NBC, Shut the **** Up
OwnsWeBhangra? TheWho Games Played
Back Off, Arizona!
IndiaCurrents Celebrating 26 Years of Excellence Celebrating 26 Years of Excellence Celebrating 26 Years of Celebrating 25 Excellence 26 Years of Excellence
We Are Also American
A Sikh American presents a thoughtprovoking perspective in the aftermath of the tragic killings at the Wisconsin gurdwara, and reminds us of the various faiths and people that make up the fabric of America. Sikhs are proud Americans and the turban is a visible attribute of their faith.
september vol.2626, ,no no.5 .6 •• wwwindia . .india currents.com august 20122012• •vol. www currents.com
The Hero in Us IC Celebrates 25 years facebook.com/IndiaCurrents twitter.com/IndiaCurrents 1885 Lundy Ave, Suite 220, San Jose, CA 95131 Phone: (408) 324-0488 (714) 523-8788 Fax: (408) 324-0477 Email: email@example.com www.indiacurrents.com Publisher & Editor: Vandana Kumar firstname.lastname@example.org (408) 324-0488 x 225 Advertising Manager: Derek Nunes email@example.com Northern California: (408) 324-0488 x 222 Southern California: (714) 523-8788 x 222 Marketing Associate: Raj Singh firstname.lastname@example.org (408) 324-0488 x221 Graphic Designer: Nghia Vuong EDITORIAL BOARD Managing Editor: Jaya Padmanabhan email@example.com (408) 324-0488 x 226 Events Editor: Mona Shah firstname.lastname@example.org (408) 324-0488 x 224
In the wake of the horrific killings in Colorado and Wisconsin, the gun control debate has been on the forefront in the media. According to the figures released by the FBI, violent crime rate went down by 4% in 2011. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesperson for the NRA, was quick to point out in The Washington Times that “It would be disingenuous for anyone to not credit increased self-defense laws to account for this decline.” But, further analysis of the data reveals that gun violence has pretty much stayed the same between 2010 and 2011; it’s the other homicide categories that went down significantly. Gun ownership in the U.S. soared to an eighteen year high in 2011. 47% of Americans own a gun in their homes or elsewhere on their properties and gun homicide rates are the highest in the world, about eight times higher in the U.S. as compared to other developed countries. These statistics point to a disturbing upward trend in aggression. Books, movies and television serve us models of heroes who carry guns and are not chary at using them. The virtues of a lightning fast draw are reinforced as being the necessary trait of celluloid daredevils. A hero is one who can draw his weapon faster than the villain. It is no wonder that gun ownership has risen. It gives credibility to the hero in us.
I submit, however, that there are a few practical considerations that make gun ownership somewhat futile. Imagine that there were few gun controls in place. Would gun owners carry their weapons to a movie theater or to a grocery store? How feasible is it to go to Sunday service at a temple, church, gurdwara or mosque with a weapon tucked in your trouser belt? Only if that were the case, would the shootings in Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas and, let’s not forget, the Stand Your Ground case in Florida have had less of a toll. Now, imagine that we did indeed carry our weapons everywhere. Are we then going to be in a state of readiness, at all times? If and when confronted with a gunman, how soon are we going to be able to draw out our own weapons to retaliate? The very act of owning a gun signifies aggression. As a nation we would be better served to teach ourselves techniques of peace rather than elements of war. Let our inner hero be the one who reduces acts of violence by initiating and moderating dialogs of peace. For a peaceful solution is often the most sustainable one.
COLUMNISTS Dear Doctor: Alzak Amlani Films: Aniruddh Chawda Forum: Rameysh Ramdas On Inglish: Kalpana Mohan The Last Word: Sarita Sarvate Zeitgeist: Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan Uncubed: Krishna Sadasivam Contributors: Jasbina Ahluwalia, Vrinda Baliga, Teresa Bergen, John Cussen, Simran Devidasani, Gleb Finkelman, Malar Gandhi, Jessi Kaur, Raji Krishnamurthy, Tara Menon, Rajesh Oza, Teed Rockwell, Sandip Roy, Joe Samagond, Suchi Sargam, Mani Subramani, Dyuti Sengupta, Preeti Sharma, V.V. Sundaram Cover Design: Nghia Vuong. INDIA CURRENTS® (ISSN 0896-095X) is published monthly (except Dec/Jan, which is a combined issue) for $19.95 per year by India Currents, 1885 Lundy Ave., Ste 220, San Jose, CA 95131. Periodicals postage paid at San Jose, CA, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to INDIA CURRENTS, 1885 LUNDY AVE, STE. 220, SAN JOSE, CA 95131 Information provided is accurate as of the date of going to press; India Currents is not responsible for errors or omissions. Opinions expressed are those of individual authors. Advertising copy, logos, and artwork are the sole responsibility of individual advertisers, not of India Currents.
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india currents • september 2012 • 1
Southern California Edition
We Are Also American Sensitive and thought-provoking commentaries after the Sikh gurdwara shooting in Wisconsin. By Jessi Kaur and Preeti Sharma
TRAVEL Macau—Las Vegas of the East
The Courtly Pulao By Malar Gandhi
By Teresa Bergen
EDITORIAL: The Hero in Us. By Jaya Padmanabhan
FORUM: Should We Defend Fareed Zakaria? By Rameysh Ramdas and Mani Subramani
ZEITGEIST: Nerve Endings By Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
POLITICS: Back Off, Arizona! By Joe Samagond
DESI VOICES: Paru Mami’s Dignity By V.V. Sundaram
YOUTH: The Ultimate Question. By Simran Devidasani
REFLECTIONS: Mind Body Integration. By Raji Krishnamurthy
ANALYSIS: Engines of Sustainable Education. By Dyuti Sengupta
HEALTHY LIFE: Fertility Foods. By Malar Gandhi
COMMENTARY: Batman’s Bait and Switch. By Sandip Roy
PERSPECTIVES: A Long Way Up Mount Olympus By Rajesh Oza
RELATIONSHIP DIVA: Giving the Green Light. By Jasbina Ahluwalia
ON INGLISH: Mind it, Pundit By Kalpana Mohan
DEAR DOCTOR: Overcome by Inertia. By Alzak Amlani
THE LAST WORD BY SARITA SARVATE: NBC, Shut the ****
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
18 Q&A: The Leading Funny Man By Suchi Sargam
FILMS A Review of Teri Meri Kahani, and Bol Bachchan By Aniruddh Chawda
30 DEPARTMENTS 26 Ask a Lawyer 27 Visa Dates 62 Uncubed 2 • india currents • september 2012
22 BOOKS: Review of A Girl in the Garden and I Am An Executioner—Love Stories By Tara Menon, John Cussen 34 MUSIC: Who Owns Bhangra? By Teed Rockwell 36
FICTION: For Sale By Vrinda Baliga
WHAT’S CURRENT 44 Cultural Calendar 53 Spiritual Calendar 59 Classifieds
india currents • september 2012 • 3
Celebrating 25 Years
Please accept our congratulations on India Currents’ editorial integrity and business acumen. It is such a pleasure to receive it every month and notice the quality, diversity and relevance of the articles. Birendra Prasad, Canada
Train to Nowhere
I completely agree with Rameysh Ramdas’s views on the rail project (India Currents, August 2012, Forum—Should California Go Ahead with High-Speed Rail?). The estimated cost of the total project, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, is $69 billion. When the voters approved this project in 2008, the cost was $45 billion for building the rail from Sacramento to San Diego. The distance has been reduced and the cost has gone up. If we calculate the distance, the cost has doubled in just four years. By the time the project progresses, the cost will continue to rise. I will not be surprised if it ends up at $169 billion by 2029, when this project is expected to be complete. We have a proven track record of projects being under the estimate and ultimately costing us three or four times more. Take for example the OaklandSan Francisco Bay Bridge under construction, it rose from under $2 billion to more than $7 billion, and it is not complete yet. The ridership was projected at 55 million passengers per year, and now it has been scaled down to 20-25 million per year. The fare was projected at $55 for San Francisco to Los Angeles, and now the new projection is $85, that too before the work has even started. At today’s rate a family of four has to pay $680 for a round trip to L.A. plus transport to the station at San Francisco and renting a car in L.A. My family can drive cheaper than that and it comes with relative freedom. We are in a deep recession; schools are closing, police and fire services are being trimmed, cities are filing for bankruptcy, and billions of dollars are being wasted on this “train to nowhere” project. This project is Jerry Brown’s poster child. He was a disaster when he was Governor in the 1970s. He has not learned anything from his past mistakes. He is pouring money into this sink-hole, which our children and grand-children will have to fill up. The latest public opinion poll shows only 39% people in California support this project. If we do the math it means 61% of the people in California are against this idea. We live in a democratic society. The laws are made by the majority will of the people. It is time to stop this project before Jerry Brown sinks California any further. Virendra Jain, Concord, CA 4 • india currents • september 2012
The Insane Moniker
Thanks for your editorial comments regarding Holmes, the Colorado shooter (India Currents, August 2012, By Reason of Insanity). It brought to mind a comment I read regarding the Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who killed eight people when he bombed some Oslo government buildings. Breivik wanted (as I understood it) to be found sane so he can be a political prisoner. Then there is the issue of police assisted suicide. This is the moniker used by the police to explain someone firing on the police and being killed. It is all very unsettling. Keep up the commentary, we need it. Patrick Golden, CA
Home Grown and Milk Fed
While reading Kalpana Mohan’s juicy dissertation on the varieties of mangoes in India (India Currents, August 2012, My Summer Tango with the Mango), I see our own mango trees, from my window. No, we are not in India. We are right here in our home in Fullerton in Southern California. We have three mature mango trees in our back yard, about 25 years old. They yield mangoes, large in size but not good enough in quality to compare with the supply in local markets these days. These mango trees were planted from the seeds from Hayden mangoes that were available in Hawaii several decades ago. In a good season, we harvest about four to five hundred fruits and share them freely with friends in the community. They are called “Swathy’s mangoes” here because my wife insists that they are home grown and milk fed. By her. I won’t vouch for the latter qualifier. Let me share a voice mail message on our telephone a couple of weeks ago, “I am going to India for four weeks. Keep the mangoes for me. Do not give them to my husband.” I question the brand fidelity of these fruits. Our back yard trees do not resemble the parent Hayden variety. I also recall two varieties in my village in Kerala: Kotta and Mylappu. I am sure they were not produced by grafting techniques More often than not, they were random seeds thrown by some one, some time that took seed. I am puzzled as to how any one of the fruits we pick up at random in India can be labeled Neelam or Banganapalli unless they were commercially grown from grafting saplings. P. Mahadevan, Fullerton, CA
The all too familiar scene of violence came closer home for Sikh Americans with the horrific slaying and injuries to devotees at the Sikh temple near Milwaukeeby a lone guman. Early reports revealed that the perpetrator was a member of a white supremacy music group. We don’t require the skills of a Sherlock
Holmes to conclude that this was clearly a hate crime targeted against the Sikh community because of their distinctive appearance—the turban and beard. Sikhs are often mistaken to be Muslims because their articles of faith closely resemble the Afghan tribal people. At least 7,000 hate crimes have been committed against Sikhs post 911. Incredibly, the FBI does not collect data on crimes committed against Sikh Americans. 92 members of Congress signed a letter to the Justice Department urging the FBI to collect such information. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) led the effort warning that that Sikhs “were acutely susceptible to violence because of their appearance.” Better tracking would enable the FBI to be far more pro-active. Tragically, this request was ignored. Clearly, the thrust of such efforts should be to promote religious tolerance and not to single out the Muslim community. All violence is anathema to our society and must not be tolerated. The Obama administration and U.S. lawmakers have lost yet another opportunity to mount an assault on much needed legislation to control the purchase and use of these terrifying weapons. Columbine, Aurora, Milwaukee, Texas—what’s next? Jagjit Singh, Los Altos, CA
There’s More to Spain
The travel article (India Currents, August 2012, Sensory Overload in Madrid) was very well written but it could be elaborated upon by adding details on Barcelona and Seville. Barcelona is the second largest city of Spain, where the locals speak Catalan & Spanish, has long associations with our Chess wizard Vishy (Viswanath) Anand, has the fastest train connections with Madrid and has an effect local Metro system. Seville is the third largest city connected with equally fast trains, has numerous cultural activities, and boasts of its buildings of one color as in Jaipur. I hope Kalpana Sunder will find time for a second visit to Spain as her writings will be welcomed by your readers. Des Khurana, Anaheim, CA
I’d like to express my appreciation for the cover story on the criminal justice system (India Currents, July 2012, The Color of Justice)
SPEAK YOUR MIND!
Have a thought or opinion to share? Send us an original letter of up to 300 words, and include your name, address, and phone number. Letters are edited for clarity and brevity. Write India Currents Letters, 1885 Lundy Ave. Suite 220, San Jose 95131 or email email@example.com.
It was very well scripted, detailed and bold. Shashi Desai, CA
Dr. Mahadevan’s article (India Currents, August 2012, Nobel Trivia) triggered some Nobel related recollections. I strongly recommend to readers the book Ordinary Geniuses written by Professor Gino Segre, which covers several aspects of Nobel Prize winners, including their political beliefs and social and intellectual friendships, which allowed them to get past all obstacles in the pursuit of knowledge. Many may not realize the contributions and impact of several quantum and astrophysicists to the science of Genomics. Professor Chandra’s works, his association with Niels Bohr and Hans Albrecht Bethe are well chronicled in the book. Notable are the contributions made by institutions like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the Rockefeller Foundation, Caltech, and Columbia that promote and encourage scientists. I leave you with a quote from John Wheeler to mull over: “Matter tells space how to curve. Space tells matter how to move.” Viswanathan, San Jose, CA
A Stirring Column
For years I have been reading Sarita Sarvate’s column, (India Currents, The Last Word by Sarita Sarvate) from 2,500 miles away in Michigan and then from a closer distance of a little over 25 miles, while I lived in the Bay Area for seven years. It is once again from the other coast I say how directly her column speaks to me. As a fellow Nagpurian Sarvate’s recent column (India Currents, August 2012, I am Gulliver, I am Sindbad) struck a chord, she began exploring the globe after being raised in this provinical town, while I am re-discovering the area I was born in after spending decades in different parts of India and America. What Sarvate wrote spoke to me long before I dared to take what my pen had to say beyond the acadmic compound. Now, as a writer in Hindi, Marathi and English, her words still continue to carry a special meaning. Thank you India Currents for closing with Sarvate’s “Last Word,” a column that time and again has provoked me, encouraged and stirred me. Once again I found myself mulling over her thoughts as I read what she had to say about “travelling solo.” As someone who is still learning to look at each trip I take as an adventure, often begining with a little trepidation and ending with such exhilaration, Sarvate’s words made me realize, as she has done so frequently, a solo voice can take us on many paths we never thought were possible or even existed. Waiting to read another commentary by Sarita Sarvate, who drew me to India Currents in the eighties. Latika Mangrulkar, Michigan india currents • september 2012 • 5
Should We Defend Fareed Zakaria? Rameysh Ramdas
Yes, because the plagiarism charge was politically motivated.
