Journey to My Desire by Nirmala Nataraj
Microsoftie Nadella by Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy
An Orange Letdown by Kalpana Mohan
Celebrating 28 Years of Excellence
@Tiger’s Nest! may 2014 • vol. 28 , no . 2 • www. indiacurrents.com
Exploring Bhutan, the land of happiness and harmony By Kavita Kanan Chandra
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Within the silicon boundaries of our valley, it is not uncommon to hear parents say that kids must have a definite idea of what they want to do in college and that it must be somehow related to computer science. “Go ahead and get a degree in German or English, but support it with computer science,” a friend confided about the advice he had given his daughter. Thomas Friedman, in an April 20 editorial, interviewed Laszlo Bock, SVP at Google, responsible for all hiring, and asked him if he thought college education was worthless. To this, Bock responded saying that among 18 to 22-year-olds, “most don’t put enough thought into why they’re going and what they want to get out of it.” In Bock’s opinion, the monetary value placed on analytical skills is higher, leading to better paying jobs. He explains that what Google values most is the ability to solve problems, “so basic computer science skills.” That seems about right, yet feels completely wrong. To say that analytical skills only come from manipulating numbers or digits is like saying an equation can only have have the same terms on both sides of the equal sign. Sure, you develop logical skills by pursuing
computer science, or statistics or math. I also believe that you develop analytical skills by exploring the deep, dense undergrowth of subjects like philosophy, history, biology, and, yes, the much disdained English. Logic is the process of arriving at truths or solutions. A “simple” task like writing a creative essay, which requires a structured consideration of information, also involves logic. Bock goes on to dismiss the idea of creativity. “Humans are by nature creative beings, but not by nature logical, structured, thinking beings.” So does that mean it is easier to be a writer, singer or painter than a mathematician? On Stanford’s website, you’ll find the major with the highest enrollment is computer science and Harvard announced a 20% decline in Humanities majors over the last decade. The barrier to success in creative disciplines is much higher and it may be that that’s what Bock is getting at. As my kids head off to college to tread their own analytical paths, this is my advice: put your head to the grindstone and feed the hunger. The rest will follow. Jaya Padmanabhan
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May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 1
INDIA CURRENTS May 2014 • vol 28 • no 2
PERSPECTIVES 1 | EDITORIAL Bock’s Analysis By Jaya Padmanabhan
Southern California Edition www.indiacurrents.com
Find us on
36 | MUSIC May Melodies By Vidya Sridhar
7 | A THOUSAND WORDS What the Goddess Says By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
16 | OPINION The Non-Redundant Indian By Dilnavaz Bamboat 18 | PROFILE Microsoftie Nadella By Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy 23 | DESI VOICES Is the Comma Heading to a Full Stop? By Monojit Lahiri 38 | CURRENT AFFAIRS Who’s Afraid of Modi? By Sandip Roy 60 | ON INGLISH An Orange Letdown By Kalpana Mohan 64 | THE LAST WORD Autobiography of a Freedom Fighter By Sarita Sarvate
2 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
28 | FINANCE The Science of Uncertainty By Rahul Varshneya 30 | IMMIGRATION Life as a Highly Skilled Immigrant By Ash Murthy
6 | FORUM India’s Election Quandary By Rameysh Ramdas, Ash Murthy
8 | PERSPECTIVE Beneath a Starlit Sky By Priyanka Sacheti
42 | RECIPE Revisiting Our Colonial Past By Malar Gandhi
10 | @Tiger’s Nest Exploring Paro, Bhutan By Kavita Kanan Chandra
45 | RELATIONSHIP DIVA Why Date Before Marrying? By Jasbina Ahluwalia 52 | REFLECTIONS On Faith By Vidya Pradhan
56 | Feature Journey to My Desire By Nirmala Nataraj
54 | HEALTHY LIFE The Great Rice Controversy By Ronesh Sinha 63 | DEAR DOCTOR Being a Tomboy By Alzak Amlani
34 | Films
Reviews of 2 States and Queen
4 | Voices 4 | Popular Articles
By Aniruddh Chawda
20 | Books Reviews of The Triple Package and From the Ruins of Empire By Vidya Pradhan, Rajesh Oza
26 | Ask a Lawyer 27 | Visa Dates 61 | Classifieds 62 | Viewfinder
WHAT’S CURRENT 46 | Cultural Calendar 50 | Spiritual Calendar
May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 3
A Balancing Act
Ritu Marwah’s story (The Help Effect, India Currents, April 2014), gave me food for thought. In our pursuit of the great suburban ideal we have forgotten about creating community and doing things together to raise our families. I stayed home and worked part-time, but that has come at a great financial cost. On the other hand, it opened up wonderful opportunities for fresh meals, lots of family time and time with the community. Sadly, most folks take advantage of cheap labor, mostly immigrants, to balance their homefront. Rashmi via Facebook
The Forum column (Are Anti-tech Protests in San Francisco Justified?, India Currents, April 2014) is globally relevant. One can substitute Poona, Chennai or Beijing for San Francisco. The rise in house prices and rentals can be traced to the inflated pay scales offered by the IT industry. Most of the mundane jobs in IT world require skill levels less than a school level diploma but command high remunerations. The reason is explained by the high market demand for tech products. But who sets up the demand? How are these products priced? The leading engineering entrepreneurs of the nineteenth and twentieth century had the all round well-being of society in mind. The present IT industry giants look for short term excessive gains with scant respect for sustainable and healthy progress. Arun Sekar, Morgan Hill
South Africa—Garden of Eden
The travel article (Cradle of Humankind, India Currents, April 2014) prompts this response from a second generation Indian, born in Durban, South Africa. Life on an adopted land levels many barriers to forge new alliances. South Africa, located near an ocean, with its pristine coastal beaches rivals any resort and invokes images of sunny skies, picnics (braais), good food, joyous crowds, which attracts many visitors, including Bollywood filmmakers and diehard cricket fans. A visit to this unique place with with its lush rainforests and national parks, could be your garden of Eden. It’s mine. Sushilla Bhangal, Union City, CA
4 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
The commentary by Ras Siddiqui (The Great Divide, India Currents, April, 2014) is revealing. The Partition was totally immoral, and can never be justified. And yet India, by its treatment of Muslims, including Ras’ visa denial, has validated and vindicated Pakistan, and subsequently Bangladesh. Mohammad Shoaib, Anaheim, CA
India Currents is now available on the Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/IndiaCurrents/dp/B005LRAXNG Follow us at twitter.com/indiacurrents
A Slice of Life
Quoting a phrase coined by one of your friends, you weave a “slice of life” so beautifully, in absolute “Saritorial” eloquence in your On Inglish column! (Stop by for Chai, India Currents, April 2014) In fact how colorfully resonant is drinking Chai to most Indians? From the Shankar Vilas Hindu Hotel “Chalu Chai” I drank in Bombay 30 years ago, to the “Samahan Chai” I am drinking for my infected throat these days, Chai has been such an integral slice of my life. I had no idea that the etymological roots came from the Mandarin cha—you live and learn from Kalpana’s pen everyday Shivakumar Raman via Facebook
The Recipe Connection
on facebook.com/IndiaCurrents Most Popular Articles Online April 2014 1) Stop By For Chai Kalpana Mohan 2) The Help Effect Ritu Marwah 3) The Great Divide Ras H. Siddiqui 4) Daddy’s Not-So-Little Girl Dilnavaz Bamboat
I loved the article by Kavya Padmanabhan! (The Cookbook of Memories, India Currents, April 2014). I am sure your thatha lives through one quarter of you, as you say, and he is smiling up there! I look forward to your cookbook of memories Sumana Srinivasan via Facebook
5) A Cookbook of Memories Kavya Padmanabhan
No Voice, No Face
8) Passion and Paranoia Jaya Padmanabhan
I appreciated the article by Rajee Padmanabhan. (Kuppamma’s Story, India Currents, April 2014). The fact is there are lots of such people (like Kuppamma) everywhere, including our own country, who have neither voice nor face. Janvi Vijayam via Facebook
6) Kuppamma’s Story Rajee Padmanabhan 7) Lemon Pickles for Lent Jojy Michael
9) Artists We Owe Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan 10) Realism and Escapism Geetika Pathania Jain
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India’s Election Quandary
No, to Arvind Kejriwal
Yes, to Arvind Kejriwal
By Rameysh Ramdas
By Ash Murthy
ndia, the largest democracy in the world, is having elections to elect a new Parliament which will then elect a new Prime Minister. India’s elections, the largest voting exercise in the world, will be conducted over weeks, with 814 million registered voters, of which over 150 million will be newly eligible youth first time voters. The Election Commission of India oversees this monumental task across all the states enforcing a uniform code of conduct nationwide in the 935 million voting stations—a model that we could emulate in the United States where each state or even county pretty much runs elections on its own set of rules. While we must admire the predictable and reliable democratic election rhythm in India, we must also note that India’s personality driven politics sometimes allows quixotic, inexperienced and untested leaders like Arvind Kejrwal to be elected to positions of power. Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party, was elected in a landslide to be the Chief Minister of Delhi. Subsequently, a series of Kejriwal antics kept the nation and the press fascinated and sometimes entertained. In one of his first steps, Kejriwal rewarded the residents of Delhi who were defaulting on their electricity bills with a 50% reduction in their arrears. Of course, law abiding citizens who paid their bills on time received no relief. quit in 49 ... if [Kejriwal] could daysKejriwal simply because he not govern a city state could not get approval the legislature to such as Delhi, [how] from pass an anti-graft bill. Inwill he rise to the de- stead of working within boundaries of the mands of leading the the constitutional process, entire diverse nation of Kejrawal resigned in protest. Kejriwal is now conIndia? testing the parliamentary elections aspiring to be the next Prime Minister. One wonders how, if he could not govern a city state such as Delhi, will he rise to the demands of leading the entire diverse nation of India? While it is the prerogative of the citizens of India to choose their leaders, one would hope that that they make a wise choice. Qualifications must trump lineage, a successful track record of leadership and administration should trump personality or fame, concrete ideas and action plans should trump ideology, and a focus on sustainable development should trump promised largesse of freebees. The voters must demand that major political parties announce their prime ministerial candidates in advance and then evaluate if their nominees can speak to and govern the diversity in India as a strong leader capable of producing results. A litmus test could be what Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker, said of leadership: “Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.” Last but not the least, a decisive verdict will ensure the stability of the next government in India—it all hinges on the choice of the 814 million registered voters—who must make the right choice. n
n the ongoing elections, Indians are faced with the daunting task of choosing between an incumbent Congress government that presents itself as the champion of the poor, the challenger right wing party led by Narendra Modi or NaMo as his “devotees” call him and the Aam Aadmi Party led by graft-fighting Kejriwal. Except for a few policies that may have helped the poor such as food schemes to end hunger, the best contributions of the Congress party have been the unprecedented levels of corruption, and a strict adherence to the policy of “divide and rule” inherited from the colonial rulers. Thanks to short sighted voting practices, Congress has time and again successfully exploited India’s masses through political maneuvers detrimental to the long term welfare of the country, such as quotas to specific communities in educational institutions. On the other hand, to many of India’s middle classes, controversial politician Modi represents the face of economic prosperity. So mesmerized are they by the lure of economic development and corporate jobs that they take umbrage at the slightest hint of disagreement with Modi’s demigod status. It is true that the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team did not find probable cause of his involvement in the 2002 riots, but his complicity in the riots cannot be dismissed. (It is not irrelevant here to mention that some of Modi’s closest colleagues have been convicted for ... what remains unleading the riots). Sure, changed is India’s the BJP may have better economic development need for corruption plans than Congress or free and policy based the AAP party, but as the right wing has time and politics. again demonstrated by its actions, which include attacking women dancing in pubs, ransacking Prashant Bushan’s office for his personal opinion on Kashmir and advocating sedition charges against students for cheering for the Pakistani cricket team, economic progress comes with a price—disdain for personal liberty. The outstanding performance of the AAP in the Delhi elections is an indication of the common man’s frustration with vote bank politics, and their desire for true leadership. AAP’s gun blazing attempt to burst a racket in Delhi’s Khirki extension, and Kejirwal’s resignation after just 49 days of governance was political harakiri, but what remains unchanged is India’s need for corruption free and policy based politics. Kejriwal looks to be like the best of the bad bargain available. He is the non-Modi/non-Gandhi option. He represents the “disempowered and disenfranchised” even despite his hasty resignation. Many religious minorities, including Muslims are looking for a viable alternative, other than the marginalized Congress party or the divisive BJP one. As Lakshmi Chaudhry a senior editor at Firstpost.com put it, "Unlike Modi, he [Kejriwal] has nothing to lose,” and therefore the most to gain. He is unlikely to win the elections, yet he will most likely make the most strategic advance, politically. n
Rameysh Ramdas, an S.F. Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby. 6 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Ash Murthy is a software engineer at Google and can be reached at ashish. firstname.lastname@example.org
a thousand words
What the Goddess Says
By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
alfway through “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” next to the Pentium chip and around the corner from DJ Rekha, is Ruee Gawarikar’s “The Goddess of Visas” (2013). The accompanying text panel describes the painting as “a humorous take on the tedious and anxiety-ridden process of applying for a work visa [in which] the goddess holds a keyboard while benevolently showering her devotees with the ultimate blessing: the elusive H-1B visa … She leads her followers smoothly through the long process, influencing the minds of visa officers and showing dreams of a better life.” Gawarikar’s own artist statement appends a subtitle, “Towards Greener Grass,” to the painting and describes the goddess as a “multitasker.” The painting is “lighthearted,” she says, but also offers a commentary on migration. Writers are not always their own best readers; this I know after years of editing and being edited. It makes sense, then, that painters might not be their own best critics. In fact, “The Goddess of Visas” is far more interesting than the descriptions offered by its painter and curator Masum Momaya, who wrote the text panel, suggest. The mixed media work depicts a thick-fingered, unsmiling goddess as she stands atop the head of an open-mouthed, balding man with sharp teeth and stricken eyes. The keyboard in one of her many outstretched hands is brandished as a weapon. There is nothing benevolent about it. Nothing particularly humorous or lighthearted, either, as the ground is littered with denied and voided visa applications. The reds, blues, and whites of the painting invoke the American dream to which the text panel refers, but only by revealing its nightmarish cognates. The goddess’ hands are clawed. The clouds above are stormy. Embedded in this painting’s somber elaboration of visa dreams denied is artist Ruee Gawarikar’s own experience of moving to the United States from Pune in 2004 as a dependent spouse on an H-4 visa. The only thing potentially worse than a visa denied, the painting seems to say, is a visa granted. It is a provocative statement in an exhibit that primarily focuses on Indian American contributions to the United States. And it’s a fitting accompaniment to the ambivalent note struck by poet Meena Alexander’s “Bright Passage,” which was penned specifically for the exhibit and greets visitors upon entry: “Grandmother’s sari …/ … scrap of khadi grandfather spun, … / Ancestors startled in sepia… / Who ask— / Why have you brought us here?” The complete poem continues with images of swarming generations and rocking doorway, but it is also full of light, gold, dreamers, and songbirds, koils and finches. It aptly sets a polyphonic tone for an exhibit that is trying to speak in multiple voices—of celebration and correction, of witness and memorial, of triumph and expectation—but it also calls into question any easy equation of heritage and home. In The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience (1996), Alexander wrote an imaginary dialogue between a kathakali dancer playing the part of Draupadi and herself, sitting in her room in Manhattan. “So what brought you here?” Draupadi demands in half-English, half-Malayalam, meaning, why did you come to America? “Here?” Alexander’s character, MA, responds. “Perhaps I came
to remember my life…Perhaps I came to make it all up. Name things afresh…to live and write.” Is there a way in which the words of Alexander’s “Bright Passage” might be read as a question to Gawarikar’s “Goddess of Visas?” Not literally, of course, The Goddess of Visas by Ruee as the artists involved never com- Gawarikar. Photo: James Di Loreto, municated while preparing their Smithsonian Institution contributions. But as the works themselves bunk together at the Smithsonian between now and August 2015 when the exhibit goes on tour, as they glint wordlessly in the dark of the newly refurbished gallery in the National Museum of Natural History, with its marigold, mango, and magenta walls, perhaps they might have occasion to speak. MA: Goddess, why have you brought us here? GV: Here? MA: You know what I mean, America. GV: I’m not sure. Perhaps you should be careful what you wish for. A few weeks after seeing Gawarikar’s painting in Washington, D.C., where I’d gone for the opening of “Beyond Bollywood,” I went to visit her at her house in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, my 10-month-old in tow. Ruee, it turns out, has an almost-two year old, and my Mrinalini was thrilled to be in the company of such a “big kid.” She watched her curiously while eating her whole grain Cheerios, contemplating the way this other little person somehow managed to walk without assistance. Afterward, they wordlessly engaged over xylophone and singing stuffed bunny, then a box of assorted bangles they were allowed to fling all over the carpeted floor of Ruee’s home studio. Ruee’s other paintings, especially a series titled “Defense Mechanisms,” struck me as full of psychic turmoil and yet possibility. Flowers rain down even amidst chaotic swirls of neon arms, wide-open mouths, and bulging eyes. Ruee and I are close in age but a generation-apart in immigrant terms. We talked about going back to India, she to stay with her parents, me to visit my grandparents. It’s far, Ruee said, and hard. She seemed impressed with me for going yearly to India when my own folks live in the United States. She talked about the stress of being on an H-4 visa and the joy of finally being allowed to sell her first painting. Her house smelled wonderfully of home cooking. Her daughter, I joked, would be an American girl, like me. I didn’t ask if she wanted to move back to India. The painting seemed to say it all. But maybe, I thought later, the “greener grass” of Ruee’s subtitle didn’t refer to a mythological United States or an India free of work visa imperatives, but a world—any world—of professional and personal opportunity, a world that knows how to value its human resources and enables the flourishing of all classes, factions, and dreamers. In Alexander’s words, “India, America: all these are names for worlds we live in.” n Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a doctoral candidate in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 7
Beneath a Starlit Sky By Priyanka Sacheti
n an early scene of the recently released Hindi film, Highway (dir: Imtiaz Ali), we find its heroine, Heera (Alia Bhatt) stumbling across cracked earth beneath a star-studded sky. She is trying to escape her abductors, who ironically, have allowed her the freedom to attempt an escape. She is alone, petrified and stranded in an unfamiliar terrain. Something powerful happens beneath those starry skies and within the chamber of the desert’s vast, unrelenting emptiness; Heera seems to experience an existential crisis of sorts in which, it appears, she has absolutely no idea of her identity. Who is she? Why is she there? And what precisely is she escaping from? And more importantly, what is she escaping to? She eventually returns to her abductors, sobbing and barefeet, having left behind her black ballet flats. The shoe analogy plays on to full advantage later on in the movie, as we see her in a different pair of shoes and—indeed—Heera appears to have shed her own acquiescent personality and adopted another, embarking on a real and metaphorical journey, one that could not have been possible in her posh ballet flats. To further extend the shoe/costume analogy, as she transitions from one costume to another, she willingly sheds the garments of her former life for a new one. As I watched Heera run beneath the starry sky, I was reminded of the clear, new moon night on a recent vacation in Florida. Given that so much pollution contaminates our urban night-skies, it was a veritable luxury to sit beneath a celestial canopy. As we lay on the beach and examined the sky, using a phone app to identify the individual stars and planets, the sky was no longer just a mass of shining objects: it was a literal universe of stars with their attendant histories and identities. It struck me that while daylight inevitably conceals the stars, they are increasingly becoming invisible even during the night. One of my most vivid memories of that Florida vacation was to experience the unadulterated clarity of the starlight and the pure silence of the sea at night. Thinking of starried night sky scene in Highway, I found myself revisiting memories of my own Indian travels. Was I simply expe8 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Alia Bhatt in the movie Highway
As a member of the diaspora, revisiting the homeland is always enmeshed in many issues: what are we returning to? This is a home, not the home; this is the home of our heritage but not necessarily the many other components that make us up. riencing the outlines rather than being aware of and appreciating the specific details? As Heera contemplates the salt-encrusted landscape, she mentions that she had not known she could travel like this, accustomed as she is to defining travel through a series of luxury hotels, restaurants, cars and tours. As viewers we may not necessarily identify with the nature of the journey she embarks upon, both its interior and physical aspects and of course, the problematic, chilling circumstances leading to it—what her journey did compel me to do was to meditate on whether I have ever experienced the real India, the India without the waitered hotels and fivestar dining?
