other day, my yoga teacher turned to me and another Indian student and asked how we felt about the prayers and chants, the references to the Hindu pantheon, and the various fusion versions of the “Gayatri Mantra” accompanying our stretching and balancing exercises. “I think,” she added, “that a lot of my Indian students don’t mind, because they tell me that my pronunciation is good.” I winced inwardly, even as I assured her in all sincerity that I had no issue with her particular brand of yogic spirituality—that, in fact, I respected, enjoyed, and appreciated the intentions and integrity she brought to each offering of a prayer or mantra. But pronunciation? In truth, the clipped t’s in each of her “Shanti’s” had been bugging me for weeks, and Deva Premal’s “Gayatri Mantra” was beautiful when competing with the heating system, but on further scrutiny clearly evidenced the singer’s non-native t’s and d’s. I didn’t say any of this, of course. Pronunciation is such a trivial card to pull, never mind a misleading indicator of that noxious thing called “authenticity.” Nevertheless, some Hindus chafe at the New Age-transformations American yoga practice has brought to “our” age-old meditative practice. The parents at Paul Ecke would no doubt find my yoga class rife with Hindu symbolism and threats to the established Judeo-Christian order of suburban California. Who’s to say who’s right? Who does yoga belong to? Is it yoga without “Om?” Is it yoga, if no one understands the words? The other Indian student and I exchanged glances, as the rainbow-room of Berkeley mamas-to-be bowed their heads in earnest supplication. I’m not sure what she was thinking. But the more I think about it, the gladder I am to have this space for baby. Already she is Indian and American, brown and white, with Hindu, Christian, and Jewish grandparents. She will be a 21st-century Berkeley baby. Twice-born yoga should be right up her alley. n Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley.
www.indiacurrents.com | 7
Geography, Anyone? A primer on teaching Geography at home By Gayathri Chakravarthy
ndian American parents often bemoan the fact that Geography is not taught in American schools. Certainly it seems that no tangible benefit can arise from a study of this subject and career options in the field seem non-existent; how many of us have even heard of a “geographer?” Yet, this subject is of particular importance to immigrant families, with geography and the wider branches of social studies playing a surprising part in the social, intellectual, and personal development of our children. Current research in pedagogical science has proven that an appreciation of cultures, countries and languages has diverse benefits ranging from appearing to delay the onset of certain diseases to enhanced social inter-action and self-esteem! Geography leads children to observe and appreciate the world around them; it helps them make wise choices about their environment, and to relate more meaningfully to people from other lands and cultures. Recognizing the importance of maintaining and fostering cultural heritage, our country has now moved from analogizing itself as the homogeneous blending of a “melting pot” to the distinct diversity of a “salad bowl,” valuing acculturation over assimilation. Our children are in the unique position of experiencing firsthand two major cultures. How can parents maximize this natural advantage? Here are some strategies and resources that have helped me.
My kids can be every kind of pest but unfortunately could never be accused of being bookworms; they’re more likely to burn up bandwidth than burn the midnight oil. So getting them to use some of that online time for geography games was easier than plonking an atlas before them. Computer games as learning tools are increasingly gaining acceptance and two online resources I liked were ilike2learn.com and sheppardsoftware.com. These inter-active sites present factual knowledge and work well for upper elementary and middle school children, with content grouped into easy categories such as 8 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
rivers, continents, mountains, etc. These sites have been cleverly labeled as learning games, with children clicking on a “play” button for each level. The child progresses to the next level only after mastering content so assessment becomes easy for the parent. Do give these “games” a go!
It’s The Tempest!
When my son recently asked, “Why do I need to learn Shakespeare? I’m never going to use it in my life!” I should have retorted, “Son, into each life some rain must fall, and in your case it’s the Tempest!” But seriously, when our kids question the relevance of any learning content, it’s sometimes hard to come up with a satisfying response. The truth is that both teachers and parents need to make learning as relevant as possible, and one way parents can help is by incorporating Geography into their child’s day as often as possible; get your kindergartner to look up the weather map in the newspaper every day, ask your middle-schooler to research your holiday destination. As Indian Americans, our children are quite literally more “worldly-wise” than their peers and opportunities abound in their daily lives to connect with geography, be it calculating time-zones when calling Grandma, or celebrating ethnic festivals.
As much as I like online learning, I can’t deny it gave me a pang to hear that the Encyclopedia Britannica had published their printed edition for the last time a year ago. I guess those weighty hardcover tomes didn’t quite cut it with Gen-Y kids. A recent survey of 6-14 year-olds revealed that one in ten think an encyclopedia is something you cook with, travel on, use to catch a ball, or used to perform an operation. Really! But magazines such as the National Geographic and The Smithsonian are a different kettle of fish. Cleverly understanding that a picture is worth a thousand words, these magazines have crammed their pages with breath-taking illustrations that captivate both children and adults. Consider subscribing to these magazines. These journals aren’t just limited to geography, but offer content
broadly covering the entire umbrella of social studies. These magazines come with versions suitable for younger kids as well and even children who don’t read yet will love looking at the pictures.
When my daughter felt the tooth fairy had dealt her a raw deal by leaving her a dollar bill instead of a shiny quarter, I knew I was onto a good thing! She needed little encouragement to start her own coin collection, especially after the U.S. Mint produced those fantastic state quarters. A close examination of these commemorative coins offers an opportunity for interesting research into the fifty states. Indeed, any collection, rock, shell, or coin is replete with learning opportunities. Tell your kids these coins are going out of circulation fast and you’ll have them begging for change!
Straddling two diverse cultures can be challenging for our children, who sometimes perceive the adherence to native culture as a deterrent to social acceptance among peers. Making connections between cultures will help them acquire the knowledge and skills required to “walk in two worlds.” They will learn to recognize and cope with crosscultural values that often seem at odds with each other. Ask your child to find parallels between their cultures such as in the celebrations of Thanksgiving and Pongal/Sankranthi, both celebrating harvest and nature’s bounty (some kids may even make the connection between the over-flowing pot and the cornucopia). As our world gets increasingly globalized, and the earth metaphorically flattens and shrinks, geographical boundaries may become less relevant, but cultural differences will always remain, and an awareness and understanding of the different physical and cultural characteristics of people and places will become integral to our children’s success. n Gayathri Chakravarthy lives in Cupertino, CA and has been teaching Math for over 12 years in public schools in California, Australia, and India.
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On a Quest Facebook’s Graph Search: Weaving a New Social Tapestry By Gayatri Subramaniam
Graph Search Team Members Nilesh Dalvi, Sriram Sankar, Kedar Dhamdhere, Rajat Raina, Mitu Singh, Sandhya Kunnatur and Nidhi Gupta
Most Internet users use Facebook to keep up with the “Mohans” and “Kumars.” With “Graph Search,” Facebook’s latest tool box offering, social connections can be further refined and configured into affinity lists. Graph Search team members discuss why the ability to sort, search and compile recommendations from publicly shared lists is an opportunity for enhanced social interaction.
s my husband races to his computer to search for an answer to settle an argument between us, I roll my eyes and wonder how we ever managed all these years without instant search and response. The concept of a search engine is not new. In fact, it goes back at least to the 1940s, when visionary engineer Vannevar Bush published an article in the Atlantic Monthly called “As We May Think.” In the article, he predicted that “wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.” The memex that he referred to was an adjustable microfilm viewer that he imagined would have a structure similar to what we now know as the World Wide Web. What was unique about his pro-
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posal was that he was particularly interested in the way the brain links data by association instead of traditional hierarchical storage. Search engines have been evolving over the last two decades, but I bring up Bush’s paradigm in view of what Facebook is now attempting to do. Until recently, search results were generated by standard keywords, and fell into broad categories such as People, Photos, and Groups. The “Typeahead” feature made Search a little more sophisticated by anticipating what a user might be searching for, and feeding likely matches in a dropdown menu. Facebook’s new internal search engine, “Graph Search,” takes personalized searches one step further by customizing results and forming relationships, just as one might in
real life. Unlike Google, Lycos and other search engines that bring together results from a web made up of online information from all over the world, Graph Search is a cosy microcosm, or a “social graph” in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s words, that creates a network of one’s stated relationships with friends, favorite locations, photos and music.
The South Asian Element
Graph Search’s dynamic “Search Quality and Ranking” team is led by Sriram Sankar. Sankar is a Stanford alumnus who worked at Sun and Google, among other companies in the Valley, before joining Facebook. His dedication to the project and belief in the product is obvious when he says, “Search is my second profession (after compilers) and I’ve been
Mitu Singh joined Facebook in 2010 and is part of the “Search Entities” team. He has worked on a few things since starting there, “but nothing as awesome as Graph Search.” He has an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology—Sloan School of Management, which, he jokes, is something he desperately tries to hide from the engineers. This enterprising Sriram Sankar uses Graph Search to display Photos of India Currents team makes up some of lucky to have been mentored by the very the cogs in the big machine that has created best minds in this area.” For the last three the new feature at Facebook. years Sankar has been working on first building the search feature from the ground up How Does Graph Search Work? to support all of Facebook’s search ranking To understand how Graph Search works, needs, and then building the team around it, consider that as a Facebook user, you have a an enterprise that he calls “one of the most profile that might contain your name, birthsatisfying things I have done.” day, where you live, etc. You represent an enSandhya Kunnatur has been part of the tity. A group to which you belong is another “Search Infrastructure” team for the last year entity; so is the place where you live. Each of and a half. A graduate of National Institute these entities is related—these “relationships” of Technology Karnataka (NITK)—Surathmay represent friendships (if the entities are kal, and Stanford University, Kunnatur loves people), tags (if the entities are photos), to spend time exploring nature and has been ownership (if the entity is a group) and so using Graph Search to find fun places to on. Consider next that every friend of yours visit. on Facebook is also an entity that is similarly One of the newer members on the team connected to various people, places or appliis Nidhi Gupta, who has been part of the cations. You already know that you can easily Search team for the last six months. Envifind a friend or you can find a place. What if ably, this is her first job after graduating from you could do it all with one search in a way Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)—Bhuthat connects your social circle? baneswar. Take this search for example. I’d like to Kedar Dhamdhere was part of the “Search find a couple with whom my husband and I Ranking” team at Facebook in 2012. Prior to that he worked at Google for six years where he was introduced to search engine technology. An engineer from IIT-Bombay, with a doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, Dhamdhere gives a nod to his namesake Kedar raga as he expresses his love for Indian classical music. Nilesh Dalvi is a Research Scientist on the Search team. An IIT-Bombay and University of Washington graduate, Dalvi worked as a Scientist at Yahoo! prior to joining Facebook. It’s easy to see why Dalvi would fall easily into this line of work that connects pieces of data—in his spare time, Nilesh is an avid puzzler! Rajat Raina from the “Search Ranking” team has been at Facebook since 2009, and has worked on ads and search teams. A graduate of IIT Kanpur and Stanford University, Raina loves following the Indian cricket team.
can play tennis this weekend. If I use Graph Search to execute this query, it narrows the results to three people who meet the criteria of being my friend and liking tennis. Team leader Sankar explains that Graph Search uses my connections, contextualizes my query, and customizes the output in a way that previous search engines could not. The results are biased to suit me and only me, since the same query by another user would bring a very different cross section of results. The search can be refined by other variables, such as gender and location, but what it did is save me the bother of sorting through my friends list (which, in my case, is not that long, but you know what it would feel like if you have 5,000 friends!). What’s more, Graph Search uses natural language processing rather than traditional keyword searches. So I was able to type a search using my everyday language and the way I naturally speak instead of skewing it to a computer-preferred language or a checkbox. Graph Search has the ability to look at every single word in the query and index all of the user’s prior actions (such as likes and comments) and make a relationship between the words before producing the results.
The Sky is the Limit
In conversation with Research Scientist Raina, I learned that scalability was a challenge for the team. The vastness of the data that is already indexed is hard to comprehend, says Raina, and deciding how to handle the anticipated growth in data, and rank the results, were factors the team had to take into consideration. So far, the team appears to have succeeded and Raina chuckles that “the sky is the limit” regarding the variables one can use, as long as whatever is being searched is within the confines of what
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is publicly available. Even journalists can find a treasure trove of potential sources to use in their articles. Facebook stores more than 240 billion photos and one can get information on places and interests that are linked not only to trusted friends, but to public photos of cities or landmarks as well.
The Small Business Advantage
Moving out of the personal realm, it is likely that this application could allow small businesses to create a niche for themselves, and help them compete with the giant corporations. Ideally, a small business that has an accurately categorized page with detailed information on its services can acquire a fan base that will spread its reputation through Graph Search, the Internet’s version of “word of mouth.” Graph Search does not currently support ad searches, but advertisers would want to use this to their advantage, and Facebook would presumably benefit as well, since advertisers make websites financially viable. That said, Facebook is still viewed as a social hangout, a place to find your old buddies from school and college and stay in touch with colleagues and friends. As blogger and e-commerce CEO Philip Rooke writes, “The user expectation is still all about social connections and the mere ability to offer targeted commerce does not mean that the user will welcome or positively embrace the new Graph Search features and become more active consumers in Facebook.”
Shh, Privacy Please!
Also challenging in creating Graph Search was privacy, an ever-controversial topic among Facebook users. According to Raina, the team decided to handle user privacy by ensuring that Graph Search would not reveal anything that was not already visible on Facebook. In other words, your current privacy settings on Facebook will be honored by Graph Search. Of course, as users of Facebook already know, you can control who can see your friends list, but your friends control who can see their friend lists. What does that mean in real terms to the average user? When a user does a search, Facebook responds to the query with a list of entities whose public or shared aspects of their profile match the search terms. With Graph Search, this means that what people intended to share with their Facebook audience (friends, friends of friends, or someone with a reason to search specifically for you) is now available to someone who was not looking for you, but happened upon you in their search. Even photos that you hide from Timeline will show up in searches unless
12 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
your privacy settings prevent sharing. True, it is all information you chose to share, but you feel less exposed when you think your information is there for an acquaintance to find than if you know that your information can be accidentally discovered by a stranger. (And perhaps it is a false sense of security, but we humans are good at hiding behind that!) The problem is not unique to Graph Search; it is a risk with anything posted online. A few years ago, when I produced the school play at our public school, a journalist covered it for our online neighborhood newsletter. It was accessible to our neighbours, but it was unlikely that anyone else was looking for it. However, it made me a little uncomfortable when it showed up with the names of all the participating neighborhood children when I was searching for something else online. Graph Search poses the same problem. As Adi Kamdar writes in globalvoicesonline. org, “There’s a difference between posting information for anyone to find and posting information to be searched and sorted. If you walk down a crowded public street, you are probably seen by dozens of people—but it would still feel creepy for anyone to be able to look up a list of every road you’ve walked down.” It remains to be seen whether the Graph Search feature will encourage users to open up more and share more of themselves and their preferences to maximize the social networking experience, or tighten their privacy settings so they won’t unintentionally show up in someone’s Graph Search. Another way to look at Graph Search’s functionality is to question whether the privacy in fact limits our search options! Social recommendations are wonderful for local restaurants or to find best soccer program
for our kids. But if you are looking for something more obscure like the “most fun things to do in Mongolia,” the most content-rich answers are not necessarily going to come from your friends. Guillaume Decugis, CEO of scoop.it, believes that ultimately “Facebook will face a dilemma. Either Graph Search remains a private, social search that sticks to friends of friends, in other words potentially entertaining but limited, biased content that will not be the most relevant. Or, Facebook makes more private data accessible to Graph Search to make it more relevant, hurting privacy advocates in the process but perhaps more importantly losing what makes its core value proposition: connecting with friends in a trusted environment.” Facebook launched the beta version of Graph Search in January 2013 to a limited number of users. If you wish to try it, you can ask to be on a waiting list, and you will be added as space opens up. At this time, it is only available in U.S.-English with future multi-language launches in the works. As for privacy, it remains up to you, as always, to decide how much of your life you want to share online and with whom. In a generation that seems to favor and promote those who have a presence in the social media, Graph Search provides new opportunities. Just remember that opportunity and risk often go hand in hand and handle your online presence wisely. Meanwhile, I’m off to play tennis with one of my blurred friends pictured in this article. n Gayatri Subramaniam is a San Jose-based instructional designer and writer. She is an ardent tennis fan who believes that if she had only been taller, stronger, faster, and blessed with more talent, she would’ve been a Grand Slam champion.