No, it doesn’t matter who was behind the revelation.
areed Zakakria made a mistake in his recent Time Magazine article “The Case for Gun Control” in the inadvertent usage of a paragraph similar to what Jill Lepore had in her piece in The New Yorker earlier on April 23rd. It is my belief that it was an honest mistake and not a devious case of plagiarism, since the reference was to Adam Winkler and there was an attribution made to him. The author, whether Zakaria or an intern, probably believed that it was not necessary to include credit to Jill Lepore, too. The whole campaign against Zakaria was politically motivated. A conservative website NewsBusters whose declared mission is “exposing and combating liberal media bias” published the similarity in the articles, accused Zakaria of plagiarism and went on to attack him for his comments on gun control. I believe there was a special effort made to publicize this mistake in order to silence an opposing viewpoint. Zakaria immediately issued an apology, and both CNN and Time took the extreme step of suspending Zakaria for a month, while they investigated the plagiarism charge. Both media outlets have since rescinded their suspension with Time stating that it was an “unitentional error and an isolated incident.” That should have been the end of this story. However, pro-gun groups who had been belittling Zakaria’s data in his advocacy of sensible gun control seized on this error to smear Zakaria and undo his lifetime of credible journalistic achievements. The same Newsbusters. org website went on to derisively call him “‘Xerox Zakaria” for giving similar convocation speeches at Duke and Harvard Universities. According to The Boston Globe, Zakaria wanted to limit his commencement speaking engagements to only one University this year and had agreed to do so at Duke. Later, none less than the Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust called and asked that he must come to theirs as well to which he clearly set expectations and indicated that “the themes would be similar.” We all agree that plagiarism is to be frowned upon and looked on very seriously in academic circles, even at the middle school level. However, as Bret Stephens opined in the WSJ, the bastion of conservatism and gun rights—“But I will give Mr. Zakaria this: He anchors one of the few shows that treats foreign policy seriously, that aims for an honest balance of views, and that doesn’t treat its panelists as props for an egomaniacal host. He’s also one of the few prominent liberals I know who’s capable of treating an opposing point of view as something other than a slur on human decency.” I can understand the frustration of the NRA and the right wing groups that we have repeated instances of mass senseless killings, yes, caused by guns, that undermines their cause, and with Zakaria for making an articulate case for gun control, but to use an innocent mistake to revile him is despicable. After all, we must have a battle of ideas without making it personal—just as Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil did in the 80s. n
areed Zakaria is an accomplished columnist and television anchor who got caught plagiarizing and he was outed by the gun lobby who’s objective it is to stamp out any form of sensible gun control. But does it really matter who caught him? In this era of connectedness and information availability, setting the bar high for credit and attribution for written works is especially critical. After all, it can be looked as thought theft. There is no need to defend Zakaria’s article from claims of plagiarism just because it was the gun lobby that pointed it out. Both Jill Lepore and Fareed Zakaria started their paragraphs citing Adam Winkler. Here is Zakaria’s version: “Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic …” while The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore had—“As Adam Winkler, a constitutionallaw scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start …” When you examine the paragraphs in question, it is clear that Zakaria cited Adam Winkler in his article, but failed to credit Jill Lepore, whose article on April 23 preceded his own piece published in the Aug 20 issue of Time magazine. Jill Lepore deserved credit as the secondary source, especially since both paragraphs seem a bit too similar in content. But for a few prepositions and minor substitutions, (like “documents” for “demonstrates”) the phrasing in both articles is too close to excuse as inadvertent. Fareed Zakaria’s quick apology attests to the fact that he too believed that there had been an error. It can be argued that it is generally true that the left leaning pay a stiffer price for infractions compared to conservatives. For example Martha Stewart spent jail time for insider trading. However, none of the Wall Street executives will ever see the insides of a jail cell. But, that is no reason to excuse blatant errors. Cops do not stop handing out tickets for minor traffic infractions because bigger crimes sometimes go unpunished. Uniform application of the rule of ethics is essential. I have enormous respect for Fareed Zakaria for taking full ownership for the mistake. This incident can now be held up as an example of what happens to people who commit plagiarism even if they are accomplished writers. Zakaria is a good journalist and through his writings and the television show, he makes an effort to educate the public with his honest and balanced approach. CNN and Time suspended his column while they investigated it further and lifted the suspension once they found that it was an isolated mistake. It is now time to move on. Zakaria has. n
Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.
I believe there was a special effort made to publicize this mistake in order to silence an opposing viewpoint.
6 • india currents • september 2012
But for a few prepositions and minor substitutions, (like “documents” for “demonstrates”) the phrasing in both articles is too close to excuse as inadvertent.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan
Nerve Endings O
ne night, in mid-March, I went to bed and found I could not sleep. I lay awake, overly aware of my heartbeat, trying to remember my last cup of coffee, nervous that if I did not get to sleep soon, I might never rest again. My pulse counterproductively increased in time with the building anxiety. Gradually I became aware of a sound, a beeping, in my left ear that was preventing me from drifting off. I increased the tempo of my bedside fan and fell asleep to the reliable rhythm of its plastic blades. I woke the next morning and switched off the fan. The beeping had become a distinct chirping. It is a sound I now know well. For nearly six months, I have heard in my left ear a ringing, a little cymbal, a tinny bell, that persists through night and day, and flares up into micro-crescendo just when I think it has finally outsung itself. Sometimes, it sounds like rustling leaves. Once, it was a typewriter. At the moment, it is a cricket in heat, rubbing its wings together with
I move around the world in a body without thinking much about its inner processes, and I generally expect it to fulfill the tasks I set it to. purpose and verve. No one can say what the sound is or why it suddenly developed one night when I was sleeping alone at home, my husband away at a conference. I hadn’t been exposed to loud noises or machinery; I had no trauma, no history of autoimmune disease. The medical consensus (offered by a Berkeley nurse practitioner and a smugly unhelpful otolaryngologist) is that I must be losing hearing in my left ear. A nerve has somehow been damaged and is now dying, and this is its swan song: fits and chirps and a persistent, if unpredictable, tone. According to Wikipedia, tinnitus is “the perception of sound within the human ear in the absence of corresponding external sound.” Mine is subjective, not objective, which means that if you were to come up close to my head and place your ear against mine, you would hear nothing, while the crickets unseen continue their mating calls. The sounds are literally “in my head.” Meanwhile, I continue to hear everything around me just fine, so if I’m losing hearing, it is by minor degrees, with disproportionate fanfare from my hyperactive nerves. We are all varying degrees of body-conscious. Some of us—whose livelihoods are not explicitly dependent on our physical aspects—go through life aware of, but not fixated on, the flesh body we bathe, the figure in the mirror. We may scrutinize the swell of our muscles in the gym, but it is not an overwhelming preoccupation. We are aware of our bodies; we know we have ears, fingers, belly buttons. But they do not
command us. They do not talk to us. If I am engrossed in work, the last thing I think about is my physical body. In graduate school, my father once forgot to feed his during a marathon research session— forgot, until he fainted among friends. Of course, to anticipate the critic of mind-body dualism, the mind, too, is in and of the body. We think, read, and write from and with our bodies. All cerebral work is embodied, as is all human experience. Fair enough. My point here is not philosophical, but observational, anecdotal. I have always imagined that the likes of models and athletes must be more attuned to their bodily matter than the rest of us. Watching the Olympics this summer has reinforced this sense. I’m not referring to the window dressing of makeup and tracksuits, but the elemental stuff of eyelashes, toenails, freckles, fat. The Olympian profoundly inhabits her every cell. I, by contrast, have lived my life in relative ignorance of the transformations in the physical stuff of me. Sometimes, I am a little heavier, hungrier. Sometimes, I have dull pain in a knee. When the dead cells of my hair grow long, I have them cut. I move around the world in a body without thinking much about its inner processes, and I generally expect it to fulfill the tasks I set it to. Although as a child I imagined myself a future oncologist (I had absorbed the predominant aspirations of my parents’ immigrant generation), I have since moved into the bloodless world of word processing and library carrels, and I have become squeamish about bodies and their secret lives. When the “Bodies” exhibition came to town, I recoiled from the skeletal and muscular systems, the tar-blackened cross-sections of lungs, and stretched intestines on display: all fascinating in theory, but I was viscerally disturbed. Now, tinnitus has taken me into my body in uncomfortable and illuminating ways. I have an ear that is not tethered to the rest of me, for inside it, nerves are dying, early and already. What else might go, or will, and when? What else is happening inside that bag of skin that makes possible everything I am, and do? I have moved deeper into myself, into the nerves that reside under the skin I scald with hot water washing dishes. I have started running, stretching, and moving more mindfully, pushing other parts of my body to compensate for the mysterious, premature aging of my left ear. I have moved into the tongue that flicks the corner of a chipped front incisor. I will never get that corner of tooth back; it, too, will be jagged until I die. It is hard not to be over-serious about tinnitus. “Hearing things” occasions drama. In the early weeks, I struggled to come to terms with non-stop sound as my new normal. Now, having adjusted to it, like an acquired scar, I try to attend to what it’s telling me. It is part of the story of this body I schlep about, like the gray hair I spied the other day at my temple. It grounds me in particle physics, like the eyes which track these words through light and screen and this, my first of many pairs of glasses. n Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.
india currents • september 2012 • 7
Back off, Arizona!
n 1994, lawmakers in California were pushing Proposition 187, a ballot initiative that would have prohibited undocumented individuals from using public services. That galvanized immigrant rights activists and a passive Latino electorate. It ultimately led to moving a California under consecutive Republican Governors and swing state status to a reliable “blue” state with strong Democratic majorities. Could Arizona’s SB 1070 set that state on a similar track? The Supreme Court (SC) recently ruled on this State law against Arizona finding that the federal government has broad and superior constitutional authority for immigration.
In 2010, the State of Arizona enacted a statute called the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act. The law is often referred to as SB 1070 (from the AZ state Senate bill). Its stated purpose was to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States.” When Governor Janet Brewer signed this bill into law in April 2010, it provoked a range of reactions. Supporters hailed it as an important tool to fight illegal immigration while opponents feared it would escalate racial profiling into a common practice in Arizona. Everyone agreed that there was a need for immigration reform at the Federal level. That effort has been stymied in Washington due to a stalemate between the Democrats and Republicans. Even Republican leaders who were in favor of finding a sensible solution to this issue, such as Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have retreated in the face of furious opposition from the extreme margins of their party. What a shame!
Four provisions of the law were at issue: 1. Section 3, which makes it a crime to be in Arizona without valid immigration papers; 2. Section 5(C), which makes it a crime to apply for or hold a job without proper immigration papers; 3. Section 6, which allows a police officer to arrest someone, without a warrant, if the officer believes that he has committed a crime that could cause him to be deported; 4. Section 2(B), which requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone whom they arrest or detain and allows them to stop and arrest someone if they believe that he is an undocumented immigrant. This is often called the “papers please” provi8 • india currents • september 2012
sion. The last two provisions give specific arrest authority and investigative duties to state and local law enforcement officers. The federal government challenged SB 1070 as unconstitutional, claiming that Arizona was trying to move in on the federal government’s power to enforce federal immigration laws and moved the Supreme Court to render it null and void.
The Supreme Court Decision
By a vote of 5-3, the Court nullified three of the four provisions (1, 2 and 3 above) determining that they either operated in areas solely controlled by federal policy, or they interfered with federal enforcement efforts. The Court left intact the “papers please” provision. The majority (including Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor) stated that “The National Government has significant power to regulate immigration. With power comes responsibility, and the sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the Nation’s meeting its responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse. Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” It is an unmitigated victory for Federal power in the realm of Immigration. The justices make it clear that the federal government has the exclusive right to set immigration policy and to pre-empt state policies that can infringe on that federal power. The message on Section 2(B) provision is also clear—there is a wrong way and a right way to implement it. I got a sense that they were leaning towards tossing it as well. I fully support and endorse this thoughtful approach. While the majority ruled 5-3, Alito actually sided with them on voting down Section 3, making it 6-2 for that issue. On the issue of the “paper test” the vote was 8-0—unanimous giving a clear nod to the State and the State Courts to act first before asking for SC opinion.
A Creative Commons Image
We must keep in mind that Supreme Court decisions are always a matter of context, reflect the times we live in, are built on precedents and ultimately uphold the rule of law. Scalia Bluster
While most Justices dissent with respect, Justice Scalia in his acerbic oral opinion covered a range of topics whether or not they had any relevance to the Arizona case. He noted that President Obama recently used an executive order to accomplish some of the goals of the DREAM Act, by exempting certain young people from deportation. Bringing that up showed remarkable immaturity as it came well after the Arizona case was argued and was legally irrelevant to the issue at hand. He also asked, “Would the states conceivably have entered into the union if the Constitution itself contained the court’s holding?” What he meant is that if Arizona had known this view, they never would have joined the United States in the first place. To support his claim Scalia went back into history to examine the role of states in policing immigration in the first 100 years of the Republic. He did not stop to consider what kind of immigration the states (especially the Southern ones) handled in those days; much of it had to do with slavery. This approach is a particular weakness of judges who adhere to the “original intent” school of thought, without updating it for the times we live in.
Understanding Supreme Court Decisions
There are different reactions to Supreme Court decisions. Some people burst with joy or are reduced to despair just because of the decision itself. I prefer to take a logical approach and look at the reasons for the ruling and understand them. The Dred Scott Decision plunged the nation headlong into civil war and Plessy v. Ferguson legalized segregation in this country based on the statute of separate but equal facilities. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, overturned Plessy v. Ferguson at a later time in our history. On the same day, it passed the Arizona Immigration judgment, the court also ruled the Stolen Valor act unconstitutional, asserting that lying about your military record is defensible as free speech under the First Amendment. We must keep in mind that Supreme Court decisions are always a matter of context, reflect the times we live in, are built on precedents and ultimately uphold the rule of law. Just because you don’t agree with a decision does not make it wrong or the Court, a political tool of the opposition. The Court’s decisions reflect the interpretation of nine judicial experts at a particular point in time. The most important message from this decision is that a long-term solution—one that is tough, fair and practical—for a broken immigration system must come from Congress. n Jawahar “Joe” Samagond is a technology communications professional based in Northern California. Originally from Bombay, India he has spent time on both coasts (Boston and San Francisco). He is an avid reader and serves on the Fremont Library Advisory Commission. He is interested in global politics, science and social trends. More about his thoughts at http:// joes9.wordpress.com.
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Arizona will go ahead and apply “papers please” provision—but must do so in a manner consistent with constitutional rights. If civil rights are violated, the law will be enjoined again by the lower court. Furthermore, the aggrieved parties will be able to sue Arizona for damages under federal law. The ruling on Arizona’s law sends a strong signal to the five other states that have passed similar measures. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah must now review their own laws and strike down the provisions that do not comply with the Supreme Court ruling. The California Senate recently voted to approve the California Trust Act, dubbed as the “anti-Arizona” bill. It essentially blocks local police from referring a detainee to immigration officials for deportation unless that person has been convicted of a violent or serious felony, deferring to the federal government on immigration enforcement.