The film navigates the artery of roads in my home-state, Rajasthan, I thought of the countless road-trips I have taken in Rajasthan myself: yet, they were singularly focused on going from one destination to another. I never stopped en route at villages: the huts, the people, the animals simply flashed past me, as if I was scrolling through the busy homepage of a social media newsfeed. How much of the state and its character was I experiencing? What, indeed, was I experiencing of my country through my travels? The insularity of the comforting, almost soporific existence that Heera leads in Delhi implodes with her abduction; she experiences life pared down to its simplest, such as the gorgeously shot scene in which she stands atop a damp desert dune moments before the clouds rip apart and rain, while her bemused abductors stand at the foot of the dune, obviously understanding her need to stop and reflect. As viewers watching the film, we are privy to being both, witnesses and participants, in Heera’s growth; we travel with her through the land that she assumed was home and yet what she knows very little about. As a member of the diaspora, revisiting the homeland is always enmeshed in many issues: what are we returning to? This is a home, not the home; this is the home of our heritage but not necessarily the many
other components that make us up. So, when we are visiting and travelling through the homeland, the issue primarily becomes what notion of home are we expecting to encounter: the ones that our parents and relatives have narrated to us through their stories and anecdotes? The images we see in books, magazines, and the Internet? The ones that we significantly encounter in the great visual medium of movies? When in Rajasthan, I was unsure whether I wished to experience the Rajasthan that I had abstracted from my imagination, which in turn was inspired by all that I had read and seen—or actually engage with the one that actually surrounded me, pretty at times but decidedly unglamorous and steeped in harsh realities on most occasions. Heera’s route to discovering her country, and herself in the process, occurs when the trajectories of her life completely and dramatically veer away from the solidly established path she was walking upon. She literally steps upon the less beaten path, getting a glimpse into the many painful stories and realities that fill the lives of her fellow travelers. During my India visits, I often traveled in an AC coach in train-journeys; one distinctive feature of the coach was that the windows were yellow-hued, offering a sepiatinted view of the vistas that flashed past: it was literally an exercise in nostalgia. When I next visit my homeland, I must make a conscious attempt to liberate myself of nostalgia and what my imagination demands and desires from me; I must see my country, my homeland, for what it is and relate to it as it is. It is time to shatter the tinted glass—and see what lies beyond it. And so, when I next visit my homeland, I too must make a conscious attempt to liberate myself of my expectations and what my imagination demands from me; I must see my country, my homeland, for what it is and relate to it as it is. Sometimes, it is not always necessary that you get a burst of inspiration and enlightenment in broad daylight; on some occasions, a sky full of stars can illuminate you a great deal more. n Priyanka Sacheti is an independent cultural writer based in Pittsburgh. Educated at Universities of Warwick and Oxford, United Kingdom, Priyanka has written extensively about art, culture and gender. She has authored 3 poetry volumes and her short stories have appeared in international anthologies.When she’s not working on her short story collection or pursuing photography, she blogs at http://iamjustavisualperson.blogspot.com/
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@Tiger’s Nest! Finding happiness in Paro, Bhutan By Kavita Kanan Chandra Tiger’s Nest
It took Pandit Nehru one week to reach Paro from Sikkim, in 1958, on the back of a yak, the preferred mode of transport in the absence of any road. Thankfully, five decades after Nehru’s visit, I was able to fly to Paro in an hour from Kolkata. In the juggle between modern technology, development and preservation of its rich cultural heritage, the former king of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk cautiously, but surely, opened its doors to tourists and technology. I pondered on how difficult it must have been for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and a young Indira Gandhi to travel on yak-back for a whole week. Difficult or not, that historic trip paved a strong bond between the Land of Thunder Dragon and India. 10 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
hutan beckoned me for its enigma and its elusiviness. This mountain kingdom had cautiously opened up to tourists only as recently as 1972. Considering that almost all of the rest of the world had roads, trains and even flights in the fifties, how arduous a journey must it have beeen to travel within this secluded kingdom! Bhutan has its own reasons to protect its unique culture and the fragile eco-system. Norman Myers in 1988 considered Bhutan to be one of the ten bio-diversity hotspots in the world. Budhhism is a way of life for the Bhutanese. With no manufacturing industries or rapid development that could harm the environment, emphasis is given to agriculture and high-end tourism. Indian engineers built the first road in 1962 and since then ponies, mules and yaks have given way to sleek Toyotas, Marutis and Hyundais. Bhutan has a very low GDP (Gross Development Product) per capita, but is “ranked among the happiest nations in the world.” The recent film release Lunchbox made reference to Bhutan as an idyll, distributing happiness on its residents—the land of “Gross National Happiness.” This term was coined by the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s in response to the world going crazy about GNP (Gross National Product). The United Nations has bought into this vision, and marked March 20 as the International Day of Happiness Day, in 2013 at the behest of the King of Bhutan, who marketed the idea of happiness as essential to sustained development. The adventure, I’ve read, begins on the airplane itself, for landing at Paro airport is very challenging. A narrow runway, on the banks of river Paro Chhu at an elevation of 7,300 feet, is surrounded by lofty mountain peaks towering at 18,000 feet. Landing and take-off are often disrupted by strong winds blowing across the valley. The irony is that one of the most beautiful airports with its terminal building looking like a heritage fortress with impressive dzong architecture is considered the most dangerous in the world. Only a few pilots are trained to handle the Airbuses painted with lovely yellow dragons on its wings. We were lucky not to face this ordeal but when we saw our Airbus A319 plummeting at a steep angle through the narrow channel between the mountains, we held our breaths. You can fly into Paro International Airport, but only on Druk Air, the royal kingdom’s official aircraft. It is the country’s only direct link to the world and keeps Bhutan connected, but in the most Bhutanese way. We were on a week-long trip, which was to culminate with a trek to the Tiger’s Nest,
a monastery built in 1692, on a steep cliff, by Gyalse Tensin Rabaye. The itinerary was designed so that our bodies could acclimatize to the high altitude and we could get accustomed to walking through the hilly terrain across Bhutan before taking on the ultimate challenge of trekking to Tiger’s Nest, also known as the Paro Taktsang Monastery.
Chillies and Intestines
So straight from the airport we went to the weekend market to have a glimpse of the chief ingredients that go into Bhutanese cuisine. There were the usual suspects of potatoes, beans, lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, sour cheese, dried brinjal and dried fish. There were lots and lots of chillies, the country’s staple vegetable. The ear mushrooms, dried persimmon and fiddlehead ferns looked exotic but what caught my attention was a dark brown, tubular, rope like objects. I squirmed, and my kids peered over my shoulders, curious to look at what had so offended their mom. It turned out to be the dried intestines of cows, a snack to go with tea. They definitely looked hideous. I moved towards the wafting swirling mist of incense and felt the urgency to buy some.
The town of Paro
Rinpung Dzong, a fortress
Land of Thunder Dragon
After lunch we headed towards Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Norzin Lam is the main thoroughfare in Thimphu where you can feel the pulse of the city. It is buzzing with locals and you get to see trendy and hip youngsters aping the latest Korean fashions. Ambient Café is a happening place to see the hustle and bustle of the street below. Take a sip of their delicious coffee with carrot cake, munch grilled sandwiches and you’ll be tempted to pen a haiku in this ambience. The people are friendly and laidback, and their “cool quotient’” makes up for any lassitude encountered. In Bhutan, it’s a delight to watch women in the forefront, whether manning shops or managing the hotels. It’s interesting to note that they are a visible and public face of the workforce.
Bhutanese girl selling chillies at a Paro weekend market May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 11
I talked to some travelers from the United States and Hong Kong who recounted how they were often harassed in the Indian subcontinent but Bhutan was like a whiff of fresh air. No one stared curiously at their brown hair or pale skin or tried to fleece them at the marketplace. Bhutan is a place where a woman can travel alone and without any fear. This tiny Himalayan kingdom is replete with myths and legends, ancient spirits, Buddhist teachings, deities and demons. So don’t shoo away the barking dogs for they are respected for chasing the spirits at night, according to my guide Yashi Dorj. Yes, Buddhism permeates every walk of life. The diehard belief in Bhutan is the triumph of good over evil and this has ostensibly kept the people honest and contented to a large extent. In the 1970s Bhutan was referred to
as “The last Shangrila” and then later by the title, “The Land of Thunder Dragon.” Historically, the Tibetans called Bhutan the “Lho Mon,” which meant the dark southland. The reason was the practice of animalistic rituals by the Bhutanese while the neighboring Tibetans practiced the Buddhist tenet of Ahimsa (nonviolence) that shunned killing of animals in the name of religion. Tibetans had considered the Bhutanese ignorant and had invaded Bhutan several times but the Bhutanese always managed to drive them away. In Paro I could see youngsters in trendy clothes rubbing shoulders with maroon robed monks and people attired in their national dress of “gho” and “kira.” There are cars but its purchase is regulated lest they cause pollution. And the cutting of trees have to be officially sanctioned. Everywhere in Bhutan one tends to see a balance.
One of Bhutan’s strongest and strategic fortresses Rinpung Dzong in Paro, was first built in the 10th century by Guru Padmasambhava as a monastery. As Paro stands strategically in the center of two most important trade routes to Tibet, it was strengthened as a fortress. Built in stone on a rocky outcrop of the hill overlooking the Paro valley it is also the area’s administrative center. It houses a big collection of masks and religious costumes some dating back to centuries. “Rinpung” meaning “heaps of jewels” is said to have all the jewels destroyed in a fire. Only a “thangka” (a painting on fabric depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala of some sort) could be saved. It was rebuilt in 1907. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan, and we were able to watch a league match at a local club in Paro. The archers wore the traditional “gho” but with brand-name, western shoes and using expensive high-tech bows.
Trekking to the Nest
Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s Nest) high on a cliff 12 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
I was eager to see the iconic Tiger’s Nest, Taktsang Monastery, carved into the cliffside near Paro, but my heart was almost in my mouth on the journey up. The horse I rode had the unpleasant tendency to walk at the very edge of the rugged pathway. The sheer fall of the cliff into the bottomless valley had my nerves on edge. What if the horse missed a step or lost its balance under my weight? All my prayers to Budha and muttering the name of the horse handler stood me in
Prayer flags fluttering on the way to Tiger’s Nest
good stead. The harassed Prenjo, the horse’s owner, had a tough time convincing me not to worry. The friendly chap kept his cool throughout with a smile on his face—a trait I found in many Bhutanese. The trek to the Taktsang monastery also made up for the spectacular view of the Himalayan ranges we missed from the aircraft due to a veil of mist over them. It was refreshing to see the Paro valley below enveloped in lush greenery. We came across prayer flags—red, blue, green, yellow and white flags fluttering in the strong breeze throughout the trek. The Buddhist believe that the mantras inscribed on the prayer flags are transmitted across the land by the blowing wind. The Tiger’s Nest clings to a sheer 3000 m high rock face. Appearing to defy the law of gravity, it balances itself pretty well. It looks awesome and enigmatic no matter which angle you choose to admire this imposing structure. For the camera toting tourists it’s a dream come true going click-click after every few steps. Depending on your fitness and stamina it takes 2-4 hours to ascend and the same amount of time to descend the monastery, with an hour to spend while inside the Tiger’s Nest. Almost mid-way up the journey is Taktsang Cafeteria, where you can rest, while sipping hot beverages on the way up and have a hearty Bhutanese meal at Rs 420 per person ($7) while coming down. For all the walking you do, the set buffet meal of Ema Datshi (chillies with cheese), Kewa Datshi (potatoes with cheese), chowmein, spinach, Bhutanese red rice and a fiery chillies pickle taste superb. The chillies are used as a staple vegetable and the red rice is quite unique to Bhutan.
In the Nest
The monastery is grand with ornate designs, paintings and colors. The legend says that Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew on the back of a tiger from Tibet and
Thalam School of Fine Arts
alini Natarajan, a truly dedicated exponent of Bharatha Natyam , started
her journey in the path of Bharatha Natyam at the tender age of six in Mayavaram, India. She became a well accomplished dancer under the guidance and teaching of her Gurus Thanjavur Shrimathi Lakshmi Ammal and Dhanam Ammal sisters, and late Master Thanjavur Arunachalam Pillai and Shrimathi Jayalakshmi Arunachalam. Under the guidance of Guru Madurai Nagarajan, she learned choreography and did many dance productions with her guru like, “ Shiva Parvathy, Meenakshi Kalyanam, Narahasura Samhara, Pashmasuran Mohini, Kovalan Madhavi, Vasantha Vizha”etc. in India. With her strong educational back ground, Nalini chose to open her own dance school and teach Bharatha Natyam in Traditional Thanjavur style in USA. She did small projects like Salute to India – Languages and Religions and Kotha Kalyanam in LA. She performed in India and US for many fund raisers, charity events, and many different international organizations. Nalini and her students also performed for many televised sponsored events such as KNBC-Health Expo and the Time Warner Channel. Nalini also recipients of titles, proclamations , certificates in India and US. Thalam School welcomes and
encourages students with physical and mental challenges. Thalam Scholl of Fine Arts students and Nalini are having fund raiser program for the benefit of the Organization known as Asha Jyotji USA on May 17th 2014,Birmingham Community Charter High School, Sally field performing arts center Address: 17000 Haynes St, Van Nuys, CA – 91406, ASHA JYOTHI AshaJyothi USA was founded on the core philosophy of social responsibility to save special needs orphan, abandoned and underprivileged children primarily in rural India. Entirely driven by socially responsible volunteers with a passion to change the world and save a child in need with a mission "To create an environment of hope and
respect for the children with special needs and assist each child in reaching their maximum potential through holistic interventions". Since inception have impacted more than 1200 children in Andhra Pradesh. Our grants enable us to provide Polio corrective surgeries for the physically challenged children, Special education interventions like Physiotherapy and Occupational therapy for the developmentally delayed children suffering from Cerebral Palsy, Down's syndrome, Autism, Epilepsy, Mental retardation, etc. Grants also help in arranging for Speech Therapy for the Hearing Impaired, along with wheelchairs, Crutches, Prosthetics, Calipers, etc to cater to the children in need. Our Community Based Rehabilitation Programs are designed to extend our outreach to more than 200 children in rural villages of Andhra Pradesh. Medical Camps, Clothing donations, diaper donations, comprehensive therapy , Sponsor educational needs for Underprivileged children, Special education for the Cognitively challenged children and Special Rehabilitation Programs for Girl Children and HIV/AIDS children. To know more about our projects and how we are changing the lives of children in need in India. Please visit http://www.ashajyothiusa.org. Email: email@example.com
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On the way to Tiger’s Nest on a path strewn with boulders
A traditional Bhutanese dance
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A curio-seller’s wares on display on the way to Tiger’s Nest
holed up here for meditation. He is credited to have brought Mahayana Budhism to Bhutan and is the most revered Guru here. The monks in their robes go about their daily work across the spacious courtyard. All the frayed nerves seem to calm down in these peaceful surroundings. One feels in sync with oneself. The meandering Paro Chhu flowing across the Paro valley (originating from the revered Chomolahri range) looks stunningly beautiful from the dzong. There are four connecting temples at different levels within the structure. Deep inside is a cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated. There was a sense of freedom and peace within the cave. The monastery is said to be one of the highest temples in the world We were told that come spring this dzong comes alive with religious dancers wearing masks and elaborate costumes known as the Paro Tsechu. Organized on the tenth day of a lunar month in the spring, different religious festivals are held for five days. While locals flock to partake in religious fervor, the tourists love it for the unique photo opportunity it presents. The ancient watchtower that looms on the hill above the dzong looks tiny from its
spacious courtyard but is actually a tall structure. Converted into the National museum in 1967, it was under renovation while we were there. Amidst the collection of masks, thangkas, religious items and other things of significance what caught our eyes were old pictures of Pandit Nehru and his daughter.