The Menlo Park Team
www.indiacurrents.com | 13
Offend Me and You’ll Be Chutney! By Kalpana Mohan
chutney—noun 1. a pickle of Indian origin, made from fruit, vinegar, spices, sugar, etc: mango chutney 2. a type of music popular in the Caribbean Asian community, much influenced by calypso [C19: from Hindi catni and Urdu chatni; of uncertain origin] First Known Use: 1813
n Indian cuisine, a chutney is a spicy condiment made of chopped, sautéed vegetables or fruits, cooked with spices and tamarind. “To be made chutney of,” as the expression goes in Tamil, is to being pureed down to one’s raw juices. Every few days, I’m so nettled by someone that I want to make chutney of him or her. A few days ago, my target was my husband. The problem with sautéing and dicing the husband is that at the end of all the grilling you must cross his path again and again—in the bedroom, the kitchen and the family room. I made up with him after about 1.75 days of stony silence during which time I steered clear of his orbit around our island kitchen. I lurked in the penumbra called our guest bedroom until my home began feeling like a bargain Costco coffin on Pluto. Days later, I found myself wanting to make chutney of a woman. This time, the object of my wrath was a Princeton alumna named Susan Patton who informed the young women of Princeton that even though Sheryl Sandberg wanted them to lean in to their ambitions, flex their muscles and speak up so their voices were heard, in Patton’s opinion, finding a husband before graduation was the most important thing they could do for personal fulfillment: “Forget about having it all, or not having it all, leaning in or leaning out—here’s what you really need to know that nobody is telling you.” (My husband actually agreed with the pitiable woman and that realization alone was sufficient to cause a second nuclear fission in our home but I decided, it being Sunday evening and all, our garbage takeout day, I should just wait until Monday to resume our fight.) In that letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian, Ms. Patton claimed that the only way for women to guarantee they got their “equal” was to find their Prince Charming right within the ivy-laced walls of their campus, the place that would guarantee them their intellectual match: “As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again—you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.” At a time we were thinking, all of us, of “leaning in” with Ms. Sandberg, Ms. Patton told our girls that all they needed to do instead, was to just get a degree, lean back in bed and let a man, worthy of both their degree and their degree of intellect, lean forward and mount them. Like many female readers, young, old, straight or gay, I was ready—to use several idioms from Tamil—to puree Ms. Patton into chutney. I wanted to tell Susan Patton that while I too had a husband who had married “down”—that is, he did not get betrothed to his academic equal if you considered our educational degrees—he had done perfectly well for himself. (I haven’t asked him to corroborate this.) While he is a smart guy and his clear thinking stuns me sometimes, I’m equally baffled when he cannot see the nuances that I perceive in our daily lives. I wish Susan Patton understood that it is not about finding your intellectual equal all the time, 14 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
in any generation, past or present. Marriage is about having the wisdom to accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses and making peace with it. I thought of my parents’ marriage. My mother did not complete 4th grade. She didn’t speak English. She was probably the only one among the mothers of my school years who did not speak the language. My father’s family, on the other hand, cared a lot about education because he hailed from a background of teachers. Yet, she went abroad with him twice and made a life with him far away from her comfort zone managing to talk to household help in pidgin English and rustling up a good life for us wherever we were. When I listen to my father talk about his late wife, I realize how proud he was of her pluck, insight, resourcefulness and wisdom. Unfortunately, the school you attend does not often give you the values for life. I believe that while the college my daughter attended gave her skills that will carry her through her career, the values she learned at home will help her navigate the course of her marriage and, ultimately, her life. Certainly, Patton made some valid points about finding a mate with whom one shared similar values but she upset many women with her myopia with respect to intellect, gender and, most importantly, choice; furthermore, just as I felt, there was “elitism oozing out of every pore of that letter”, according to yet another woman, a journalist who also happens to be an alumna of Princeton. In the last many days, Patton’s letter has stirred up so much chili pepper and horseradish in the media that I worry about the state of her stomach. It thrills me that there were many men and women who chased her with a pen doubling up as a Cuisinart blade. They made mincemeat of her in their opinion pieces. I have no doubt that by the time this story appears in print, Patton would have been just one in a diorama of perceived offenders in my life. It is such a matter of comfort to know that there’s always an accessible target for some of my pungent chutney in the form of a good, loyal husband whose biggest sin yet is that he posts minute-by-minute updates of his daily peregrinations even when he knows it violates all the laws decreed by the Home Command. n Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga. To read more about her, go to http://kalpanamohan.org and http://saritorial.com.
Marital Growing Pains By Jasbina Ahluwalia
What are some of the growing pains a newlywed couple could face?
Spouses are well-served by being on the same page. Some of the most common complaints from newlyweds revolve around division of labor and in-law intrusiveness. Division of labor within the household is no longer as clearly prescribed by gender as in the past. Discussing what the two of you envision as a well-functioning household, and then determining which partner fulfills which roles can minimize the risk of wrong assumptions. It’s possible that roles may shift or be shared over time as circumstances change. Besides, some couples may organically fall into their respective roles (whether it be because one person most desires that role, one person is best-suited to that role, or having that responsibility taken care of is of most importance to one person). In many cases negotiation of household roles (ie bill payer, cook, housecleaner, pri-
mary breadwinner) can be helpful in minimizing the risk of day-to-day frustration. One of the many life-enriching aspects of marriage is the golden opportunity to welcome new family members into your life. Relationships with parents-in-law, sisters-inlaw, and brothers-in-law can be extremely life-enhancing for a couple. That said, in-law issues can be a source of considerable marital conflict if spouses are at loggerheads with respect to how much family input both partners desire and need. While ours is widely described as a “familycentric” culture, what that means exactly in terms of expectations can vary greatly from individual to individual. Redefining boundaries with parents may be warranted, and in such a case the couple is well-served when each partner assumes the responsibility of communicating such boundaries to their respective families of origin. In addition, if one of the partners feels continuously disrespected and/or hurt by the behavior of his/her new family members, his/
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her partner’s decision to dismiss or ignore the issue out of fear of “rocking the boat” can result in detrimental feelings of lack of support (and potentially even deleterious feelings of abandonment and betrayal) by one’s partner. Finally, I think all spouses are well-served by a willingness to communicate their needs and desires openly, clearly and directly with one another, cutting slack for the non-essential rather than overreacting, and liberally showing each other appreciation and respect. Wishing newlywed (as well as to-bewed) readers a shared life of love, laughter and fulfillment! 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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Of All the Coffee Places In search of Starbucks’ chai in Mumbai By R. Benedito Ferrão
ya?” “STAR-BUCKS,” my brotherin-law articulated into his mobile phone. The irony was delicious. We were having difficulty finding the newly opened Starbucks in Bombay, and now directory services seemed to be confused as well. In Southern California, one can’t go far before tripping over the ubiquity of Starbucks stores, where there are sometimes even three within the same city block. So, on this visit to India, why did I need to find the Bombay one so urgently having never really been a fan of their beverages in the first place? I wanted to know if they sold chai. Yes, it was perverse. But haven’t you had a chuckle over the nomenclature employed across coffee shops in the United States? What exactly is a chai tea latte, anyway, and do they not get that it is tautologous to say chai and tea? But I needed to find out first hand what it would feel like to order chai at an American coffee shop in India. It was no different from the revulsion I had to overcome in taking my first yoga class ever in Los Angeles. Sweating it out Bikram-style reminds me of an episode from the erstwhile television show The Sopranos. In it, Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri sounds a lament as he bears witness to the dilution of Italian culture during a visit to a coffee place that is meant to stand-in for Starbucks. Colorfully, the Italian American gangster expounds: “[expletive] espresso, cappuccino. We invented this [expletive] and all these other [expletive] are gettin’ rich off it.” Paulie becomes so impassioned that he makes off with an espresso machine as his vendetta against the culture vultures. To this day while I will grudgingly admit to loving how I can now contort my body in ways I would never have dreamed possible, I still refuse to say Namaste at the end of a much-deserved and blissful shavasana. Of course, what Mr. Walnuts gets wrong is that though the Italians may have found ways to add chic to a cup of joe, it was the Ethiopians—once embroiled in Italy’s imperial designs—who originated the brewing of the drink. And just as one might guess that the inspiration for the coffee place being derided in The Sopranos was Starbucks, there is no mistaking the similar motivation behind
16 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
the green and white color scheme of the logo for Kaldi’s, an Ethiopian coffee chain. Named for the goatherd of native legend who is said to have noticed the energizing effect of coffee bean consumption on his animals, Kaldi’s is famed for its own versions of Starbucks’ favorites. If Starbucks can serve chai, then one supposes it is fair game for Kaldi’s to rip off a Caramel Macchiato. As much as I would like to think that Kaldi’s was reappropriating from Starbucks what was really theirs to begin with, on a recent visit to Addis Ababa and because it was my first time there, it seemed wrong to sample the Ethiopian elixir at any place other than a non-descript mom and pop shop. I felt as invigorated by the experience as after a rapid fire bout of Surya Namaskars. Despite the backhanded homage paid to
What exactly is a chai tea latte, anyway, and do they not get that it is tautologous to say chai and tea? it, Starbucks is still to set up its own shops in Ethiopia. But that is not to say that the Seattle-based business has not had an impact on the country both culturally and economically. Between 2005 and 2007, a storm brewed in, shall we say, a coffee mug when the Ethiopian government alleged intellectual copyright infringement in the branding of coffees sold at Starbucks under such regional names as Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo. The capability to uniquely brand affects pricing. By adopting names associated with Ethiopia’s coffee-growing regions, for the purposes of branding, Starbucks was in a position to undercut Ethiopia’s capacity to not only name but also price their own regional products. In turn, this threatened the livelihoods of subsistence-level farmers in one of the poorest nations in the world where coffee is a major cash crop. The issue was resolved in 2007 most likely to avoid a public relations fiasco. Starbucks promised greater cooperation with the Ethiopian government, but changes on the ground are yet to manifest given the ability of the large corporation to control demand.
Starbucks has continued to court controversy internationally. In 2012, it came to light that the company had paid no corporate taxes in the United Kingdom for three years. In response to customer outrage, the coffee chain announced that it would make good on its unpaid dues to the tune of 20 million pounds over the course of two years. Despite these issues around the globe, there is no doubt that Starbucks has iconic status globally while serving as a symbol of globalization. Although having set up their first shop in mainland China in 1999, Starbucks was late to the coffee party in South Asia. The metro hubs in India were already familiar with Costa Coffee from the United Kingdom and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf—a business with a strong Southern Californian connection. These are in addition to such home grown chains as Cafe Coffee Day and Bru World Cafe. Nonetheless, when Starbucks finally did makes its debut as a Tata Alliance company in October 2012, its first Indian store in Bombay drew queues so long that a security guard had to effect crowd control. Since then, Starbucks has gone on to open a few more shops in Bombay and Delhi, catering to the local palate with items like paneer wraps alongside muffins. A couple of months after its Indian establishments joined the corporation’s worldwide constellation, my efforts to visit the first desi Starbucks in Elphinstone Building, a colonial era landmark, were met with failure. Finally able to make our intent understood to the directory services operator assisting us with our query, we discovered that our taxi had just overshot the location. It would take forever to maneuver through rush hour traffic. On this, the end of my time in Bombay, the opportunity to order a chai in the land of its origins, but as translated by Starbucks, had passed me by. I could not help wondering if I had missed much while I settled for a cup of “cutting chai” at a local stall. n Among other things an Angeleno, R. Benedito Ferrão has familial connections to East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. A cup of coffee from any of those locations takes him back vicariously.