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Email: firstname.lastname@example.org india currents • september 2012 • 9
Engines of Sustainable Education
In the face of rising college tuitions, community colleges present a better option.
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“If I had to attend a community college, the sad truth is that I would be heavily judged by not only the Asian parent community here, but a lot of my peers ... ”—Anish Dhar.
s many desi parents are fully aware, the cost of a university education in the United States is rising each year. In California, the cost of an undergraduate education at the University of California at Berkeley last year was $22,426. The approximate cost of a private education at Stanford University was unsurprisingly higher, close to $50,000. Of course, many students who excel academically, athletically, musically or otherwise reduce costs through scholarships, while others sometimes take on part-time jobs or loans to contribute to these costs. Although Indian parents often make the greatest efforts to pay for their child’s full college education, it is hard to believe that all Indian parents can afford to pay for their child’s (or children’s) four-year college education. Are there viable alternatives? One frequently overlooked option is the community college system where a course unit costs $31. After a two-year stint at a community college many students successfully transfer to four-year universities including the highly competitive UCs as well as private and out-of-state universities with stringent entry requirements. As an example, DeAnza College, located in Cupertino, possesses one of the highest transfer rates in the state of California, ranking #2 after Foothill College. Despite the potential to save thousands of dollars on college costs, there is a certain 10 • india currents • september 2012
stigma attached to attending a community college, particularly among Indian communities. Anish Dhar, an incoming senior at prestigious Lynwood High School in Cupertino says, “If I had to attend a community college, the sad truth is that I would be heavily judged by not only the Asian parent community here, but a lot of my peers. Most of my friends are high achieving students who consistently receive high grades and do well overall in school.” He touches on one of the key reasons desi parents choose to live in Cupertino or San Jose –—the high achieving student community. He goes on to explain his own criteria of acceptability, “My personal opinion is that community college is only acceptable if a student is transferring out of the community college after two years to go to a UC or perhaps even a better college from there.”
Laying the Foundation
In fact, preparing for a transfer is one excellent reason that the community college option makes sense. Freshmen and sophomore students frequently spend the first two years of college taking prerequisites if they have not already completed them in high school. Devki Saraiya, a microbiology summa cum laude graduate of the University of Washington (Seattle) describes her own motivations for having attended community college, “I had already declared my major as biochemis-
try, but I no longer was sure that this was the degree that I wanted. Since I was in limbo, I decided that this was an amazing time to take a year off to find what my true academic interests were.” Devki attended Shoreline Community College in Seattle, where she took both organic chemistry and biology. She describes her experiences as extremely positive saying, “[there were] professors who loved their subjects and were dedicated to ensuring that every student came away with a strong foundation in these basic science courses.” She also says, “When I compared my experience and understanding of the course material to my friends who were taking the same classes at four-year universities, I could clearly see how this environment truly helped to solidify my understanding of these topics in much more detail than I could have obtained otherwise.” Her experiences outline two important aspects of the undergraduate experience—determining true academic interests, and the laying down of a solid foundation for future academic success. Devki now has a successful career as a genetic counselor for a reputed biotech company. Back at DeAnza College, Leela Tanikella agrees with this approach. A graduate of Monte Vista High School in Cupertino, she decided to attend DeAnza to save money and to figure out exactly what major she wanted before venturing away from home. Leela’s current plan is to complete her first two years at DeAnza, then study bioengineering at a four-year institution. As for the quality of her education at DeAnza, Leela says, “De Anza has given me a very rounded education. I have never been more involved in school activities as I am now. I’ve met a lot of people, and I really enjoy the independence that comes with taking care of your own education.” She goes
on to add, “I am very involved with on campus activities. Being involved really makes me feel like I am a part of the school, and makes my days far more interesting than they would be if I were just at school for studying.”
performance. The bottom line for parents is to understand and listen to your child’s true nature, and the bottom line for students is to go with your instinct, not the expectations around you. n
Dyuti Sengupta teaches Geography at Foothill Community College.
here are many approaches to a college education, depending on a student’s resources, disposition and goals. The community college option provides a solid foundation in basic coursework that may be impossible to get at a four-year university. Students entering prestigious four-year institutions sometimes immediately find themselves in large, impersonal “weed out” courses—large, impersonal and heavily demanding courses such as physics, chemistry and biology. Up to 800 students are regularly enrolled in UC Berkeley’s introductory biology course. Additionally, moving directly into an off-campus lifestyle complete with partying and new and often unknown social situations can potentially contribute to a nosedive in academic performance during the first two years, and result in poor goal setting for the latter years. Clearly not all students will suffer these consequences, but certainly some percentage will experience considerable stress in the first few years. From the parents’ perspective, the money spent on their child translates to high hopes for success in the academic arena, and they may be disappointed if their child fails to compete effectively. Community colleges essentially prepare students for upper division courses without the hassle of expensive tuition or unrealistic academic expectations. For some students, it may help strengthen their confidence in certain subjects and spare them the pain of being “weeded out” unfairly. But do community colleges only serve students who do not want to compete as rigorously in the first two years? Not necessarily. Foothill College in Los Altos Hills is equipped with an Honors Institute for high performing high school students and challenges them to perform above regular collegiate expectations. Closely knit academic communities like these help students gain confidence and leads to excellent transfer options, including enhanced transfer options to UCLA and UC Irvine. Whether or not a community college education is appropriate for a student really depends on his or her current state of mind and goals. If a student wants to take time to figure out a career path, explore options, work in a job to save money, or just take a little more time to study difficult subjects without excessive pressure, it provides an excellent advantage over four-year institutions. The drawbacks are of course the lack of perceived prestige, and perhaps not sharing the same experience as his or her high school peers. However, high school expectations fade fast after one enters the “real world.” Ultimately these minor drawbacks are a small price to pay for one’s overall education and academic
A Guide to Choosing a Community College • If you are seriously considering attending a community college for your first two years of college, be sure to choose a good one! Here are some of the important pieces of information that might help you deduce the quality of a community college. • Transfer rates: Over the past seven years, the highest transfer rates in California included three Bay Area colleges: Foothill College (#1), DeAnza College (#2) and Ohlone College (#5). • Demographic makeup: Often an irrational topic in Desi circles. Just because minorities (other than Asians) attend a college does not make it a bad college. However, pay closer attention to whether or not you will be comfortable in the demographic setting, and if there is adequate support for any special needs you have. Look for rational indicators, such as entering freshman GPAs, or high school completion rates.
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• Percentage of faculty with Ph.D.s: This is very telling of the quality of the education. People who have earned Ph.D.s in their topics usually have excellent knowledge of their subjects, and have often been trained to teach in graduate school. If a Ph.D. is at a community college, it probably means he or she loves to teach. • Honors programs: Provide opportunities for higher achieving students to continue to excel at the community college. Also provides excellent transfer options. Both Foothill and DeAnza College have such programs. • Transfer Advising: Students should work hard to find the available resources for transfer opportunities. On campus advising is sometimes challenging and crowded, but critical for students wanting to transfer. Find these resources early to reduce stress and confusion.
@ indiacurrents / indiacurrents www.indiacurrents.com india currents • september 2012 • 11
We Are Also American The Temple Tragedy By Jessi Kaur
The Sikh community has had to confront issues of identity and solidarity after the tragic deaths of six worshippers at the gurdwara in Oak Creek, a small town in Wisconsin. The issues of identity are further complicated by a pervasive lack of awareness of the Sikh faith, the Sikh people, and what the turban represents.
y now we are familiar with the events that unfolded on that fateful Sunday in a quiet, peaceful suburb of Milwaukee. Shortly after 10:00 a.m. on August 5, 2012, Sikh men, women and children were gathering for a service at their gurdwara. Preparations for langar, the shared community meal were already underway. In the kitchen Sewadars were chopping vegetables, making the dough for fresh rotis, getting the karah parsad ready for the morning service. When the sound of the first bullet pierced the tranquil morning, the congregants were puzzled. Mayhem broke as the horror of what was happening sunk in. People scurried to hide in the pantry, restrooms; any place that seemed safe. In terrified whispers they called friends and relatives to stay away from the temple. Fear and confusion took over the temple where singing, prayers and sacred recitation formed part of the usual Sunday service. By the time the gunman was taken out, six innocent people were dead and many seriously wounded. The senseless killing sent a 12 • india currents • september 2012
wave of outrage and grief all across the world. Thousands gathered to hold vigils in gurdwaras and city halls across America. The Sikh community saw an outpouring of support from neighbors who came to their temples to express grief and solidarity. Many that came to the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek professed to know nothing about Sikh Americans. They wondered about the turbans and beards, but were ill-informed about who they were, what religion they belonged to, and why they wore a turban.
A Distinct Identity
The Sikh faith was founded by Guru Nanak was born in the 15th century. Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru, created the Khalsa community in the 17th century and gave them a distinct identity when he stipulated that the Sikhs must leave their hair unshorn as an article of faith. The turban became a cultural symbol donned mostly by Sikh men, but women also are known to adopt the turban.
The tenets of the faith are simple and egalitarian. There is one Creator who has fashioned everyone from the same Light. No one is born high or low, no one has monopoly over God. In spite of a distinctive outer appearance, the Sikh way of life is an internal journey in which you evolve to your purest essence and merge back with the Light. Meaningless rituals are shunned. Honest labor, sharing of one’s gifts with the less fortunate, and living in divine remembrance form the cornerstone of the creed. Perhaps so little is known about Sikhs because the religion does not demand proselytizing. Sikh history is replete with fierce heroes who gave up their lives to uphold freedom of worship for all—the most prominent of them being Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru. The sacrifices of Sikh martyrs have seared in the Sikh psyche an acceptance and respect for all faiths. The lessons of respect for all traditions are passed on through Sikh hymns that extol the One creator as being the source of all creation. This is further instilled by life
It is a difficult time to wear a turban in the land of the free. stories of the Gurus who preached equality and oneness at a time when India was rigidly divided by the caste system on the one hand, and tyrannized by bigoted Mughal emperors like Aurangzeb on the other. It is tragically ironic that their own members are assaulted in a house of worship that welcomes people of all faiths.
A concerned friend called me to express his sympathy, “They had the wrong group,” he commiserated. “There is no right group for this kind of violence,” I said. Some in the media called the incident a “hate crime,” others dubbed it “domestic terrorism.” Many like my friend thought that it was once again a case of “mistaken identity.” But senseless killing is a terrible thing no matter what the religion of the victims. Starting with the murder of Balwant Singh Sodhi who was shot at his gas station five days after 9/11, Sikh Americans continue to face assaults on their person and property. Sikh Coalition, a civil rights and advocacy organization has cited more than 300 incidents of violent attacks on Sikh Americans. Earlier this year, two elderly men were slain in Sacramento, a Sikh temple was vandalized in New York, Sikh men have been targeted in buses, trains, in quiet neighborhoods, and busy airports; young Sikh American boys have been bullied in schools, their head gear torn and their top knots tugged in a shameful mix of ignorance and bigotry. At airport security, Sikhs are singled out for secondary screening as a routine matter. My 23 year old son who wears a turban chooses to drive whenever possible than be subjected to what he considers demeaning
profiling at the airports. It is a difficult time to wear a turban in the land of the free. It is viewed with suspicion and Sikh American men and women often have to choose between keeping their head gear or getting a job. For almost a week CNN covered the temple tragedy. For the first time the Sikh-American community was front and center stage on mainstream networks and Americans learned more about their Sikh neighbors in one week than they have known their entire life. The vigils are long over, the media attention has died down, and the gun-control debate that is often triggered by such incidents has receded to the background, but the lives of those that lost their loved ones has been changed forever. The question of why such horrific incidents are happening with alarming frequency continues to haunt all Americans as it should. FBI and the police are trying to figure out the motives of Wade Page who was identified as the gunman that went on an unprovoked rampage against innocent people. A forty year old Army veteran with less than an honorable discharge, Wade was a member of neo-Nazi rock band that spouts lyrics of hatred. Was this a lone man gone crazy? Or is it a group of sick individuals that have banded together for a sinister purpose? Can it happen again? Will the Sikh American community ever get answers to the questions that haunt them? Do temples, synagogues and churches now need security personnel like airports to guard them against twisted minds? Are we safe anywhere?
These concerns become more potent and relevant given that the Wisconsin temple tragedy was preceded by the chilling Aurora shooting that killed 12 and wounded dozens of people. Do the two tragedies have anything in common? Wade Page was part of a growing movement that seeks racial dominance. James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, was a psychopath who dressed up as the Joker from Batman and
Candlelight vigil at the San Jose Gurdwara
for whom killing was no more than a game. Both men were heartless sociopaths without empathy or humanity. How many more such crazy individuals lurk amongst us? The day after the temple shooting, a mosque was gutted in Missouri. The authorities are trying to determine the cause of the fire. On August 13 another crazy shooter killed three innocent people near the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas. What is causing this epidemic of hate and senseless shootings? What has broken down the fabric of our society? Is it guns that kill, or people? Are video games raising a culture of mindless shootings? Are movies becoming too violent? Is censorship the answer? Do we need new policies and petitions to ban guns to have a safe society? We have to go beyond what the federal government and law enforcement authorities can do to thwart this epidemic of hate crimes. We cannot look to policy makers to bring about a change in our society. Values that teach respect for human beings no matter how different they are, or how little you know about them have to be taught first and foremost within the family structure. No community can afford to live in silos any more. Respect and dignity for all has to be practiced not by words but by actions. A hate crime against any community is a hate crime towards all Americans. We have to create a global narrative of mutual respect. Using the resources that exist—Internet, YouTube, social media, TV channels—and by creating new tools and opportunities, we need to mingle outside of work and school environments; honor each other’s festivals and traditions, open our homes and hearts especially to those who seem different. We need to do everything in our power to bring down the walls that divide and separate us. Every day has to be a National Community Day in word and deed. The Milwaukee Sikhs showed tremendous spirit when in spite of experiencing shock and grief at their slain brethren, offered food to the police officers and the responders elevating the tradition of langar to new heights. The darkest hours in the history of our country have often become the biggest catalysts of change. Can we hope that the recent spate of tragic killings awakens us to our collective responsibility to fight the forces of ignorance, hate and violence in every way? n Jessi Kaur is the author of two highly acclaimed children’s books. She is a frequent speaker at interfaith conferences and founder of a non-profit IGS NOW that seeks to work in and towards global synergy through education and empowerment. www.jessikaur.com; www.igsnow. com india currents • september 2012 • 13
Finding Middle Ground
In Their Own Voices About the Sikh Turban
“I am an American, a Sikh American. I’m here to remember the people who died at the Wisconsin temple. I’m proud to wear my turban.”—Hans Raj Singh, 16 years old, a member of the Sikh Boy Scouts troop, Number 600, at the candlelight vigil at the San Jose Gurdwara “The turban is our crown.”—Sandeep Sohal “Deep in my heart, I am a Sikh. I don’t have to wear a turban to prove it. But I respect all those who do.”—Manmohan Singh Mahal “I wear the turban regularly. It defines who we are and it gives me confidence.”—Gurbhej Singh, 16 years old, a member of the Sikh Boy Scouts troop, Number 600
he Wisconsin temple shooting once again gives voice to the reactionary society we live in. This was a horrific incident, beyond doubt, and was deservedly condemned by law enforcement, politicians and the media. But almost everyone felt compelled to uphold the religion as a proponent of peace and goodness. In my opinion, it seems highly unnecessary to defend the beliefs of the victims. Killing innocent civilians in and of itself is a horrendous act. Why should there be a need to defend the character, beliefs and religion of the victims? Would the horrific acts be justified if the victims were found lacking in any of these qualities? In fact, the victims’ beliefs are entirely irrelevant, what’s relevant is that a group of people, going about their lives, was attacked in their place of worship. Obviously we need to resist speculating on the motives of the gunman. But an attack on a place of worship gives away the motive to a certain extent. Even more baffling are the few public statements emphasizing that the victims are not Muslims. Yes, they are not Muslims, nor are they Christians, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists. So why does their not being Muslims deserve specific attention? Expecting Muslims alone to face attacks is like expecting African-Americans alone to face racism. Since 9/11 Muslims have received extreme attention and scrutiny. A similar deluge of information on Islam and its followers was evident subsequent to the 9/11 attacks. Numerous public statements on the attacks 14 • india currents • september 2012
upheld Islam as an advocate of peace. There were talks on how people need to be educated on Islam. A few rushed to make accommodations for the religion. These initiatives were led by well meaning individuals trying to counteract the anti-Muslim sentiment in a world polarized by the rhetoric “you’re either with us or against us.” Unfortunately these efforts had a reverse impact. They singled out Muslims even further. Additionally, they marginalized other minority communities. They emphasized one minority religion over others as opposed to addressing the bigger issue of the rapidly changing social fabric of the nation. This resulted in a more polarized society, contrary to what was intended. Responses to the Wisconsin attack now run the very same risk. Media and public officials need to refrain from singling out minority communities in the light of such incidents. These should be approached as broad-spectrum minority concerns. Responses and reactions to these incidents thus far have inspired islamophobes, islamophilics, sikhophobes and sikhophilics and hence has failed to actualize a happy medium. We need to act before this rhetoric expands by creating mindfulness on all minority communities, hopefully not in response to such horrific events. n Preeti Sharma is a Bay Area technology professional. An ardent follower of sociopolitical issues she aims to reach out via writing.