On the Way Down
Much to my relief, while descending we had to compulsorily walk down for the horses tended to slip in the steep slope. Though it is a relentless downhill trudge, and even though my feet ached and toes turned blue, I was happy to be on my own two reliable feet. After the arduous trek to Taktsang monastery, all us tourists at the Metta Resort sat by a large bonfire watching the locals perform Bhutanese folk songs. The cool night, crackling firewood and the rising flames made a spectacular sight. Bhutan is transforming, but at its own pace, and on its own terms. It is still a road less traveled for its policy of low volume high quality tourism. It dissuades many travelers due to the prohibitive cost of $250 per person per night. Though the cost is all inclusive of meals, accommodation, permit fees, transportation and guides, Bhutan could never be done on the average backpacker budget. With two-thirds of Bhutan covered with forests, the pollution-free clean mountain air worked as magic on a city-weary soul like me. It is truly the last shangrila with its colorful dzongs (structures with Buddhist origins), serene monasteries and pristine surroundings. No doubt, the Tiger’s Nest is one of the significant contributors to the happiness index in Bhutan! n Kavita Kanan Chandra is a freelance journalist and travel writer based in Mumbai. She has lived and worked in different parts of India and understands the pulse of her country.
May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 15
The Non-Redundant Indian By Dilnavaz Bamboat
s a keen follower of Indian politics and the upcoming national elections, and someone who is very active on social media year-round, I have lately been confronted by an interesting phenomenon: The tendency of resident Indians to a) diss NRIs and render them irrelevant by virtue of not residing in the country anymore, and b) actively criticize and debar them from having an opinion about their home country. The logic: You left, therefore you have no right to a voice. So that you understand exactly what I mean, here is a sampling of comments about non-resident Indians by people ostensibly living in India: “NRI types who would go out on a limb for foreign citizenship are the first to invoke patriotism.” (This tweet has been retweeted 15 times and made favorite 4 times, so clearly others share this sentiment.) “No one will give you more concerned perceptive and farsighted advises (sic) on how India should be ruled than a NRI who has no plans to return ever!” (7 retweets and 6 favorites.) “All these NRI types vote for Modi, they’re the ones funding him, and we’re left to suffer.” (125 comments on Facebook, of which 83 were in agreement with the sentiment.) Nasty comments and raging debates on Facebook indicate a thinly-veiled resentment directed toward us NRIs. Past what may or may not be jealousy of about perceived better living standards, or a residual sense of abandonment, there is the not-so-subtle accusation of betrayal and it scowls “You left.” Let’s get some basic facts first: Of the 22 million Indians living outside India, at least 10 million still hold an Indian passport. Remittances to India totaled $70 billion at last count, amounting to 4% of the country’s GDP. Yes, NRIs fund political parties they believe in. If you think being an NRI is all political money talk, think again: more than 50% of the funding for India’s top education nonprofit comes from the United States, Indians abroad work beyond their full time jobs to actively volunteer for causes back home that range from education to disability to maternal health issues. I am not likely to be an exception in that I volunteer for no less than four nonprofits working in India. But working right alongside me are Indians who have been here anywhere between 5 and 35 years. Those who form part of the “stop
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It is time our opinions are heard and considered—if only for the unique perspectives we bring from being exposed to various governance systems around the world. complaining and get it done brigade.” Those who put their money where their mouth is and ensure that millions can access the basic rights that we enjoy in our new countries, which successive governments have failed to provide for Indians in India. For this, we are not even given our basic right to vote from abroad, and have to watch in silence as our country goes to polls and our voices are deemed irrelevant. I have been on both sides of this apparent divide. As someone who has spent five-year chunks of time in the United States and then India and now the United States again, I have been witness to plenty of nonresident Indians and Indian non-residents, a term I used to describe the many people encountered who complain loudly about the state of affairs, and won’t move a finger to change them, and, while physically present in the country, won’t even bother to visit a polling booth. “What’s going to change,” I am defiantly asked, and labeled a sentimental fool for hoping. When it comes to chowing down the latest New Zealand rack of lamb recipe that costs the equivalent of the working class monthly paycheck or going berserk at the Zara sale, plenty of Indians will be the first to declare that with the world going global now, it doesn’t matter where we live. Why then this discrimination against those who choose for whatever reason to live away from their homeland? Our money is gladly accepted, Indian-origin celebrities and achievers are proudly touted by the motherland as one of their own, but when it comes to having an opinion about the country we grew up in, we’re suddenly pariahs? Denying a fellow Indian the right to a voice about his/ her country based on their location reeks of hypocrisy. One argument against non-resident Indians is that we are unaware of the ground realities by virtue of being physically removed
from them. This is certainly true of some part of the NRI population. It is also equally true of some part of the resident Indian population. But in this age of global connectivity, instant news updates, round-the-clock media, and Twitter frenzy, the premise does not hold true anymore. Gone are the days when we would land in India after a span of several years, only to find we were serious misfits and the country of our birth was unrecognizable to us. More than ever, with the first generation Indian migrant population ballooning, especially in places like Silicon Valley, service providers have worked toward bringing India into our homes on a daily basis. Our passports are perceived as unavoidable inconveniences, temporary pit-stops on the way to other colored ones, and our very nationality is questioned for our audacity in getting on a plane out of the country. Our ties to India are primarily emotional. Almost all first-generation Indians still have some family there and we worry about their safety, comfort, and peace, as they worry about ours each time there is a mass threat. The sheer number of phone plans, calling cards and video conferencing options are testimony to our efforts to remain connected to our loved ones, and the land of our birth and heart. It is time our opinions are heard and considered—if only for the unique perspectives we bring from being exposed to various governance systems around the world. We live in 205 countries and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. We have learned to discard that sense of entitlement and build lives and families and meaningful existences in all corners of the globe, while a piece of our heart remains where we once lived. No Indian, resident or otherwise, has the right—moral or legal—to tell another their opinion is irrelevant. If we are to raise India to new heights, and truly make her an equal, competent world player, can we really afford to discount 22 million of her people? n Dilnavaz Bamboat manages communications and social media for a Silicon Valley non-profit, is a scriptwriter for iPad applications for children, a writer and editor at IDEX (idex.org), a section editor at Ultra Violet (ultraviolet.in), a feminist blogger at Women’s Web (womensweb. in) and a founder member of India Helps (indiahelps.blogspot.com). She lives in the SF Bay Area.
May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 17
Microsoftie Nadella By Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy
Over the years, Nadella has worked in many areas of Microsoft. Until his recent roles in the more prominent and public facing Server and Tools and Cloud divisions, he spent much of his time in a myriad set of important but not prominent roles within Microsoft. His work has included stints in the Online Services (Search, Portal and Advertising), Microsoft Business Solutions, and innovation efforts in Interactive Television (ITV) and Digital Rights Management. In the past year, he has prominently championed Microsoft’s growing Azure cloud business where it is competing against the likes of Google and Amazon. Previously, under his stewardship, the Server and Tools business at Microsoft had grown to be a $20 billion business with $8.2 billion in operating income. As evidenced by his educational credentials, Nadella prides himself in being a lifelong learner and a seeker of all things new. Within Microsoft, he has spent time across multiple business units where he has had the opportunity to learn about the entire business. This makes him uniquely suited for the CEO role.
Roots and Rhyme
Nadella’s father, B.N. Yugandhar, was a special secretary to late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and subsequently a member of the Planning Commission. Upon his son’s prestigious promotion, he is quoted in the
18 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
software. “It’s like code.” “You’re trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence, so it’s that compression.” He goes on to add that the “best code is poetry.” Nadella is well remunerated for his contributions. According to Politico, Nadella made $7.6 million in 2013. A Wiki Commons image
fter a prolonged and much publicized search, technology behemoth Microsoft selected Indian American, and longtime Microsoft veteran, Satya Nadella, as its next CEO. Nadella follows the hallowed footsteps of Steve Ballmer and founder Bill Gates as only the third CEO of one of the largest companies of the world. Microsoft is one of the largest players in the software sector, but the tide is slowly shifting in the consumer space from PCs to tablets and mobile computing. The post-PC era is starting to affect Microsoft and it needs a leader who understands the coming challenge and is willing to redefine Microsoft for the next few decades. So who really is Satya Nadella, the CEO of the 132,000 strong Microsoft?
DNA in India as saying “He is a very studious and hardworking boy, and has achieved his goal.” Nadella grew up in Hyderabad and got his Bachelors in Engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology. Then, like hundreds of thousands of wide-eyed engineers from India, made his trek to the United States for his Masters. Nadella earned a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He briefly worked at Sun Microsystems before joining Microsoft in 1992. He was in the middle of an MBA program at the University of Chicago when he took up the Microsoft offer in Seattle. Instead of giving up on his program, he chose to commute to Illinois every weekend from Redmond to finish his program. Nadella is an avid cricket enthusiast and has referred to his liking for the game at many a press conference. “I think playing cricket taught me more about working in teams and leadership that has stayed with me throughout my career,” Nadella said after he was appointed CEO according to a Firstpost article. He is married to Anupama and the couple are the proud parents of three kids—a son and two daughters. Satya has referred to the time he spends with his family as special and they continue to visit India every year. He has fondly talked about his passion for American and Indian poetry which he likens to software code, abstracting complexities elegantly within few lines. On the Meet the CEO section of the Microsoft website Nadella is quoted as saying that there is a definite correlation between poetry and
What They Say
In speaking to ex-colleagues, friends and current employees of Microsoft, it is easy to see why Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates and the rest of the Microsoft board zeroed in on Satya Nadella. Sam Jadallah, Founder/CEO of TyTo Life, worked with Nadella when he was a VP at Microsoft. He says, “Satya and I worked closely together several times during the 1990s, in particular, we both had a strong interest in small business market and how to offer the right products and services. Satya brought a poise, confidence and style that was very unique within Microsoft culture. He had a way of adapting to a very driven Microsoft environment but doing so with his own style and sense of purpose. It was very refreshing. I believe the appointment of Satya as CEO is very meaningful to Microsoft as it recognizes Satya’s leadership and product skills and validates the internal support and reputation that he has built during his long tenure. Microsoft was always a very strong meritocracy and Satya’s appointments shows that Microsoft valued those who provided enduring contributions to the company and one’s background, ethnicity or religion was relatively unimportant. It’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about Microsoft and, more generally, the technology industry overall.” Talking to a few Microsoft employees, I got the sense that there seems to be a strong sense of optimism in what Nadella brings to the table and can do for Microsoft. There is confidence in his ability to deliver and usher Microsoft into the next generation of technology. One long time Microsoft employee Greg Baskins (name changed upon request) has worked closely with Nadella and had the
following to say about him. “I have had the chance to present to Satya and be a demo guy for his talks on a couple of occasions. One thing I have always felt is that after every conversation/meeting/engagement with him we all come out energized and positive. As EVP of Cloud and Enterprise (C+E), he set the right big picture context, rinsing and repeating the mission to all levels of the org, and gave the organization a clear long term direction. In presentations to him, he always seemed to have done his homework, was very respectful and generally let us go through all the material and gave pointed feedback—mostly cross-company integration type, as he is always thinking about the big picture and One Microsoft customer viewpoint. In his presentation prep he is very detail oriented and particular about every aspect—slides, talking points, flow, ordering of demos, etc. Overall I am a big fan and have a lot of respect for Satya and am excited for what lies ahead.”
South Asians and Leadership
“Increasingly, Indian Americans are occupying leadership positions in leading United States companies. Why?” asks Venktesh Shukla, President of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE). “Most credit familiarity with the English language as the main reason. While that is certainly an enabler, it is not a complete explanation. The secret to the success of Indian Americans in leadership positions lies in two other reasons. First, Indians instinctively know how to deal with diversity. Chances are that they have grown up with people who look different, dress and eat differently, follow different religions and speak different languages at home. Indians know that just because someone else is different does not mean that he or she is inferior or superior to them—just different. The only other country in the world which deals with so much diversity in its people is the United States. In every other country, people grow up in situations where every single person around them speaks the same language, has similar food and dress and goes to the same place of worship and looks the same. Indians in the United States instinctively do better than immigrants from any other country because they are better at handling diversity in the work place. The second reason Indian Americans do better is the culture of competition back home. Nothing comes easy in India—from getting admission to a good school or college to getting a seat on the bus, every aspect of life is fiercely competitive. People who are successful in India are successful because they have mastered what it takes to be mar-
ginally better than the next person. It is this familiarity with fierce competition and the skills of doing better than the next person that enable a person to climb the corporate hierarchy here. None of these reasons are well understood here but are critical ingredients behind the success of Indian Americans.”
Up for the Challenge
At Microsoft, Nadella has a unique challenge ahead. Technology is slowly but steadily shifting from a desktop centric environment to a post-PC era of tablets and mobile devices. Data is no longer stored in large hard drives in the computer. Instead much of computing and storage is powered by the exploding cloud business. Nadella has talked much about a future driven by mobile and the cloud and his recent experience in one of them positions him well for this coming challenge. He also is a believer in motivating his team to innovate and excel. In his first letter to Microsoft employees, Nadella’s message is uplifting: “I am here for the same reason I think most people join Microsoft—to change the world through technology that empowers people to do amazing things. I know it can sound hyperbolic—and yet it’s true. We have done it, we’re doing it today, and we are the team that will do it again.” Nadella extends his message by quoting Irish poet Oscar Wilde: “We need to believe in the impossible and remove the improbable.” Overall, Nadella seems to be a solid bet for Microsoft to continue to be the technology leader in the face of immense competition, unlike anything it has seen in its lifetime. He is also grounded in his belief systems and his sense of family and work life balance. Time will tell if he will take Microsoft to new and greater heights but for now, he seems to be the right person for the road ahead. For the Indian community in America, this is a big achievement and a reason to be proud. Nadella’s life in both inspirational and motivational in all that he has accomplished from his humble roots and the possibilities that lie ahead. He shows the Indian American community that all it takes is hard work and a single minded focus. As Sam Jadallah aptly put, “Great people rise to the top and there is no one image of what a great leader looks like. Satya has the skill set, talent and leadership to drive change at Microsoft and every bit of his talent and skill will be tested.” n Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy is a tech enthusiast and blogs on various topics from parenting to shopping: rangaprabhu.com.
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Still Searching for the Formula Chua and Rubenfeld attempt to isolate the drivers for success By Vidya Pradhan THE TRIPLE PACKAGE. By Amy Chua, Jed Rubenfeld. The Penguin Press HC, February 2014. 304 pages. Hardcover. $16.77
my Chua wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as a cathartic memoir but ended up generating a firestorm of controversy over her authoritarian parenting style. Parents the world over weighed in on whether the hard discipline she employed toward her daughters was effective or harmful. The phrase “Tiger Mom” got the dubious distinction of being both a compliment and an insult. One of the issues that emerged in the ensuing debate was whether parenting alone could explain the prosperity and success of individuals and communities. In The Triple Package, Chua and her co-author and spouse, Jed Rubenfeld, attempt to break down that disciplinary parenting style to its elements and explore whether there are some other common cultural signifiers that give certain communities an advantage in the United States. In brief, the Triple Package of traits that are supposed to explain the success of communities like the Mormons, East Asians, and Jews, are Superiority, Insecurity, and Impulse Control. An intrinsic belief in the superiority of one’s culture, a persistent worry over individual under-achievement, and the willingness to wait for future rewards seem to be, at first glance, reasonable indicators of success. Unfortunately, none of them holds up to even minor scrutiny—scrutiny by the authors themselves, because they begin undermining their arguments in the introductory chapter itself. Keeping your children insecure supposedly leads to a more driven social group, but insecurity is also the cause of deep dissatisfaction and rebellion. A belief in the superiority of one’s culture is supposed to give the ethnic group motivation, but several members of the very successful Jewish community point out that “their immigrant parents and many of their generation knew nothing of Jewish learning.” The book also admits that the failure of many communities to thrive has nothing to do with the absence of Triple Package traits and everything to do
20 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
with institutionalized discrimination and systematic exploitation. And, most important of all, the introduction questions the very meaning of the success that the Triple Package is supposed to achieve, acknowledging that the rewards are mostly material. When the book explores each trait in depth, the reasoning gets even more convoluted. Chua and Rubenfeld argue that certain communities like the Mormons and Nigerian Americans have an inherent sense of cultural superiority that gives them an advantage. Yet here is a paragraph in the subsequent chapter on insecurity: “All of America’s disproportionately successful groups are strangely united in ... [being] looked down upon in America, treated with derision, disrespect, or suspicion.” From this, one can infer that the existing dominant social groups in America feel a sense of superiority towards the immigrant class. So how is their sense of superiority not leading to successful outcomes? The authors also reason that Indian Americans are successful because of a combination of a superiority complex and “ethnic anxiety.” As an Indian American, I find that argument hard to swallow, especially since the explana-
tions for these are scattered and incoherent —the caste system is a source of both superiority and insecurity, and being under the yoke of the British colonial rule is supposed to have created “lingering resentment.” Racism faced by the early wave of immigrants is believed to be another source of anxiety and insecurity and a driver for the community’s success. Of course, all these arguments tend to break down when you analyze the success of the second generation of immigrants, who seem to be blazing new trails comfortably insulated from all the heartburn their parents went through. So how do the authors rationalize this? Why, these young Indian Americans must have constructed a new “superior culture narrative.” The premise that traits to success are intrinsically cultural can also be easily debunked. If Indian American immigrants are wildly successful because the Triple Package traits exist in our culture, then why isn’t India wildly successful? Why have cultures that emphasize obedience, discipline and delayed gratification struggled to nurture creativity? Is a superiority complex the reason for the success of a community or derived from its success? After the chapters on the individual traits, even the authors appear to give up on their arguments, because the rest of the book is about how other institutional factors play into the success of failure of communities and how focusing on Triple Package traits can break children’s spirits and lead them to “conventional, materialistic” pursuits. The authors reach the reluctant conclusion that “… the best thing about the Triple Package is maybe that it can empower people to break out of it” and “… calling for America to recover its Triple Package creates a paradox” because “America’s Triple Package will conflict with and tend to undercut the superiority complexes of its Triple Package groups.” It’s hard not to believe that the book was written purely on the basis of a catchy blurb. Where this book succeeds is at placing a lot of data on immigrant communities at our fingertips. Want to know how many Indian Americans make over a $100,000 a year? How many top-paid CEOs are Jewish? What the median income of Iranian Americans is?