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May You Bear A Hundred Daughters By Meera Ekkanath Klein
our culture is killing girls,” a friend says as we take stock of the fresh vegetables at the Davis Farmers’ Market. I turn my attention away from the pile of snowy white cauliflower heads. “Your culture is killing women,” she repeats, this time waving a well-manicured finger in my face. This wasn’t what I was hoping for on my weekly shopping trip to the outdoor market. I wanted to pick peacefully through the carrots, peas and purple potatoes. I just wanted to fill my cloth bags and get back home to my family. Instead I sighed and moved toward a perfect bunch of ruby red beets. “What do you mean?” I asked over my shoulder. “Didn’t you see that 60 Minutes report? About how in India pregnant couples go for an ultrasound and when they find out the baby is a girl, they have an abortion. How can your country people do that?” I let go of the beet that I had intended to juice and replied in as even a tone as I could muster, “Really, that may not be the general situation …” “But why does your culture have no respect for women?” she interrupted. “Listen, I said firmly. “In my own case, my family is matrilineal and girls are a welcome addition to families. In fact, the matriarchy stops with me because I have two sons and no daughters.” She paused and cocked her head to one side, “Oh, I didn’t know. I’m sorry. It’s just, well, that segment on India was so upsetting.” I nodded, “I know. I saw that 60 Minutes report too, and it made me angry to think it goes on. But my own family has been a matriarchy for hundreds of years. Girls are very important to my family.” My friend apologized again and headed toward the bakery stall. I thought about what she’d said. It is true that society misuses privilege in India, and the media’s need for 18 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
The author’s wedding procession
sensationalism focuses on the evils of our culture to elicit just the reaction that my friend had displayed. While I am aware of the heinous practice of sex selection in India, in my own life I have had the privilege of being brought up differently. Right there among the fresh eggs, jars of chunky almond butter and baskets of sweet strawberries, I closed my eyes and conjured a vivid memory of my wedding day more than 25 years ago. The thirty-odd guests were squeezed into my mother’s living room for the ceremony. The priest had just lit a ceremonial fire on a metal plate and the smoke from the burning twigs mingled with the melodious Sanskrit chanting. I breathed in the perfume of the garland of fresh jasmine blossoms around my neck and blushed at the attention from the more than 60 eyes on me. The priest finished his chanting and motioned to my mother to bring the “thali” or auspicious leaf-shaped gold piece tied to a saffron-yellow thread. He blessed the “thali” and my husband tied
it around my neck with three knots, symbolically binding us together. As part of the ceremony, each elder in attendance blessed us. When it was my mother’s turn to bless us she placed her hands on my forehead and said, “May you bear a hundred daughters.” My mother’s wish didn’t come true. I was blessed with two boys who have my family name “Ekkanath” as their middle name. Stories about Ekkanath men and women have been part of my sons’ bedtime stories. Both of them are familiar with the history and culture of my family. But thinking of my friend’s reaction to the news story, I realized perhaps more people should hear about our unique history. What better way to honor my mother’s memory on Mother’s Day than by sharing the glories of matriarchy? The matrilineal Ekkanath family has lived in the same village for hundreds of years in the state of Kerala. The matrilineal tradition was a way of life for my mother’s family and
My hope is that my sons will grow up to be young men who respect women and will love their daughters as much as their sons. They will do this, I hope, because they will be men of character but also in memory of their own matrilineal lineage. it flourished before that. During its heyday, the Ekkanaths lived in a spacious ancestral home with more than 80 women, men and children as part of the extended family. The Ekkanaths were farmers and owned rice paddies, coconut groves and mango orchards. In this small tropical village the oldest female member was the “keeper of the keys.” She managed the household and family. The men, usually brothers and uncles, looked after the family’s lands and were treated with respect and reverence. But it was the women who were the heart of the ancestral home, secure in their homes with property rights and other financial benefits. Widows were not shunned and orphans were welcomed into the household. In the matrilineal tradition lineage is traced through the mother and so only Ekkanath women can pass on the family name to the next generation. Luckily, my mother and grandmother’s lineage will continue in India through my sister and her daughters. My sister, Geetha, lives in the bustling city of Bangalore and is bringing up her two daughters in a modern household where the girls learn Sanskrit as well as karate. Geetha and her husband are partners in a spice plantation in south India. They cultivate black pepper, vanilla and cardamom plants in a sustainable way and plan to keep the villagers employed. Even though the practice of matriarchy is on the decline in modern India, I keep it alive and well in Davis by talking about it. My hope is that my sons will grow up to be young men who respect women and will love their daughters as much as their sons. They will do this, I hope, because they will be men of character but also in memory of their own matrilineal lineage. In this case, history repeating itself will be a good thing. n Meera Ekkanath Klein lives in Davis and is working on getting her first novel published. www.indiacurrents.com | 19
The Business of Life By Jeanne E. Fredriksen
THE ABUNDANCE by Amit Majmudar. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company: New York. March 2013. $26. 272 pages. henryholt.com; amitmajmudar.com. Available in hard cover and for e-readers.
hen author Amit Majmudar tells a story, he chooses a unique approach. In his dramatic and touching debut novel, Partitions, he examined the effects of partition through the posthumous eyes of a Hindu father, husband, and doctor watching his children on their journey to be reunited with their mother. In his second novel, The Abundance, Majmudar’s narrator is a woman diagnosed with cancer. Written with compassion, charm, and wit, The Abundance is less about the effects of illness than about the healing between aging immigrants and their American-born children. In short, Majmudar keeps a sharp eye on the business of living rather than on the process of dying. The book’s narrator, an Indian woman, mother, and wife living in Ohio, wants daily life to carry on as uninterrupted as possible. Husband Abhi, a neurologist, supports and protects her, understanding the reality of the situation without emphasizing it. She hesitates to share news of her cancer with her two grown children because she doesn’t want to disrupt their lives. Both have families of their own, are successful in their professions, and live elsewhere. When circumstances force her to tell her children, daughter Mala and son Ronak are reluctantly drawn back to the Midwestern world of their parents. Mala, an ENT surgeon, eventually sees the cancer as a wakeup call for herself and decides to spend time learning the art of cooking from her mother. Frequent quarrels between the two erupt and subside, providing a familiar level of continuity in their relationship. When son Ronak— or Ron, as he prefers to be called—steps in and offers his assistance, sibling rivalries resurface, tempers flare, and the newly-found harmony between generations is threatened. The Abundance offers a refreshing detour
20 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
from the typical tale of immigrant experience, and this stems directly from the author himself. A nuclear radiologist and award-winning writer and poet, Amit Majmudar has a clear vision of both Indian and American cultures, allowing him to write with understanding and without judgment. “I was born in New York City,” he told me. “I lived in Ohio until I was in second grade; then my family moved to India, and I did two years in school there; then we moved back to Ohio, and I’ve lived there ever since. I’ve lived in both societies; it’s not like I was a tourist or visitor to India, I really lived there and absorbed the language and habits. It changed me, I think for the better.” How so? “I tend not to condemn either way of life in strong terms, the American or the Indian;
in fact, I think those terms, “American,” and “Indian” and “Indian-American,” vary so much from case to case, individual to individual, family to family, that they are almost meaningless.” Both of the narrator’s grown children were born and raised in the United States, are self involved, and are, in their own ways, likeable. They are, interestingly, opposites from their spouses. Mala’s Indian-born husband Sachin and Ronak’s American wife Amber are more agreeable and family-oriented. I wondered what Majmudar was trying to illustrate by this contrast. “At the time, I wasn’t trying to illustrate anything; that was just their characters. But in retrospect … it strikes me that their spouses come from traditional, more ‘rooted’ societies and family structures. Sachin has strong roots in India, Amber has strong local roots in Ohio; and this influences the way they perceive family and continuity.” Told by a character that has lived more of her life in America than in her homeland, The Abundance offers ample opportunity for reflection. The narrator draws parallels between Indian and American societies. She thinks about how different her life is in America compared to her sisters-in-laws’ lives in India. She takes time to study her children, seeing who they were and who they have become. The ability to reflect so clearly comes with age, and while the toll of aging is examined in the book, it is not without a quiet celebration of the resulting wisdom. In creating the book’s narrator, Majmudar managed to ignore gender constraints and create a strong, believable female character. She is vital and independent despite her illness. Considerate of others, she strives to maintain the quality of her own care giving (found, primarily, in her cooking), and she loves having her family around her. Nevertheless, she understandably becomes irritated with her increasing inability to do simple things. She is such an honest and real character that I wondered if she were based on anyone in particular.
www.indiacurrents.com | 21
“Those ‘vital and independent’ characteristics derive from my own real-life mom for sure,” Majmudar told me, “although the actual personality and condition of the narrator don’t match my mom’s. Also my mom loves to cook for everybody, so that definitely is drawn from life.” The narrator isn’t, however, without her failings. One source of frustration goes back to her early days in America, when as a young mother she failed to pass the exam required for foreign medical graduates. While she pretends to have let it go, there remains a fragment of disappointment and, perhaps, jealousy that is stirred up when she and Mala are together. “There’s a lot of interpersonal complexity that derives from that vis-à-vis her daughter, who’s a successful ENT surgeon,” Majmudar explained. “She feels like a failure next to her daughter, which is an interesting source of tension. Also it motivates her devotion to her family; as if she’s overcompensating in some way; so it complicates that, too. There was just too much psychological richness in that incompleteness, that imperfection, to pass up.” And in the end, the narrator remains unnamed. Not even in dialogue between husband and wife or in a quick scene with acquaintances is she referred to by name. At first, I found this odd, even discomforting, as if she were invisible. However, as the novel continued, I saw her namelessness bring universality to the character. Majmudar explains it as being “… in keeping with her selfless personality. Also, her namelessness kept her one with me. To name her would have separated her in some way from me. This way, she remained me. I still don’t know what her name is.” In the acknowledgments for The Abundance, Majmudar says he writes his novels “out of fears I cannot overcome in any other way.” Now that he is two novels old, have Partitions and The Abundance alleviated any of his fears or helped him to understand them? His response was, of course, aimed at the heart of The Abundance: “I probably understand them better, but the fears, naturally, remain. Whenever anything is precious to you, as my family is to me, you worry about them. But not too much, I hope. Just enough to keep me valuing them moment to moment.” n Amit Majmudar, who won India Currents magazine’s Katha short story contest in 2004 and 2005, is graciously serving as this year’s judge. Jeanne E. Fredriksen reads and writes from Wake Forest, North Carolina, where she is happily at work on her young adult novel. 22 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
Chronicle of Disaster By Arun Sekar THE GREAT BIG BOOK OF HORRIBLE THINGS by Matthew White. W. W. Norton & Company. 2012. $25.64. 688 pages. Available in hard cover.
an a book based on statistical data grab readers’ attention as strongly as writings containing fiction, political intrigues, biographies, media gossip etc.? Matthew White proves it is possible with his 688-page tome, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, with the subtitle, “The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities.” The book traces wars, atrocities, genocides, and multicides, in chronological order, from around 500 BCE till 2010 CE, and lists the numbers killed, cause of the incidents, locations, and the responsible parties in each case. The author intersperses the descriptions of events with discussions of relevant issues such as religious killings, genocide, the western way of war, crazed tyrants etc., After some comprehensive data analysis from different viewpoints such as the underlying religious, psychological, economic, and other factors, the author ranks the top one hundred “atrocities” in order of the death toll. Some natural causes such as famine also make the list. The oft-quoted phrase “lies, damned lies, and statistics” is losing its vigor due to the recent precise and highly logical mathematical data analysis techniques. The author is cognizant of the “fuzziness” of the recorded body counts, and uses a common sense approach to separate the grains from the chaff. The overwhelming conclusion is that the twentieth century is the most violent one, with the second world war claiming the first rank with 66 million victims. The author finds interesting results from the “raw numbers” in the one hundred ranked multicides. China is the top location, followed by Europe, Russia, and France. The French are featured as participating the most with 18 events, closely followed by the Chinese and British. A total of 455 million killings cover a span of 100 events with economics listed as the predominant reason behind the killings. The victims were mostly civilians, and as the author writes in the introduction, the army is usually the safest place to be in during a war! The book has an interesting analysis about the role of religion in the one hundred
horrible events. Many hold the opinion that there will be no wars if religions are eradicated. White makes a careful study of how to estimate religious cause for an atrocity or war. In most cases a tyrant or an elite group might have used religious fervor to advance a personal agenda. Hitler was not a devout Catholic, and Saddam Hussein’s practice of Islam was self-promoting. The raw numbers, actually show only 10% of the killings attributed to religion. In the categorization of religious adherents most involved in conflict, the author finds Christians and Muslims in a majority of cases with Jews participating in others. White brings to notice the fact that followers of Eastern religions haven’t often killed each other over who has a better God. The monotheistic viewpoint of one allpowerful God sowed the seeds of dissent and extreme passion. The book sheds lots of insight into human nature in general, and provides clues to the minds and behavior of dictators, religious fanatics, and common people. The reader is swept through the large canvas of human civilization spanning over 2,500 years in time. As Steven Pinker puts it in the foreword to the book, “White presents a new history of civilization, a history whose protagonists are not great emperors but their unsung victims-
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millions and millions and millions of them.” Five events pertaining to the Indian subcontinent figure in the list of one hundred: Bahmani-Vijayanagara War (1366 CE, Rank 70), Aurangzeb (1658-1707 CE, Rank 23), Famines of British India (1769-70, 1876-79, 1896-1900 CE, Rank 4), Partition of India (1947 CE, Rank 70), and Bengali Genocide (1971 CE, Rank 40). White’s analysis and conclusions on India and Hinduism should be mandatory reading for Indian politicians, who even after half-acentury of freedom, are trying to manipulate religious sentiments towards their vote-bank. According to White, “Wars of conquest are rarely launched from India. A naval expedition against Indonesia in the 11th century and scattered raids into Afghanistan may be history’s only attacks outward across the natural borders of India.” This might be explained by geographic isolation, however, White notes, that “there is also a notable scarcity of massive killings inside India as well. Considering that India has usually contained around one-fifth or one-sixth of the population-as many people as either China or Europe—why doesn’t India show up on my list as often as China and Europe?” White indicates that the worst incidents of violence were inflicted by non-Hindus: Lytton, Yahya Khan, and Aurangzeb. White used the term “eerily non-threatening” to describe India’s largely peace-abiding culture. But he also questions if it was possible that none of these violent events were documented, “that no one wrote it down?” He claims that Hindu philosophy has never been very interested in “recording the chain of cause and effect,” which might be the reason that few such tales and details of events show up in history. Even so, the author states, “that doesn’t entirely explain why there are so few recorded mega deaths after 1000 CE, when historians arrived alongside the major Muslim conquerors. I should also point out that I managed to find two mega deaths (Mayan and Aztec) in the poorly recorded history of pre-Columbian America, so why not India?’ Mr. White’s conclusions reiterate what Professor Thomas R. Trautman writes in India-A Brief History of A Civilization, published by Oxford University Press in 2011: “The world India made (outside India) was not put together at the point of a spear but through the appeal of its products, its religions, and its sciences.” How true that sounds even in 2013 CE! n
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Arun Sekar is a retired Professor of Electrical Engineering from Tennessee Technological University. He has published several technical and other articles. He lives in Morgan Hill, CA and enjoys reading India Currents. www.indiacurrents.com | 23
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Disclosing Grandfather’s Old Watch By Madan Ahluwalia
In divorce cases, one of the most commonly asked questions is: Do I have to disclose all the worldly assets I have? In other words, do I have to disclose the old watch I got from my Grandfather?