“The Sikh dress code is analogous to police uniform.”—Satwant Singh “Personally I don’t wear a turban because I don’t want to be different.”—Hitender Sohal “When I was growing up, my parents told me, ‘I can cut your hair, but I’m not going to make you white, right, so on some level, you’re going to have to deal with your identity.’ So we believe that the strength that comes from having a clear identity and the faith and tradition that go along with it is a benefit. But, I won’t pretend it’s easy.” —Mandeep Singh Dhillon on KQED “While some non-Sikhs wear turbans as cultural garb, Sikhs are the only community for whom the turban is religious and nearly every person who wears the turban in the U.S. is Sikh. For many of us, abandoning this visible identity is equivalent to abandoning our faith and core values, including the commitment to protect the right of all people to practice whatever faith they choose.”—Valarie Kaur, extracted from The Huffington Post article “Underneath the Turban, Why Sikhs Do Not Hide.” “We stand out for a reason, because we have a clear code of conduct. We’ve been looked to as protectors.”—Simran Kaur, Sikh Coalition
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olling Stone magazine just put the ultimate question to Chris Nolan. Would Bruce Wayne vote for Mitt Romney? Nolan adroitly answers the question with another question: Before or after Bruce goes broke? The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) has become the unlikely political movie of the year. Conservative windbag Rush Limbaugh got it totally ass-backwards. TDKR is not some Democratic propaganda machine aimed at influencing the 2012 U.S. presidential elections because it has a villain named Bane. Rush obviously confused a man in black fighting a baddie named Bane with a black man running against the former honcho of Bain Capital. If anything, The Dark Knight Rises raises a different spectre in the mind of the viewer: what would happen if Occupy Wall Street (OWS) became Occupy New York? The answer is clear: anarchy, kangaroo courts, nukes on the loose, hoodies versus fur coats, sewer rats and armed convicts unleashing class warfare. Enter the savior: Very rich white guy. Or as writer Hari Kunzru writes in a tweetsize review: Dark Knight wears politics on sleeve. #ows-esque baddies institute revolutionary terror. Billionaire in fetish wear saves the 1%. The brothers Nolan hotly deny any political agenda in their grand trilogy. TDKR, they point out, was conceptualized long before the Occupy Wall Street protests erupted. Jonathan Nolan says if he was inspired by anything while writing the screenplay it was the French Revolution: “A Tale of Two Cities, was to me one of the most harrowing portraits of a relatable, recognizable civilization that completely folded to pieces with the terrors in Paris.” But what Nolan was reading while writing the movie does not really matter. Ultimately a movie’s message is in the eyes of the beholder, not in the intention of the moviemaker. Bane launches his spectacular attack on Gotham by aiming for the Twin Towers of Americana— the Stock Exchange and the football game. One is targeted by Occupy Wall Street as the symbol of all that is wrong with America. The other, which opens with a child singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” is the symbol of allAmerican wholesomeness. Nolan cleverly conflates the two. The conservative blogsphere has gleefully found its wind beneath Batman’s right wing. On Breitbart.com, Christian Toto writes it’s impossible not to “feel Nolan’s disgust at Occupy Wall Street.” After all, the horde that 16 • india currents • september 2012
takes over Gotham literally comes out of its sewers. “Rises” never mentions the 99 percent or other overt Occupy Wall Street slogans. But Nolan clearly summons the spirit of the ragtag movement with a propensity for violence. Bane’s henchmen literally attack Wall Street, savagely beat the rich and promise the good people of Gotham that “tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours.” The Catwoman’s gal pal (Juno Temple) assures her at one point, when they enter a swanky abode, that this is “everyone’s home” now—in perfect Communist fashion. We haven’t even mentioned how Bruce loses a good chunk of his fortune by investing in a failed clean energy program. The OWS folks have issued their own defence with Harrison Schultz writing in The Daily Beast that Bane and his militia of terrorists and criminals freed from prison, armed with firearms, tanks and a nuclear bomb, “in no way resemble the comparatively impoverished, peace-seeking protesters who armed themselves with signs, sleeping bags, tents and iPhones at best in their attempts to fight for social justice.” But it is impossible not to hear the rhetoric of the 99 percent in the film when the Catwoman turns to Bruce Wayne and says “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” The cinematic trickery of TDKR, its clever bait-and-switch, is that having raised that prickly question, it never tells us if Mr. Wayne, indeed, wonders about any of these issues. Instead the distraction of a nuclear weapon on the loose, its trigger apparently in the hands of an ordinary citizen, allows the film to shepherd the terrified Gotham-ites (and the viewers) back to the relief of the status quo—where the guys who know best for us, the ones who have always been in charge, the billionaires and the thin blue line of the cops, are back in the saddle and peace (aka order) is restored. Even Batman’s hallowed no guns philosophy gets shot to pieces when the Catwoman saves him with a blast that blows the villain to bits and says, “About the whole no guns things, I am not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do.” Why is any of this a surprise? The notion of the vigilante who can put down those he deems corrupt, unencumbered by the annoyances of the legal system, has always been terribly attractive because it’s anti-democratic,
democracy being slow, messy and error-prone, not to mention boring cinema. Batman has been the archangel of extraordinary rendition and we have all learned to stop worrying and love him for it. In The Dark Knight (2008) he literally swooped down from the sky to pluck the white-collar criminal Lau from his skyscraper in Hong Kong. In TDKR he becomes a victim of extraordinary rendition himself— consigned to a far-away black hole prison. But honestly, what were all those civil liberty types whining about? That prison doesn’t look so bad. The prisoners are not being beaten or tortured, they don’t even seem to have guards, and once you escape you are not in the badlands of Afghanistan but inside a commercial for Rajasthan tourism—beautiful old fort and all. You almost expect the cast of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to stroll past on a camel safari. But the greatest deceit in TDKR is the one it begins and ends with. At the opening of the film Batman is in disgrace while the city celebrates Dent Day, unaware that Harvey Dent, its fallen hero from The Dark Knight was really the villain Two Face. At the end of this film, the supposedly dead Batman becomes a statue, his reputation restored in bronze. In a sentimental doffing of the cape to A Tale of Two Cities, Batman’s ultimate act of self-sacrifice is reflected in his eulogy: It is a far far better thing I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. Except in A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton says those lines on his way to the guillotine, taking the place of a condemned aristocrat. In TDKR, (big spoiler alert) unbeknownst to the Gotham-ites, Batman is on his way, not to death, but to a café in sunny Florence where he can now drink wine and live in bliss with his true soulmate. Wait, I thought Bruce Wayne went broke. I guess broke means something else when you are part of the 1% and Hollywood knits the yarn, instead of Madame Defarge. n Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost. com. He is on leave as editor with New America Media and host of its radio show New America Media Now, on KALW 91.7 FM. This article was first published in First Post.
india currents • september 2012 • 17
THE LEADING FUNNY MAN An interview with Boman Irani
hat do you think will happen when Boman Irani, better known as the absurdly laughing Dr. Asthana from Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., dons the hat of Farhad and romances a Shirin on screen? A touching yet funny, instead of tragic, love story is the best guess. Released in August, Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi has the zestful Farah Khan debuting as an actor alongside Boman Irani. The movie has the funny man pondering over the stupid things one does when one is in love, regardless of age.
Ferrari Ki Sawaari released recently and you played one of the three important roles. Are you satisfied with the response the movie generated? Yes. People have loved it and media is going crazy about it. What matters more to you—Box Office collections or reactions of audiences? Ferrari got good reactions and good collections too. As an actor you want your movie to be seen by as many people and the Box Office is an empirical way of telling you how many saw it. Ferrari has done very well considering it was pegged as an underdog movie— there is no conventional hero, and no heroine in the movie. People were wondering what it was all about and going to cinema halls to find out. It’s done well business wise. But lets say it didn’t do well. Even then, I’d say I was happy if the reaction of the public remained the same. I am thrilled with the love and the respect the film has got. Khosla Ka Ghosla, Munnabhai, Lagaan, Rang De Basanti … these films came out long back but are still remembered. Ferrari ki Sawaari is one of that ilk—people will talk about it. The movie is one from the heart. After Ferrari your next big one is Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. How did you get the offer? It’s a strange thing—Farah says she did the film because she was going to be acting with me. (But I was thrilled to know I was doing a film with Farah.) When I heard that Farah Khan was being cast, I agreed to do the film. I knew it would be a different kind of film. Do you consider this your first conventional lead role in Bollywood? No. Well Done Abba was my first. But that 18 • india currents • september 2012
was more of a dark comedy. It took convention and bent it. It was a satire. This is my second lead role. What makes you happy about this role? I don’t know what makes me happy. As an actor maybe it’s the opportunity to be in a film that tells a good story. Afterwards, you can say you displayed your acting talents. But then you are deviating from why you are in the film. A film is a story-telling process. It’s about how the story is told, and how well the actors help the story by emoting. A movie should not be a vehicle for you to show your acting talents alone. So the story is important? The narrative style is also very important. The story and the style in which it is said are crucial elements of filmmaking. For Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi, did you read the original Persian story? It’s just a coincidence that the names of the characters in the movie are Shirin and Farhad—it’s got nothing to do with the original tragedy. It’s a comedy in which I play a
45-year-old bachelor. Could you share a bit more about the movie’s lead couple? Look, there is this monologue of mine in the film. A little speech—nothing like a Shakespearean soliloquy—in which Farhad says to his family, “Let me be, I am in love.” He tries to explain to them that “just because I am 45, you all want me to get married. You are missing the point that I AM IN LOVE. You all just want me to get me married to anybody—uski shaadi karwa do!” But when you are in love, you should understand that it is a very beautiful feeling. Tell me, have you been in love? What’s the feeling like? I’d say initially it’s superb, and then it develops … Develops into a pain in the ass? (Laughs) It can! The point is that love is something that has to happen to you once in a lifetime. You are never too old to be in love. That’s what the film says—love has no expiry date! You can fall in love at any point in life. The story is exactly that: just because you
are in your 50s, don’t get married for the sake of getting married. You can still find love. Like a teenager’s love, you can behave stupidly and giddily and enjoy the holding of hands and walking down the street and cuddling in corners and stealing kisses … Everybody is stupid when in love. If you’re not stupid, you’re not in love! How difficult was it to do this stupid bit at your age? I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life. What is so difficult about being stupid here? You’ve got to really enjoy life to do things that are stupid and crazy. It doesn’t matter what age you’re at. Nothing is difficult if you are unprepared for it. It’s sort of like preparing for exams, the more you prepare, the tougher it seems! When was this movie shot? From December to January. All here in Mumbai. Since Farah is a choreographer, should we expect dance sequences in the film? Yes. But Farah refused to get involved with the choreography. She refused to do anything apart from acting. She surrendered completely to her job and asked me to help her. She needed a little help initially but later she was on fire. In fact on occasion even I asked Farah, “Do you think I should have said my lines this way?” That is very much what actors do. We are not directors or producers. We actors
like to hold each other’s hands and help each other. Among your movies this year, Ek Main Aur Ek Tu did not do well at the box office … (Cutting in) It did very well. It’s nothing to do with who went to watch it at the theatres. There is a budget for a movie. And there is a recovery from the movie. In that sense the movie was a success. Housefull was a blockbuster while Tezz bombed. Do you plan the genre of films you will take up after one is over? No. I have planned nothing. I do films because I want to do them. End of story. If I plan anything—it is about taking a break to rejuvenate myself. Its not like I do one film for one audience and another for another. Is there any particular director you wish to work with? Something in the story should excite me. After the meeting (with the director) when I sit in the car, I should feel—“Ya, I should do this, it’ll be exciting.” Shyam Benegal is one person for whom I’d do anything, whatever the experience. Vinod Chopra and Raju Hirani are my best friends. But even for Raju’s film, 3 Idiots, I did not want to do the movie as the character was very similar to Munnabhai, and I told him it was not for me. But he said, no, we’ll make it different. Let’s sit and work towards it. Its not like “ye ghar ka mamla hai so lets do it,” not like biwi ke haath ka khana, that you’ll eat whatever is given. You
have to be true to what you are doing. I’ve to justify my presence in the film. You have a role in Student of the Year? Yes, I have done a 2-3 minute appearance. And your son Kayoze is debuting in a Karan Johar film. Do you think you inspired Kayoze to take up acting? It is not a family business. One of my sons has not taken up acting. Even Kayoze was not inclined to act. Karan met him and wanted to audition him. Kayoze was the director’s assistant in Ek Main Aur Ek Tu. One day Karan called me and told me that “your son has been working in my company for three months and you have not even told me.” I said “why should I? You hired him on his own strength. I have nothing to do with him.” But has your presence in the industry influenced him? I don’t think so. He came and asked me what he should do. I told him to give it a try! See if you have the chops in you. It may be that he was enamoured by cinema. But there is no handing over of a legacy or business. What is it that you want audiences to check out in Shirin Farhad? I think they should see look out for two actors who are enjoying themselves on screen; two characters that are very fresh and playing off and beautifully dependent on each other. n Suchi Sargam is a journalist in India.