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This is the book for you. I have to confess I speed read through all these statistics looking for a cogent argument and came to the conclusion that the examples are cherry-picked to suit the theory, and much of the reasoning is tautological. Chua and Rubenfeld flounder so much because their premise itself is flawed. If I had to pick three traits that explained the success of certain communities they would be—Selection Bias, Education, and Networking. Immigrant communities are made of people who have left the home country for better opportunities, so they feature a predominantly higher survival instinct and drive than longtime residents of a developed country. (History is full of examples of complacent civilizations being conquered by hungrier invaders). These emigrating populations also have higher risk-taking propensities than the general populations in either country, which gives them a better shot at grabbing opportunity in their adopted home. This selection bias means that the likelihood of success in these populations is higher. Secondly, immigrants who are well-educated tend to succeed more quickly than their less-educated compatriots, leading to a reinforcement of the importance of education in the community. This explains why the demand for after-school services by East Asians is much higher than the size of the population warrants, regardless of the education level of the parents. Also, immigrant communities tend to be discriminated against when they first arrive, and this leads to a kind of tribalism that fosters networking, which is an underrated but key driver of success. These networks compensate for their small size by the strength of the bonds. I often joke that there are just six degrees of separation between me and any other Indian American, but there is more than a nugget of truth there. Each of these traits is a catalyst for success by itself, and in combination these traits can create a multiplier effect that propels entire communities upwards. The Triple Package of Selection Bias, Education, and Networking explain not just successes within the Indian American community, but other communities like the Jews and Mormons, where the intra-social bonds are strong and the communities are essentially composed of the hardiest survivors of discrimination and physical hardships. Now where’s my million dollar advance? n Vidya Pradhan is a freelance writer who hosts the weekly radio show Safari Kids Quiz Show on KZDG 1550 AM. She also runs the community blog Water, No Ice and was the editor of India Currents from June 2009 to February 2012. 22 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
The Unread Book Review By Rajesh C. Oza FROM THE RUINS OF EMPIRE: THE INTELLECTUALS WHO MADE ASIA. By Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. 356 pages. $13.13. Hardcover $19.57.
ome time during my lifelong love affair with books, I learned to NOT take the CliffsNotes approach to reading: no need to read the book; just skim someone else’s version of the book’s truth. I never did buy into the company’s tagline: “Fast. Trusted. Proven.” Even though in college I was tempted to succumb to the pamphletsized yellow and black summaries, over time, I’ve amended the tagline with a bias toward reading the books in whole, as written by their authors: •These yellow and black summaries are the fastest way to not ever get around to reading a book—akin to always taking a taxi and never learning to drive; •Like a used car salesman who says, “Trust me, the car’s not a lemon,” CliffsNotes’ value proposition is merely trusted to stunt my intellectual growth; and •In the same “tweety” way that 140 characters constrain my passion for writing prose, these shortcuts would prove to limit my passion for reading books. So why such a snarky confessional to open this review? Because, with no small guilt, I confess that I have only read the first 49 pages (and skimmed some 20 pages on Rabindranath Tagore in the second half) of Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire. Since this book “seeks to open up multiple perspectives on the past and present, convinced that the assumption of Western power —increasingly untenable—are no longer a reliable vantage point and may even be dangerously misleading” one can assume that it is wide-ranging and worthy. And yet, I have not made it to page 50. I’ve had this well-regarded book in my possession for several months, so time really is not an excuse for my plodding effort. Even though I’ve had the luxury of several long-distance flights during which to read, and I’ve had holiday breaks from work, and I’ve even had downtime due to illness, I just haven’t been able to plow through the snowy pages. Stubbornly, I’ve tried to not let this book defeat me. The only other book that I was unable to finish was Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost; and the ghost of that tome from 1991 still haunts me, still taunts me two decades later as someone who couldn’t finish reading its 1,310 pages.
Recently when I was to review the book for India Currents, I broke one of my cardinal rules and read another critic’s assessment of Mishra’s book before writing my own review. Actually, I read several reviews. They all suggested that From the Ruins of Empire is an important book. But still this reader’s plow remained stuck in the snow pile of Mishra’s dense words. So rather than neglect my duties as a book reviewer, I have collected a few quotes that a student of imperial history might cut and paste for an essay structured around the two core questions that Mishra asks: “Who were the main thinkers and doers in this long remaking of modern Asia? How did they prefigure the world we live in and the one that future generations will inhabit?” What follows are responses to these questions from the book review pages of what some might call the intellectual versions of CliffsNotes: The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Ben Shephard (Guardian): “What gives From the Ruins of Empire its charm and richness of texture … is that its main focus is not on major players such as Gandhi and Mao, but on … little-known and seemingly ineffectual intellectuals whose writings would inspire later generations.” Amitav Ghosh (Wall Street Journal— Asia): “History is sometimes a contest of narratives. In this book Pankaj Mishra looks back on the 19th and 20th centuries through the work of three Asian thinkers: Jamal al-Din Afghani, Liang Qichao and Rabindranath Tagore. The story that emerges is quite different from that which most Western readers have come to accept. Enormously ambitious but thoroughly readable, this book is essen
tial reading for everyone who is interested in the processes of change that have led to the emergence of today’s Asia.” Hari Kunzru (New York Times): “Mishra’s astute and entertaining synthesis of these neglected histories goes a long way to substantiating his claim that ‘the central event of the last century for the majority of the world’s population was the intellectual and political awakening of Asia.’” So, what’s the key takeaway from this pastiche of a review? Trust neither Cliff ’s notes nor Rajesh’s reviews. For unlike Shephard, Ghosh, and Kunzru, I found Mishra’s book neither charming, nor readable, nor entertaining. We all have our own lens through which we see the world; we all have our own biases with which we read a text; we all construct our own realities. Simply put, gentle reader, please develop your own worldview and read. Read as if history is not only a “contest of narratives,” but also a powerful contest for readership. Read as if freedom from imperialism ends with your decision about whom to read. Read as if your life depends on the simple act of turning pages until the end of the book. Of course, sometimes, with some books, one just can’t make it to the last page. Don’t be too hard on yourself or on the book. It just isn’t meant to be. Not all books are for all people. I know that in not finishing Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire, I’m missing thoughtful ideas like this one that closes the book: “The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth—that billions of consumers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans—is as absurd and dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction, and looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots—the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly Pyrrhic.” So it’s time to admit defeat and not let this book haunt me. It’s time to stop “shoulding on myself ” (as in “I really should read this book”). It’s time to say hello to my next book and say, “Goodbye ghost.” For all those high school teachers and college professors who insisted that I actually read the books they assigned. And for the editors and readers who had read my reviews in good faith that I actually do read the reviewed book.n Rajesh C. Oza is a Change Management consultant, who also facilitates the interpersonal development of MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Is the Comma Heading for a Full Stop? By Monojit Lahiri
here are certain things in life that we take totally for granted. Day and night; sun and moon; tears and laughter; life and death; anger and make-up; love, friendship ... Similarly in the world of reading and writing, punctuation marks are a given and it is here that the totally takenfor-granted and understated, but critically important, comma comes into focus. Acclaimed author Pico Iyer insists that there was a definite reason why it was invented, “It was to act as stop-signs, speed bumps, red lights. I’m not sure their use has diminished, especially as traffic in this highway has so dramatically increased!” However (in recent times, in line with the nano-second world we live in and the zip-zap-zoom times we reside in) this punctuation mark appears to be in trouble. John McWhorter, an American linguist and political commentator, believes that removing the comma from modern American texts would lead to little loss of clarity. He adds that “Internet users and even some writers have become so idiosyncratic, if not indifferent, in the use of the comma that it could have well outstayed its welcome.” He added that today nobody has any reason for it because it is neither scientifically sensible nor logical in the sense we know how hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water. So these things, he reckons, are really fashions and conventions that have outlived their utility and need to change with time. McWhorter has support from Gertude Stein who dismissed the comma as “a poor period that lets you stop and take a breath but if you want to take a breath you ought to know yourself that you want to take a breath. It is not like stopping altogether has something to do with going on, but taking a breath well you are always taking a breath and why emphasize one breath rather than another breath.” Rising to its defense with undiluted passion and purpose is, once again, Iyer, this
time with all cylinders firing! He declares that “the beauty of a comma is that it offers a rest, like in music, where it offers the piece greater shape and deeper harmony. It allows us to catch our breath. Without it, we lose our layers, shading, nuance and end up yelling at one another in block capitals! Slow speech, in these terrifyingly digital ages, is the language of intimacy and depth. The comma can (and does) convert an attack into a caress!” Iyer makes a strong case for promoting “Subtlety and silence.” It is the pause between words that gives them their deepest meaning, the space between certainties, the critical area where power and essence reside. “Taking pauses of a language is like taking the net out of a tennis game. Where would all the fun go? Are McWhorter and Stein on the winning side … or Pico Iyer? It totally depends on which school of language you come from. If you are hot ‘n heavy and bullish on digital lingo, (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, SMS, Internet Vocab.) then comma is not a big deal in the basic and uncomplicated road to communication. However, if nuance matters and command of language and navigation is important, then comma is definitely a crucial team-player. The last words must go to the old fashioned, comma-fixated humorist, Dark Jar Tin Zoo, who unleashes a charming example of the use of comma. “Making love to me is amazing! Wait, I meant: Making love, to me, is amazing. The absence of two little commas nearly transformed me into a demented, self-help bozo … or a sublime sex-god! Excuse me, neither was real, honest or correct!” Your take, esteemed readers! n Monojit Lahiri is a journalist who has been writing on Advertising, Cinema and popular culture and has been published in every mainstream Indian magazine for over three decades. May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 23
24 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
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ask a lawyer
Arrest and Immigration By Asit Panwala
If I am arrested and subsequently convicted of a crime, how will my immigration status be affected?
Let’s talk about the arrest first. Pursuant to the Trust Act passed in California in 2013, if you are arrested for a minor crime, such as driving under the influence or a non-violent misdemeanor crime, then U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) will not be able to place a hold on you. However, if you are arrested for a serious or violent felony such as robbery, child molestation or rape, USCIS can a place a hold on you, even if you can afford to bail yourself out of county jail. In other words, with an arrest for a serious or violent felony charge, you won’t be able to just go back home even if the case is dismissed. What about a conviction? There are no easy answers here. Before you plead guilty to any charges, your criminal defense lawyer should speak to you specifically about how
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it will affect your immigration status. In Padilla vs. Kentucky (2010), the United States Supreme Court held that a defense attorney should inform their client of the immigration consequences before the defendant enters a guilty plea. The Supreme Court also said that immigration consequences are an integral part of the punishment that may stem from a conviction. Many criminal defense attorneys are not generally experts on immigration law, and changes to immigration law happen frequently. As I write this article, President Obama is announcing a new policy on deportation. Your defense attorney should consult with an immigration expert if there is any uncertainty. In all likelihood, you will not be able to take back your plea if your criminal defense attorney makes a mistake on your immigration matters—regardless of how knowledgeable or skillful that defense attorney is. Your criminal defense attorney should
ask you a series of questions with the charges in mind to best determine how to avoid immigration consequences. Also, if you feel that your attorney is not aware of your immigration status, or not aware of how your arrest or possible conviction could impact your immigration status, tell your attorney. All attorneys must abide by attorney-client confidentiality. All in all, there are no easy answers to this question, and outcomes often depend on the current immigration status and the crimes for which a person has been arrested or convicted of. Always have an attorney you can trust before deciding what, if any, charges you should admit. n Asit Panwala is a criminal defense attorney with experience as a a former prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. He can be reached at (415) 766-3526. His website is http://www.panwalalaw.com.
legal visa dates Important Note: U.S. travelers seeking visas to India will now need to obtain them through BLS International Services. Call (415) 609-4965 or visit http://www.visa.blsindia-usa.com/ for more information.
his column carries priority dates and other transitional information as taken from the U.S. State Department’s Visa Bulletin. The information below is from the Visa Bulletin for May 2014. In the tables below, the listing of a date for any class indicates that the class is oversubscribed. “Current” means that numbers are available for all qualified applicants. “Unavailable” means no numbers are available.
FAMILY PREFERENCE VISA DATES Preference Dates for India 1st Mar 08, 2007 2A Sep 08, 2013 2B Feb 01, 2007 3rd Sep 01, 2003 4th Dec 08, 2001 NOTE: F2A numbers subject to percountry limit are available to applicants with priority dates beginning Apr 15, 2012 and earlier than Sept 08, 2013.
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The Science of Uncertainty Understanding the stock market By Rahul Varshneya
henever someone thinks of finance, their first reaction is to ask for stock tips. Although finance extends much further than just the stock market, it is perhaps one of the more confusing concepts in this field. The stock market is a vast arena, so much so that research analysts (stock market experts) tend to specialize in a vertical—energy, pharmaceuticals, technology etc. They become experts in their vertical for their firms. Now, the casual investor will never attain such expertise, but there are a few indicators that are at the core of good, fundamental investment strategy—these indicators focus on different aspects of a business and, together, can provide an accurate picture as to the health of the company.
The Price-to-Earnings Ratio
Perhaps the most commonly known financial indicator is the Price-to-Earnings or P/E Ratio. It is calculated by dividing the price per share by the earnings per share (EPS) of a stock. If the price of one share of Company X is $20 and it earns $5 per share, its P/E ratio would be 4. The strength of the P/E ratio also happens to be a weakness. An investor can use the P/E ratio to determine the relative value of the stock in relation to its competitors. Let’s assume company A, B and C are all in the same industry with earnings of $5, $6 and $7. Let’s also say that Companies A and B have prices of $20 and $26 (P/E ratios of 4 and 4.33 respectively) while Company C is being traded at $56/share. An expert would take a look at company C’s price-earnings ratio of 8 and investigate why it’s priced at twice what it should be. If it’s unwarrantedit would be classified as overpriced. Traditionally, the P/E ratio is more sensitive to the price aspect of stocks as investors sometimes get excited over exciting new companies, like Twitter, leading to a highly variable P/E. More traditional/older companies like Pfizer have been around a while leading to more stable prices and in turn more stable P/E ratios. This dichotomy between established firms and new ones exposes the weakness of the ratio, one cannot compare P/E ratios across different industries
28 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
or lifecycles—large pharmaceutical and technology firms will have lower P/E ratios than software start-ups. Case in point: when Google first went IPO, it had an exorbitant P/E ratio. As it has matured, the P/E has dropped to a more reasonable 30 as a function of high earnings growth and stable price appreciation. The high P/E category has become populated by newer firms like LinkedIn with an astonishing 758 due to high investor demand and proportionally small earnings. As the excitement dies down for LinkedIn and earnings continues to grow—the P/E ratio will drop to the software technology industry average of around 25-30.
Another indicator that is commonly used in stock analysis is the earnings growth percentage. The strength of this indicator in comparison to other growth indicators is its inability to be manipulated. There have been times when companies have manipulated their revenue, whether it was recognizing revenue early, or through some other method. In contrast, earnings are much harder to fake. Another reason to use earnings is that it provides a more accurate picture of the financial health of the company. Revenue growth numbers don’t reflect the cost structure of a firm, while the gross profit growth only accounts for cost of goods sold (COGS). Earnings growth accounts for COGS, interest, taxes, depreciation and amortizations costs—a much more accurate indicator for future success or failure. Many companies have been brought down by an inflated cost structure hidden in the revenue growth numbers. Walmart, for example, has a current revenue growth number of 1.5%—not a huge red flag for a company that size. The red flag for Walmart is its increased cost structure and competition for profit margin brought on by more nimble competitors, reflected in its debilitating -21% earnings growth. It is not to say that Walmart is on its death throes—far from it, but saying that it is extremely healthy and faces no issues would also be a mistake, something an investor would have missed if he didn’t know where to look.
Playing the Numbers Game
Putting all these indicators together, let’s explore the financial situation of McDonalds and compare it to a proxy for the fast food industry—Burger King, YUM Brands and Panera Bread, to determine whether it’s a buy or sell. McDonalds has a P/E ratio of 18 and earnings growth of 0.1% as compared to the industry average of 32 and 22% respectively. With these two factors combined we might have an explanation for why the P/E ratio for McDonalds is so far behind the industry —lower growth prospects are making McDonalds stock unattractive creating downward pressure on the stock price. Although research analysts conduct significantly more detailed analysis before arriving at their conclusions, based on our limited analysis we can conclude that McDonalds is a sell. Stock analysis is a tricky venture. By definition, for an investor to succeed it must be at the expense of another—it is a zero sum game. Even John Paulson, one of the smartest investors lost $1B in 2013 because of a wrong opinion. The best research analysts are those who perform a detailed analysis that can predict stock movements for the right reasons. Research analysts produce buy, sell or hold ratings and have price targets associated with those ratings—a quantitative measure of how good an analyst is. Casual investors should approach the stock investment process in the same way to instill discipline in the process. Good investors can predict if a stock will go up or down, but great investors can predict how much. Being able to predict a stock increasing to a certain price based on factual information and then having the discipline to sell it when it does is what separates investing from gambling. n This article is the opinion of the author and is not shared by India Currents or any of its staff. All investors should conduct their independent analysis before taking any actions and should not make any decisions on the information provided in this article alone. Rahul Varshneya graduated from the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University with a degree in finance and is working in the technology industry as a financial analyst.