The underlying concern and objective is always the same: one party feels the asset belongs to him or her and therefore, he or she should not have to disclose it. Or it is pure greed and the party decides that she or he would like to keep it. In all divorce cases in California, each party has the legal obligation to disclose. Disclose literally means to share information on income and expense as well as assets and liabilities of the parties. Jeff Landers recently wrote in the Forbes that “women are surprised to learn how commonplace it is for husbands to hide assets from their wives.” He states that typically they tend to hide or understate marital
property; overstate debts; report lower than actual income and higher than actual expenses. In a divorce, each party should be fully informed of the other’s financial affairs so as to be able to make decisions about dividing up the assets and liabilities and also to determine resolution on other issues (such as support). Here are a few points to consider: • Duty to Disclose. The duty to disclose is not optional. The parties are required by the law to make disclosures on prescribed forms twice. • Full Disclosure. Disclosure has to be complete and supporting documentation needs to be provided. For example, if you have a bank account, you have to not only provide information on the bank, account number, dollar amount and when you acquired the account, you also have to provide an account statement with it. • Community or Separate? In the disclosure forms you can assert a right and claim
that a given asset is yours or a certain liability belongs to your spouse. Of course, you have to be able to prove it as well. Mere assertion of such a right does not make it so. For example, if you have your grandfather’s watch, it was probably a gift to you and hence it belongs to you alone but you must disclose it on the legal forms. • Penalty of Failure to Disclose. Failure to disclose a certain asset, can result in penalties. Penalties vary from state to state and from case to case to but in general, the law empowers the courts to exact some form of punishment for this blatant contempt of court. Perjury in legal proceedings, could also expose you to jail time, and your spouse can end up owning the entire asset 100%. So, if you are in doubt, Disclose! n Madan Ahluwalia is a California attorney located in California. Visit him at www.ahluwalia-law.com
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Boston Marathon: A Runner Remembers By Sandip Roy
evesh Khatu ran the Boston Marathon twice—once in 2009 and once in 2010. This year he was not running the race. But ever since the bombs went off at America’s oldest and most iconic marathon, his phone and Facebook wall have been flooded with anxious messages. Khatu once set himself a goal of 12 marathons in 12 months. His marathons have taken him all over the world—London, Berlin, New York, Mumbai. But Boston, he says, is special. “You have to qualify to be able to run in it,” says Khatu, who lives in San Francisco. “Running it is considered an accomplishment. It’s like, say, getting into Harvard Business School. Even non-runners know about it.” That’s what makes the attack on the marathon so heartrending. That’s what exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen does not get when she sneers on Twitter “Hey Americans! Don’t cry like 9/11, #BostonMarathon is not like 9/11. Come live in South Asia, bombs are like everyday fireworks.” There’s no point getting into a raceto-the-bottom competition of death tolls. The fact that many more were killed in Iraq on the same day as the bombs went off in Boston (and indeed on the day before and probably the day after) does not mitigate the tragedy of what happened in Boston any more than the daily gun violence in America’s inner cities diminishes the horror of the Newtown elementary school shooting. A story about 30 members of an Afghan wedding party being killed by a U.S. bomb is making the rounds of social media as if it happened at the same time as the Boston attack. People forwarding it assume that, though it is actually from 2002. It does not excuse it. It’s just this is not the time to discuss blowback, what America deserves or does not deserve or speculate about who might have done it. “People shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts,” Obama rightly said. “But, make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this.” Leave aside the iconic nature of the Boston Marathon, that it happens on a state holiday known as Patriots Day marking the battles of Lexington and Concord and is 28 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
thus imbued with a sense of Americanness despite the runners who come from all over the world. There is just something “particularly devastating” about an attack on a marathon, writes Nicholas Thompson in the New Yorker: It’s an epic event in which men and women appear almost superhuman. The winning men run for hours at a pace even normal fit Copyright © 2013 Sonia Su. Boston Marathon. people can only hold in a sprint. But it’s also so ordinary. It’s not held in a stadium or on a track. It’s held in be a part of the Boston Marathon.” But he writes that while you cannot the same streets everyone drives on and walks ignore the scar, you have to remember it’s down. An attack on a marathon is, in some ways, more devastating than an attack on a “only a part” of the whole. Kathrine Switzer stadium; you’re hitting something special but is also a part of that same story, disfigured as it might be now. In 1967 she snuck into the also something very quotidian. That’s why the choice of a marathon as marathon by registering under the gendera bomber’s target is so baffling. It’s not a neutral name of KV Switzer. But five miles symbol of a country’s pomp, military might into the race, an irate marathon director or financial wealth. It’s always been about the jumped off a truck and tried to force her to endurance of the human spirit. And it’s been “get the hell out of (his) race.” The men running with her fought him off. open to all in a way few sports are. That story is moving because it shows Khatu says he started running marathons in 2005 because he was very unathletic dur- that race does not belong to anyone. It was ing school and college in India. His focus had not the marathon director’s property and always been on excelling in academia. But it’s not the bombers’ who tried to put their marathons seemed like a challenge he could deadly stamp on it. Zirin writes the bombing now “marks take on. So many different kinds of people, us” like a scar. “But like a scar, we may need many who had shown no aptitude for other to wear it proudly.” sports, run the marathon. Khatu has changed his profile picture on “Few things compare to the sense of accomplishment that you feel after running the Facebook to his runner’s tag from the 2009 Boston marathon—runner number 8130. 26.2 miles to finish a marathon,” he says. That’s pretty much what Kathrine Swit- “I vow to requalify and run Boston again,” zer, the first woman to run the Boston Mara- he says. Otherwise, as Switzer implies, you might as well lose faith in human nature. n thon, said about it as well. “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon,” she said. Dave Zirin tells her story in a mov- Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost. ing blog for The Nation about the Boston com. He is on leave as editor with New America marathon. He mourns that now “(l)ike a scar Media. His weekly dispatches from India can across someone’s face, the bombing will now be heard on KALW.org. This article was first published in New America Media and First Post.
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The Bystander Problem Examining the cost of ignoring human trafficking By Kavitha Sreeharsha
he Indian community, in India and overseas, continues to reel from the horrific gang rape and subsequent death of Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Delhi last December. Much has been said about the patriarchy and misogyny that enabled this monstrous crime. But just as startling is the revelation by the victim's friend Awindra Pandey that passersby did not assist either of them. The aftermath of their victimization was plain to see and yet bystanders did not lend a hand. Human trafficking, another critical human rights issue, often more difficult to see than sexual assault, exists before our very eyes, yet we are blind to it. As I contemplate those Delhi passersby, I wonder if our community understands the cost of standing by and doing nothing? In 1994, I recall walking down Berkeley’s Durant Avenue from campus on a cold winter day and seeing a woman in a sari and chappals, navigating rain puddles without even a sweater. Even amid Berkeley’s socio-economically diverse population the sari-clad woman, barely sheltered from the elements, stood out on U.C. Berkeley’s campus, a neighborhood occupied primarily by students wearing backpacks, bundled in warm clothes. I wondered: What brings her to Southside? Where does she work?
The Reddy Rule
In 2000, the arrest of Lakireddy Bali Reddy sadly answered those questions. Reddy had brought men, women, and children from his village in Andhra Pradesh to work at his popular Pasand restaurants and maintain his numerous apartments in Berkeley. The Los Angeles Times reported that Reddy employed these immigrants, “using the young girls among them as his concubines.” But even more disappointing, Reddy’s appalling acts were generally dismissed as an 30 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
outlier, a single extreme case rather than the wake up call that should have rallied our Bay Area Indian community against human trafficking, something that affects our brethren, working both skilled and unskilled jobs.
work conditions, unable to return home. But these human rights atrocities against South Asians seem so far away and instead of spurring us to action, inadvertently create a sense of helplessness.
Of Human Bondage
There is a woman I’ll call Malini. A New Delhi recruiter sent Malini to a Bay Area family as a domestic worker. She was not allowed to leave the house or reveal her true identity. Her employers prevented her from speaking with her family back home and held on to her passport—she was trapped. Malini’s trafficker was Indian and active in the Indian community, confirmA Creative Commons Image ing something difficult to acknowledge—Indians can be trafficked but they can also be traffickers. Never has that been so evident than in the case of Varsha and Mahender Sabhani, Indian immigrants from Long Island, New York, who were convicted of trafficking two Indonesian women as domestic workers, forcing them to eat hot peppers and their own vomit, and hitting them with rolling pins.
In India, human trafficking fails to raise an eyebrow. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 11.7 million enslaved in the Asia-Pacific region, compromising well over half of the estimated 20.9 million enslaved worldwide. These nearly 21 million slaves are men, women,
In Other Industries, Too
boys, and girls compelled into service: either commercial sex or labor. Modern slavery is on display every day in India: children forced to beg, young girls recruited into brothels, and men in debt bondage toiling away in agricultural fields. Meanwhile, human trafficking of migrant workers from India and other South Asian countries remains unaddressed in the Gulf States. Local newspapers in the Gulf States are peppered with casual stories of South Asian domestic workers running away or committing suicide, with little explanation of the workers' motivation. Indian and other South Asian construction workers are reportedly locked into contracts under horrendous
Indian workers have been trafficked in other industries in the United States as well. In 2006, a federal court found that the John Pickle Company recruited workers from India, misrepresenting their work conditions and holding their passports, compelling them to work in an oil industry parts manufacturing plant in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There are also lawsuits pending against Signal International, alleging that nearly 500 workers from India were trafficked to work in shipyards operated by the marine industry company.
When the Reddy case broke, the concept of human trafficking was unfamiliar. Though, even today, human trafficking remains a hid-
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den evil in our community. The U.S. State Department estimates that only 42,000 of those enslaved were identified and protected last year—less than 1% of those enslaved. Human trafficking persists because trafficked people are unfamiliar with the concept and related rights and protections. They often distrust the very law enforcement meant to protect them. Human trafficking identification and protection will only increase if those outside law enforcement are aware of basic human trafficking indicators and referrals. Any one of us could be the one person to encounter a trafficked person and inform them of their rights and protections, if only we stop acting like bystanders. Understanding human trafficking and its indicators requires us to move past the salacious headlines that conflate sex trafficking and human trafficking. The ILO reports that human trafficking is comprised of 22% sex trafficking and 78% labor trafficking and state-imposed forced labor. And while sex trafficking is truly abhorrent, labor trafficking in the United States typically affects migrants or immigrants more than sex trafficking. Looking at human trafficking through a sex trafficking prism prevents us from recognizing labor trafficking in our very neighborhoods. We overlook our complicity in purchasing slavery-tainted goods. Your shirt might have been sewn in Tamil Nadu, necktie made from Karnataka silks, or carpets from Rajasthan—all using slave labor. Being informed consumers will only improve corporate behavior to address slavery in supply chains. And, the Indian community’s leadership in Silicon Valley industries local industries can drive proactive efforts rather than lukewarm responses to legal compliance requirements. In the twelve years since Berkeley police arrested Reddy, anti-trafficking laws and infrastructure have grown exponentially. Awareness has taken hold and mainstream communities have begun to supporti anti-trafficking efforts. The Indian community is rising to the highest levels of private and public sector leadership, including California Attorney General Kamala Harris who has made human trafficking a priority. Isn’t now the time to make sure we are not bystanders in addressing the human rights issue of our time? n
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Tiger Beat By Aniruddh Chawda
HIMMATWALA. Director: Sajid Khan. Players: Ajay Devgn, Tamanna Bhatia, Paresh Rawal, Zarina Wahab, Mahesh Manjrekar. Music: Bhappi Lahiri and Sajid-Wajid Theatrical release (UTV)
irector Sajid Khan had considerable box office success with Hey Babyy (2007), Housefull (2010) and Housefull 2 (2012). Like anywhere on this planet, three in a row landed Khan the right to an ever larger budget to expand, perhaps experiment or start a new trend. Khan decided on a remake of the 1983 Jeetendra-Sridevi hit Himmatwala. While Himmatwala (2013) misses the originality mark, it does serve as reminder that loud period pieces—with their grindingly repetitious scripts, drum machines and break-neck dance action—are best experienced only once in a lifetime. Circa 1983, when Amitabh Bachchan’s career graph was on a stratospheric trajectory, Bachchan’s presence in Mumbai-based cinema was so entrenched that many of Bachchan’s contemporaries had to re-think strategies to survive. Rajesh Khanna tried 34 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
soft romance movies with much-younger newcomers Poonam Dhillon (Zamana) and Tina Munim (Alag Alag) with limited success. For his part, Jeetendra made a beeline for south India, and rolled out a library of Hindi movies made in Chennai by either Raghavendra Rao (Tohfa, Justice Chowdhury) or K. Bapaiah (Mawaali, Aag Aur Shola)— all, yes all, of which cast Jeetendra opposite Sridevi—a combination that was though most favorable in countering the Bachchan juggernaut. The most successful of the Jeetendra-Sridevi time capsules was Himmatwala, a kitschy fast-action Rao entry itself a remake of the Rao’s own 1981 Telugu hit Ooriki Monagadu. With such a cheesy pedigree, featuring no less than Bappi Lahiri—the gold-chained kind of B-movie musicals—and double-entendre, campy dialog that Kader Khan “pioneered,” the 1983 movie was a time-capsule that simply cannot be watched without an inward smile. Himmatwala 2013 should have registered at least a minor box office tremor—and yet no such luck. The original Himmatwala was a per-
fect storm of light hearted stranger-in-a-strange-land bait that made Jeetendra a viable comeback star while introducing Sridevi to mega stardom. In the lead, Ajay Devgn simply can’t capture the campiness without a uniform and gun he got away with lock, stock and barrel in the 1980’s sendoff Singham. Newcomer Bhatia— while acceptable in her dance moves—does not hold water to Sridevi’s original. Her claim to fame may be that in certain lights she bears a passing resemblance to Sridevi. In a paper-thin storyline, Devgn I-will-make-this-right protagonist arrives at a village to rescue his would be mother (Wahab) and younger sister from the exploits of a corrupt local land-grabber (Manjrekar) and his manipulative underling (Rawal). To keep the machismo factor rolling, the bad guys throw everything at Devgn—the landlord’s hot-headed daughter (Bhatia), a real live tiger and a legion of heavily-muscled goons. The most interesting encounter by far is Devgn taking on the tiger. The tigerchocolate hero combo captured in the same frame—filmed in Thailand and oh-so-realistic—is fun to watch. What made the original Himmatwala tolerable was Bappi Lahiri banking on Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar for the popular “Nainon Mein Sapna” number staged on a sun-drenched south Indian beach with in a faux neo-classical Indian backdrop. While Sajib-Wajid did do a decent re-take of Lahiri’s tune and the staging this time is, you know, the same, since, hello, this is a remake. The songs just seem out of place—and to imagine that, amounts to serenading a 1983 Bappi Lahiri tune thirty years onwards! n EQ: C+
Drama King Confessional NAUTANKI SALAA! Director: Rohan Sippy. Players: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kunal Roy Kapoor, Pooja Salvi, Gaelyn Mendonca. Music: Mikey McCleary. Hindi with Eng. Sub-titles. Theatrical Release (T Series).
he last time that Hindi filmmakers successfully superimposed the broad and bold stroke language of a stage drama onto successful movie comedies was perhaps in the 1970s and early 1980s when Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Chupke Chupke) and Basu Chatterjee (Khatta Meetha) hit gold. That is a long time indeed! For this gimmick to work, the right mix of charm, directorial finesse and comic timing all must triangulate with more-or-less pinpoint accuracy. In a remarkable follow up to his highly successful debut in Vicki Donor, Khurrana partners with Sippy to elevate Nautanki Salaa! by nailing the sweet spot smack in between absurd comedy and absurd love triangle. Based on Pierre Salvador’s winsome French comedy Apres Vous (2003) with Daniel Auteuil, Nautanki very naturally translates a French comedy of errors into a frothy Mumbai setting. Ram Parmar (Khurrana), who much prefers his stage name RP, thank you, is a semi successful stage actor hawking his trade by plugging himself into the lead in a play celebrating the life of Raavan, the demon king from the Ramayan. RP’s one weakness—or most obvious weakness, if you will—is that he can’t turn away from anyone who asks for help, surely an odd trait to have in a very crowded city. In a moment of weakness—or moral penitence, if you will—RP rescues Mandar (Kapoor), a suicidal donothing hanger-on who instantly becomes RP’s shadow, alter-ego, uninvited roommate and chief moocher. As RP’s luck would have it, when he attempts reuniting Mandar with his estranged girlfriend Nandini Patel (Salvi), RP finds himself drawn to Nandini. Natuanki Saala! yet again highlights newcomer Khurrana’s expanding screen presence. After scoring a sizable critical and box office hit with his debut in the delightful Vicki Donor last year, Khurrana again proves why he is being lauded as a new breed of front lining names. Not only can Khurrana muster decent mid-tempo serio-comic histrionics in front of the camera, he is also equally talented behind the scenes. In addition to the Filmfare Award for Best Male Debut, in a
first ever, Khurrana also showcased his vocals with the superb “Pani Da Rang” number from Vicki Donor for which he landed the Filmfare Best Male Playback Singer trophy. In Nautanki, Khurrana does a pretty decent down-tempo turn with “Saadi Galli Aaja,” which he helped write both the music and the lyrics for. And yet, Nautanki is far from a one-man show. Countering Khurrana’s weight are some amazing production values courtesy of the deep pockets at T-Series channeling their clout behind smartly made smaller movies. The Raavan stage play artifacts are beautifully stark and evocative of the evil king’s ten-headed persona. There is also Kapoor, who made his mark as a flatulent and plumber’s crack exhibiting Delhiite in Aamir Khan’s Delhi Belly. Khurrana and Kapoor together are as delightful to watch as Sanjay Dutt and Arshad Warsi were in the Munna Bhai M.B.B.S franchise. Newcomer Salvi provides the right amount of charm in completing this strange love-triangle while TV-star Mendonca adds just a touch of sizzle as RP’s vampy stage co-star. A loose, figuratively modern translation of Nautanki Salaa! is, let’s face it, Drama Queen. Since the key word is Nautanki—which instantly evokes cheap staging, unrehearsed slapstick, pancake-make up “musicals” perpetrated as village road shows from the back of diesel lorries with engines suspiciously always-running as if on standby for quick getaways before restless audiences begin hurling shoes or rotten tomatoes (or even worse) at the stage. That just about
sums up the spirit of Nautanki Salaa! Here’s hoping that Nautanki Salaa! turns into a franchise of sorts for Khurrana, Sippy and company. n EQ: B+ Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.