india currents • september 2012 • 19
V. V. Sundaram
Paru Mami’s Dignity P
aru Mami of my village was, to quote a Hindi saying, Garib ki Joru, Sab ki Bhabhi—poor man’s wife, everybody’s sister-in-law. Her husband, Nanu Jyosyar’s income as an elementary school teacher was insufficient to feed the family of five daughters and one son. Though his surname (Jyosyar—a version of Jyothishar or astrologer) referred to the family’s age-old profession, that line of work ended with his father. Nanu Mama had no clue whatsoever of astrology; otherwise he would have supplemented his income to make up for the shortfall. Consequently, the family was often in arrears on rent for the house they lived in. The owner, also a resident of the village, didn’t evict them on sheer humanitarian grounds, and compromised by collecting the rent in bits and pieces. Wives and mothers in other houses in the village mitigated Paru Mami’s misery to the extent their own situation permitted, ensuring simultaneously that Paru Mami’s dignity was preserved. Whenever there was any family function, the lady of the house would request for Paru Mami’s assistance. On such occasions, instead of telling Mami to bring all her children for lunch and giving her the feeling that such an invitation was being extended more to alleviate her suffering, the lady of the house would gently come up with a request: “Ha Paru, can I also request that your daughters give me a helping hand to cut vegetables, grind different pastes, pound spices, and fetch water from the well? And, ah, in between your tasks, please tell them not to rush home to prepare meals; prevail upon them to join us.” This was the most honorable method the elderly ladies deployed to save Paru Mami from having to light the hearth at home. As for Mami’s husband, the ladies made sure to pack enough for his dinner on such occasions. Four or five functions a month gave Mami some respite. As children, this gesture, when it occurred in our house, did cut into our own quota of appam, vadai, or payasam, but for some strange reason we felt elated watching Mami’s children having a rightfully earned hearty meal along with us. Most houses also sought Mami’s services for the annual pickle event—mango, lime, 20 • india currents • september 2012
naarthankai (dried lime) or veppala katti (curry leaves mixture). And every lady relied on Mami’s hand to add the final heaping of salt and spice for two reasons. First, she moderated the quantities of spices depending on the blood pressure level, or ulcer or other problems plaguing the members of the house in question. Second, the ladies believed that under any other hand the pickle would sour and develop fungus sooner than later. At the end of her labors, Mami would be gifted with a jar of the prepared product, and sometimes betel leaves, arecanut, haldi-kumkum, a blouse piece and money. Thus, Mami had a good collection of pickles on hand. Sometimes driven to despair the family made do with a bare minimum meal—rice and thin buttermilk. On these occasions Mami made up for the absence of a full course with an offer to her children to choose their own pickle: Karikkar Mami’s mango pickle, Karimasseri Mami’s lime pickle, or Kolathu Mami’s hot kadugu mangai (whole mango pickle). This effort to divert her children often worked—they forgot what was missing on their plates in their eagerness to grab a pickle of their choice. The visit of a son or daughter from Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta or Madras on holiday was an annual or biennial occurrence in most households. It was a custom that when they returned the mothers packed them a tin of savory—murukku, thattai, ribbon pakoda, or thenkozal and some sweets: laddu, or mysorepak. Mami would be commissioned to prepare these snacks. Mami’s murukku chuttal, the art of ma-
neuvering the raw rice paste into twisted rounds of five and seven circles was as perfect
as Picasso’s symmetrical rounds. She was the best in the village, if not in the town. However, it must be admitted that her mysorepak was a trial and error effort despite her years of experience. The outcome was as unpredictable as any One Day International cricket match. This however is not to suggest that on the not so successful occasions the product turned so bad as to be fit only as glue for Navaratri Kolu decorations. It could still be eaten, just under a different name. Thus Mami carried her domestic show with great aplomb and self-respect. If at any time she had to draw temporarily a measure of rice, or cooking oil, it was just from our house—and our house only. While on an official visit to Calicut decades later, I visited Mami who had moved there with her only son and his family. The four daughters were all married by then. Two of Mami’s daughters also lived in Calicut, one of them running a pickle business as a cottage industry enterprise. I called on her. After offering me coffee and snacks, she said: “We hear your uncles are selling the ancestral house. I would be keen to buy it, just to perpetuate my childhood memory. Can you put in a word to them, please?” I promised to convey her wishes. Yes, at that time all members of our family had moved to cities, and the house was vacant, and on the verge of dilapidation. My uncles were seriously thinking of selling it. As I prepared to take leave, she asked me to wait. She went inside and returned with a shopping bag full of assorted pickles—easily 12 bottles. I had a tough time convincing her that it would be a problem for me to carry it either as a check-in luggage or as cabin baggage. I couldn’t help admire the wheel of time. The family that had endured hardship in the village were keen to own a house there, and we, who had nothing but pleasant memories, were trying to sever all connections. But then that is what life is all about, I thought, as I packed the pickles with my clothing and headed to the airport. n V.V. Sundaram retired from a U.N. organization managing their publications programme. He taught Sales and Marketing for a book publishing course and, as a hobby contributed to Hindustan Times and Times of India.
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india currents • september 2012 • 21
A Cluster Of Petals
THE GIRL IN THE GARDEN by Kamala Nair. Grand Central Publishing 2011. Hardcover, 320 pages. $24.99
fter reading Kamala Nair’s debut literary mystery, The Girl in the Garden, I was reminded of two classics, The Secret Garden and my favorite, Jane Eyre, though more so of the former. The heart of Nair’s story was inspired by an image she had in a dream, when she visited India, of a tree that showered its petals on two girls. After the writer woke up she reflected on who they could be and why they were there. Perhaps that is why among the most lush passages in the book is the one about the garden. The young protagonist, Rakhee, who narrates the life-changing events of a summer vacation with her mother, says, “An Ashoka tree stood at one edge of the garden, as if on guard, near the door. A brief wind sent a cluster of red petals drifting down from its branches and settling on the ground at my feet. A flock of pale blue butterflies emerged from a bed of golden trumpet flowers and sailed up into the sky. In the center of this scene was a peach stucco cottage with green shutters and a thatched roof, quaint and idyllic as a dollhouse. A heavenly perfume drifted over the wall, intoxicating me—I wanted nothing more than to enter.” The novel begins with a tormented Rakhee as she breaks off her engagement and returns to India to wrestle with the demons of her past. The reader is then plunged into the past, with Rakhee as a ten-year-old girl living in a prosperous part of Plainfield, Minnesota. She is a child of an unhappy marriage between a beautiful, troubled Malayali woman and an older Sikh doctor. The unraveling of their lives begins with the arrival of an aerogramme addressed to Rakhee’s mother who is clearly disconcerted by the contents. Rakhee overhears the friction between her parents and wonders if they are headed towards divorce. Much to her distress, her mother tells her they will both be spending the summer in India. To Rakhee, her mother is a puzzle, a person who was happiest while gardening. Nair makes us feel empathy for Rakhee, who is raised by a mother marred by the past and a father who is frustrated by unrequited love. Rakhee also suffers from being different: “I was shy about my dark skin, unruly hair, and thick glasses, which separated me from most 22 • india currents • september 2012
of the other kids at Plainfield Elementary with their blue eyes, hardy frames, and Lutheran Church, whose vaulted ceiling soared above their golden heads every Sunday morning.” The reader feels the tension the girl must have absorbed in her young life. That summer, Rakhee’s mother takes her to Malanad, a village in Kerala, to stay with her grandmother and maternal relatives. They have servants to wait on them, but no modern amenities. Rakhee misses her father, and is unable to talk to him because international calls are expensive and phone connections are bad. Nair recreates the joint family adroitly, and by choosing an old-fashioned place where superstitious myths abound, she deepens the mystery. Rakhee not only makes friends with the three daughters of her aunt, but also befriends the girl in the garden. The girl in the garden is an interesting character because of her unusual upbringing. She has barely seen anyone except for her “teacher.” It’s in this respect that I am reminded of Jane Eyre, in which the mad wife is locked up and doesn’t come into contact with anyone except for the servant, the housekeeper, and her husband. The girl in the garden hasn’t ever seen herself in a mirror because whoever is caring for her has made sure she won’t get the chance to be horrified by her reflection—the girl has a birth defect. In fact until Rakhee befriends her, she remains blissfully happy in her ignorance, though her caretaker has educated her and inculcated in her a love for books. Nair’s premise of a girl untouched by the world raises fascinating questions in the reader’s mind about isolation and I wonder if she has delved into any research about children for whom social contact has been minimal. The mystery in the book revolves around the identity of the girl, but much of the charm of the pages lies in the cultural details. Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, first placed Kerala on the literary map, but it was mainly a Christian community she recreated whereas Nair’s characters are Hindu. Though Kerala has its share of chauvinistic males and though it is the privilege of a writer to choose what she wants to communicate, I was a bit disappointed that some of the power women enjoyed in what was once a matrilineal society hadn’t been imparted in the tale. However, I
could identify with a few of the experiences Rakhee had as an Indian-American plunged into life in a joint family in a Kerala village, because I, too, found myself displaced from the American culture I was exposed to and relocated to Kerala, as a young girl. Like the children’s literary classic, The Secret Garden, The Girl in the Garden presents the act of gardening as a healing force and its desecration as ominous and ruinous for the soul. Yet in one fundamental way they are different; the boy in The Secret Garden benefits from the ties of friendship, but the world of the hidden girl in The Girl in the Garden is shattered after she encounters another child. Nair has an impressive debut with The Girl in the Garden. Her message is simple and clear—unless we makes peace with the past there can be little happiness. Life is complicated and worrisome unless one can be in almost total isolation like the girl in the garden. However what happens to the girl in the garden demonstrates the perils of such an upbringing. The Secret Garden and The Girl in the Garden make us see the truth that whether in the city or in the village, no matter which country we live in, we depend on nature to heal and nourish us. n Tara Menon is a freelance writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts. Her fiction, poetry, and book reviews have been published in many magazines.
Gothic Wallah I AM AN EXECUTIONER: LOVE STORIES by Rajesh Parameswaran. Knopf, 2012. Hardcover, 272 pages. $24.95
arder than it would seem, as every actor knows, is the playing of a corpse. For several minutes after the plot event that yields the lifeless body—the sword thrust, strangulation, pisoning, etc.,—the audience will watch it closely to see if it is really dead. Whatever else is happening on the stage will be lost. Something like this principle applies in fiction, too. The presence of a corpse in a scene is unsettling. It requires of the living characters that they either be burying it or running from it. Eating a sandwich in its proximity will not do. For this reason, Faulkner does not let us know for sure that Emily Grierson has been sleeping with the deceased Homer Barron in A Rose for Emily, until the story’s last paragraph. Had we known any sooner, we would have stopped reading. In his debut short fiction collection, I Am an Executioner: Love Stories, Chennai-born American writer Rajesh Parameswaran takes on this minatory axiom of narrative aesthetics and comes away largely triumphant. For the whole of one story, for example, while the Indian-born wife/protagonist cooks, talks on
the phone, and attends a pre-Thanksgiving Day party, we are asked to imagine her just-deceased husband’s body slowly, gradually rigor-mortising into a V-shape on their living room floor. In the collection’s title story, the narrator courts his second wife on the internet without revealing to her his heartless profession as their unnamed country’s official executioner. In the beginning of their marriage this oversight bedevils him, for, as we would expect, his bride is reluctant to get lovey-dovey with him. But, then, much to our surprise, at the story’s end, she does get intimate with him after she watches him dispatch by stoning, a girl small enough to carry under one arm. The narrator of Parameswaran’s futuristic final story is an undertaker on a lesser-developed planet over-run by Earthling adventure tourists. At the start of the undertaker’s story, he is attending to the impaled body of an illcompassed female Earthling who lost her life driving too fast and too close to the roadside jungle’s sudden outcroppings. These stories have several virtues: fullness, daring, invention, and flawless comedic timing. In a few, one hears the voice from The Mystic Masseur and The Suffrage of Elvira of the Indian diaspora’s first writer
of international stature, V. S. Naipaul. However, save in his last story, Parameswaran’s subject is not influenced by postcoloniality, nor, refreshingly, does it have any of the overworked plaints standard to Englishlanguage immigrant fiction—that, for example, the emigrant is afflicted by guilt for having abandoned her home country. Instead, Parameswaran’s stories shine light on the world’s sinister absurdities, among them, loving spouses occasionally wishing that their mates were dead; the “respectable” work done by executioners in societies that employ capital punishment; and death’s offputting physical remains. Parameswaran is not a writer that evaders of cemeteries and wax museums will fast cotton to. That’s their loss and his unmerited misfortune. As one Tamil proverb enjoins, Should we blame him who announces a death? No, not in the postmodern gothic wallah Parameswaran’s talented case. n John Cussen, Ph.D., teaches literature and writing at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He is a former Fulbrighter to India.
india currents • september 2012 • 23
24 • india currents • september 2012
Ramesh Kumar TABLA Sabarni Das Gupta VOCALS & HARMONIUM Rohan Misra SARANGI
india currents • september 2012 • 25
I C ask a lawyer
The Costs of Legal Action
I have a good case which I am reasonably confident I will win. Should I go ahead with finding legal ways to seek justice?
“Go to law for a sheep and lose your cow” is a German proverb that is often touted around courtrooms. Most of the time individuals focus only on the fact that they were wronged and do not consider what it means to “win.” After all, in a civil lawsuit whether you win or lose is determined by how much money, time, and effort you put into a case and how much money you get out of it. Filing a civil lawsuit can be time consuming and expensive. The reason to pursue such a lawsuit should be to receive financial compensation for a harm that you suffered. Some people think of it as a punitive enterprise, but bringing a civil lawsuit for retribution as opposed to compensation can be very expensive for the client. So how should you decide whether or not to file a lawsuit? It is helpful to disconnect your emotional attachment to punishing the guilty party and to think of the
Who will cover the costs of pursuing a case?