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My Life As A Highly-Skilled Immigrant Ash Murthy A Creative Commons Image
ne August morning many years ago, I found myself starry eyed and jet lagged at the Los Angeles International airport. In search of the American Dream, I had come halfway around the planet to pursue graduate studies in computer science, at the University of Southern California. My earliest memories of the United States are of newfound friends asking me about the movie Slumdog Millionaire and arousing laughter when I referred to an eraser as a “rubber.” In about a year, America was no longer a foreign place but the country I called home, the nation I wanted to contribute to. Little did I then know that the green pastures weren’t actually so green, at least not without a greencard. I would soon be on a work visa (H1), joining hands with over a million engineers, scientists and doctors living as a second class citizen, thanks to our broken immigration system. I graduated with flying colors and applied for jobs across the country. After a rigorous interview process, I was offered a spot at a search engine company with an acceptance rate of less than 0.5%. Excited about working with the best engineers, I relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, and over the years have built a career as a software developer. On the surface, I’ve created a good life and lived the American dream. But in reality, thanks to the immigration limbo and the endless wait for greencards, I live a different kind of life—the life of an indentured servant. I cannot change employers or quit my job (to start a startup or go back to school). And if I ever get fired, guess what? Leaving family, friends and everything else behind, I would be tossed out of the country, like an empty beer bottle tossed into the trash can. Spouses of skilled immigrants face an even tougher life. Despite being well qualified, they cannot work or even have a credit
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Little did I then know that the green pastures weren’t actually so green, at least not without a green-card. card in their name. Denied every opportunity to be a productive citizen and struck within the four walls of the house, they often end up with low self esteem and depression. I am an American at heart. Like any other patriotic American, I take great pride in an opportunity to serve my country. A few months after graduating from grad school, I had a chat with my local Army recruiter about volunteering in the Army Reserves. The recruiter was very excited about my skills—foreign languages and engineering prowess. When asked about my greencard, I said I was on a work-visa and waiting “in line” for a greencard. I vividly remember the instantaneous change on his face, from excitement to disappointment. It turned out that as an “Alien” (as though I am from Mars) I cannot serve my country.
Even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own. In July 2013, the Senate passed an Immigration Reform bill that would allow immigrants, whether they mow our lawns or are the brains behind our hi-tech gadgets, to contribute to this country and cherish the American dream. By fully tapping into the potential of immigrants, we can shrink our deficit, jumpstart the economy, create jobs, and prevent reverse brain drain— American trained engineers forced by the immigration system to return to their native countries to compete against America. Earlier this year, the House Republicans came up with some “broad standards” to reform our immigration laws. I was excited. Excited about the economic progress our country would make. Excited about transforming from an Alien to an American. My happiness was short lived. Just days later, the House Republicans declared that they don’t plan to act on their plan, effectively killing immigration reform. Why exactly do the House Republicans think that maintaining status quo—millions contributing to an underground economy while the best and brightest are taken away by our competitors—is good policy? Each day immigration reform is delayed, we lose jobs and dollars from our economy to our competitors. Both Democrats and Republicans agree on the importance of immigration reform to our economy. So it is time for our politicians to come together and do something for the good of the country— act on Immigration reform and give America the economic boost we’ve all been seeking. n Ash Murthy is a software engineer at Google, and a volunteer for FWD.US, an immigration advocacy group.
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Desi Girl Gone Wild By Aniruddh Chawda
QUEEN. Director: Vikas Bahl. Players: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkumar Rao, Lisa Haydon, Mish Boyko, Jeffrey Chee Eng Ho, Marco Canadea. Hindi w/ Eng. Sub-titles. Theatrical release (Viacom).
ani (Ranaut) has a problem, you see. Well, two problems actually. Problem No. 1: Jilted by her wouldbe-suitor Vijay (Rao) on their wedding day, Rani succumbs to a deep funk. What to do? She goes into seclusion hoping the pain will subside. No such luck. Caught in a lifechanging vortex of emotions, Rani—only half-knowing her exact plans—emerges from her self-imposed prison and announces her next step. Remember that honeymoon she had planned with whatshisface, she reminds her anxious parents. Well, Rani intends on going on that honeymoon after all—and yes, tattling gossips be damned, she will make the journey by herself. This inauspicious opening to Vikas Bahl’s seriocomic-but-mostly-comic Queen is the start of one of the most original and best Hindi comedies ever. Bahl is a relative newcomer to filmmaking. His only previous offering was Chillar Party, which smartly captured the underdog point of view of pintsized kids who stand up to adult bullying in a residential subdivision. By gazing through a different lens here, Bahl now champions the impossible odds stacked against a shy, geeky suburban Delhi young woman suddenly unleashed on two unsuspecting European capitals Paris and Amsterdam. All we have to say is, Europe—batten down the hatches because Hurricane Rani is about to descend! Through Rani’s misadventures first in Paris and then especially in Amsterdam, an amazing transformation takes hold as this endlessly awkward Indian misfit elbows her way into finding a groove as an ordinary, espresso-swigging Indian-Scandinavian accidental tourist. Did we mention that because the clash of cultures is staged in an anythinggoes Eurozone setting, there is a sizable quotient of sex humor? Well, there is, so prep for what follows. Having built in plausible deniability for the sexual angle gives the story a quaint charm.
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In Paris, Rani gets chummy with Vijayalakshmi (Haydon) who daylights as a hotel maid and may or may not moonlight as an escort. In Amsterdam, crossed-signals result in Rani having to stay at a tourist hostel where living quarters must be shared with a trio of far flung globe-trotting young men—yes, gads, men who may or may not get fixated on Rani. While exploring the city with her roomies, the still-provincial Rani’s unknowing stop at a sex shop involving an adult toy is a singular, mega-trending moment of ginormous comic proportions. It is indeed a sight gag to behold. Ranaut’s laudable turn as Rani/Queen is the embodiment of the uglyduckling every girl that is picked last for the prom and yet, by never succumbing to being Victim, walks away with a crown. Ever since she nailed a breakout role as an underdog supermodel to Priyanka Chopra’s mega-model in Fashion (2008), Ranaut’s stock has continued to rise. From a forceful Interpol cop (Game) to chainsmoking would-be bride (Tanu Weds Manu) to shape-shifting inter-dimensional feline (Krrish 3) and now Queen, Ranaut stands out for on-screen individuality. She is also credited with scripting the dialog for Queen. Because Queen was made on a modest budget and turned into a sizable hit, Ranaut, along with Vidya Balan, is now that rare Hindi female lead that has delivered a solo lead critical and box office calling card. The eclectic cast gives the story an intensely local flavor for each stop on Rani’s girl gone wild mini odyssey. Other standouts are Boyko as Rani’s Russian roommate, Chee
Eng Ho as the Japanese roommate and Canadea as fish-shanty operator who cons Rani into cooking a big fat Indian dish. In the midst of an otherwise rip-roaring comedy, their experiences add global cross-section vignettes that have pathos not dissimilar to that of Rani’s. On the move from city to city, Rani realizes that at some point she must confront the second of her two afore-mentioned predicaments. At some point she must reconcile where she has come from with where she has arrived. Secretly, more than a handful amongst us long to retrace Rani’s journey of self-discovery. Unlike Rani, we are held back —perhaps by the tattling gossips. n EQ: A
Aunty Venom 2 States. Director: Abhishek Varman. Players: Arjun Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Amrita Singh, Revathy, Ronit Roy, Shivkumar Subramaniam. Music: Shankar Ehsan Loy. Hindi w/ Eng. Subtitles. Theatrical release (UTV).
hetan Bhaghat’s books enjoy not only instant bestseller status but also a remarkable number of them find success on the big screen. After 3 Idiots, Kai Po Chhe and Hello, 2 States is the fourth movie spun off from a Bhaghat bestseller. Bhagat’s stories primarily reflect on Indian youth coping with the hits and misses of contemporary, mostly urban, life in India. Staying true to the book, Varman’s directorial debut 2 States explores the indelicate topic of Indian on Indian bigotry with a lightfooted, amusing take that is well-structured and yet, not necessarily, ground-breaking. Originating from Bhagat’s own experiences, while attending India’s most prestigious technical and management schools in Delhi and Ahmedabad, respectively, Krish (Kapoor) and Ananya (Bhatt) meet on campus, engage in some hanky-panky, fall in love and agree to get married. A thunderous social gauntlet comes crashing down on their wedding plans in the form of both sets of parents raising objecting to Krish marrying Ananya. The reason: Krish’s family is Punjabi and North Indian and Ananya’s family is Tamil and South Indian and, to the parents, never the twain shall meet. Bigotry in the name of intra-Indian regional differences is not new in Hindi movies. Back in the day, the sentiment initially started as brave attempts at tackling “caste” differences on-screen. This often touchy subject has been successfully exploited as far back as 1936 in German-born filmmaker Franz Osten’s classic Achhut Kanya. Later takes included Jyoti Swaroop’s classic 1968 comedy Padosan and K. Balachander’s 1981 star-crossed hit Ek Duuje Ke Liye. The most remarkable take on this subject was no doubt Bimal Roy’s 1959 classic Sujata, starring the incredible Nutan. Given how uncomfortable this topic makes some Indians even in 2014, there is little surprise that those works veered towards polar extremes of either comedy (Padosan) or violent endings (Achhut Kanya, Ek Duuje Ke Liye), which made Roy’s Sujata stand out even more for softening a powerful social commentary. 2 States initially has nowhere to go. Then the comedy takes over,
mostly at the hands of Krish’s acid-tongued mother (veteran Singh) spouting her one hundred and one insults for people of South Indian origin and being rebutted by Ananya’s less temperamental mother (veteran Revathy) spewing aunty-variety venom in the other direction. At heart, this peculiar Indian form of bigotry is often a subtler form of racism that —as is tapped into in 2 States—turns on skin color. This north-south sub-continental divisiveness in some circles carries as much social stigma to this day as inter-racial couples faced in America until not too long ago. Just as things are about to go out of control, a ray of hope is offered in the form of self-examination of the strained relationship that Krish has with his father (Ronit Roy) and the lack of communication between Krish’s parents. Because the story is narrated through Krish’s sessions with his psychologist, Kapoor’s bumbling persuasiveness has to take hold for the story to gel and eventually, it does. Because so much rides on Ananya’s parents coming around, Bhatt’s family-sensitive portrayal while in the presence of her parents has to work and eventually, the fence mending takes hold. And even though Singh and Revathy are fine in their poison-spewing modes, it is Ronit Roy, as Krish’s distant father, who, by tackling head-on the sacrifices that must be made to keep his family together, like he did in Udaan and Boss, manages to steal scenes left and right. There is gorgeous cinematography. The seafront Pondicherry temple setting is fabulous. Shankar Ehsaan Loy have Arijit Singh and Chimayi Sripada crooning “Mast Magan,” which lingers long after the end credits roll. So what’s missing? Even though the pieces are just right, the overall movie feels only slightly above average—which is an affront for a movie co-produced by Karan Johar (along with Sajid Nadiadwala). 2 States makes a decent conversation piece and, alas, not necessarily the best, most original or most convincing take on a complex Indian
social phenomenon. Skip this and rent Sujata instead. n EQ : C+
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.
g Gulabi Gan hqiya Dedh Is y Gunda ss le rt Hea ay Highw o H i Ja Karle Karley Pyar us ir V Mickey a pa ya Total Si de Effects Si e Shaadi K Queen
May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 35
May Melodies By Vidya Sridhar
he selection of melodies this month features haunting sounds, upbeat tunes and original and refreshing voices. The
songs crackle with energy and enthusiasm. If you listen to one song, you will want to buy the whole album. n
Vidya Sridhar works at NASA and is a mom of two elementary school children. She lives and breathes all things filmi.
Movie: Queen; Music: Pritam; Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya Singers: Labh Janjua, Neha Kakkar, Sonu Kakkar
Movie: Kochadaiiyan; Music: A.R. Rahman; Lyrics: Irshad Kamil; Singers: Shashaa Tirupathi
Sung with rustic flavor by Labh Janjua, I personally cannot get enough of this song or this movie. The picturisation of the song is unique and Kangana Ranaut’s simplicity is refreshing. n
The flute is mesmerising in this song and Shashaa’s voice is utterly beautiful. I found the male version sung by Karthik to be less potent than the female version. Try both you might have your own favorite. n
Tu Sab Kuch Re Movie: Raanchi; Music: Ismail Darbar; Lyrics: Irshad Kamil; Singers: Anweshaa and Ismail Darbar Singer Anweshaa pairs up with Sonu Nigam, the master of romantic melodies, for this musical feast. The video takes the viewer through the intimate moments of the lead couple, Kartik Aryan and Mishti. n
Movie: 2 States; Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy; Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya; Singers: Aditi Singh Sharma & Amitabh Bhattacharya Aditi’s voice has a spunky tone to it. The guitar riffs are innovative and this song has the ability to lift your spirits. I think this melody will stay at the top of the charts for some time. n 36 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Tu Hi Hai Aashiqui
Movie: Dishkiyaoon; Music: Palash Muchhal; Lyrics: Sanamjit Talwar; Singers: Arijit Singh & Palak Muchhal It’s a slow, romantic number and is delivered beautifully by Arijit. The track is based on guitar arrangements and features the eyecandy duo Harman Baweja and Ayesha Khanna. n
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Who’s Afraid of Modi? India 2014 Elections
ntellectuals are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. When they keep silent they are accused of being pusillanimous cowards. When they do speak up they are dismissed as pontificating from ivory towers safely ensconced in Oxbridge or Ivy League comfort. So the likes of Salman Rushdie, Homi Bhabha, Anish Kapoor, Deepa Mehta deserve credit for spelling out unequivocally in print their fears about a Narendra Modi-led India whether or not it makes any difference to anyone’s vote. They especially deserve credit since they appear to be going against the tide in India. It’s not like the Congress has been staunch in its championing of Rushdie’s freedom of expression. Now he risks burning his bridges with a Modi-led India as well when he lends his name to a joint note in The Guardian which reminds Indian voters that in 2002 under Modi “the Muslim minority were overwhelmingly the victims of pillage, murder and terror, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,000 men, women and children.” This is fairly typical of liberal statements warning about the imminent coming of Modi. “Modi’s infamous role in the massacre of Muslims in his state in 2002 is being brushed aside and he is promoted as morally ‘fit enough’ to lead the nation,” worries a more homegrown statement from over 100 eminent citizens including U.R. Ananthamurthy, S. Irfan Habib, Mihir Pandya and others. Gujarat 2002 must be part of the discourse on Modi but for liberals in India, bracing themselves for a Modi sarkar, the Muslim has become the convenient fig leaf behind which to hide their own fears. Perhaps liberals think it is honorable to be seen as speaking up for Muslims and self-serving to speak up for themselves. But a Modi government is likely to be far more of a threat to liberals than it would ever be to Muslims for the simple reason that Modi never wants to have another situation like 2002 on his hands. He might have had no change of heart, he might never apologize for having failed in his duty as a chief minister during the riots, but he knows that if another 2002 erupts under his watch, his future will go up in smoke. That is the one thing he will be scrutinized on by the world. His entire campaign has been built around the fact that there have been no communal 38 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
By Sandip Roy
Gujarat 2002 must be part of the discourse on Modi but for liberals in India ... the Muslim has become the convenient fig leaf behind which to hide their own fears. riots in Gujarat post-2002. And Muslims know this as well, even though political leader after leader from Mayawati to Mamata are trying to rake up 2002 to scare Muslims into their kitty. At a rally in the Meo Muslim village of Mewat, Zamil Ahmed was clear that Muslims like him could not forgive Godhra. But he said it does not mean that would send them scurrying to the Congress out of Modi-terror. “Log Modi se nahin darten, log Modi se nafrat karten hai (People are not scared of Modi, they just hate him),” he said. A friend with an NGO in Delhi said Muslim workers at a shelter out in the villages said they were considering voting for BJP because they felt Modi had the most to lose if communal violence erupted under him and therefore the most stake in keeping a lid on it. It’s perverse logic but as much a comment on the BJP as it is on the pathetic record of the supposedly minority-friendly parties like Congress and Samajwadi Party. Liberals, especially dissenting liberals, however, are another matter. If Modi chose to do so, he could easily decide to make an example of them and there would hardly be anyone to speak up for them. Liberals might dominate op-ed pages but they have little real constituency because in a democracy it’s all about who can deliver the votes. Modi, not uniquely among powerful Indian politicians, has little appetite for dissent. As Caravan reported, when in 2002, Darshan Desai, an Indian Express reporter first tracked down Jashodaben in her village, not only did she refuse to talk to him, as soon as he got home, he got a call from Modi himself. “He said ‘Namaskar,’ and then he asked: ‘So what is the agenda?’ I said, ‘I don’t quite get you.’ And he said, ‘You have written against me. Your newspaper even started Modi Meter,’ referring to a column my paper ran during the riots. I just kept quiet, and he said, ‘I’m aware of what you’ve been up to
today. What you’ve done today goes much beyond. That’s why I want to know what your agenda is.’” The chilling effect already extends beyond Gujarat. At a Campaign NOMOre event in New Delhi, Amir Aziz talked about how his play in Delhi University was canceled without any reason being given. He can only surmise it has something to do with the fact that it talks about Gujarat, Muzaffarnagar and is critical of Modi. He calls his play “Caution: A Play in Progress.” These are small stories but indicative that the nervousness with which many view the rise of the autocratic Modi is not entirely misplaced. The fear about a future in which he is blessed with a popular mandate precisely because of his ruthlessness rather than despite it is genuine cause for concern for those who value democratic ideals and freedom of expression. It is true that Modi is a true outsider who does not give a damn for acceptance in the intellectual fold unlike a Mamata who wooed Kolkata’s intelligentsia and artistic community during her rise to power. Modi has snubbed the English language television media in his campaign to be Prime Minister appearing instead on the more aam aadmi program Aap ki Adalat. He might, in fact, quite relish showing that there is a new Caesar in town. There are excellent and pressing reasons to have a genuine debate about the idea of India that Modi represents. U.R. Ananthamurthy, who faced a barrage of vitriol for saying he didn’t want to live in an India under Modi, has to his credit, faced up to the larger issue beyond the Muslim one when he said “I have a feeling that we may slowly lose our democratic rights or civil rights, when there is a bully. But much more than that when there is a bully we become cowards.” But to honestly have that debate and make that argument, liberals have to own up to their own fears as well instead of just projecting them onto Muslims in the guise of speaking on their behalf. We can only face our fears if we look them in the eye. n Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost. com. He is on leave as editor with New America Media. His weekly dispatches from India can be heard on KALW.org. This article was first published on Firstpost.com.
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Revisiting Our Colonial Past By Malar Gandhi
nglo-Indian food is the delicious result of the British presence in India (1800-1947). The term Anglo-Indian was first used to refer to those people who were of strictly British descent, but were born and raised in India, usually because their parents were serving in the colonial administration or armed forces. However, the meaning changed over time to refer to people of mixed Indian and British heritage.