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A Jolly Good Show By Madhumita Gupta JOLLY LLB. Director: Subhash Kapoor. Players: Boman Irani, Arshad Warsi, Saurabh Shukla, Amrita Rao. Music: Krsna. Hindi with English Sub-titles. Theatrical Release FOX Star Productions.
t a time when India’s legal-system is under a lot of flak, Jolly LLB is like another well-deserved kick in its pants. Hats off to Subhash Kapoor for this movie which takes the bull by the horn, exposes much that ails India’s legal system and still holds out hope in the form of that one gutsy lawyer, the one conscientious judge and the one honest policeman. The movie revolves around a small-time lawyer from Meerut who dreams big. Jagdish Tyagi aka Jolly (Warsi), decides to move from Meerut to Delhi chasing those dreams but discovers that making it big is as tough, if not tougher, in Delhi. His chance of becoming as big a legal star as Rajpal (Irani), his role-model, ironically comes with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case that he files against the botched-up case Irani has just won. In this David and Goliath story this nobody pitches himself against the formidable Irani, whose expertise and manipulation had just managed the release of a rich culprit. Eighty percent of the film is a taut court-room drama where the two lawyers lock horns under the seemingly bored eyes of judge (Shukla). The credit sequence of two cars racing each-other on empty Delhi streets establishes immediately that the film is taking on the controversial case of a drunk brat driving a BMW mowing down some pavement dwellers under his SUV. What follows is a brilliant expose on the convoluted way our law and order system works in exonerating the rich and guilty. Though predictable in parts, the corrupt police, the mighty rich, talented but corrupt lawyers and judiciary, the film touches upon some other much-reported cases and lays the Indian legal-system bare. And that is the real feather in the director’s cap. From the decrepit courtrooms where, forget AC, even the fans barely work and even the judge is served cold tea, to the local dialect, everything is realistic as opposed to the well-appointed courts and stylized dialogues we’ve so far been used to see in Hindi films.
36 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
Situational comedy and some of our most talented comic-actors, Warsi and Shukla, save the film from becoming a documentary. One of the many such spontaneously hilarious scenes is when pandemonium breaks out in the court and the judge can’t yell “order, order” as he is frantically looking for his gavel. And another which draws guffaws is the arrival of the skinny, old policeman Haldiram with a perpetual tendency to asthma and fainting fits as Warsi’s bodyguard! Among the actors, if Warsi is the ambitious lawyer come to life, Irani is at his nasty best with his superior sneer and smooth ways. Shukla, however, takes the cake as the hassled, honest judge who may placate a senior lawyer but is not above shouting him down when he breaks the decorum of “his” court. It’s his summing up at the end which brings home the irony of the long arms of law tied tightly down due to India’s cumbrous system. No matter how clearly the judge sees the case, he’s incapable of doing anything in the absence of “evidence,” which never gets there as the police and lawyers are in cahoots with the goons. What can a common man expect from such a system? The ensemble cast, many from TV and theatre, have been used judiciously without a single superfluous role, be it Jolly’s practical but affectionate brother-in-law, the haughty, old businessman—Agashe, Kaul (Ramesh Dev) as the righteous canteen-wala, the “missing” eye-witness, Albert Pinto, (Harsh Chaya as magically inscrutable as ever) or Haldiram the bodyguard, who finally does his duty at the one critical point he’s supposed to. One minor grouse: While we’re mov-
ing happily away from formula and finding brave new stories and ways of story-telling, why can’t we move away from the mandatory romantic-angle? Frankly, Amrita Rao would’ve have been more convincing as the “voice of reason” as Warsi’s younger sister, which is what she looks more like rather than his love-interest. The chemistry is practically nil and what’s more, nobody would’ve missed a heroine in this court-room saga. The music and background score are where the film loses some ground. The music by Krsna is uninspired at best and unnecessary as it tampers with the flow. The background score, for some unknown reason, travels back in time to the 70s when it used to be a loud cacophony and strives too hard to underline scenes, again, unnecessarily. Subhash Kapoor had told a good story with Phans Gaye Re Obama but here, with a tightened script, he shows a commendable grip and completely deserves all the accolades he’s getting. n EQ: A Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer and a teacher.
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Compositions of the Trinity Exploring differences in Karnatik Kritis By Kanniks Kannikeswaran
e commonly refer to Karnatik Music as the prevalent Art Music form in the region south of Vijayanagar (Hampi). We refer to Art Music traditions in the rest of India as Hindustani music. While both systems share the concept of the raga and the tala, and both shine in the presentation of the myriad hues of a raga through extempore improvisation, the systems differ in one respect: in the importance given to “compositions” in a performance. While Hindustani music presents short khyals with elaborate improvisation, a Karnatik music concert features kritis, which have a longer format. Thus although the music system of India, regardless of regional variations, is several centuries old, present day concerts feature much of the developments that have taken place over the last couple of centuries. A kriti is the most commonly seen compositional form in Karnatik music. Typically a kriti is a three part structure with an opening pallavi, an anupallavi and a charanam. The bulk of the kritis heard in today’s concerts were written about 200 years ago by a trio of contemporary composers who are collectively referred to as the trinity. The three composers are Syama Sastri, Thyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775—1835). These three composers would never have imagined their collective beatification as the trinity! Although the three composers lived within a few miles of each other during some parts of their lives only sparse anecdotal references to their meetings are available. The honorific “trinity” is purely a 20th century phenomenon. Collectively, the trinity account for about 1200+ kritis. Of the three, Thyagaraja was the most prolific composer. Such was the spontaneity of his compositions, in free flowing Telugu, that his disciples would struggle to keep pace, learning them and committing them to manuscripts. Thyagaraja’s compositions are mellifluous and adorned with “sangatis,” melodic variation of a given line of text which, repeated several times, add to the magic of the kritis. Sangatis are at the center 38 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
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of Thyagaraja’s compositions. Thyagaraja was a Rama bhakta (devotee) and his compositions reflect a personal relationship between him and Rama. Syama Sastri was a Devi bhakta and his repertoire of about a 100 songs are rich in melody and rhythmic content. Again the compositions are in conversational Telugu and reflect the depth of Sastri’s bhakti towards Devi Kamakshi. Dikshitar’s compositions stand out from those of the other two of his contemporaries. • Dikshitar was committed to the musical grammar of his guru parampara (heritage)—that of Venkatamakhi—and his compositions feature several of the ragas outlined in earlier musicological works. • Dikshitar exhibited a pan-Indian orientation. He had spent a portion of his life in Benaras and his compositions are almost entirely in Sanskrit in contrast to his contempories who composed in Telugu, the court language of Thanjavur. • Dikshitar’s compositions feature a number of “desiya” or North Indian ragas and there are several similarities between the construction of his compositions and the ancient dhrupad compositional form of North India. • Dikshitar’s compositions are pre-meditated and constructed with care and they do not reflect the spontaneity of Thyagaraja’s compositions. In fact there are groups of compositions on specific themes like the Guruguha Vibhakti kritis or the Navagraha kritis or Devi Navavarana. • The compositions are rendered in a slow meditative tempo calling for a great degree of breath control. • Dikshitar’s compositions are not dedicated to one single deity but to several. There
are several kritis on Devi, Shiva, Ganesha, Skanda, Vishnu, Lakshmi, the Navagrahas and others. It was in the late 1800s and the early 1900s that the migration of Karnatik music happened from the royal courts of Thanjavur and other places to the music halls and sabhas of Chennai. Central to this was the glorification of the trinity (in the post trinity period). And at the core of this was the music of Thyagaraja popularized by his disciples. Dikshitar’s compositions and Syama Sastri’s compositions also found their way to the kutcheri but the central pride of place was with Thyagaraja. In fact, the leading classical singer Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer is said to have remarked “Thyagaraja Kirtanam thaan kirtanam, mattadu ellam pokkirittanam” (Only the kirtanams (kritis) of Thyagaraja are kirtanams, everything else is only mischief.) It was thanks to Dikshitar’s nephew Subbarama Dikshitar that a large set of his compositions got published in 1905 at Ettaiyapuram in the deep south. Several more compositions attributed to Dikshitar attained circulation in the 1950s and 60s due to the effort of T.L. Venkatarama Iyer who learned them from Ambi Dikshitar, son of Subbarama Dikshitar. In today’s world, you can find the majority of the compositions of the trinity on the internet. You can hear them in the numerous kutcheris that ring through Chennai during the music season. And if you look out for differences in compositional styles between the trinity, you will definitely be able to discern them. n Kanniks Kannikeswaran is an internationally renowned musician, composer and music educator, whose award winning research on the Indo-colonial music of Dikshitar is beginning to influence Indian music pedagogy. Kanniks is considered to be a pioneer of the Indian American choral movement. He teaches Indian classical music at the University of Cincinnati. www. kanniks.com
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The Muralikrishnans Carnatic Quartet & Their Disciples MAKING ANOTHER HISTORY IN THE WORLD MUSIC SCENE Presenting Carnatic Music
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For Information and Tickets, call Paulomi: (626) 590-5547 Varsha & Jawahar Shah: (626) 285-2484
benefiting the Rama Charitable Arogyadham, a free eye hospital in Dwaraka, Gujarat 40 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
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Discovering Congruency A Mother’s Day Tribute By Rajee Padmanabhan
he lives of a mother and daughter achieve a certain level of congruence when the daughter steps into motherhood for the very first time. The transition to this new, all-consuming role gives the daughter an opportunity to reflect on the all-too-often taken-for-granted permanent presence in her life—if she were to be so lucky—that of her own mother. She begins to see her mother from a fresh perspective—as a woman, with many more struggles than her own, who in spite of everything, provided the essential nutrient of unchanging, unswerving love. A daughter’s appreciation of her mother grows at a geometric progression as the years of motherhood make an arithmetic progression, through its inescapable trials and travails. (I secretly hope that my mother, a math teacher, enjoys the last sentence.) My mother is the fifth-born of ten children, the second daughter amidst five sisters and four brothers, in a family that was financially and emotionally drained by the illnesses and eventual deaths of two of the brothers. My mother, along with her older brother, had to share the financial responsibilities of running a big family with six sisters to be “married off.” As someone who grew up in the relative comforts of an upper middle class lifestyle, I cannot begin to imagine the strains on my mother’s young shoulders especially at month-end when funds were short and the list of basic needs of a family of ten equally long. After finishing her B.Sc. B.Ed, my mother worked two jobs, as a high school math teacher during the day and as a math tutor all evening. My parents’ marriage moved my mother from one state to another, location-wise and financially—both for the better. Marriage brought with it the prerequisite of her having to quit her job. I find it hard to fathom how a woman who was defined by her work for ten long years and who had never entered the kitchen in all those years, did not think twice before plunging into the domestic dynamics of a joint family. Having three children, my 42 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
two brothers and I, in quick succession, must have kept her on her toes. Etched in my childhood memoryscape is the image of my mother poring over The Hindu editorial every morning as if her life depended on it. My mother was as literary as my father was pragmatic. In preparation for elocution contests, Shakespeare’s monologues (“Et tu, Brute?”) were drilled in to us with the same intensity as that of multiplication tables. Having a math teacher for a mother is a double-edged sword—you learn the tricks of the trade early, but also face the wrath of the at-home-math-teacher if you had the gall to make silly mistakes in tests. During the hot summer months when load-shedding meant that we would be without power for an hour or more, my mother turned those times into candle-lit music practice sessions! My identity as a girl was first formed when all of us would sit around the dining table and listen to my mother recite her Tamil poems questioning the hypocrisies faced by women in modern India. Her voice would boom, “A thousand Kannagis will rise up to
obliterate the injustices.” She opened the window for me to hear the music in words and the words in music. My mother has her flaws. For one, she butchers Malayalam with such impunity that it routinely provides us with comic relief. She mangles manga (mango) and thenga (coconut) in equal measure. Palatal nasal sounds that give Malayalam its signature lilt elude her to this day. And then there was the time when she was learning to drive a car—oh the terror that was unleashed on the streets of our sylvan colony! It all came to a crashing halt after she rammed the car into the neighbor’s perimeter wall thereby compounding the already-not-so-friendly relations with the said gentleman. All these vignettes fall way short of describing the person my mother, my dear Amma, was and still is today—a very kind and wise soul who treats everyone equally—be it the maid, the vegetable vendor or the neighbor. She has taught us by example that giving to people in need, from whatever one has, is the way to happiness. As I start my second decade as a mother, I often get a sense of déjà vu. I catch myself using towards my son the many aphorisms, approbations and admonishments that were the arsenals in my mother’s unrelenting attempts to make a kind, compassionate and thoughtful woman out of me. Randy Pausch, in his moving book “The Last Lecture,” talked about how he had won the parent lottery. That line struck me, for it gave me a way to express my own feelings towards both my parents. On this Mother’s Day, I hope that I have lived in such a way that my son, some day, even for a moment, feels that way about me. n Rajee Padmanabhan is a perennial wannabe— wannabe writer, wannabe musician, wannabe technologist. She lives with her iPad and iPod in Exton, PA, occasionally bumping into her husband and son while either of her i-Pals is out of charge.