We have all heard those advertisements for contingency fee attorney services that state “You don’t pay unless we win your case.” Many people think that they will not need to spend any money on the case, because the attorney does not get paid unless he wins the case. If the case has a lot of witnesses that
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case as a business investment. Weigh all the costs of pursuing a case; these usually include the following: the money you are likely to spend before trial, the money you are likely to spend during trial, your time and inconvenience, and the emotional discomfort from dealing with a person or entity who has already caused you enough aggravation that you are willing to bring a lawsuit against them. If you think that you are likely to recover enough money from the defendant to make up for all these costs, and you can afford to take the risk, then you should move forward with your case.
need to be deposed, or if the case requires the attorney to travel, someone will need to cover the expenses. Some attorneys might be willing to cover all case related-expenses and some may be willing to split the expenses with the client. Most attorneys leave the client responsible for any expenses associated with the case. This is one of those instances when it is helpful to think of a civil lawsuit as an investment. The client and the attorney should be cognizant of the estimated value of the case, so that the attorney does not spend $75,000 pursuing a $65,000 case. A good attorney will counsel the client about the estimated costs of pursuing a case and work with the client to develop a case plan that does not expose the client to too much financial liability if the case does not result in a recovery. Before signing a fee agreement, you should closely check the language and consider your financial situation to see if you can afford to pursue such a case. n Gleb Finkelman is an attorney engaged in all aspects of personal injury and business litigation at the Abronson Law Offices in Los Gatos. www.redhouselawyer.com
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Rajesh C. Oza
A Long Way Up Mount Olympus Why hasn’t Indian Olympic performance gone up with India’s economic rise?
ith two silvers and four bronzes, India has achieved an Olympic double “hat-trick”—tied with Ireland in the middle of the pack, but at the bottom on a per capita basis. While this is as many medals as India took home in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 combined, it is a far cry from the “century” of gold, silver, and bronze hardware that the United States has bagged. As India has begun flexing its information technology muscle and concomitant economic rise, many Indians have bemoaned their country’s less muscular showing in London. Some members of the younger generation are particular piqued that the only champions that India has produced in their lifetime have been Sachin Tendulkar and Viswanathan Anand, national heroes whose pursuits (cricket and chess, respectively) have no platform at the Olympics. The youth have little patience for the Gandhian philosophy that demands unattachment to results: “Winning or losing is no concern of yours. You will simply try your best, and I am of course there to assist you” (M. K. Gandhi quoting Kevalram Dave in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth). Substitute “Arjuna” for “M. K. Gandhi” and “Krishna” for “Kevalram Dave” to hear the Bhagavad Gita’s sacred song that Gandhi’s life echoed. As Arjuna’s charioteer on the battlefield, Krishna espoused karma-yoga and counseled the despondent prince to do his duty without attachment to results. So India’s Hindu ethos may have its citizens—Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, agnostic—resigned to not be despondent as long as Indian athletes are trying their best. But the country’s superpower aspirations to win in the corporate boardroom, from the classroom chalkboard, and on the swimming diving board has those same citizens asking if India is trying its best to win Olympic gold? While it may be a stretch to think of sport as a metaphor for the battlefield, how can we not think of the medal count as a less bloody arms race between nations. Indeed, there is a correlation between economic might and sporting power. At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, when American might was at its apogee, the United States won 174 medals and China took home 32. A quarter of a century later in Beijing, a rising China celebrated with
28 • india currents • september 2012
2012 Olympic Games—Opening Ceremony
100 medals and a declining America slipped to 110. Of course, there are many factors besides GDP at play: the USSR boycotted the 1984 Olympics, home-field advantage consistently bumps up the home country’s medal count, and micropower countries such as Jamaica can go up and down based on star performances by athletes such as Usain Bolt. But the evidence is in: Olympic gold follows economic gold. So the natural follow-up question one might have is, “Why hasn’t Indian Olympic performance gone up with the country’s economic rise?” This is a fair question for sports economists, but the question that is in keeping with the spirit of this column is whether India should expend the requisite human energy and financial capital to succeed on the world sporting stage? Gandhi would have thought it folly that the Chinese spent $40 billion to stage the 2008 Olympics. Even the more frugal British spent $14 billion for this year’s sports extravaganza. In the false promise of prideful propaganda, countries spend like parents who go bankrupt while sparing no expense at their children’s weddings; a classic case is the $16 billion 2004 Athens affair which contributed to Greece’s debt crisis. A study from the University of South
Photo Credit: Globeimages.net
Australia concluded that one gold medal costs $37 million in training budget. Imagine those dutiful dollars (responsible rupees? karmic coins?) training Indian students on something less violent than boxing and more meaningful than swimming laps faster than Michael Phelps. Closer to home, as many American children prepare for the upcoming school year, perhaps an illuminating arithmetic problem could find its way into education policy: 46 gold medals at $37 million each equal $1.7 billion opportunity cost. With their state’s deficit in the billions, the campuses of the University of California—arguably part of the finest higher education system the world has produced—have responded to the significant budget shortfalls with not insignificant tuition increases and faculty losses. After the feel-good buzz of The Who closing the London Olympics with a nostalgic performance of “My Generation,” future generations throughout the world might pause to wonder if climbing Mt. Olympus is worth the cost. 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.
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Three Knots and Rites TERI MERI KAHANI. Director: Kunal Kohli. Players: Shaheed Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Prachi Desai, Greg Heffernan. Music: SajidWajid. Hindi with English sub-titles. Theatrical release (EROS).
ovies that draw from an overlap of multiple historical eras often have a built in excitement quotient in allowing the filmmaker to create a visual trajectory of how lives, fashions, and politics evolve over time. Spanning a 100 year timeline, Teri Meri Kahaani should offer exactly that. What Kohli’s first venture outside of the Yashraj label does offer, instead, is staging that is both eye-catching and intermittently fun and yet suffers from poor handling. Kohli’s own screenplay follows Kapoor and Chopra through three lives lived in different eras. Beginning with a Lahore setting in 1910 where the ne’er do well ruffian Javed (Kapoor) shows interest in village belle Aradhana (Chopra) even as Javed gets under the trespassing radar of British officer Green (Heffernan). Then there is a struggling musician Govind (Kapoor), who arrives in what was then Mumbai in 1960, befriends a neighbor (Desai) while he falls for Rukhsar (Chopra), an established star who can help promote Govind’s career. Finally, as the third spoke in this wheel, there is a Londoner Krrish (Kapoor) who gets mushy with Radha (Chopra). The off screen on-again, off-again links between Kapoor and Chopra has been tabloid fodder for some time now. Mercifully, the twosome retain onscreen chemistry that is clearly evident here. Incidentally, two period pieces retro-fitted on top of contemporary theatrics very nicely gives ace costume designer Manish Malhotra (Agneepath, Agent Vinod, Ek Mein Aur Ekk Tu) a chance to explore time-appropriate threads. By far the most interesting costumes are the ones from the 1960s. Sajid-Wajid is very much making a mark at the charts. Teri Meri Kahaani is their best work since Dabangg. The time-shifting theme also allows the two brothers to get into period specific tunes that are ear-worthy. Sajid’s “Mukhtasar” pounds away with a mod vibe while the colonial era feel to the groupdance number “Humse Pyar Karle Tu,” al30 • india currents • september 2012
ready hugely popular on YouTube, nails the jail-break mood it is earmarked for onscreen. The combination of folk-earthy choreography and decent tune elevates the soundtrack even more. Then there is Sonu Nigam-Shreya Ghosal’s torchy nightclub number “Jabse Mere Dil Ko Uff” (when was the last time you heard “Uff” in a song title?) captures a nostalgic glance at an era when male leads worried about the tightness of their white pants and female leads about tightness of their saris and possibly the height of their beehive ‘dos. Four decades ago, this would surely be Shammi Kapoor and Helen having a cabaret tete-a-tete crooned by Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle while a sullen-looking Asha Parekh sat in the crowd sipping Fanta and looking forlorn. If only the movie would end there and then. And that brings us to the drawbacks of Kohli's film. While Kapoor and Chopra look pretty as leads, a more forceful and cohesive narrative behind their stories would have
given the story more purpose and made it more memorable. Also, the powerful staging of the songs works against the movie in that they serve to highlight the weak plot of the movie. If only these were a collection of stand-alone single song videos. If only we could loop through “Jabse Mere Dil Ko Uff” every time Kapoor’s characters fumble with what he really does for a living in any of these incarnates. If only. The sophomoric plotlines and quick fixes to sub plots do little to push forth an “epic” feel. In the past, Kunal Kohli worked almost exclusively for the Yashraj label and had considerable success there with Hum Tum (2004), Fanaa (2006) and to a lesser extent, Mujhse Dosti Karoge (2002). Outside of his comfort zone Kohli flounders. While the music score may be the best of any Kohli film to date, Teri Meri Kahaani is a great concept that lacks oomph in execution. n EQ: B-
Bully of the Manor BOL BACHCHAN. Director: Rohit Shetty. Players: Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan, Asin, Prachi Desai, Asrani, Krishna Abhishek, Amitabh Bachchan. Music: Sajid-Wajid. Hindi with English sub-titles. Theatrical release (Fox Star). MPAA Rating: PG.
here hasn’t quite been a hot directoractor team with the same success as Shetty and Devgn in recent times. In contemporary film lore, only the hit pairing of Yash Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan would be a bigger box office parallel with the former as the director and the latter coyly romancing through his various “Rahul” named roles. Beginning with Zameen (2003), Shetty-Devgn have made four super-hits, with three installments in the Golmaal franchise and Singham. With Bol Bachchan they return with an essentially unaltered lascivious and bawdy slap-stick comedy routine that is as much a pedestrian front-bench draw as it is a big-tent event. Abbas (Abhishek Bachchan) lives in Delhi with his sister Sania (Asin). Losing out on a court-case involving some ancestral property, the brother and sister are convinced by Shashtri (Asrani), a well-meaning elder, to
go with him to a nearby village where Abbas can find a job. Arriving in a village ruled by the perennially hot-headed Prithviraj Raghuvanshi (Devgn), a baron-bully with ancestral land dispute issues. Abbas assumes a double identity. In a plot twist, he changes his name to Abhishek, and recreates himself as a gay guy named Abbas to throw the wool over Raghuvanshi's eyes. Complicated? Yes. Make sense? No. The farce involving mistaken and fake identities is only paper thin. If Abhishek Bachchan’s character in Dostana had to pretend to be gay so he could share an apartment with a gal pal he liked, Bol Bachchan has Bachchan playing an over-the-top, effeminate gay. This caricature is both downright silly and also perplexing in that even in 2012 the only identity an A-list Hindi movie can give a non-straight character is that of a flamboyant, scarf-wearing hip swisher. But then again, subtlety is hardly a term that jumps to mind when one thinks of a Shetty-Devgn vehicle. Abhishek Bachchan has never quite made a mark as a terrific actor. He can, however, come up terrific caricatures and does so here. Devgn’s Prithviraj is a bossy lord of his manor and vast holdings. He is fond of surround-
ing himself with muscular—albeit scantily clad—jousters and all of them are afraid of him. Also, in the rush to get the genderquestioning sight-gags up and running, the female characters are utilized almost as afterthoughts. While the production values sparkle, the acting is almost uniformly overdone and the story is shallow. That appears to have done very little to dampen the box office appeal of Bol Bachchan. Well-marketed by Devgan’s own Ajay Devgn Productions label, Amitabh Bachchan both singing and showing up for the title song video doesn’t hurt box office receipts. Bol Bachchan opened to a $500,000plus haul on its U.S. opening weekend and dashed to a 10-day total of more than $1 million. This is on par with the highest box office of any Hindi movie in the U.S. for 2012 so far. Be warned: check sensibilities in at the door and be sure to pick up sanity bearings on the way out. n EQ: C Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.
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india currents • september 2012 • 31
32 • india currents • september 2012
Nrityodaya Katha Academy Presents
CONCERT OF THE LEGEND JOIN US TO CELEBRATE A MEMORABLE AND STUNNING EVENING WITH THE KATHAK LEGEND ON HIS 75 th BIRTHDAY
Saturday, September 22nd at 7PM
IRVINE BARCLAY THEATRE 4242 CAMPUS DRIVE IRVINE, CA 92612
The show will begin with a brief recital by Bhairavi Kumar, artistic director of Nrityodaya Kathak Academy. Kathak classes are offered in Walnut/Diamond Bar, Chino Hills, Irvine and Beverley Hills. New Classes Forming in: Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, Irvine, Cerritos, Huntington Beach & Riverside/Corona. For information, call 909-630-8558 or visit www.nrityodayaacademy.com
Tickets: For online ticketing, visit www.thebarclay.org For more info, visit : www.NrityodayaAcademy.com
BARCLAY THEATRE The National sponsor for this project is Katha Dance Theater. Visit Kathar Dance at www.kathadance.org PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEO STRICTLY PROHIBITED. EQUIPMENT WILL BE CONFISCATED
india currents • september 2012 • 33
Who Owns Bhangra?