Among the many adjustments demanded of the English, when they were in India, was their acclimatization to local food and methods of preparation. The fundamentally hybrid character of the Anglo-Indian cuisine derives from a multiplicity of influences, including the food practices of the British, and the food traditions of the Indian people. The attempt to produce palatable approximations of British food in India were often compromised in the early days of the British Raj. The Indian kitchens were not well-equipped for the preparation of British dishes. The common Indian kitchen essentials differed from what was found in England. Indians usually had varieties of grinding stones for blending spices, batter preparation and cereal processing; a bunch of large and small pots for preparing curries, soups and porridge; some frying pans, steaming utensils, wobbly woks, kettles and a basic fire-wood oven.
Ingredients 2 cups minced vegetables 3 green chilies, finely chopped 1 inch ginger, minced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 small onion, finely chopped cilantro leaves, a few salt to taste 1 tsp chili powder ¼ tsp garam masala powder ¼ cup egg whites 2 tbsp breadcrumbs oil for pan frying
42 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Additionally, the Muslim cooks (as a good number of Hindus were vegetarians) were hampered by a lack of personal experience of the food they were trying to produce. Indian and British tastes were entirely different, so it was extremely difficult for the cooks to accurately determine what they were aiming for. The result was a long line of cooks trained in a culinary style of which they had no personal understanding, but each one adding his own eccentric and peculiar interpretations of British dishes, until these preparations eventually became part of the Indian version of British cookery. Thus, many British dishes underwent a process of orientalization. There were soups tempered with cumin and red chilies, roasts cooked with whole spices like cloves, cinnamon and peppercorns and croquettes flavored with turmeric and garam masala. Casseroles, usually made with carrots and celery in a wine-based sauce, thickened with flour, were leavened with Indian spice mixtures (masalas). The results were neither curries nor casseroles but something in-between. No other colonial dish was more consumed, debated and critiqued than “curry.” Today, its variations have sprung all over the British empire and is known as a quintessential Indian dish. Apart from the food preparations, some unique Anglo-Indian terms arose in the culinary world. The name of the popular garden party drink “punch” was appropriated from the Indian “panch” that refers
to the five components used in making this drink. Toddy comes from the Hindi word “tari,” meaning fermented sap of a palmyra palm. Congee, a porridge for the invalid, was traced to the Tamil term “kanji,” which is a starch used for stiffening cotton fabrics in those days. Mulligatawny, a fiery soup, is nothing but “mulaga thanni” (pepper water in Tamil). The meaning of “dumpukht” is air-cooled in Persian, which got anglicized into “dumpoke.” The dish “molee” is a corruption of the word “malay,” perhaps indicating the heavy use of coconuts. Among the most widely used AngloIndian terms are curry, which refers to any spicy gravy dish, and chutney, which is more like jam. Indian chutneys however, are a very spicy relish prepared in minutes. Lastly the ubiquitous tiffin, a late afternoon snack in South India, was borrowed from the obsolete English slang “tiffing” or taking a little drink or sip. Thus, Indianized British food has evolved into a distinct cuisine. Some of the well-known Anglo-Indian dishes include cutlets, curry, mulligatawny soup, kedgeree, molee, croquettes, pish-pash, punch, toddy, kul kuls and rose cookies among others. For more Anglo-Indian recipes and ideas, refer to Bridget White Kumar's cook books. n Malar Gandhi is a freelance scholar and writer, who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She blogs about Indian Food at www.kitchentantras.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
Method In a wide bowl combine all but the last three ingredients. Prepare a soft dough. Then divide them into equal parts and shape them into small cutlets. Now roll these cutlets in egg whites and dip it into the breadcrumbs. Heat oil in a frying pan. Once the oil is smoky hot, fry a few cutlets at a time, wait until they turn to golden to reddish brown on both the sides. Serve warm as an evening snack (tiffin) along with ketchup and chutneys. n
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Why Date Before Marrying? By Jasbina Ahluwalia
I am a parent who is accustomed to arranged marriages, where the boy and girl decide to marry soon after meeting. Often the engagement happens within a couple weeks, if not days, of the first meeting. Nowadays it seems many young people date for quite some time before deciding to marry. Why? My question is, what is the reasoning behind dating?
I imagine many parents are wondering the same thing. The rationale behind dating before committing to marriage is that time and interaction together will reveal whether connection and compatibility between the two people exist on multiple levels; and that this revelation is worth investing in prior to committing to a life-long union. While connection and compatibility are multi-layered concepts, which cannot possibly be given justice within the word count limitations of this column, let’s at least start with the general stages of dating and common gender differences during those stages.
The very beginning of a relationship can sometimes be considered the “honeymoon” period, during which both people continue to put their best feet forward. Men tend to be somewhat aloof in this stage of a relationship, while many women will already have begun to form some level of emotional connection. After a few months of dating, both partners will start to become more relaxed around each other. It’s at this stage that commitment-minded men and women alike will begin considering whether their partner could potentially be marriage material. Women often consider this earlier than men, and some men may be content to let the topic lie until the woman brings it up. Both women and men will learn more about each other during this stage, and the relationship may likely see its end if either party doesn’t see a future with each other. The last stage of dating includes the engagement period. At this point, the couple has already become emotionally attached.
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Women often look for reassurance of fidelity during this stage, as they are about to embark on a commitment that will last the rest of their lives. Both men and women usually seek family and friend input at this point, as well. A dating relationship will end either in a marriage or a breakup. It is generally believed that women get more emotional during a breakup, however, many men have a difficult time as well. While my response has been general in nature, I hope it gives you a better idea of the rationale for dating. I encourage open dialogue among the generations, and appreciate your question. 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. Jasbina@intersectionsmatch.com.
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California’s Best Guide to Indian Events Edited by: Mona Shah List your event for FREE! JUNE issue deadline: Tuesday, 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
June 15 Divine Strings: A Karnatik concert featuring Aishu Venkataraman, May 10
Celebrating 100 Years of Indian Cinema. Featuring Udit Narayan and Alka
Yagnik. Guest Artist Dipti Shah. Organized by The Shah Foundation, Sanjeev Shaw of Shaw Biz and Pravin Patel of Kola Hotel Group. 6 p.m. Jordan High School Auditorium, 6500 Atlantic Ave., Long beach. $39-$89. (310) 753-8990, (562) 860-1135, (909) 9455600. sulekha.com.
Professional Open Mixer. You may
choose to stick to a theme of your interest at 46 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
one table or navigate from table to table and participate in the discussion at any table. Refreshments will be served. Organized by Pan IIT Alumni Association. 6-8 p.m. Cerritos Library, Skyline Room B, 18025 Bloomfield Ave., Cerritos. $15 online, $25 at the door. (323) 712-5924, (909) 524-1452, (818) 209-0172. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. paniitmixermay2014. eventbrite.com.
Unspoken Conversations—A Collaborative Dance Theater Production.
Yashodhara and Night’s End, a collaboration of two dance theater works by Indian playwright Gowri Ramnarayan and a cast of artists from India. Each narrative serves as a creative synthesis of the classical and contemporary to showcase this experimental,
multi-genre production of music, dance and theater. Organized by Shakti Dance Company. 4 p.m. Plaza Del Sol, California State University, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. 422, $35, $55. info@shaktibharatanatyam. com. shaktibharatanatyam.com.
Karnatik Vocal Concert. Featuring Saketharaman, accompanied by Akkarai Subbulakshmi (violin), Neyveli Narayanan (mridangam). Organized by South Indian Music Academy. 5 p.m. The Hoover Middle School, Lakewood. (714) 681-2099. ask_sima@ yahoo.com. simala.net. Divine Strings: A Karnatik Concert Featuring Aishu Venkataraman. A
charity concert to help impoverished Indian villagers escape the cycle of poverty. All concert funds will go towards Project RISHI’s public health projects in rural India. These initiatives include providing clean water,
Dance Theater Reflecting a Contemporary India Playwright Gowri Ramnarayan and dancer Mythili Prakash reflect on the role of theater in contemporary life, and art as a creative expression of the human spirit. By Anuradha Kishore Ganpati
ow can art resist the threat and blandishment of commercial gain? Can art make us more compassionate? These are the questions that excite playwright, journalist and composer Gowri Ramnarayan, one of the most powerful forces in the performing arts in India. As Artistic Director of the JustUs Repertory in Chennai, Ramnarayan is revitalizing Indian theater with ground breaking interpretations of modern classics and creation of new work that is relevant and where artists feel safe to take risks and push boundaries. Ramnarayan’s latest works Yashodhara and Night’s End will be staged under the title Unspoken Conversations. The production features a cast of artists from India, along with local dancers Mythili Prakash and Sheejith Krishna, actor Akhila Ramnarayan, vocalist Amritha Murali and the playwright herself who serves as sutradhar and guide through the narratives. In a kingdom nourished by the Ganges River, Prince Siddharta Gautama slips out of his bed chambers never to return for several years. He leaves behind his wife Yashodhara and son and embarks on a spiritual quest. Bharatanatyam dancer Mythili Prakash offers a moving portrait of a grief stricken Yashodhara abandoned by her husband and searching for answers within the palace walls. In Yashodhara, Ramnarayan explores the nature of relationships, their fragility and what makes them endure while Amritha Murali’s music poignantly depicts the pains of change. Equally compelling is Night’s End, a powerful drama about uplifting faith in the human spirit. Krishnan Nair (Sheejith Krishna) is a Kathakali dancer who works as a forest guard. His encounter with the tiger hunting tribals, the poaching mafia and romance with Chandini (Akhila Ramanarayan) is the setting for this work. The tiger, the tribals and the artist are affected in profound ways by forces of globalization. Using Hindi, Pali, and English narration, Ramnarayan’s unconventional production transcends boundaries and genres while maintaining her unmistakable voice. You have said that myths have multiple layers;
that inspirational source of creativity within every one of us—something that awes and terrifies, but also nourishes and charges human imagination. So I ask, is the tiger safe in the forest? Can tribal and other marginalized people balance their way of life against the intrusions of the modern world? How can the oppressed—in any and every part of the world—assert their rights?
archetypes are continually reinterpreted, revalued. What does this mean for you? Gowri Ramnarayan: With a myth we understand a whole nexus of emotions and thoughts intuitively, instantly. And they are universally so recognized by the collective unconscious, as well as the individual respondent. The meanings shift and gain new significations with the needs of each age. Indian classical performing arts has always been about the Gods. What compels you to make a departure in “Night’s End?” GR: Theater is not God-centric. To do theater is to protest against the establishment and all conventional thinking. I have written and directed several plays about contemporary times, including Water Lilies— which is set in three different places in the United States—a park in Columbus, Ohio, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and Washington airport on 10/11. Even if I deal with the gods and heroes, it is only to raise questions about our lives today, to reflect my fears and anxieties. What does the tiger represent in “Night’s End?” GR: I don’t know about “represent.” To me the tiger images majesty, beauty, mystery and wonder. Things that are threatened, things on the brink of extinction. It can be
You are often described as an “intelligent dancer.” What does that mean to you? Mythili Prakash: Intelligence in dance and choreography means the ability to investigate. The incredible scope of bharatanatyam and rigorous training process gives the dancer enough and more to work through in the practice of the form. But after a certain point, the dancer must begin to probe deeper, to uncover multiple resonances in choreography, and to develop a finer awareness of body, and sensitivity of mind. Having the opportunity to closely worth with and observe “intelligent artists,” constantly inspires me to strive to work toward this intelligence. You are a solo dancer who choreographs on your own body. What did you learn about collaboration in this production? MP: For the first time I had a director “directing” the choreographic process. It was refreshing to come to rehearsal with a blank slate. It takes trust and a kind of surrender to allow the creative process to develop in a way that is outside your comfort zone. To me the creative process is personal, almost intimate, and sharing it with someone requires vulnerability that I found liberating. Our focus was not on product but on process over many months. Collaboration is tricky and I am grateful for a director who gave me the freedom to question, challenge and open to finding the shared spaces.n Saturday, May 10, 4 p.m. Plaza Del Sol Hall, California State University, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge Tickets: $55, $35, $22 (students with id). (818) 677-3000. www. shaktibharatanatyam.com. May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 47
48 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
California’s Best Guide to Indian Events
increasing healthcare access, improving literacy, and promoting sustainable energy resources. Accompanied by Vinod Venkataraman (mridangam) and Tripoonithura Radhakrishnan (ghatam). Organized by Project RISHI (Rural India Social and Health Improvement). 7:30-9:30 p.m. UCLA Ackerman Grand Ballroom, 308 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles. Free with registration. firstname.lastname@example.org. rishi.eventbrite.com.
Karnatik Music Concert. Featuring
Trichur Brothers, accompanied by BK Raghu (violin), Trichur Mohan (mridangam). Organized by South Indian Music Academy. 5 p.m. John Marshall Middle School, 3939 Tracy St., Los Angeles. (714) 681-2099. email@example.com. simala.net.
Ohm Nama Shivaya. Fundraiser bharatanatyam dance recital by students of the Thalam School, for the benefit of Asha Jyotji USA. Organized by Thalam School of Fine Arts. 5 p.m. Birmingham Community Charter High School, Sally Field Performing Arts Center, 17000 Haynes St, Van Nuys. $15, $25, $35. (818) 987 6915, (818) 575 0499, (214) 682 3905. www.ashajyothiusa.org.
The Gundecha Brothers Live in Concert. An evening of Dhrupad, featuring the
Gundecha Brothers. Organized by Raga Rasa. 7 p.m. Concert Hall, Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. General $25, seniors/students $15, Children Under 12, free.
Vocal Concert by Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha , May 18 and 23
(760) 753 2860, (760) 402 9462. music@ ragarasa.org. www.ragarasa.org.
Vocal Concert by the Gundecha Brothers. Umakant and Ramakant Gun-
decha are performers of the dhrupad style of Hindusthani vocal music. Dhrupad is the profound spiritual style that historically preceded khyal, the style of North Indian classical music most commonly heard today. They are accompanied by Akhilesh Gundecha, who learned pakhawaj from Shrikant Mishra and Raja Chhatrapati Singh JuDeo. Organized by Music Circle. 8 p.m. Herrick Chapel, Occidental College, Los Angeles. $35 general, $25 basic members, Free sustaining members, $5 children, $5 students w/ID. (626) 449-6987. MusicCircle@aol.com. www.music-
Thyagaraja Day. Organized by South Indian Music Academy. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The Hoover Middle School, Lakewood. (714) 6812099. firstname.lastname@example.org. simala.net. adhyAtma—A Spiritual Experience.
Divya Devaguptapu and her ensemble of musicians transcend music, drama, rhythm and poetry, creating a spiritual experience of sublime aesthetics. Musical ensemble: Sreedev Rajagopalan (vocal), KP Ramesh Babu (mridangam), Venkatakrishnan Mahalingam (nattuvangam), Easwar Ramakrishnan (violin), Vishnu Vijay (flute), Robert Norberg (sound and lights). Organized by IFAASD. 7-9 p.m. Saville Theater, San Diego City College, 14th and C St., San Diego. $20. (858) 229-5696. email@example.com. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/622188, www.divyadevaguptapu.com, www.indianfinearts.org.
Sonu Nigam Live In Concert. Klose
to my Heart. Organized by Sankara Eye Foundation. 7 p.m. Nokia Theater L.A. Live, 77 Chick Hearn Court, Los Angeles. $99, $79, $59, $39. (866) SANKARA. sefconcert@ giftofvision.org. home.giftofvision.org/sonu-laconcert.
Vocal Concert by Trichur Brothers , May 17
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May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 49
SPIRITUALITY & HEALTH
Brilliance of the Inner Light with Mahamandaleswar Swami Nityananda. Guru Gita (bring your own book
if available) and informal satsang. 7-9 p.m.Chanting and meditation. Organized by Shanti Mandir. 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Home of Fernando and Sophie Calisto, Topanga Canyon. Free. RSVP requested. www.shantimandir. com/gurudevs-2014-schedule/california-tourschedule/.
Brilliance of the Inner Light with Mahamandaleswar Swami Nityananda. Chanting and meditation. Organized by Shanti Mandir. 7-9 p.m. Home of Kapil and Shreeti Sharma, Irvine. Free. RSVP requested. www.shantimandir.com/gurudevs-2014-schedule/california-tour-schedule/.
Sunday Lectures at the Vedanta Society of Southern California. 11 a.m.
Hollywood Temple. 1946 Vedanta Place Hollywood. (323) 465-7114. Santa Barbara Temple. 927 Ladera Lane, Santa Barbara. (805) 969-290. Ramakrishna Monastery. 19961 Live Oak Canyon Road, P.O. Box 408, Trabuco Canyon. (949) 858-0342. http:// vedanta.org.
Developing the Invincible Power of Initiative. 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.
Brilliance of the Inner Light with Mahamandaleswar Swami Nityananda. Guru Gita (bring your own book
if available), informal satsang, followed by lunch. Organized by Shanti Mandir. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Home of Heena and Mihir Desai, 50 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Trabuco Canyon. Free. RSVP requested. www. shantimandir.com/gurudevs-2014-schedule/ california-tour-schedule/.
The Mother as an Expression of God’s Unconditional Love. Sunday Ser-
vice. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 5430800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org.
Annal Public Dinner. Swami Divyananda, Head, Saradapitha and Trustee, Ramakrishna Math, Belur Math Ramakrishna for the Modern Age, NoonVideo: Mad About God, 12:45 p.m. Prasad lunch. Hollywood Temple, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood. (323) 465-7114. http://vedanta.org.
The Dream Fabric of Life. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 5430800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org.
The Underlying Unity of the World’s Religions. 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.
Brilliance of the Inner Light with Mahamandaleswar Swami Nityananda, May 1 and 3.
(619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www. yogananda-srf.org.
Memorial Day Retreat. 10 a.m. Reading Vivekananda’s Works. 1:30 p.m. Lunch 2:30 p.m. Bach Organ Swami Atmavidyananda. Video on Chicago: Convening the Swamis. Talk by Swami Atmatattwananda on the Discussion of the Vivekananda Reading. Hollywood Temple, 1946 Vedanta Place, Hollywood. (323) 465-7114. http://vedanta.org.
Check out India Currents’ calendar online at www.IndiaCurents .com © Copyright 2014 India Currents. All rights reserved. Reproduction for commercial use strictly prohibited.