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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala 7 May 1927—3 April 2013
ifty one years back in New Delhi a petite, slender, fair, young lady attended a meeting of PEN, an international organization of poets, essayists and novelists. That was my first interaction with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The memories of that first meeting are hazy. Nobody had then realized that Jhabvala would blaze a new trail that would put her in league with Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor, each with two Academy Awards. While the other two got theirs for acting, Ruth’s were for outstanding screenplay. Jhabvala passed away on April 3 in New York, her home for 38 years. She would have been 86 years on May 7. Till 1962, Ruth had written three novels and a few short stories and was establishing herself. She was not Indian, had adopted the country after her 1951 marriage to Cyrus Jhabvala, an Indian Parsee architect she met in England. She lived in India for 24 years and raised three daughters. Soon after the PEN meeting I wrote to Mrs. Jhabvala to be a Patron/Advisor for a publishing company I had planned to start. A shy and simple lady, she wrote back in her own hand, and wished us all the best wondering what exactly she could do for us. That project, unfortunately, did not take off but I kept following her career from a distance. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has left a treasure of a dozen novels, nearly two dozen screenplays and around three dozen short stories (eight collections). Her writings spanned the globe and during that journey received two Oscars, for Howards End and A Room with a View (both adapted from the novels by E.M. Forster). She received the Booker Prize for her novel Heat and Dust (later made into a movie) and several other awards. It was rare to get both, the Oscar and a Booker Prize. In India, the German-Jewish, Britisheducated Jhabvala quickly learned to drape a sari, her regular dress in public. She wrote on Indian topics, tasting Indian dishes, Indian flavors and aromas, learning Hindi, and visiting Indian bazaars. However, Jhabvala was essentially a central European; her childhood memories were 44 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
By Yatindra Bhatnagar
of England. In 1975 she came to the United States—the final journey in three continents and became a citizen in 1986. She was an enigma, and wrote of her love-hate relationship with her roots, her adopted country and her environment, “perhaps I am just fickle by nature and get tired of countries the way other women do of husbands or lovers.” But all that did inspire her to write furiously, and gave her fame, and of course, money. Jhabvala had two close collaborators— producer Ismail Merchant and Director James Ivory. They met in 1961, and soon became close and lifelong friends. Jhabvala wrote and the other two produced-directed 20 movies starting with her 1960 novel The Householder—the movie was released in 1963. It had the handsome Shashi Kapoor and the classy beauty Leela Naidu in leading roles. No blockbuster, the movie did yet get considerable critical praise. Ruth was born in Cologne in Germany. Her childhood coincided with the rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and World War II. This frenzy of the Fuehrer annihilated over 40 members of her extended family who perished in the Holocaust; her father took his own life. She was disgusted and saddened with the events but did not write about them. She had turned away from Germany and then Europe—later even from India. Indian customs, arranged marriages, spirituality, poverty, backwardness and pollution drove her away to the United States. The other major reason was collaboration with Merchant-Ivory. Starting with her hobby of writing film scripts as a “recreation,” Jhabvala special-
ized in screenplays and adaptation from great novels. She was happy to bring her own perception of life, love, deceit, deception, self-deception, vengeance, twists and turns, joy and gloom through her writings. Earlier she wrote for herself, to make her happy: “I was at the bottom of a deep abyss. No one read them. But I enjoyed it.” Among Ruth’s works some critics listed the following to be the best five: A Room with a View—her first Oscar in 1986, a story of romance and repression in Edwardian-era England; Howards End—her second Oscar about class relations in 20th century England; Heat and Dust—won the Booker Prize; The Householder—The first film produced by Merchant Ivory Productions; Surviving Picasso—This 1995 film depicted Françoise Gilot's relationship with Pablo Picasso. Several critics praised Ruth for her sharp sensibility in analyzing class, culture, ethnicity and the experience of exile. She seemed to understand modern India without a myopic vision. She was reported to have told the Rabbi who visited her on her deathbed that her husband Cyrus Jhabvala was the best thing that she could recall in her life. The Guardian wrote about her: “She was a brilliant storyteller. Her work darkened towards the end of her life. Her vision was bleak, her tone austere, But her supply of complex characters and subtle, vivid scenes was inexhaustible and she caught the ambiguities of human behavior and the pleasures of the senses in precise, perfect words.” What a tribute! Ruth Prawer Jhabvala started writing at six. Her last short story “The Judge’s Will” was printed in The New Yorker of 25 March, 2013. She is survived by her husband, and three daughters Renana, Ava and Firoza-Bibi married to men from three different countries—India, England and America—from three continents just like Ruth herself. What a life, what a legend! n Yatindra Bhatnagar has half a century of experience as a journalist, author and poet. He has worked for newspapers, radio and television and has published over 20 books.
www.indiacurrents.com | 45
events MAY 2013
California’s Best Guide to Indian Events Edited by: Mona Shah List your event for FREE! JUNE issue deadline: Monday, May 20 To list your event in the Calendar, go to www.indiacurrents.com and fill out the Web form
Check us out on
special dates Mother’s Day
29th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The festival presents films and
videos by Asian international and Asian Pacific American artists, and additionally features seminars and panels, in-person guest appearances, and filmmaker awards. This year, 33 feature films and 108 shorts will be showcased throughout the 10-day fest. Ends May 12. Organized by Visual Communications. West Hollywood, Korea Town, Long Beach. asianfilmfestla.org/2013/fest-info/, www. vconline.org/festival.
Borrow It Bindaas: Pop Up Shop and Fashion Show. Get your hands on
the latest fashions before the summer wed46 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
Borrow it Bindaas, Pop-Up Shop and Fashion Show, May 4
ding season. Sarees, menswear, lehengas, kurtis, jewelry and more. Organized by Borrow It Bindaas. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Private Residence. Free. (888) 993-7623. email@example.com. www.borrowitbindaas.com, www.bibfashions.com.
Festival 2013—Hindustani Music Treasures. Continuing the legacy of
its two recently-deceased founders, Ravi Shankar and Harihar Rao, the festival brings familiar and new rhythms of music. Instrumental concert by Tarun Bhattacharya on santoor and Prosenjit Poddar on tabla. Odissi dance demonstration featuring Sanchita Bhattacharya and a concert by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt with Mohan Veena on slide guitar and Subhen Chatterjee on tabla.
California’s Best Guide to Indian Events
Organized by The Music Circle. 1-9 p.m. Duarte Performing Arts Center Auditorium, 1401 Highland Ave., Duarte. $5 to $35. (626) 449-6987. MusicCircle@aol.com. www.MusicCircle.org.
Kamayani—A Dance Drama. An all student academy performance of Jaishankar Prasad’s epic poem. Featuring Prachi Dixit, Artistic Director of Nupur Dance Academy and her classical ensemble. Accompanied by Ajeet Pathak (tabla), Ranjeet Pathak (vocal and harmonium), Pankaj Mishra (sarangi), Sheela Bringi (flute). Organized by Nupur Dance Academy. 6-8 p.m. James Armstrong Theater, The Torrance Performing Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Drive., Torrance. $20. (310) 872-7061, (310) 781-7171. khalil. firstname.lastname@example.org. nupuracademyla.com.
The Rani Project. A multimedia event including dance and theater honoring the life of Queen of Jhansi, Laxmi Bai featuring Anjani and Amrapali Ambegaokar. A wife, mother, and freedom fighter who fought for India’s Independence against British Rule in 1857. Organized by Sundar Kala Kendra. 12:30-4:30 p.m. Nirvana at Beverly Hills, 8689 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills,. General $150, $250 (couple). (909) 468-9681. email@example.com. www.sundarkalakendra. org.
Mother’s Day Champagne Brunch.
Live music Indian and Indo-Chinese buffet. Organized by Tanzore Restaurant and Lounge by Gaylord. 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tanzore, 50 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills . $42. (310) 652-3894, (818) 512-8888. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. www.tanzore.com, info@ tanzore.com, www.gaylordla.com.
Common Chords Concert. A gather-
ing of musicians from different cultures and religions, led by Pakistani singer/guitarist Salman Ahmad and klezmer violinist Yale Strom. Their music combines rock, klezmer, jazz, bhangra, Indian, Sufi, and qawwali into a new and distinct hybrid, brilliantly executed by Ahmad, Strom, Elizabeth Schwartz (vocal), Samir Chat-
The Rani Project, by Anjani and Amrapali Ambegaokar, May 5
terjee (tabla), Mark Dresser (bass), Sunny Jain (dhol), Lou Fanucchi (accordion), and Tripp Sprague (saxophone and flute). 8 p.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. General $35, students $25. (310) 440-4500. www.skirball.org/programs/ music/common-chords.
Fusion Fridays at Pacific Asia Museum. Each evening, enjoy a blend of art, DJ
music and drinks in the courtyard with live performances, hands-on activities, prizes, gourmet food trucks and fun surprises. May’s premiere will feature a beautiful Indonesian shadow puppet performance plus peeks behind the scenes, live gamelan music, and DJ Arshia’s special Bollywood dance mix. 7:30-10:30 p.m. Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N Los Robles, Pasadena. Free for members, $15 general. (626) 449-2742. email@example.com. www.pacificasiamuseum.org.
Authors on Asia Cooking. Cooking
demonstration with Farhana Sahibzada, the author of “Flavorful Shortcuts to Indian/ Pakistani Cooking.” Light food samplings included, held in the museum courtyard. 2 p.m. Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N Los Robles Ave., Pasadena. $10 general, $7 students/se-
niors, free for members. (626) 449-2742. info@ pacificasiamuseum.org. www.pacificasiamuseum.org.
Ragas and Talas. Classical improvisations featuring sitarist Paul Livingston and tabla master HomNath. Ends May 21. 5-9 p.m. Himalaya Restaurant, 35 W Main Steet, Ventura. $35 includes dinner. (805) 643-0795. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.himalayacuisine.com.
Hindi Skit and Poem Program. Student performance. 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Indus Heritage Center, 11976 Arteisa Blvd., Artesia. Free. (562) 546-3870. anshu@ilearnhindi. com. www.ilearnhindi.com. Check out India Currents online at www.indiacurrents. com © Copyright 2013 India Currents. All rights reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited. www.indiacurrents.com | 47
Keerthana School of Indian Music & Fine Arts Presents
Sangeetha Saparya 2013 Student's Annual Recital
Accompanied by professional musicians visiting from India! We would like to dedicate this years
Sangeetha Saparya to Sitar Maestro Pandit Ravishankar & Violin Maestro Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman
The students will perform some compositions of these legendary musicians. June 1 , 2013 at 11.16 am sharp st
14451 Franklin Avenue, Tustin, CA 92780
For more info Contact- Babu Parameswaran 949-559-4504 or email@example.com
INDIA CURRENTS Celebrating 27 Years of Excellence
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SPIRITUALITY & HEALTH
Lectures on Valmiki Ramayan by Swami Ishwarananda. Swamiji will be
referring to traditional commentaries of ancient scholars during his lecture. Ends May 10. 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.
Behind the Physical Cosmos. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 2950170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org. The Mystery of Reincarnation. Sunday
lecture by Swami Vedarupananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903. firstname.lastname@example.org.
God’s Nature in the Mother. 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.
Transcending Karma. Sunday lecture by Swami Brahmavidyananda. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 9692903. email@example.com.
God-Mindedness—Key to Freedom.
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.
Hidden Spring: Vedanta in the West. Sunday lecture by Pravrajika Vrajaprana. Organized by The Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903. santabarbara@vedanta. org.
Understanding Life and Death. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 2950170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org. Things that Get in the Way. Sunday
lecture by David Nelson. Organized by The
Vedanta Society. 11 a.m. Vedanta Temple, 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-2903. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sucess Through Attunement with God. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 6618006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf. org.
Lectures on Valmiki Ramayan by Swami Ishwarananda. Swamiji will be
referring to traditional commentaries of ancient scholars during his lecture. Ends June 8. Organized by Chinmaya Mission Los Angeles. 7:30-8:30 p.m. ChinmayaRameshwaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Tustin. Free. (714) 832-7669. www.chinmayala.org.
Creating World Unity Through Yoga Meditation. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine
Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 6618006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf. org. © Copyright 2013 India Currents. All rights reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited.
Share your healt h stories wit h India Currents readers! We are accepting original submissions that focus on health and wellness. Send your 600-800 word essay on disease prevention, exercise, ayurvedic cooking, or any other health-related topic to the Events Editor at email@example.com.
50 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
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Pluralism Reaches a Milestone in America Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu sworn into the U.S. House By Mihir Meghani
merica is becoming more Hindu, there is no doubt about it. Phil Goldberg’s book, American Veda, traces the history of the influence of Hinduism on American life over the past two and a half centuries. Similarly, Lisa Miller, in her Newsweek article We Are All Hindus Now, (Published Aug 15, 2009) shows how American thought and practice is moving in a direction that can best be described as Hindu. For the most part, however, this influence has occurred without an outright acknowledgement of or public association with anything identified as Hinduism. Last November, Tulsi Gabbard became the first Hindu elected to the United States Congress when she handily won her first election to a federal office. The election in Hawaii not only reflects the character and charisma of Tulsi, but also an acceptance, at least in her Congressional district, of Hinduism. As Americans without familial connections to India have adopted Hindu beliefs and practices, so too have Hindus in America embraced American life and simultaneously adapted Hinduism, with its ancient mooring in India, to the American landscape. Tulsi was born to a Hindu mother of American Samoan ancestry and a non-Indian, Christian father who had adopted some Hindu practices. Raised a Hindu, she, like most Hindu, Jain and Sikh Indian Americans, questioned her beliefs, studied them, read scripture and made a conscious decision to maintain her religion and practices. She explained, “Hari nama, the holy names of God, and the transcendental wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita have always provided me with wisdom, spiritual strength, direction and purpose in life, as well as solace and comfort when faced with the possibility of death at any moment.” Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma—an ancient, living, vibrant system of religions, traditions, beliefs and practices, encompassing not only India but every country in the world and with over one billion adherents—could only survive in such numbers for so long with an inner
52 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
strength that rests on universal truths adaptable to a wide range of people and the ability to inspire people to greater acts. Recall that Mahatma Gandhi was inspired by this same tradition to take ancient Hindu and Jain principles of ahimsa to a political level. Tulsi takes inspiration from that same tradition when she acknowledges, “I learned early on that I was happiest when I was using my life in the service of others.… The spirit of karma yoga has been the motivating factor for everything I do in my life. The more I engaged in activities that weren’t just for myself, the happier I became, and the more I wanted to do.” That inspiration led her to found the Healthy Hawaii Coalition, teaching schoolchildren about caring for the environment and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. That inspired her to run successfully for the Hawaii State Legislature, give up her “safe seat” to join her Army National Guard team for a year-long deployment in Iraq, run successfully for the Honolulu City Council and win a challenging Congressional election. When Tulsi took the oath of office, she
did so on a Bhagavad Gita, cementing this ancient guide to action in American and Hindu history. Her oath has added meaning because the Bhagavad Gita has deep meaning for Tulsi, guiding her and continuously inspiring her to do seva, or selfless service. This is another defining moment for modern Hinduism, because it should serve to remove any doubts about the ability of a proud, public, practicing Hindu to reach a prominent post or position in this country. Unfortunately, despite inheriting such a rich heritage, many Indian Americans have shamefully tried to minimize their tradition and hide their Hindu identity from anyone who could potentially think ill of them or misunderstand their beliefs, while others have maintained everything Hindu but decided to call it something else. And worse yet, some have chosen to abandon their heritage altogether. Governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley are prominent examples of the latter. Instead of seeking inspiration from their Hindu and Sikh backgrounds, respectively, they sought shelter and support in the faith of the major-
ity of their neighbors. They, in some sense, are the opposite of what America is—their contribution to America’s melting pot or salad bowl was thereby negated for the most part. Their decision was in fact bad for America, as America is, at its core, becoming more and more pluralistic. Lisa Miller wrote that Americans are more accepting of multiple paths to God and the belief that “many religions can lead to eternal life.”