How British and Indian Punjabis reshaped South Asian dance music
ikipedia relies on what is sometimes called the “Wisdom of Crowds” to enable conflicting opinions to gradually evolve into a consensus. Sometimes, however, that consensus fails to form, and Wikipedia creates what is called a talk page, where disagreements are hashed out, hopefully in a reasonably civil manner. The talk page for the article on Shariah law is still raging with debates amongst Islamophobes, Islamic Fundamentalists, and moderate Muslims. The controversy on the “Bhangra” page is not as fierce, but it does show a strong disparity on the meanings of key words, and the significance of historical facts. The page is tagged with two Wikipedia icons indicating problems with tone and objectivity, and a link to a talk page that reveals a bewildering range of opinions and attitudes. To clear up some of this confusion, I conducted further web searches, and interviewed Indian bhangra star Daler Mehndi, but this produced even less consensus. The current Wikipedia page claims that bhangra was developed in England by Punjabi expatriates, and that “Birmingham is considered to be the hub of Bhangra music.” The essential property that defined bhangra was “a need to move away from the simple and repetitive Punjabi folk music” and consequently “folk instruments were rarely used.” Another web page asserts that “In a sense, bhangra music is one of the few immigrant music genres of the world that is absent in the home country.” The talk page also had no consensus as to where the name came from. Some claimed that it derived from the word bhang, “an intoxicating drink made from marijuana.” Others claimed that this idea was “more folklore than anything else.” Some commenters on the talk page speculated that bhangra could be a part of Punjabi culture that predates Islam and Sikhism. The Bhangra page proper, however, describes the “prehistory” of bhangra as dating back only to the 1960s. When I asked Daler Mehndi whether bhangra originated in England, he replied, “Absolutely not! Unfortunately you are illinformed. Bhangra is from Bhangu clan (one of original Jat tribes)—from the inner most hearts of Punjab.” Mehndi certainly has a more plausible story for the origin of the
34 • india currents • september 2012
name, but his definition of it is almost opposite of the one in the Wikipedia article. For him, bhangra is Punjabi folk music that British artists are moving away from. Mehndi claims, “I have the credit of taking bhangra global.” Some British bhangra fans, however, argue that Mehndi’s music is not really bhangra at all, but should be called “folk pop.” Consequently, at one point in the editorial process, his name was completely removed from the Bhangra Wikipedia page, a decision that was criticized by a referee as reflecting only individual bias. “I personally think Daler Mehndi has twisted bhangra into a Bollywood mockery but I have kept him on there along with others.” Another referee countered by saying “I’m only an ignorant gori (girl) but I like Daler.” The referees were using album sales to distinguish important bhangra artists from “somebody’s brother-in-law,” and by that criterion it made no sense to exclude Mehndi. Most top selling Bhangra albums reach sales of around 50 to 80,000. The one exception was Malkit Singh, who was listed in the 2001 Guinness Book of Records as having sold a total of 4.9 million albums. Mehndi, however,
sold 20 million copies of a single album (Bolo Ta Ra Ra) thus making it the top selling non-filmi Indian album of all time. Why then was Malkit Singh, and not Mehndi, listed as the top selling Bhangra artist? What is it about Mehndi’s music that so deeply offends bhangra purists that they refuse to even grant him the name? These “purists” reject the need for folk instruments, and some even claim that the 90s introduction of authentic folk music into bhangra remixes lead to the death of bhangra. They clearly don’t object to synthesizers, glittery costumes and flashy cars, or Mehndi’s pioneering use of green screen computer animation for his hit video “Tunak Tunak Tun.” At the risk of offending at least one side of this controversy, I will speculate about the innovation in Mehndi’s music that both infuriates his detractors and delights his fans. Whatever other changes were added to Punjabi-British bhangra, it always kept the slow loping keharwa beat that was necessary for the traditional dances. Mehndi kept that beat, and most of the phrasings, vocal techniques and scales of traditional bhangra, but he sped it up to the tempo of Disco music. At that speed, the syncopated pickup of keharwa became intoxicating to fans throughout India, enabling Mehndi to sell 250,000 albums even in Kerala, where essentially no one speaks Punjabi. Punjabi-British bhangra stars like Jazzy B often dress and act like rappers, and thus it appears that they express the voice of angry youth rebelling against parental tradition. In fact, the rebellion is actually aimed at the Anglo-Western culture that rejects both Africans and Punjabis as outsiders. Many of the dancers in Jazzy’s videos seamlessly combine hip-hop and break dancing with traditional Punjabi dancing, as if to say, “We’re here, but we’re still Punjabi.” This cultural synthesis would be difficult, perhaps impossible, at the tempos Mehndi uses. Nevertheless, there is still much affinity between Mehndi and his Punjabi-British colleagues. Although Mehndi always wears the traditional Sikh turban, his videos and performances often show a similar love of glitter, bling and attractive young women. This is not as big a break from Sikh
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tradition as one might think. Folk bhangra was rural party music, with flirtatious lyrics that glorified partying and dancing, and the Sikh religion has always rejected yogic practices that mortified the flesh. Consequently, it is not uncommon for Punjabi-British bhangra performers to return to traditional dress for certain performances, not out of regret and repentance, but as an acknowledgement that both the sacred and the sensuous have their place in God’s Universe. Mehndi came from a family that performed and taught sacred and classical music for eight generations. He was not even allowed to listen to Punjabi folk and dance music when he was growing up. At the peak of his success, he is now returning to his spiritual roots. His most recent album features lyrics from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh sacred text, and a new instrument he has designed for accompanying sacred music he calls the Swarmandir. Most importantly, he has devoted much of his time and wealth to the charitable work which is the heart of Sikh practice. He donated 85 million rupees to establish the Daler Mehndi Green Drive to help make a cleaner environment in Delhi, and built 16 houses in Gujarat after an earthquake there. He has also performed concerts to raise funds for the victims of natural disasters throughout India. None of this, however, will ever conflict with his desire to party with his fans. There is a time for this world and a time for the next, and the Sikh religion has long recognized that there is no necessary conflict between the two. On this point at least, bhangra fans can hopefully agree. n Teed Rockwell studied with Ali Akbar Khan for many years, and is the only person in the world to play Indian classical and popular music on his customized touchstyle veena. You can see and hear videos of his musical performances at www.bollywoodgharana.com
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india currents • september 2012 • 35
For Sale “M
rs. Shergill?” A young couple is at the door. The husband smiles down at Simran. “I’m Tarun, and this is Rhea. We called earlier? We’ve come about the ad.” That much is obvious from the way the wife is already looking past her into the hallway. Her glance is focused and appraising. Simran steps back reluctantly and lets them enter the space their eyes have already invaded. She has to press back against the wall to let the wife pass. Maternity clothes, nowadays, are designed to worship the pregnant figure. Back in Simran’s time, a pregnancy would have been hidden in loose, flabby clothes. Not that she had an occasion to wear them herself. “I hope this is not an inconvenient time,” the wife says.
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36 • india currents • september 2012
Simran shrugs. The question is a little belated, isn’t it? Now that they’ve already come in? It isn’t as if they will turn and leave if the time is inconvenient. They’re in the living room now. The wife begins a circuit of the room, pausing to examine this or that, knocking on the fauxwood paneling with her knuckles like a tax inspector on a surprise raid. Her brisk manner makes such little concession to her advanced pregnancy that Simran prays secretly that her water doesn’t break. Not on the rug, at any rate. The husband, meanwhile, goes over to the window and looks out. Simran follows his line of vision into the neighbor’s garden. The neighbors. What will they tell them about this house? About Nikhil and Simran? God knows, even without recent events, they have had enough to gossip about over the years. A house tainted by scandal discounts its own market value. But then, these two don’t look like the type who will bother with neighbors. They are the modern couple, the self-sufficient “family-unit” she reads about in the newspaper, the type who can never have neighbors, not even if they happen to live in a crowded apartment complex. They have only visual acquaintances through chance meetings in the elevator that never go beyond greetings. Next door could just as well be a different planet. The wife is looking at a photograph now-it is Nikhil and Simran’s photograph taken during their honeymoon in Shimla. At the time, like the typical couple that emerges gasping for breath out of the endless ceremonies and rituals of an arranged marriage, they barely knew each other. There they are with the Christ Church crowning their heads, smiling innocently at the camera that Nikhil has foisted upon some passerby. Framed in the photograph, they are safely confined, as if they will never emerge from that moment to reveal, to each other and themselves, their real faces, the depths to which they are each capable of falling. The woman turns, looking inclined to comment, but then decides against it. Perhaps she is intimidated by Simran’s white sari. For all she knows, Simran could have been widowed years ago. On the other hand,
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it could just as easily be last week, and she probably doesn’t want to get Simran started on her husband’s death. It would be inauspicious, wouldn’t it, to talk about death on their first visit to what could soon be their home? The young of today are selective in their faith. They may not know a single religious chant, they may look down on rituals as backward, but when it comes to the important phases of their own lives, they are just as superstitious as the generations they think they have left behind. They are done with the living room now, and are looking expectantly at her to take the lead and show them around the house. But she makes no move. Finally, they step tentatively towards the kitchen. “May we…?” Simran nods, but remains at the door. If they think that she will throw open cabinets and reveal all the clever little nooks for gadgets with a “Ta-Da!”—that she will do a little song-and-dance routine for them so that they can do her the privilege of buying her home, they’re sadly mistaken. In any event, they give the kitchen only a cursory glance. Perhaps they have a cook. Very likely. They have left laptop bags at the front door. Both working. Independent. Far above the drudgery that they can hire menials to do. This woman will probably step into the kitchen only to hand over a new baby-food recipe that she has looked up on the Internet or seen in one of the countless parenting books with which she has doubtless equipped herself. How will a cook, and an unsupervised one at that, look after this kitchen? Simran’s kitchen. The one place where she had found temporary oblivion in the preparation of the elaborate meals that had nevertheless failed to serve as an effective counterpoise to the frigid silence at the dining table. They are going up the stairs now. Simran follows them, keeping a short distance behind. “Oooh! This is perfect!” Simran flinches. They have discovered Prakriti’s room. When she enters, the woman is busy making plans. The room is to be painted lavender. Crib goes here, toy cupboard there, rocking chair in the corner, study
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www.natyanjali.org india currents • september 2012 • 37
table by the window, bookshelves, a glass-door showcase for trophies … every little detail down to the location of height-giraffe which will provide the one solid measurement, meticulously noted down on every birthday, among all the myriad intangible ways in which the poor kid will doubtless have to measure up against peers. She seems to have got it all figured out till the kid is twenty. But, Simran knows her type. The novelty of the baby will wear out soon enough, when it dawns on her that motherhood is not a long series of picture-perfect shots out of a Johnson’s baby ad, and the reality of the endless cycle of feeding and cleaning-up-after sinks in, and then, before you can say “Peek-a-boo!” a nanny will be installed, while she herself carries on with life as usual. But why has she taken such a dislike to this woman, this Reena, or whatever her name is? Who is she to judge her when she has barely known her for more than a few minutes. Perhaps it’s the way she is planning the future, as though life is nothing more than a Saturday night dinner-and-a-movie. How can she be so complacent, so smugly confident that everything will work out according to plan? After all, Simran too had once made similar plans on how this room should be arranged. And what had she ever got for her efforts but an empty space—a “guest-bedroom” in a house that could not afford to have guests over, given the poisonous atmosphere that festered within its walls. Simran excuses herself and goes back downstairs leaving the (relieved?) couple to its charming little tour. She has no appetite left for the next room. The master bedroom. The room in which Prakriti had been conceived. This room is the venue of their greatest sins. But who was the greater sinner? Nikhil, who had coldly informed her, after an ultrasound done by a “family doctor” whom she had never heard of before, that there was a “problem?” Or Simran, still in awe of marriage and what she had been taught was “her place” in it, who in not putting up a strong enough fight had betrayed her own child? Either way, they had both paid the price. The same room was witness to their increasingly desperate, loveless attempts to conceive a son, doomed at the very outset by what she had become convinced was Prakriti’s curse. Simran’s periods had always been a little irregular. But now, month after month, her womb mourned its dead with clockwork regularity. And with every passing year, Nikhil became obsessed with their inability to conceive; he presented it, in turns, as the cause and the outcome of the reversals he faced at work. And the deeper his business fell into debt, the more he wanted a son to carry it forward. In the face of a faltering business and the continued absence of a male heir, he resorted to other ways to prove his manhood. Simran did not play silent victim. Not anymore. She matched him blow for blow, 38 • india currents • september 2012
A Creative Commons Image
resorting in the face of his physical aggression, to a more enduring arsenal of words—insults and taunts inflicted with bitter, brutal thrusts, their blades all the more lethal from having been honed on hard, undeniable truth. And all those years later, after the initial grounds had long been invalidated—not only had they given up trying, but it had also become increasingly clear that there would not be much of a business left to carry forward, heir or no heir—they had continued to live in a state of siege, both making occasional half-hearted attempts to annex a moral highground that had long ceased to exist, but both really biding their time. In the end, it was she who had prevailed. They are finished with the upper floor. She watches husband and wife with distaste as they come down the stairs. How easily they trample all over her carefully-preserved ruins, these vultures who have come to feast at the remains? They have given up on her by now, and go out themselves to take a look at the garden and garage. With only her glare following them and not Simran herself, they help themselves to a more leisurely second circuit of the ground floor. She watches them nudge each other to nod towards some minor pro or con, she notes the way they whisper conspiratorially over some alteration they propose to make. Every gesture feels like a violation. Why can’t they hurry up and get done with it? They act as if they already own the house. The house. This house is the closest she has to family now. All these years, it has taken sides too. Every nook that shielded her from his blows; every sharp corner that lent him a hand; the study, his safe haven; the kitchen, hers—this house was never a mute spectator, instead always taking an active part in whatever took place between its walls. It is the only place in the world that can still furnish those sudden, heartbreaking, precious little moments; little peeks into an alternate universe in which Prakriti is happy and healthy and alive. When Nikhil died, it was a measure of
what they had turned themselves into that her first reaction had been to rue the fact that his suicide had rendered his life insurance policy null and void. The house would have to go. After what seems like ages, the couple is ready to leave. They will get back to her once they decide, the husband assures her. But Simran can see that they already have. The husband holds the door for the wife as she eases into the car. They cast repeated backward glances at the house, assessing its looks from the street as if it were part of a supermodel line-up. Simran watches the car till it turns the corner. She can imagine what they must be saying. What a bitch! What was with her? She was acting like we were breaking and entering. She doesn’t want to sell. It’s a distress sale, for sure. Now, there’s a thought. That means she’s probably negotiable on the price. Make sure to drive a hard bargain. Simran shuts and bolts the door. She draws the window blinds. Had there been a drawbridge, she would have raised it too, for what it was worth. But she knows that they next time they come by, she will have no option but to open the door once again. n Judges’ Comments: Chitra Divakaruni: The situation in this piece was intriguing. I liked how the backstory was revealed to us slowly as the tension built. Bharti Kirchner: Story of an individual, yet it seems to have a universal quality. Vrinda Baliga lives in Hyderabad and is a writer of short fiction. She is a prizewinner in the Unisun Short Story Competition 2011 and the Katha Fiction Contest 2010. Her fiction has appeared in anthologies like Urban Shots, Crossroads, and Two is Company, and in various print and online literary journals and magazines.
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40 • india currents • september 2012
Anusha Kedhar In a
A solo Bharata Natyam performance Accompanied by a musical ensemble from India Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 6 pm Lakeview Senior Center Auditorium 20, Lake Road, Irvine, CA 92604
Tickets: $15 (Advance); $20 (at the door)
For more details or information (949) 874-3662 www.arpanadancecompany.org • email@example.com india currents • september 2012 • 41
What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?
hether at a family friend’s house, a kitty party, or a birthday party of an uncle’s daughter’s cousin sister, we kids are faced with this question at least once—“Beta, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It is acceptable and even considered cute when a child below the age of 13 replies with teacher, princess, or, as in my sister’s case, a lion tamer. A teenage Indian American, however, is expected to respond with “doctor,” “engineer” or “lawyer.” If our inclination is something other than these options, we are very likely going to be faced with a shocked face or follow-up questions about why we’d like to go into a field that is not engineering, law, or medicine. “I was at [an Indian] party once, when I was faced with the question of what I wanted to be,” says 15 year old Manasi Gupta. “When I said I wanted to be a psychiatrist, the aunty immediately bombarded me with questions such as ‘How come you want to do this and not go into medicine?’” Some adults are a bit more open when it comes to medicine and engineering related options and Manasi’s career choice (not the accepted medical degree) would then be permissible, however, anything too far to the left of these choices is often shunned. “When I told my mother’s friend that I wanted to be an artist, she gasped and looked like she was about to have a heart attack,” says Srini Siva, age 17. According to the article “Difference between American and Indian culture” on the site Differencebetween.net Indians tend to be more competitive in academics than Americans due to their family-oriented culture. Indian Americans are expected to provide for their entire family, which might include grandparents and that odd relative, down on his luck. Scientific and analytical fields pay higher salaries, and therefore allow a higher standard of living. Indian American parents want for their kids the same standard of living that formed part of their own ambitions, hence, parents are inclined to persuade their kids into fields that pay better. But don’t other fields earn as well? Not unless one is exceptional in those fields, is the pat response. “The reason why I wanted to steer my daughter away from majoring in dance is because I know she won’t be able to earn well,”
42 • india currents • september 2012
says Sharmila Mitra, parent of Priya Mitra. “I want her to make something of herself and be able to support herself.” In the India Currents July 2004 article “Pursuing their Passion,” the author Anand Shah interviewed a struggling Indian opera singer, Sharmila Daniel. Daniel, defying her mother’s wishes, moved to America in order to pursue her singing career. She however, was not quite as successful and “paid her bills by teaching music.” I feel that Indian American parents need to understand that there are tangible and intangible rewards in non-traditional fields. In Daniel’s case, for example, although she did not achieve the desired level of success as a singer, she was happy with her choice. In the article “Indian Tiger Parenting” in Non Resident Indian, Kavin Senapathy states that children are shaped from their childhood by their parents. Most Indian parents do not give kids the choice of picking their own after-school activities and therefore are raised with their parents’ ideals, rather than their own. The pressure put on us Indian American kids to excel in academics is not the same as that among Caucasian or Hispanic families. This level of pressure at a young age, I believe, shapes and establishes neural connections in our brains in such a way that we become left-brain focused, which means more
analytical, rather than right-brain inclined which enhances the creativity in us. It is not our parent’s faults however, since they were subjected to the same left brain pressure and have come to understand and relate to the fields of science and math, which are much more fact-based and easily quantifiable. However, parents often do not consider that their child may not be happy in fields not of their choosing. By forcing your son or daughter to study engineering is doing them a disservice. They may end up earning well, but they won’t be happy with their life. Furthermore, they may not even be good at the field they are directed into. I commend those parents who do encourage their children to pursue their passion. By encouraging your child to follow his or her dream, and by steering them in the right direction—not pushing, but steering—you are allowing them to become their own person. And to those still stuck in the “Indian mentality,” remember that if we have a million doctors and engineers in our world, their worth will go down. n Simran Devidasani is a senior at Monta Vista High School. Along with her love for news and opinion writing, she indulges herself in her passion for photography. She is extremely proud to have interned for India Currents this summer.