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On Faith By Vidya Pradhan
he producer at the radio station where I host a kid’s quiz show was unusually complimentary. “Your show is so interesting and fun ... it deserves its popularity,” he gushed while I blushed. As I arranged my quiz paraphernalia in the small booth where we work, he went on. “What I don’t get is the appeal of the panditjis and psychics,” he grumbled. As the person fielding the incoming calls, he had had his fill of mothers and fathers and uncles and grandpas who begged for divine help from these distinctly mortal messengers, some of whom he had known when they were neophytes looking for an angle to work. Tune in any weekday at the station and its easy to understand his frustration. “Panditji,” comes the plaintive cry through the air, “my daughter is just not getting a suitable boy. Help!” After a twenty-second exchange of a few birthplace and time details, the eminent host has a solution. “Tell her to wear an emerald of nine carats, and donate a kilo of rice on a Tuesday.” Then comes the kicker. “If you have any further questions, you can contact me on the private line at...” The psychics are even more awe-inspiring. They need only your name to tell you your past, present, and future. And because the volume of calls has not decreased an iota since they set up their shingle, either they have an in into the workings of the universe or, as famous showman P.T. Barnum was once criticized, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” “Why is belief in psychics or on-air astrologers so mystifying when people believe in God?” I asked my producer back in the studio. He looked miffed, so I hurriedly changed topics. “Desperation?” I ventured as a guess to the callers’ motivations. “Or the desire for a quick, free fix?” After all, the man who needs a job has to put in the hard work of perhaps getting trained in a new field, updating his resume, and networking intensively to get the job of his dreams. How much easier it 52 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
A Creative Commons Image would be if those problems went away with a ring or a ritual. But faith is not so simple or shallow. In all probability the job-seeker is wearing his ring and doing his rituals while networking and taking evening classes. The contestant who wears his tilak to my quiz show and loses is not going to stop doing so because his faith let him down, he might just prepare better next time. The parents of a child prematurely lost to cancer or war will continue to conduct services in church and pray for understanding and reunion in the afterlife. And that is the true mystery of faith, how it survives and endures against all odds. Watching the carnage wrought by the flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand, a year ago, brings this mystery into sharp focus. Thousands of pilgrims were obliterated by the viscous mud, but the “miracle” of the preservation of the holy shrines is proof to them that God is omnipotent. Geeta Padmanabhan, columnist for The Hindu newspaper, wrote, “In about two/ three years when Kedarnath opens, the pilgrims will be back—the old, the young, women with infants in arms, children, the infirm using walkers. ‘Is it done in love, is it done in fear?’ asked Mark Twain about this extra-ordinary journey through dangerous terrain.” Is it love or is it fear? What makes us continue to venerate a God who, at least to the objective viewpoint, seems to have been extremely selfish to have protected his terri-
tory while nature wreaked havoc all around? How does the quarterback or basketball star reconcile God’s hand in his victory with the same God who leaves thousands starving a continent away? Is our idea of God that of a fairy godfather or a personal guardian who has to be propitiated, pacified, and praised to deliver magic powers on our behalf? If God is love, as most religions claim, boy he has a strange way of showing it. The randomness of life, the unfairness of fate, and the plight of the suffering faithful have long made me a skeptic, but if I am to be truthful, I envy those whose faith is strong. It is not an emotion that is swayed by logic, evidence, or personal experience. It may wobble, but it never topples over. And when it is not clouded by intolerance and bigotry, it acts as an anchor to chaotic lives and arbitrary fates in the best possible way. It fulfills the human desire for fairness, a need to believe that a life lived in piety and morality will reap its just rewards. And if events don’t bear that belief out, one can always console oneself with the promise of a heaven or a better reincarnation. It’s almost like a child’s belief in Santa Claus, except there is no North Pole to go to and disprove the existence of elves. Still, the line between stupidity and wisdom is very thin, and I am not qualified to judge. For the majority of the human race, faith seems to be a primeval urge that doesn’t need godmen or psychics to exist; they are just remoras who latch on to this whale. So if chanting prayers or wearing corals or trekking to the Himalayas is what someone needs to make sense of the irrationality of their existence, I cannot criticize; I can only wish I could feel that way. n Vidya Pradhan is a freelance writer who hosts the weekly radio show Safari Kids Quiz Show on KZDG 1550 AM. She also runs the community blog Water, No Ice and was the editor of India Currents from June 2009 to February 2012.
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The Great Rice Controversy By Ronesh Sinha
often get asked why South Asians need to significantly cut back on their rice intake to help them achieve optimal health. After all, rice has been a traditional part of the South Asian and East Asian diet for generations. I want to start off by saying there is nothing intrinsically unhealthy about rice other than the fact that it is a high glucose, high energy food that is meant to fuel active humans. If your activity levels are compatible with the amount of rice you consume and if you are not showing signs of insulin resistance, then rice is probably fine for you. Unfortunately this is rarely the case in today’s world. Below I have highlighted why this is a problem. Keep in mind that once individuals improve their body composition and increase activity levels, they can typically consume controlled portions of rice, ideally after periods of physical activity rather than after marathon sitting sessions.
Rice For Rickshaw Walas Only
One of my childhood memories during my summer trips to India was standing on the balcony of my father’s old house in Kolkata, looking down at the rickshaw walas (rickshaw pullers) who congregated in the alley below for meals, showers, and social gatherings. These were the original human-pulled rickshaws, before the days of the modern auto rickshaw. Every meal these men ate consisted of a giant mountain of rice and lentils. The rickshaw wala physiques were mostly emaciated or lean. If they had adequate access to protein, there’s no doubt they would have had ideal, muscular physiques. I was mesmerized by their superhuman strength, carting around overweight families for long distances or carrying enormous bundles of cargo. Rice and lentils were necessary to fuel their body’s tremendous physical demands. Today, human-pulled rickshaws are nearly obsolete and have been replaced by motorized rickshaws (auto rickshaws). As a result, auto rickshaw drivers are significantly more overweight than their predecessors because they continue to 54 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
eat a carb-heavy diet, but the nature of their job has abruptly turned sedentary. Unless you are pulling rickshaws all day, carrying heavy pieces of luggage as does a porter in a bustling Howrah train station in Kolkata, or laboring in the fields, your body doesn’t require the tremendous amount of glucose fuel you are consuming in the form of rice, lentils, breads, noodles, etc. The South Asian belly is direct evidence of this unnecessary surplus fuel. Large servings of rice and lentils act as high-energy foods designed for bodies in constant motion. Our ancestors were constantly on the go, walking over 20,000 steps daily, engaging all muscles with daily physical labor, soaking in vitamin D from the sun, getting adequate sleep and rest between periods of intense work without 24/7 digital distractions, living in a more natural food environment uncontaminated by processed foods loaded with trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and a plethora of other chemicals and additives. If you can recreate anything close to this traditional lifestyle, then yes…you can probably handle the high glucose energy effects of rice, breads, and noodles with less trouble than a less active person can. It’s still not
healthy to fuel your active lifestyle with proinflammatory carbohydrates. The amount of glucose fuel you are putting in your body is meant for a race car that is moving full speed around a track all day, not for an oversized mini-van parked in the garage most of the time. And yes, in our current state we are the oversized mini-van. The same foods, such as rice and noodles, have a completely different metabolic and physiological effect when consumed in today’s artificial environment than when consumed in the natural environment we used to live in (and were meant to live in). I realize it is not practical in today’s world to recreate this situation exactly, but it is possible and absolutely necessary to take a few steps back and incorporate at least some of these traditional principles, while adjusting our fuel source (carbs) downward to be more compatible with our current lifestyles and activity levels.n Ronesh Sinha, M.D. is the author of “The South Asian Health Solution,” a culturally tailored book on health for South Asians. He is a physician for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation who sees high risk South Asian patients, he blogs at southasianhealthsolution.org, and he co-hosts a South Asian radio show on health.
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Journey to My Desire A love affair with truth, pleasure and orgasmic meditation By Nirmala Nataraj
y life, like those of most people I know, has been dappled with chance encounters, unpredictable twists and turns, and the kind of non-linear narrative that reads like a stream-of-consciousness novel rather than a tidy memoir with a decisive beginning, middle, and end. The Sturm und Drang of my particular story is one I wouldn’t trade for all the stability and reassurances in the world, however. I think, on some level, my preference has been to explore, seek, travel, and create in the midst of ambiguity. I know plenty of women who aren’t comfortable with the fly-by-the-seatof-my-pants doctrine I’ve adopted. I know, because I was that woman not too long ago. I had the successful husband, the cushy life, the regular vacations, the ten-year plan that mapped out my ambitions and was being fulfilled like clockwork. All the same, things were lacking that special ingredient I couldn’t quite identify. It was bland, predictable, devoid of the natural joy and gusto I felt I should be experiencing. After all, my life was governed by a litany of shoulds. I was educated, attractive, and thriving in most areas of my life—so why didn’t the little details pop out in Technicolor?
Is This Really It?
The answer, as I discovered two years and one divorce later, was simply this: the messages I’d been spoon-fed from infancy about what was supposed to bring me fulfillment—the doting husband, the picket fence, the dream job, the tidy life defined by a series of accomplishments and healthy heaping doses of validation—simply didn’t hold the rose-tinted appeal I thought they would. The very promise of stability, as appealing as it was at first glance, from very far away, was cratered with fault lines and glaring imperfections upon closer examination. Admittedly, it’s not as if my discoveries were a far stretch from the person I’d already come to identify with: I was a liberal/artsy/feminist/social justice-oriented Berkeley graduate who enjoyed a diverse throng of friends, felt fairly disconnected
56 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
A Creative Commons from my well-meaning but befuddled family members, and ended up marrying a similarly liberal and artsy guy who happened to be white. If I were reading from the guidebook of what it means to maintain a certain sense of respectability and clout as an IndianAmerican woman, I didn’t seem to fit many of the criteria on the checklist. All the same, I’d managed to cobble together the semblance of a life that “worked,” and divorce felt like the choice that would place me most squarely on the chopping block. So you see, I was in a deep existential crisis—one that involved spending many sleepless nights wondering, “Is this really it? Is marriage the entire kit and kaboodle?” It was hard to find myself there, because despite my ideas of individuality, independence, and second-generation freedom ... I had an essential antipathy to some of the things to which I felt drawn, first and foremost among them the casual attitude many westerners seemed to have when it came to relationships, which felt as disposable as Kleenex tissues. I was American, but I was also fiercely loyal to many of the values that demarcated my immigrant identity. And I was one of the people who absolutely hated Eat Pray Love, wherein author Elizabeth Gilbert’s exotic odyssey of self-discovery stemmed from a self-centered declaration of how oppressed she felt by her unwittingly dumb husband.
Since I was a child, my desired blueprint was all about adventure, love unbounded by rigid obligation, and anything but the status
quo. All the same ... I’d been indoctrinated by the prevailing seriousness and shadow of arranged marriage, which still loomed above me, even in my denial of it. Perhaps that was why Gilbert’s treatise angered me so much—I knew, on some level, that it was teasing out a part of me that had lived for as long as I could remember, and that was afraid to fully surface. Then there was the other elephant in the room, which few other married women I knew seemed to talk about: Image the fact that I was in a marriage that left a lot to be desired, sexually speaking. (This was, of course, woven into a series of other clashing factors in the marriage.) All the same, I had a hard time truly believing that bad sex was a good enough reason to leave a marriage ... so I found lots of reasons to stay, and made both of us miserable in the process. Leaving a marriage, to be sure, is a complex decision to make, one that hinges on so many other micro-decisions and considerations. I’m not saying people should leave simply because they have the impulse, only that they should take time to consider the deeper message behind that impulse. For instance, is it something that’s coming from a voice of fear and desperation or a voice of aliveness and greater truth? The experience of full aliveness, for me, is stymied by the desire for certainty—which is what held my marriage together. Certainty, for many of us, is signified by tangible markers that we’ve made it in the world. However, the secret we all harbor but few of us are willing to completely cop to, is that this desire to know exactly what’s what is a flimsy illusion that not even the most skilled conjurer can maintain for too long. What most of us really want is the ability to take all of the energy of life and move with it fully and authentically, to be open to whatever comes around rather than shut down because of fear or habit. Ultimately, that’s what I chose.
Orgasmic Meditation (OM)
Shortly after I left my ex-husband, I discovered a practice known as orgasmic meditation (or, simply, OM). OM is a two-
partner practice that enables both people to experience a greater degree of pleasure in their bodies through deep attention to sensation. Essentially, it’s a sexuality practice that offers both partners a stronger, more nuanced experience of orgasmic sensation—one that isn’t limited to what we think of as “climax.” While OM is a sexual practice, it is also a goalless practice; that is, it’s not his job to make her climax, and it’s not her job to offer a show-stopping performance proving how turned on she is. Rather, OM practitioners strip away all the things that may unconsciously keep them from opening up to a broad spectrum of feelings and sensations (this includes speeding toward a climax or trying to be “sexy,” whatever that means)— simply by staying attentive to the moment. It’s apt that OM saw its genesis in San Francisco (and I say that with a mixture of cynicism and fondness). Certainly, the practice is eyebrow-raising for plenty of people— Indian Americans only being one group in the great populace of people harboring questions like, “Why would you let someone touch your genitals, and what are they getting out of it to begin with?” I am often faced with ambivalence and a sense of incredulity when I describe the practice to others, which is fraught with plenty of assumptions, myths, and misconceptions of what it actually entails. For one thing, it’s not necessary to do the practice with a complete stranger, and OM isn’t the same as partnered masturbation (no matter what the naysayers will tell you). It’s a sensation-based meditation that has proven to be powerful for many people in the realm of healing shame and trauma, experiencing deep pleasure rather than disassociating during the act of sex, and learning to place our attention on what’s actually happening in our bodies and in our environments rather than grabbing for eye candy and more stimulation.
Talking About Sex
For me, all of the above were important, given that my incipient experiences with sexuality were rooted in fear and a deep mistrust of my body. From a young age, I was accustomed to the standard-issue tongue waggings from parents and other relatives, which seemed to come with the territory of being a woman. Although nobody in my family really talked about sex, it definitely came with more than one cautionary label. The primary, albeit implicit, message that was handed down to me was: “Sex is something that happens between married people, and you’re a whore if you do it in any other context.” Period. There was never any talk about desire, pleasure, or sex being an essential aspect of our selfhood—which were all truths that a part of me could not be silenced
Although nobody in my family really talked about sex, it definitely came with more than one cautionary label. from eventually speaking. So OM became a way to access the deeply complex, and deeply satisfying realm of pleasure—something I believe I’d been numb to for most of my life. Audre Lorde famously wrote, “The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”
The Limbic Connection
OM as a practice has increased my own ability to connect to my body, to my desires, and to my deepest core truths. It’s tied to an entire body of scientific research being done around what people call the “limbic connection.” The limbic system is that part of the brain that handles the regulation of emotions, behavior, and feeling and connection. Studies have shown that our ability to feel seems to be a flexible capacity that can be improved through training—in other words, our bandwidth can, in fact, be expanded. Limbic resonance is at the core of organic communication, but we’ve been trained to shut down when we feel pain or imminent danger. This can be exacerbated by traumatic experiences, which teaches us to disconnect from our feelings. It can lead to a whole host of consequences, ranging from emotional confusion to abuse of our own bodies to eating disorders and other diseases. We further social structures that perpetuate hatred, division, and rancor; we destroy our environment (since we aren’t in resonance with it); we begin to view other people as our enemies; and we engage in behavior that isolates us from others and the thing we desire most: connection. All of this can shift as you grow your limbic capacity. You then not only have room to feel your own experience but to take in that of others—and this is absolutely vital to empathy. Orgasmic meditation (OM) is a practice that grows this capacity. (In retrospect, I think it’s a practice that could’ve saved my marriage, but that’s a different story.) From my experience, many of us (especially the growing South Asian American
population) are undergoing an evolution in consciousness. It typically begins with a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with the things that our cultures, families, friends, media, and self-help pundits have told us would deliver fulfillment. But we are also dealing with insatiable hunger, the kind that we are all too accustomed to either never nourishing or completely overindulging. In truth, the hunger is far deeper than most of us imagine. It is the hunger for orgasm, for the sense of expansiveness that will enable us to be fully absorbed in our lives, that will ensure there is no longer a disconnection between our inner selves and our outer selves.
A Peak Experience
When I talk about orgasm, I am not referring to the bounded fifteen-second experience of physical climax during a sexual act. In the model I work with, orgasm is much, much more expansive. Climax is simply one peak experience of a much larger entity that few of us have taken the time to fully explore. This larger definition of orgasm exists inside each of our bodies and is accessible at any time. It is the experience that comes when there is no physical or emotional resistance to pleasure in the body. Because orgasm creates such an immediate point of contact with our bodies and the world of the senses, it is in our experience with our sex that we perhaps most potently intuit our life force—that enigmatic but omnipresent energy (often referred to as “prana” or “chi”) that swirls around us and surges through us at all times. The practice of OM is fundamentally built on a model of female orgasm. This isn’t to say that women alone have access to it—just that it marks a departure from our male-centric idea of climax: a spike in sensation, the experience of going over the edge, ejaculation, a loss of interest, and the sense that a decisive goal has been reached. While many women (and men) experience climax, there are also many who do not. At the same time, all of us, particularly women, actually have access to the experience of orgasm: its winding detours, its capacity for nuanced sensation, and its extensive quality, which isn’t really about “getting” somewhere. Orgasm doesn’t end with climax—in fact, it doesn’t really end at all. In many ways, it’s not about getting to a grand finale; it’s about naturally arriving at a sense of gratification and fullness, whether or not climax occurs in the process. In this model, orgasm is large, sustained over a period of time, continuous, and never frustrated by the expectation of climax. In this model, expectations are mitigated by in-the-moment enjoyment. In fact, orgasm is something that is fed by surrender to uncertainty. May 2014 | www.indiacurrents.com | 57
Using the practice of OM, I have come to understand that orgasm isn’t so much an experience as a potential, an untapped power of staggering force that is already innately a part of us. Unfortunately, we aren’t really taught to access orgasm but to keep it confined to very specific moments in our life— usually, the bedroom or an idle masturbation session. But orgasm is far from a frivolous luxury or vestigial benefit; it’s about a deep sense of connection to our bodies—one that enables us to trust ourselves in every moment, and to live from pleasure rather than fear or stigma.