Tulsi Talks About Taking the Oath on The Bhagavad Gita
I was raised in a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-faith family. My mother is Hindu; my father is a Catholic lector in his church who also practices mantra meditation. I began to grapple with questions of spirituality as a teenager. Over time, I came to believe that, at its essence, religion gives us a deeper purpose in life than just living for ourselves. Since I was a teenager, I have embraced this spiritual journey through the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my time and energy on a daily basis in the service to others, karma yoga. My Gita has been a tremendous source of inner peace and strength through many tough
challenges in life, including being in the midst of death and turmoil while serving our country in the Middle East. When I was deployed to Iraq, the only real shelter for me was my bhakti yoga practice and the Bhagavad Gita’s message of the eternality of the soul and God’s unconditional love. Like Mahatma Gandhi, I believe that we cannot overcome the divisive challenges facing our communities, countries and world if we do not recognize and respect all others as children of God, despite our differences of nationality, race, ethnicity, religion and so forth. These principles of karma yoga and bhakti yoga, therefore, can be a uniting principle for all people, regardless of their religion. I look forward to working with my fellow Congressmen and women to improve the economy, stop wasting our limited resources, protect the environment and ensure that our children will have a bright future. Of course, since I’m a practicing Hindu, the unique concerns of Hindu and Indian Americans are very near and dear to my heart. My door will always be open to them. Pluralism is acknowledging and celebrating the diversity around us, and thriving more because of it. It is the legacy of ancient and modern India. It is the essence of
Hinduism, and, in the broadest sense, its branches—Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. It is the thread that ties together India’s various cultures, religions, beliefs, practices and races. Kudos to Tulsi for being public, open and proud of her Hinduism and for sharing with the rest of the world the core message of Hinduism that inspired her. Tulsi’s victory is a proud moment for Hindus, because it reminds us that we can reach similar levels of society with a public Hindu identity. Tulsi’s oath should be emboldened as individuals to examine our beliefs, seek inspiration from our heritage and look for the practical application of our spiritual tradition, just as Tulsi found motivation for her karma yoga (pursuing God or Truth through good work) in Hinduism. Her oath-taking was an even prouder moment for all Americans because it reflects the best that America can offer the world— pluralism.n Mihir Meghani, M.D., an emergency physician living in Fremont, California, is a co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation. His article originally appeared in India-West.
www.indiacurrents.com | 53
Sacred Connection: Body Therapy and the Art of Touch What it can do for you
y intention was to write an essay about the science of massage. How it soothes the vagus nerve, lowers blood sugar and brings relief to chronic pain. I wanted to tell you about fascia and metabolites and breaking up scar tissue with cross fiber frictioning. I wanted to tell you that word of mouth— asking your friends—is the best way to find a good body therapist and if you can’t afford monthly bodywork, think quarterly instead and celebrate each solstice and equinox with a massage. But my mind wandered and when I wasn’t looking a memory was stirred of an article I once read in a magazine about the importance of touch. And while my brain was determined to take one path to the completion of this essay, my heart was determined to share the benefits of massage in another, altogether different way. I carried the article with me for over thirty years, tucked in an old inter-office manila envelope filled with other flotsam from life: torn pages, fortunes that didn’t come true, yellowed notes and faded photographs. It’s an article about our need for connection. It was written long before we manifested our current state of self-imposed isolation and appeared, I think, in either Redbook or Women’s Day. I remember reading it as an idealistic young woman and promising myself that I would not become the type of person who shied away from the kind gesture. I promised myself I would remember that a gentle hug, or something as simple as one hand placed in the hand of another, offered comfort and compassion on a level that surpasses words of empathy or advice. Too many decades and too many moves have passed since the author’s message landed in my heart. The box that held my collection of words, trinkets and memories was finally abandoned. So was the promise I made to myself, even though the truths in the article are even more relevant today. We live in a time when it is easier to become virtual friends with real life 54 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
By Mimm Patterson
strangers while mindlessly wolfing down a sandwich during our lunch break than it is to share a thoughtful meal with someone we’ve known for years. The warmth of authentic friendship has been exchanged for a cold screen and hard keyboard. I believe we are losing our ability to bear witness, confide and communicate with a simple, silent gesture. And if I’m right, is there anything we can do about it? There are the little things: closing the laptop, turning off the cell phone and taking the time to look people in the eye. Listening with a whole heart, fully present. And then there are the things that buck convention, saying “hello” to strangers you pass on the street. Making bank deposits in person. Introducing yourself to the neighbors. These good intentions, however, only skim the surface of a deeper issue. In order to be open with others, we need to consider how we open our hearts to ourselves. It’s a process that requires time and patience; a process that requires our full devotion. These are conditions that are difficult to conjure when we’re busy broadcasting the contents of our underwear drawer to the world in one hundred and forty characters or less. So how do we reconnect with spirit? I believe one way is through the sense of touch. Bringing spirit and the material together. Bodywork. Typically, we think of bodywork as a means of fixing a sore back or stiff neck. More like a session of physical therapy than therapeutic massage. When we approach bodywork as a method for relieving stress it’s considered, at best, a temporary fix. Rarely do we consider massage a means for bring-
ing us back to ourselves and never do we consider massage as a transformative practice with the potential for healing our wounded collective psyche. But I believe therapeutic massage is all these things. It relieves the aches in our body and the aches in our soul. Preparing to receive therapeutic massage requires trust. Preparing to offer therapeutic massage requires mindful presence. When a massage therapist meets you for the first time they will ask a few questions regarding your health but they are also assessing your mood and energetic presence. You’re communicating with your practitioner through gestures and body language. Together, relying more on intuition and less on discussion, the two of you are determining how your journey together will proceed. When we climb onto the massage plinth to receive this gift, we should remember what is being given. Bodywork reminds us that we are flesh and bone, muscle and fascia. But it reminds us, too, that we are thoughts and feelings, impulses and emotions. The vulnerability we feel as we melt into the therapist’s hands helps us to regain our lost sense of Self. As we lie with our eyes closed we are participating in an unspoken exchange of energy that offers connection, tranquility and space to feel our aliveness. Yet I understand why we hesitate. Handing over control is difficult. It takes us out of our comfort zone. But what if handing over control and moving out of our comfort zone is akin to pressing our reset button? What if not being in charge of what happens next offers a different perspective and asks us to make different choices? Instead of struggling to retain control we might open up to the possibility of acceptance; spending some time outside of our comfort zone might encourage us to draw different and broader boundaries. It might inspire us to close the laptop, turn off the phone and reach out to the human sitting across the table from us.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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City of Possibilities London’s many hued wonders By Shivam Khullar
St. Paul’s Cathedral
here are many that will shiver at the thought of winter in Europe. I am not one of them. I rather enjoy Europe garbed in snowy glitter, especially during the holiday season. My husband and I traveled through Germany, Italy and Austria in the winter of 2009 and that magical experience left us wanting more. We visited Paris in 2011 and finally landed in London for Christmas in 2012. I grew up in India where the British rule casts a rather permanent shadow on the country’s culture. Several glorious architectural splendors were built during the British Raj, like the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai (still referred to as VT, short for its original name Victoria Terminus), the Senate House of the University of Madras, and Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, and were inevitably inspired by the English style of architecture. The escapades of the British royalty has kept many a conversation going in my family. My mother grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, which was also a British colony at the time, and distinctly remembers the day when she wore a yellow dress and welcomed the Queen to her primary school. And she actually got to shake hands with the Queen herself! Cambridge and Oxford universities, 56 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
home to several Nobel laureates, have also been a reason for my interest in Britain. Furthermore, ever since I moved to the United States, I have fancied the idea of living in London for a few years, just to taste the difference between the two countries. What I love about London is that there is something for everyone in this city. Whether a foodie, a history buff, a lover of art/ architecture, London has lots to offer. It is a mecca of art, science, fashion, culture and architecture. Compulsive planner that I am, I made a list of key attractions prior to our trip. But once we were in London, we let chance play its cards. If you still insist on planning, buy the Frommer’s guide for London. But this article should give you just enough information to mix and match serendipity with a little bit of planning. One of the best decisions we made was to book a full day tour of Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge with Evan Evans Tour. The all-day tour starts early in the morning from Victoria Coach terminal and heads to Windsor Castle, the official residence of Her Majesty. We had four hours to explore the main attractions at the castle including the magnificent State Apartments (all 21 of
them), St George’s Chapel, the burial place of ten monarchs of England and Queen Mary’s dolls house, a miniature masterpiece. After Windsor, the tour took us to Stonehenge. It is a bit of a drive, but a rather beautiful one. Stonehenge happens to have its own micro climate, so be prepared. You might wonder what is so puzzling about a few rocks standing in the middle of a large green field. But I suggest you stand close to these structures and the answer will be evident. I could not stop my mind from racing in all directions as I stood in front of these rocks, trying to find a reason or a purpose for their presence. After the rather mystical stop at Stonehenge the tour proceeded to the beautiful city of Bath. Bath attracts millions of visitors every year who come from all over the world to check out the site of the original Roman Baths. The site is also home to the temple of Sulis Minerva, the Roman Goddess considered a life-giving Mother figure as well as an executor of curses wished by her devotees. You can tour the ruins and admire the plumbing infrastructure that existed ages ago. Back in London, if you are a museum buff, please set aside at least a day to visit a few of these (there are 240 of them!). Some
of the most visited museums in London are the British Museum, Imperial War Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum and Tate Modern. There is a lot of information about these museums on their websites, so I will spare you the details. But two things I highly recommend while you are out exploring the museums: the Portrait Restaurant at the National Portrait Galler offers beautiful views of the Trafalgar Square area and the British Library. The British Library has no parallel. The most intriguing highlight of this library is the “Treasures of the British Library” exhibit, where some of the library’s most precious possessions are displayed, including a copy of Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, and manuscripts and journals of several authors including Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Robert Browning and Oscar Wilde. As we exited this exhibition, we turned left and came upon the Philatelic exhibition. Chancing to look straight ahead, we saw ourselves reflected on a tall glass tower full of books. The glass tower holds over 65,000 books that formed the collection of George III. The cafe under this mammoth tower is a great place to grab a quick espresso before moving on to the next destination. I recommend that you add the Shakespeare Globe Theatre tour to your list. The Globe Theatre is a replica of the original Globe Theatre from the Shakespearean era. There are open air plays staged here all through the year and tickets are available ahead of time. The Tower of London is a historic landmark that must be seen. This castle was built in 1078 C.E. and has been well preserved over the years. The audio tour guide walked us through the attractions at the Tower. Some of the main attractions are the White Tower (an iconic symbol of London),
an exhibition of the King’s armor over the years, the Crown Jewels—including the Kohinoor diamond, Yeoman Warder tours and Prisoner’s exhibition. The site of the Tower also offers views of Tower Bridge. After the time spent indoors at the museums, we decided to spend a day outside enjoying the fresh air in London. We rented bikes by the hour and it provided us a great opportunity to explore London along the Thames. We started our journey at St Paul’s Cathedral, a beautiful and iconic church that attracts a lot of visitors and locals. We climbed up to the dome of the cathedral and captured some great views of London from its observatory. We took a detour from our path along the Thames to visit Temple Church. As we reached the Embankment Tube station, we turned right and came upon Trafalgar Square. We parked our bikes by St Martin at the Fields and enjoyed the square on foot. There are some nice restaurants in this area if you are up for lunch. Back on the bike path, we rode along the Victoria Embankment Gardens, towards Parliament Square. It can be tricky to find bike parking in this area. We parked a little further away to avoid the crowds. Parliament Square is home to some key landmarks in London. Westminster Abbey is located in this square, and so are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We took the time to explore this area. We sat in the park in the middle of the square and marveled at the architectural splendors that were built at different points of time in history. When we got back on our bikes we decided to cross the Thames to get a perspective from the other side. It was a good call. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament lit up as the sun went down. It was spectacular. We proceeded on towards the London Eye
Inside Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
glittering in blue, right after Westminster Bridge. The London Eye experience is much talked about but it takes a lot of time due to the long queues of people. We decided not to stop and instead continued along the river towards the Millennium Bridge. This is a steel suspension bridge that offered a beautiful view of St Paul’s Cathedral. After crossing the bridge we arrived exactly where we started from, St Paul’s Cathedral. After a day of biking in London, it was time for some shopping. There are several mega stores in London that offer the latest in fashion. Of course, there is Harrods and Harvey Nichols in Kensington, House of Frasier, John Lewis and Selfridges on Oxford Street. Don’t miss Covent Garden. The www.indiacurrents.com | 57
Apple Market, East Colonnade and Jubilee Markets in Covent Garden offer unique and distinct shopping experiences. There are also some entertainment shows in the evening when the markets close down. There are a lot of restaurants in the area if one is looking for a fancy place for date night. I loved the movie Notting Hill and hence made it a point to visit Portobello Market in Notting Hill to check out the house with the blue door and the book shop that is featured in the movie. The market here is full of street vendors selling fresh produce, junk jewelry and old books. We strolled through these streets and will definitely go back there next time. For a focused shopping experience, Oxford Street is the place to go, where one can find everything under the sun. Oxford Street ends in Hyde Park, a lovely stop to rest and soak in some London charm. London is home to some fancy boutique hotels and charming restaurants and pubs. Bar food has evolved with time and includes Indian items like chicken tikka masala on the menu. I could not have asked for moreâ€” good beer and spicy indian curry were readily available at every restaurant. I do have a recommendation for some fabulous Indian fare. Dishoom, a fusion restaurant located in Shoreditch has a nostalgic menu. Nostalgic you might ask? Yes, this restaurant has recreated the old Bombay cafe scene with Pav Bhaji, Chilli Cheese Toast and Frankies. Delicious food and a charming ambience made this my London favorite. London is a charming melting pot of people with diverse ethnicities, interests and vocations. To be in London was like being in a Delhi that could have been, if we had kept up with the needs of the times. The architecture, food, markets, and energy in London was much like the Indian experience, just a little different. In London, the city of many possibilities, I experienced some amazing moments that I will cherish forever. The list is long but it includes biking in rain, getting lost, drinking beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner and last but not the least, standing under Big Ben, feeling happy and content that my wish had finally come true. Christmas in London might be a charming way to end your year. Do consider it. n
The blue door from the movie Notting Hill
Chicken Tikka Masala
Oxford Street decoration
Shivam Khullar is an astute business consultant, an opinionated writer, an avid reader, a creative cook, a hopeless coffee lover, a light traveler and a loving wife. Stonehenge 58 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
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A Spoonful of Special Cooking for Mom on Mother’s Day By Shanta Sacharoff nurturing have all become synonymous with motherhood, but although our mothers are often worshipped, loved, feared and praised, they are rarely fully appreciated for all they do. This year on Mother’s Day, nourish and nurture your mother. Treat Mom to a simple and nutritious meal made at home. Let your Mom know that you love her, and that you can feed her too! If you have siblings, get together with them to make Mom a special meal following the recipes outlined here, and get Dad involved in the process too. He can help you gather the ingredients, and handle the hot pan. Be sure that Mom doesn’t have to do anything! No planning, no cooking, and certainly no cleaning up. Give her the day off! This menu of roti wraps with sprouted mung beans served with cashew chutney and strawberry lassi is suitable for lunch, brunch
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or for a picnic. All three dishes can be served at room temperature and most of the preparation can be done ahead of time. Shop for the ingredients a week in advance in case you have to visit specialty stores for some things such as mung beans, whole wheat roti or tortillas. Sprouting the mung beans is a 2-3 day process, so allow enough time, and make sure you have the necessary spices as well. This is a simple menu, but if you have not cooked much, you might want to practice making these three recipes, at least once, before Mother’s Day. n Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is manager and coowner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.
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very culture worships its mothers. Historically, African, Indian, Greek and early Christian civilizations had specific rituals dedicated to worshipping the Mother Goddess. Today, Mother’s Day is celebrated all over the world including Canada, the United States, many countries of Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In the United States, Mother’s Day began in 1872 when Ann Jarvis, an anti-war activist, called for Mothers’ Peace Observance Day, urging all mothers to rise up for peace. In 1914, Mother’s Day was recognized as a national holiday in the United States, and the second Sunday of May was set aside to honor the contributions of all mothers. Since then, Mothers’ Day has become commercialized with flowers, candy, gift-giving and eating out. Food, cooking, feeding, nourishing and
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Roti Wraps with Mung Bean Sprouts Mung Bean Sprouts
irst, sprout the mung beans as described below. Sprouts are at their nutritional peak when they are fresh. Unlike the long white mung sprouts commonly found in supermarkets or Chinese groceries, the mung bean sprouts with short shoots that this recipe calls for are not usually available in stores. However, making them at home is fun and easy to do. Rinse one cup of dried mung beans thoroughly and drain them. Place the beans in a large bowl with 3 cups of water. Cover the bowl and let it sit on the kitchen counter overnight. Do not refrigerate. The next day, drain the water and transfer the soaked beans to a colander. Cover the top of the colander with a moist double-layer of cheese cloth, a piece of muslin, or a clean damp tea towel. Fasten the cloth with a rubber band. Place the colander itself in a large bowl to catch any drips and keep it away from direct sunlight. Over the next several hours the beans will start to germinate and soon you will see sprouts emerging. Place the cloth back on the colander, and sprinkle a little bit water to keep it moist. Towards evening, check to see if the sprouts are 2-3 inches long. If not, leave them at room temperature overnight. When the sprouts are 2-3 inches long, they are ready to be used in the following recipe for roti wraps. One cup of mung beans will yield enough sprouts for this recipe with some left over. If you are not ready to use the sprouts, place them in a covered container and refrigerate. If you rinse them every other day in cool water they will keep for up to two weeks. Some recipes call for raw mung sprouts. Uncooked mung sprouts contain a proteininhibiting enzyme. Cooking for a few minutes destroys this enzyme making the sprouts more nutritious.
Roti Wraps Makes 6 servings (with two wraps per person)
Ingredients 3 tbsp of vegetable oil ½ cup finely chopped green onion with some of the greens 4 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced 3 cups of fresh mung bean sprouts with short shoots (see directions above) ½ tsp whole cumin seeds 1 cup carrots cut into match sticks or shredded ½ cup daikon or other mild radish, cut into match sticks or shredded
1 teaspoon salt ¼ tsp or to taste cayenne pepper freshly squeezed juice of 1 or 2 limes ¼ cup water 3 tbsp chopped cilantro 1 package (about a dozen) whole wheat tortillas, whole wheat rotis (or gluten-free corn tortilla) Method Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the green onion. Saute for a few minutes. Then, add the garlic and cumin seeds. Stir fry briefly, and add the bean sprouts, carrots, daikon, cayenne and salt. Continue to stir fry for five minutes. Next, add the water and lemon juice. Cover and cook the mixture for five minutes. Then open the lid and stir fry briefly to evaporate any liquid left. Transfer the cooked mung to a platter, and garnish with cilantro. Prepare the rotis or whole what tortillas as follows: Heat a griddle or tava on moderately high heat. Lay a roti or tortilla in the pan and cook on one side for a minute or so. Spread no more than ½ teaspoon of oil on top, quickly covering the whole surface, and then flip it over. Cook on the second side for a few minutes. Flip the roti again a few more times while pressing with the back-side of a spoon or a clean kitchen cloth to cook the whole surface of each side evenly. Stack the prepared rotis together on a plate, covered with a clean towel to keep them warm. To make a wrap, spread ½ cup of the mung bean sprout mix onto a roti or tortilla, keeping the filling away from the edges. Fold into a wrap as shown in the illustration. As each wrap is completed, move it to the serving platter. If you plan to serve them hot, have your oven preheated to 350 degrees and place the platter of wraps in the oven to keep them warm. They can also be served at room temperature, or packed for a picnic. Serve with Cashew Chutney and Strawberry Lassi, recipes below.
Raw Cashew Chutney Makes 6 to 8 servings
Ingredients 1 cup raw cashews ½ cup warm water ½ cup fresh cilantro (or parsley) 1 or 2 fresh hot chilies, such as jalapeno, seeds and veins removed 2 to 3 tbsps of freshly squeezed
lemon or lime juice 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger ½ tsp salt Method Place the cashews in a bowl with the warm water. Cover and let the cashews soak for 30 minutes. Do not drain. Put the nuts along with the water they were soaking in and rest of the ingredients in a jar of a food processor or blender and mix until the cashews form somewhat of a creamy consistency with some chunkiness. Let the chutney stand for a few minutes closed, before transferring it into a serving bowl. Serve 1-2 tablespoons of chutney with each roti. Refrigerate leftover chutney in a jar or other closed container. It will keep for at least a week.
Strawberry Lassi Makes 4 servings
once had Strawberry Lassi in Gujarat. After coming back to California where strawberries are plentiful, I could not wait to try this recipe! Ingredients 3 cups of plain yogurt 1 cup cool water 20 large strawberries, washed, cleaned and hulled ½ to 2/3 cups honey, agave syrup or sugar (adjust sweetener to your taste) ½ teaspoon edible rose water or vanilla extract Method Place all of the ingredients in the jar of a blender or food processor and mix for several minutes until pureed and well blended. Place a few ice cubes into four glasses. Pour lassi over the ice and serve. If you are packing the lassi for a picnic, refrigerate to keep it cool until you are ready to pack your basket. Serve along with spicy curry and raita. n www.indiacurrents.com | 61
Lunch At Bay
By Mahendra P. Jaiswal
er n n i w This picture was taken by Mahendra P. Jaiswal at the Marina Bay opposite Berkeley, California. The picture was taken at lunchtime and shows a person feeding the seagulls that were hovering over the man in a bid to grab the feed. Photography is one of Mahendra P. Jaiswalâ€™s hobbies. In 1958, one of his photos was selected in a UNESCO contest; and another photograph received the second prize from Kodak. He has printed two booklets of his photo collections. He can be reached at email@example.com.
India Currents invites readers to submit to this column. Send us a picture with caption and weâ€™ll pick the best entry every month. There will be a cash prize awarded to the lucky entrant. Entries will be judged on the originality and creativity of the visual and the clarity and storytelling of the caption. So pick up that camera and click away. Send the picture as a jpeg image to firstname.lastname@example.org with Subject: A Picture That Tells a Story. Deadline for entries: 10th of every month. 62 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
The Gift of Feeling Deeply By Alzak Amlani
I am a man in my mid-fifties and over the last few years I have become more in touch with my feelings, not just anger and frustration, but also hurt, sadness, tenderness and a sense of vulnerability. I have mixed reactions to these feelings as I was always accustomed to holding it together and being strong. Some people think I am becoming more fearful and weak and others are saying they like me more this way. I am actually confused and don’t know exactly what is going on with me. I feel much more affected by events, people and my inner experiences.
This is a natural stage of development and your feelings of confusion are clearly a part of the range of inner experiences you are encountering. Boys are actually quite sensitive when young. They are often conditioned out of their tenderness into being tough, withdrawn, stoic and even aggressive. Masculinity and strength get defined as being stern and non-affected.
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This is an unnatural way of being human. It sets men up for a competitive attitude, distrust and distance from each other. Many boys and men have a hard time talking about personal lives and resort to sports, cars, politics and business topics. This kind of disconnection with our basic human emotionality closes us down and may even lead to depression. There is a good book on this subject by Terrence Real called, I Don’t Want to Talk About it: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression. It offers ways to breaking the barriers that men often build, and having more fulfilling and meaningful inner lives and relationships. The gift of being human is that we can actually be open to a wide range of experiences. Let them in, feel them and have them affect and change us. This is how we grow and become more responsive to our inner life and the situations we find ourselves in. It also makes us more resilient, resourceful and empathetic. Aging, suffering, and being
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open to a range of life experiences will erode our rigidity and defensiveness. This can be disorienting and emotionally disturbing. It can also help transform us, if we spend time inquiring into our experiences, getting the support we need, being open and transparent with ourselves and others. This helps us feel more real, even though we might end up feeling vulnerable. Ultimately, we are stronger when we are more connected to our inner selves. This can help us be more pliable and less fixed, more responsive and able to find newer and more attuned ways to actually being present to ourselves, others and life’s changing circumstances and demands. n
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Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. (650)325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy. com.
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the last word
I Dream of Gardens By Sarita Sarvate
flower growing on a bush was the amazing discovery of my childhood. We lived in the old city then, where flowers were wilted things wrapped in leaves and sold outside of temples. Or they were strings of jasmine or chrysanthemums draped into women’s hair. They were not objects that one simply looked at for pleasure. Until, at age five, DinooKaka—Uncle Dinoo—took me riding on his bicycle. Aai, my mother, had woven the ends of my long tresses with a red ribbon, the ends of which were tied atop my head. Thus I rode the crossbar, nestling into DinooKaka’s arms. Soon, the narrow gullies gave way to mansions and boulevards. We rode into the wind, faster and faster, until we came upon a tiny bungalow surrounded by a yard. This too was a novelty, for in the old city, houses encompassed courtyards, not vice versa. A young woman welcomed us. Even at that young age I could tell that DinooKaka was romantically interested in her. To leave the young lovers alone, Plants like birds I wandered the yard and a flower on a of paradise and ginger discovered bush. That was my ensoared against the backtrance into the Garden drop of the blue sea here, of Eden, made even more memorable by the while the birds sang in a fact that afterwards, we chorus, and the air smelt ate forbidden ice cream served in stemmed glasses of my childhood. at a restaurant. By the time I got home, my hair was a mess. But I didn’t care. I had discovered nature. From that day, I began to dream of gardens. The gardens of my imagination were so very colorful, no real garden would ever come close to them. When we moved to the outskirts of town, I discovered garlands. Every year, during the Ganesh festival, our school organized a garlandmaking contest. I picked flowers off fences and strung them with needle and thread. But when I got to school, I discovered that my entry paled in comparison to other entrants’ broad, multi-string creations with large pendants. Later, when my father built our bungalow and planted a rainbow of zinnias, I chased after the butterflies they attracted. But my favorite plant in that garden was the Lajalu plant, the Shy One, whose leaves closed upon contact. It was by the side of that Lajalu bush that I would play house with my little brother, or later, shed tears over a heart break. For decades, I longed for that Lajalu bush, until a little girl in Argentina brought it to my attention while strolling in the el campo. I continued dreaming of gardens, long after my mother’s nervous breakdown. I would be walking inside a conservatory of flowers in my dream, when looking down, I would see blood and flesh oozing out of my insides. Aai would be sitting on the edge of the lily pond, smelling a rose. I did not need Freud to interpret my dream; it spoke of Aai’s failure to help me with my adolescent dilemmas. In India, Mughal Gardens were considered the very essence of paradise. When I finally saw the Shalimar Gardens, on a college trip to Kashmir, its soaring poplars, its cascading waterfalls, its terraces, its tranquil ponds, and its Son et Lumiere show at dusk, seemed like 64 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2013
poetry. But the gardens were geometrical, not quite what I had fantasized. At the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, my friend Bakul taught me Ikebana, with stalks of cherry blossoms sheltering a trio of buds. Here was a new esthetic, of balance and asymmetry. It was then I began to dream of Japanese gardens. But I did not see one until San Francisco. Alas, that Japanese garden, like much of Golden Gate Park, was functional, not surreal. My longing for gardens continued. In California, I had expected gardens, like everything American, to be larger than life. So I was disappointed to discover that they mostly consisted of greenery. The only exception was the Berkeley Rose Garden, where arcades of rose vines descended down terraces overlooking the blue bay. But groping around its steps in the dark with a group of Indian students, I never saw its charm. Instead, I watched my friends plunder roses for our rooms in I-House. I know. Only the Indians, right? In New Zealand, gardens were a mix of tropical and temperate flora. There I found the garden closest to my imagination. It was an English garden, wild, full of colorful bushes competing for space. You could smell the musty earth here, as stalks of phloxes and irises reached for the sun from a dense undergrowth. It was this garden I would visualize years later, as I would read The Secret Garden to my sons. The Hawaii Botanical Garden in Hilo was a dream, although not quite my dream. Plants like birds of paradise and ginger soared against the backdrop of the blue sea here, while the birds sang in a chorus, and the air smelt of my childhood. But the best garden I have ever seen was on a hike in the Trinity Alps. I was lagging behind on a ridge when I came upon a hillside covered with wildflowers. The mountain was a panorama of colors, arranged so esthetically, no human could have conceived such a fantastic design. It is this garden I see now in my mind’s eye whenever I think of gardens. Recently, I had a chance to visit the Huntington Gardens of Pasadena. They were so dreamy, they looked like palettes painted on the ground. There were cactus gardens and Australian gardens and jungle gardens and lily ponds. But what mesmerized me the most were the Japanese and the Chinese gardens, with waterfalls and ponds and bridges and pagodas stretching as far as the eye could see. The air was misty, the smell of a different world. I have always had a garden. And be it in New Zealand or California, it has always had a strawberry patch. I remember the lushest peach blossoms in my garden the year my older son was a baby. I recall the first crop of persimmons so large and custard-like, people from all over the Bay Area drove by, begging to eat them. Now I have a Fuji apple, a plum, and a pear tree, waiting to fruit. The most blissful time of the day for me is when I sit in my garden soaking the sunshine and watching the hummingbirds hovering all around. I wish people treated gardening as the prime and sacred art that it is. n Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visit www.saritasarvate.com
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