Desire is its own reason for existing, and it is rooted in mystery. It requires us to put on a blindfold and be led by something greater than our intellect, and greater than our rational decision-making minds.
Spreading the Gospel of Desire
Tantra and OM
Change is a frightening scenario for most of us, especially when our culture is keen on inundating women with bleak statistics and dismal alternatives. Leave your high-power job or high-power man, and you’ll be out on the streets, or you’ll be alone for the rest of your life. And, to be sure, for many women, certain misery is a sweeter option than indeterminate pleasure. But while the possibility of doom and gloom might always be there, so is the very real prospect of true happiness … and usually, the experience we find ourselves reeling in has more to do with where we place our attention and how adaptable we are to change than with the actual circumstances themselves. I think it’s incumbent upon new generations of South Asians to break out of conditioning that keeps us disconnected from our bodies (and each other), and mired in attitudes that are austere, conformist, and fearful. Through my work in spreading the gospel of desire, I’m not encouraging people to make irresponsible decisions, but merely to engage with a part of themselves that may have been castrated by social mandates—a part of themselves that perhaps has a greater decision-making capacity than we have accorded it. The face of South Asian sexuality itself is rapidly changing, as our society evolves. Some may think the changes are for the worse, and that we are simply casting aside one culture’s norms for another’s. But I believe that many of the trends we are experiencing within our community—from higher rates of divorce, to interracial relationships, to the visibility of homosexual and transgendered people, to the politicization of women’s sexual freedom—are signaling us toward the importance of choosing and making visible what we know to be essentially true. I believe that despite the notion that such things lead to the breakdown of the social fabric as we know it, we are weaving an altogether new tapestry—one that is inclusive, truthful, and that values true connection over obligation. 58 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Speaking of the metaphor of weaving, the term “tantra” stems from the Sanksrit word for web or warp—the interweaving of qualities such as “conscious” and “unconscious,” “male” and “female,” within a person. Tantra is about union, surrender, and the dissolution of conflict in the recognition of our essential sacredness. OM doesn’t posit itself as a tantric activity (thank goodness, as the neo-tantric emphasis on sex as the primary ingredient admittedly raises my hackles), but from my experience, it is very much steeped in some of the same characteristics as tantra. Like tantra, OM suggests that we transform sex obsession into sex integration, and that at the same time, we view the path of desire as a viable exploration, and consider mundane experience and sensation as aspects of a much larger totality. Like tantra, OM asks that we leave nothing out, that we consider even our shame, shadow, and most secret admissions as places where enlightenment can be found.
My Personal Journey
When my marriage ended, I was several thousand dollars in debt and face to face with a suddenly vague future that infused even my smallest decisions with a new sense of urgency. But, to my own surprise, I was having a hell of a time. I think I was able to keep a sense of humor about my successes and failures, because the feeling of waking up to this completely new life in which nothing was fixed or assured was exhilarating. The sense of entitlement I’d unconsciously assumed in my former life, as it turned out, had been a buzzkill, not a panacea. The thing about following one’s desire is you eventually come to terms with the fact that it’s not an intellectual choice based on a series of factors you piece together to determine the outcome. Desire is its own reason for existing, and it is rooted in mystery. It requires us to put on a blindfold and be led by something greater than our intellect, and greater than our rational decision-making
minds. Granted, it’s not as if I abide by a doctrine of happy-go-lucky serendipity all the time. I get gobsmacked by the same complexities and trials that many people experience … in the realm of finances, creativity, love, and general purpose. I still shuffle my feet nervously in the midst of the unknown and find myself longing for guarantees and refuge when bad stuff happens. Because of this, it took two years to leave my marriage—I’d been waiting for a sign from the gods, some cast-iron assurance that everything would be okay. Ironically, that life rumbled around me in a matter of moments, not because I had all my ducks lined up and was ready to make that decisive move, but because the universe thought to whack me with a preliminary taste of what I knew, deep down, I wanted: the decimation of a tenuous blueprint in favor of uncertainty and a life authentically lived. Uncertainty is a powerful cocktail when it’s paired with even the slightest inkling of a question: Is this all there is? Can there be a better life for me? Artists, scientists, and innovators routinely embrace uncertainty, ambiguity, and paradox, because the open road is where new discoveries are made. Life becomes an adventure even in the most mundane of places, and purpose is beautifully distilled from the primal soup of chaos. OM keeps us focused on the particularities of our experience without jumping into “It should be like this, and only this.” In the process, we discover something quite astounding—that kind of surrender is actually a key to our pleasure and ability to connect to others. When we aren’t holding so tightly to our expectations, we get to breathe the fresh air of reality and discover exactly who we are. I am especially interested in working with South Asian couples and individuals who want to transform their relationship to sex, pleasure, connection, and desire. I’d love to eventually experience the healing of sexual shame on a large scale in our community, and to offer people tools and resources for addressing these issues within a safe, contained environment. When we begin to extricate sex from the prevailing culture of fear, vigilance, and privacy it’s encased within, I believe that we will also extricate ourselves from the prisons that have held us captive for too long. n Nirmala Nataraj is a freelance writer and a coach who teaches orgasmic meditation. It’s her mission to help people (especially bicultural South Asians) expand their capacity to know and be in alignment with their deepest desires, and to heal wounds around intimacy and sexuality. To learn more, visit www.sacredfirecoaching.com or email Nirmala at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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An Orange Letdown By Kalpana Mohan
orange [awr-inj] noun a globose, reddish-yellow, bitter or sweet, edible citrus fruit. Origin: 1300–50; Middle English: the fruit or tree < Old French orenge, cognate with Spanish naranja < Arabic naranj < Persian narang < Sanskrit naranga
t farmer’s markets around the Bay Area and in most of the front yards about town, oranges are the only fruits I see in abundance in the waning weeks of spring. And with the yearly arrival of this citrus blitz returns a rancid thought about my landscaper, Enrique. He’s a good man—if you call a man good who hasn’t kept up a promise, or two, or three. “Kalpaaana, I was just thinkin’, you know,” he said to me one day some four years ago, smiling, pocketing my fat check for his landscaping gig, flashing his gold teeth in the summer sun and flinging his mudencrusted fingers in the direction of my blossoming yard. “You been so good to me, I’m gonna throw in the epoxy paintin’ of your backyard wall.” He sucked in his breath and puffed up his chest. “For free.” That September Enrique bought me a navel orange plant from a nursery in Sunol. For a long time, I’d dreamed of growing oranges in my backyard. Centuries ago, I couldn’t have imagined growing one in my home unless I were blue-blooded. Oranges were cultivated inside an orangerie—a hothouse in the grounds of European palaces and residences of noblemen. Citrus trees survived through harsh frosts by taking cover inside such hothouses. The fruit entered Europe through the Mediterranean. It’s theorized that after the continental drift, the ancestor of the citrus traveled to the Indian subcontinent from the Malay Archipelago. Charaka Samhita, an early Sanskrit text on Ayurveda that was compiled 2,000 years ago, mentions the orange as “naranga.” This eventually became the Persian “naranj.” A story describes how the fruit reached Italy from India; a ship ferried the fruit from the Malabar Coast to the western shore of the Red Sea in just seventy days and then, in a few weeks, it trekked by camel into Europe. By the end of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, the Italian peninsula was lined with orange orchards. Then, in the 15th century, Columbus carried seeds of citrus plants into the New World as part of the Columbian Exchange—the exchange of animals, plants, culture, ideas and human populations between the American and the Afro-Eurasian hemispheres. Four hundred years later, the United States would become a major producer of oranges in the world; in 2013, it produced some eight million metric tons, the second highest after Brazil. As for the specific variety that I wished to plant in my home—the navel orange with its umbilical knob—I have to thank one Mrs. Eliza Tibbets, a horticulturist in Southern California, who was keen to plant two specimens in her home in Riverside. In 1873 she wrote to the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., after learning that it had received twelve trees from Bahia, Brazil. By nurturing the Washington navel orange trees that were sent to her, Tibbets revolutionized an entire citrus industry in California and in the United States. Thanks to Eliza, I could finally plant one now in my backyard one hundred and fifty years later. That first year after Enrique settled the plant into the soil, my orange tree bore flowers. Orange blossoms lure, like jasmine. I discovered that an orange was called “naranga” in India also because of the intoxicating fragrance of the flowers. The first syllable “nar,” is a prefix, in 60 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Tamil, that alludes to smell. The fragrance of the orange flowers in my backyard was so compelling I could have lounged in the arbor all day. Unfortunately the flowers didn’t phase into fruit that year. They simply vanished. Enrique blamed the squirrels. The next year the plant bore a fair number of leaves, but no flowers. Enrique then reassured me saying, “The plant is still good but I tell you what, may be it wants to be somewhere else.” He suggested a transplant. “Tell you what, Kalpaana, let’s move it to the front—out of that spot in your backyard.” He carried it to the front and planted it in full sun, a few feet away from my hibiscus plant. When a third spring rolled around, the leaves started curling inward whenever I stared at them. It became obvious that the plant wanted to be somewhere else—just not in my home. My orange was proving to be a real lemon. The darn plant, or its forebear, had swum through mighty oceans, scaled mountains, crossed deserts in caravans and traveled to inclement climes and grown like a weed wherever it went. And here I was, an eager homeowner in California, ready with rich, tilled soil that was fertilized, fecund and lusting to grow what was now considered a common, ordinary fruit. I felt conned. I suppose it’s that ordinariness of the orange that made me covet it. In my eyes, the orange rind of the citrus family—kumquat, clementine, mandarin, grapefruit—offered a guarantee of the elemental, of everything that was right with the world. The orange reminded me of everything clean and honest, of the goodness of things, of the sweetness of children. I couldn’t recall the tanginess of an orange without remembering the soccer games and violin recitals of my children’s adolescence. Sucking on a wedge of an orange squirted the taste of a vacation onto my tongue, of long drives past orange groves on our trip through the Greek islands. We haven’t been successful with growing the orange in our home but our kumquat tree, the diminutive cousin of the orange, is fertile beyond my wildest imagination. I’ve never fussed over it. Yet it preens outside my son’s window, a lush green bush pregnant with orange pendants. On my daily walks, I realize that I’ve yet to pick on Enrique. When he does come to fix that timer problem with my sprinkler, I’ll have to remind him, yet again, to paint that wall. And then I’ll show him the orange tree he transplanted whose leaves are now so jaundiced that I’m worried it’s a closet-Gingko. “Enrique, my man, tell you what,” I’ll say, when he visits. “First, I think you need to know your orange. Better than you do your own navel.” n Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga. To read more about her, go to http://kalpanamohan.org and http://saritorial.com.
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Las Vegas Shrine By Kiran Ken Sampat
came across this Buddhist shrine in Las Vegas right on the Strip. Its location and juxtaposition took me by surprise. It is between Caesars Palace Casino and Serendipity Restaurant and across from Flamingo Casino right on the sidewalk. It is such an oasis of
spirituality amongst all the artificial glitter on the Strip. n
Kiran Sampat is a Silicon Valley techie by profession and a photographer by passion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com with Subject: A Picture That Tells a Story. Deadline for entries: 10th of every month.
62 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
Being a Tomboy
By Alzak Amlani
I have an eleven year old daughter who is becoming more of a tomboy these days. My husband and I feel quite uncomfortable with her behavior and attitudes. She wants her hair cut short, refuses to wear skirts and dresses and spends a lot time outside playing with other boys. We don’t know why she is rejecting herself as a girl and don’t know where we went wrong in raising her. Is there any way to help with this?
Firstly, there are always some children in various cultures who naturally prefer to express themselves in a non-traditional or atypical gender. Sometimes this starts as early as age two or three. Although gender has a biological aspect, it is also psychological, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural. We expect our children to conform to the norms set by society, which are very binary—boy or girl and nothing in between or mixed. More children are speaking up about wanting freedom to feel, express and be more gender variant or transgender. This can be disorienting and even scary for a parent at first—not knowing what this means and who their child really is and will be in
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the future. These concerns help us see how focused we can be on our ideas about what it is to be a male or female and all the expectations we form as a result. The first rule is to not shame your child for being different. Second, imagine how challenging it can be for a child to not fit into a prescribed model. Some part of them already feels shame, and they are probably fearful of what others will say or do to them. People are harassed, beaten and even killed for being transgender. There is a film called, “Middlesexes,” that I recommend, to understand the complexity and realities of being a transgender person. It also addresses sexual orientation and some developmental stages in a child’s journey. Giving your child a safe, kind, curious and supportive atmosphere that recognizes the complexity of gender identity is needed at this stage. Take a look at your own beliefs and attitudes about what it is to be a male or female. How did you learn them and how might they be limiting? If we understand ourselves as energy inhabiting a human body, we realize that we are not only our bodies, but an awareness
that is more free and expansive. Most indigenous cultures understood this and offered a respectable place for non-conforming folks to make their contribution through the arts, healing and ritual. This creative, non-dual energy wants to express in a range of ways. At times during dance or sex or athletics, people lose their usual sense of gender and feel themselves as a different gender. Have you noticed any of this in yourself? The sooner you clear your preconceptions, the easier it will be to appreciate how your daughter is a person with much richness and positive qualities. Some females have more testosterone than others. Hormonal differences throughout our lives affect how we feel, identify and behave in the world. Looking at these shades of human expression helps us appreciate the mystery, complexity and richness of the human experience. n Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www. wholenesstherapy.com
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the last word
Autobiography of a Freedom Fighter By Sarita Sarvate
uried deep inside my mind is a sepia colored scene from early childhood, its hues taken from the films we used to see on the streets during festival time. In the scene, I am sitting beside my father Dada on a plywood divan in the front room of our three-room flat in the old city and he is telling me that I was born on January 26, the Republic Day of India. I was named after Aruna Asaf Ali, the freedom fighter, he is saying. My birth name, it turns out, is indeed Aruna. I am destined to do great things in this world, he is telling me, and an incredible feeling is sweeping over me. I am special; I am to change the world, I believe. I wonder sometimes if my mind has amalgamated disparate incidents to create this singular memory or if it just happened this way. Whichever the case, the words are real, and so are the details. Throughout my childhood, my father repeatedly reminded me that I was named after a freedom fighter; that I was to have a life different from that of other women in India. This was my father’s singular gift to me. Every year, on my birthday, he made my favorite Maharashtrian sweet of Shrikhand—in a country where men refused to enter kitchens, my father was a great cook, perhaps because my mother never had any interest in cooking, and also because, she later became ill. The custom of birthday parties had no yet invaded India but my friends got What wind of the Republic Day celebration and began to show up every year to eat the is lacking treat and listen to the story. This memory explains everything in the feminist about my life; my successes, my failliterature today ures, my joys and my sorrows. My is the narrative of father created an expectation that was hard to sustain. And yet, not for one bonding with moment have I wished that I had been raised like a “normal” Indian girl and fathers. told that my destiny was to be a slave in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. It is hard to know if my father saw something in me or if my intelligence, my enthusiasm, and my willingness to work hard were simply by-products of his pride and faith in me. What is true is that my father’s words shaped me; made me different. Other fathers took their cues from Dada and encouraged their daughters—my friends—to soar and shine too. We all went to co-educational schools. We all competed with boys; I more than most. My father encouraged me to participate in debates; to be direct, honest, and bold. When my middle school teacher accused Mahatma Gandhi of inciting the Muslims and partitioning the country, I raised my hand and objected, only to be admired, not admonished, for speaking my mind and questioning authority. Those were the heady post-independence days of the ‘60s, when women were seen as the hope of India. Later, I studied science alongside men. The numbers of women gradually declined in my classes at each stage, from twenty-five in B.Sc. to four in M.Sc. to only one—just me—in the Ph.D. physics course at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. Freed from the pressure to be feminine and pretty and to lure men, I behaved like a man. It was the only way a woman could survive at the university and in a profession in those days. After graduate school in Berkeley, when I began to work in the field of energy, I encountered not only no Indian women, but no women, period. I related well to men; I enjoyed their company. I 64 | INDIA CURRENTS | May 2014
excelled because of my ability to do so. It never occurred to me to be anyone but myself. Yet, lately, I have felt the pressure to change. I have encountered women’s games, women’s manipulations, women’s passive aggressiveness. Sometimes, in an all-women group, I have expressed my opinions too vehemently and sensed an undercurrent of resentment. And I have wondered, am I missing the female gene? But when I was growing up, I did not feel judged for my feisty personality and my outsized ambitions. It is only now that I realize that the source of my mental security was always my father, who remained my ally no matter what. He gave me the confidence to be myself, to not worry about other people’s approval. The result was that I did get approval, from teachers, from friends, and from neighbors. What is lacking in the feminist literature today is the narrative of bonding with fathers. When you look at women leaders today, like Arundhati Roy—a writer and activist I absolutely adore—or Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, what stands out is that they did not have good relationships with their fathers. Could this be the reason many young women today seem to lack the spirit, the drive, the assertiveness that should be their due in this so-called “post-feminist” era? Now that my father is long gone—it will be the twelfth anniversary of his death this summer—I find myself rudderless. An image comes back to me, of my alarm going off at four a.m. and Dada rising to light the charcoal stove to make me a cup of tea, a scarf tied around his ears. What makes a father sacrifice for the education of a daughter? My father was my soul mate, my guide, my friend and my mentor. He taught me to love literature, to plant a garden, to enjoy cricket, to cultivate a taste for beauty, to drink tea, and to appreciate the other little things in life. Believe it or not but he, and not my mother, taught me cooking. Of course such a close relationship had its price. My brother resented me, for example; unable to share my father’s interests, he felt left out of the duo. Still I do not regret my bond with my father; on the contrary, I wish that I had not let anyone come between us for any reason. For I know now that I would not have had the strength to battle the many adversities I have encountered in my life without the courage and strength my father gave me. He saw the real me in a way that no one else did. Now that I am becoming older and invisible, I want someone to see me the way he did. I realize now how rare it is in this world for two people to be on the same wavelength. How wonderful and unusual it is for a father to impart so much of himself to a daughter. So this Father’s Day, I want to rejoice Dada; sing an ode to him. I want to thank him for naming me after a freedom fighter, so that every single day of my life, I was reminded that I had to fight for my liberty. And in spite of my atheism, I want to desperately believe that from somewhere beyond this realm, he is still watching me. n Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.
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