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india currents • september 2012 • 43
Edited by: Mona
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OCT. issue deadline: Thursday, September 20 To list your event in the Calendar, go to www.indiacurrents.com/submit-event and fill out the Web form.
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special dates Labor Day
International Maheshwari Rajasthani Convention. Rajasthan comes to Los
Angeles to celebrate rich heritage of the Maheshwari community. Ends Sep. 3. Organized by Maheshwari Mahasabha of North America (MMNA) West Coast Chapter. 12 p.m.-11:45 a.m. Marriot Renaissance Hotel, 111 East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (626) 991-4789, (562) 852-3912, (323) 251-7698. email@example.com. www. facebook.com/events/102699656485306/, www. mmna.org/imrcla2012/.
Sonu Niigaam Live in Concert. “Klose to My Heart.” Hosted by the Sankara Eye Foundation, a non-profit organization that 44 • india currents • september 2012
Sonu Niigaam in concert, September 1
is working to eradicate curable blindness in India. Organized by Sankara Eye Foundation. 7 p.m. Gibson Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. $180-$50. (818) 639-1393. www.giftofvision.org.
Karnatik Music Concert. OS
Thyagarajam (vocal), Ranjani Ramakrishnan (violin), Akshay Anantapadmanabhan (mridangam). Organized by South Indian Music Academy. 4 p.m. Hoover Middle School Auditorium, 3501 Country Club Drive., Lakewood. General, $25, students/seniors, $20. (714) 681-2099. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.simala.us.
Concert by a Legend T he king of kathak dance, Pandit Birju Maharaj has never retired and never stopped dancing. Celebrating his 75th birthday, he continues to be the leading exponent of kathak and torch-bearer of the Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Lucknow. He has helped to re-popularize kathak, marrying elements of both the ancient, holy style and the secular, dramatic style of today. Maharajji mastered his skills guided by his father Achhan Maharaj and his uncles Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj. “Concert of the Legend” is presented by the Nrityodaya Kathak Academy. The concert starts with a brief recital by Artistic Director Bhairavi Kumar. Kumar is humbled to share the stage with the prestigious Pandit Birju Maharaj. “I am honored to have this incredible opportunity to dance on the same stage as Maharaj-ji,” she adds. As the director and choreographer of the Nrityodaya Kathak Academy, Bhairavi Kumar is dedicated to educate, research, and bring awareness of diversity in the community through dance and performance. Birju Maharaj is a multi-faceted personality. Besides his mastery over kathak, he is also a musician, percussionist,
Pandit Birju Maharaj
Bhairavi Kumar, Artistic Director of Nrityodaya Kathak Academy
composer, teacher, director, choreographer and a poet. Maharaj-ji has composed many dance dramas like Gobardhan Leela, Makhan Chori, Malti-Madhav, Kumar Sambhav, and Phag Bahar. He has also dabbled in films. He composed two classical dance sequences for Satyajit Ray’s film Shatranj Ke Khiladi and choreographed a song for Sanjay Leela Bhansal’s film Devdas. He has been honored with various awards including the Sangeet Natak Academy Award (the highest civilian award) and the Padma Vibhushan (the highest presidential award for achievement) awarded by the Government of India. Maharaj-ji has a mesmerizing effect on the hordes of concert-goers who witness
the performance of the maestro. Spend a romantic evening with one of India’s most beloved balladeers as he performs ghazal, thumri or bhajans by unique rendering through gestures and mime.n Saturday, September 22. 7 p.m. UCI Barclay Theatre. 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $100 (VVIP) $75, $68, $58, $48, $38. Box Office- (949) 8544646x1, Bhairavi Kumar (909) 6308558. email@example.com. www. nrityodayaacademy.com.
india currents • september 2012 • 45
Melodious Music Fills theAir
outhern California audiences are in for a special treat - the golden voices of SP Balasubrahmanyam (SPB) and ‘Chinna kuyil’ Chitra will lead an orchestra comprised of talented singers Sailaja, SPB Charan along with supporting musicians from India. India Curents recently had a chance to interview the person behind the legend and get to know more about his incredible career where he has sung over 40, 000 songs - a Guinness World Record! A record that is hard to wrap around in one’s head - to sing 40, 000 songs within a lifetime is testament to the intense devotion of an artist to his art. Asked about how he sustains this longevity at the highest levels, SPB replies modestly, “Sincerely, I do not know. I just do my job first to my satisfaction, and next, to that of the creators.” Starting his musical career after dropping out of engineering college, he took part in music competitions, bagging many prizes. His first break came when music director Kodandapani heard him sing at a music competition, and offered him an opportunity to sing in an upcoming Telugu film in 1966. In three short years following this debut, he had sung in Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam for actors in leading roles. When asked about his impeccable diction and authentic pronunciation in all languages, he says with characteristic humility - “I am grateful to those who give me opportunities to sing in different languages. The only way to repay that debt is to learn the language, love it and respect it.” He is the only male playback singer to win National Awards in four languages.
46 • india currents • september 2012
Whether it is the lively En Iniya Pon Nilave or the mellifluous Ponmaalai Pozhuthu or the riotous, Namma ooru singari, in Tamil, SPB’s voice conveys the power, melody, and meaning of the song’s narrative in a way that cannot be forgotten. His Telugu songs in Sankarabharanam and Maro Charithra and his Hindi songs for the blockbuster hit—Ek Duje ke Liye firmly established him as a pan-India favorite. He has recorded songs with leading music directors starting from veterans Kondapani and Ilayaraja to AR Rahman and Harris Jeyaraj. Recognizing the immeasurable contribution of this musical legend, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 2011.
always someone who asks him why he did not sing their favorite song. Listening to him is definitely going to be inspiring experience - his deep, so-
When I asked him for his advice to youngsters in the field, his answer probably gives us a clue to his approach to life as well. He says, “Know what you do NOT know and if possible try to know THAT. Do not pamper your vocal chords, at the same time, do not abuse them. Enjoy good music regardless of who the singer or composer is. Enjoy life within a disciplined frame.” SPB says that he enjoys performing in front of Indian-Americans as they shower him with “more love”, given that his frequency of staging concerts here is less than in India. “Choosing songs for a concert,” he says “is always tough” considering that they present 25 songs from the many thousands that he has sung. At the end, there is
norous voice that has left an indelible impression onscreen is sure to move one even more when we see the legend live onstage. Presented by Indian Fine Arts Association San Diego and San Diego County Telugu Association.n Sunday, October 7. 4-7 p.m. California Center for the Arts, 340 North Escondido Blvd., Escondido. $20, $25, $35, $50, $100. Call (800) 988-4253 for tickets. www.artcenter.org www.indianfinearts.org.
Sights and Sounds of Kathak K athak artist Anjani Ambegaokar, Artistic Director of Sundar Kala Kendra Foundation along with Amrapali Ambegaokar, a successful crossover artist, and choreographer are banding together and buoying kathak once again to artistic excellence with their upcoming production entitled “Pancha Kathak Nritya Darshan.” The foundation received partial funding through an Invitational Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a notable honor for the Ambegaokars. The show aims to feature and integrate sights and sounds of kathak via solos, duets and group performances of five dancers, Stuti Mandal, Divya Patil, Sourabhi Sen, Savita Bal and Nikita Govind. Each dancer varies in background, style and level of training. The Ambegaokars meticulously handpicked each dancer while choosing not to limit themselves “just to showcase the best dancer.” Breaking boundaries is a familial motto and true to its intent, the mother-daughter team pushed boundaries, in particular each dancer’s boundary by basing selection on many intrinsic merits such as dedication levels, to not only expose the individual’s forte, but to also advance each artist to new heights. As an example, says Anjani Ambegaokar, University of California Berkeley student Patil showed potential for brilliant footwork, inherent to the kathak art form and hence has mastered double and triple turns on one foot against complex musical compositions. Telecom specialist, Sen’s ease of abhinaya or facial expressions magnifies
Amprapali Ambegaokar, Associate Artistic Director and Choreographer of Sundar Kala Kendra Foundation
The dancers (left to right): Stuti Mandal, Divya Patil, Saurabi Sen, Savita Bal, Nikita Govind. Photo courtesy of Paul Antico.
dramatic and coy glances adding fluidity to the transcendental romance in the Radha Krishna dance drama. School teacher Bal’s profound knowledge of kathak will be extended to intricate and complex rituals such as Radha adorning herself with 16 decorations. The live musical ensemble, an assured treat for the audience, includes familiar artists such as Ramesh Kumar (table) and Ramesh Mishra (sarangi). Vocalist Shabornee Dasgupta will also join the ensemble. The idea for the upcoming show was born after Anjani Ambegaokar, received a call from NEA, which offered her foundation an invitational grant. Such grants are made solely at the discretion of NEA members. The grant matches $10,000 for an equivalent amount or more raised by the artist for such a show. This is the third invitational award along with five other awards from NEA received by the foundation. Grant awards from numerous sources such as the City of Los Angeles, the California
Art Council and many more have also been received by the foundation. Anjani Ambegaokar, also had the honor of becoming the first East Indian dancer to receive the National Heritage Fellowship (NHF) in 2004. NHF is a lifetime honor presented to master folk and traditional artists from NEA. Joining the ranks of esteemed artists such as Zakir Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan for such an award “humbled me as it is one of those incredible events that you are shocked about” says Anjani. Her daughter Amrapali has mastered kathak, played a principal character in Cirque du Soleil (“Dralion”) and is a full time actress with leading roles on films such as “American Blend” and “Extra Ordinary Barry” along with appearances on television.n Saturday, September 15. 7 p.m. Sophia B. Clarke Theater. Mt. St. Antonio College, 1100 N. Grant Ave, Walnut. Tickets: $25, $20. (909) 468-9681, sundarkalakendra@ aol.com, www.sundarkalakendra.org. india currents • september 2012 • 47
"Thank You Mother India”
fundraiser will be generously hosted by Dr. Amrjit Marwah in Malibu
for readers in California
Indian theme evening will include Odissi Dance by Sharnya Mukhopadhyay's group, Live Music with Aditya Prakash (Live Table and Harmonium), Indian Dinner, Wine, Silent Auction and YGB video presentation. Surprise guests to speak!
Saturday, September 29th, 2012, 6-9pm
Special evening in Malibu to support Yoga Gives Back!! Sponsors include; Stella McCartney, Organic India Tea, Gaiam, Manduka, Zico Water, Koji Toyoda Salon, Yogitoes, Denise Carolyn Boutique, Inner Aura, Jala Clothing, Priti Jewelry, Dharma Smart.com, La Marca Prosecco and more. Gift bags for all.
Address: 29507 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California Proceeds from this event will help Tickets price before September 15th: $75 Yoga Gives Back’s programs in India directly funding 103 mothers For Tickets or Donations: firstname.lastname@example.org and children with micro financing
“Thank You Mother India” is YGB’s annual global campaign and education funds. with over 100 events taking place in 14 countries in September
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com. www.IndiaFriendsAssociation.org, www. facebook.com/events/352636694813757/.
Karnatik Music Concert. Sowmya
(vocal), Embar Kanna (violin), Neyveli Narayanan (mridangam), KV Gopalakrishnan (kanjira). Organized by South Indian Music Academy. 5 p.m. Hoover Middle School Auditorium, 3501 Country Club Drive., Lakewood. General, $25, student/senior, $20. (714) 681-2099. email@example.com. www.simala.us.
Divine Stories—A Bharatahanatyam Dance. Features stories of Gods and
Anusha Kedhar, bharatanatyam solo concert, Sept.16
Pancha Kathak Nritya Darshan.
Sights and sounds of five kathak dancers, accompanied by Ramesh Kumar (tabla), Ramesh Misra (sarangi), Sabarni Das Gupta (vocals and harmonium). Organized by Sundar Kala Kendra Foundation. 7 p.m. Sophia B. Clarke Theater, 1100 N. Grand Ave., Walnut. $25, $20. (909) 4689681. firstname.lastname@example.org. www. sundarkalakendra.com.
A Solo Bharatnatyam Concert by Anusha Kedhar. Student of Ramya
Harishankar, Artistic Director of Arpana Dance Company. Organized by Arpana Dance Company. 6 p.m. Lakeview Senior Center Auditorium, 20 Lake Road, Irvine. $15 advance purchase and $20 at the door. (949) 874-3662. info@arpanadancecompany. org. www.brownpapertickets.org, www. arpanadancecompany.org.
The Idea of India, an Interactive Discussion. With activists Aruna Roy
(principal advocate of the Right to Information Movement) and Nikhil Dey (founding member of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan). Organized by India Friends Association and UCLA Center for India and South Asia. 3 p.m. UCLA Campus, Broad Art Center 2160E Park in Structure P3. Free. IFA.RSVP@gmail.
Goddesses of Hinduism chosen from the popular Srimad Bhagavatha. Accompanied by musicians from India. Also featuring Guru Prasanna, Artistic Director of Soorya Performing Arts, in “Muccha Katika,” a Sanskrit dance drama from the 5th century, accompanied by Pulikeshi Kasturi from Bangalore. Organized by Soorya Performing Arts and Hindu Temple of Malibu. 7 p.m. Malibu Hindu Temple Auditorium, 1600 Las Virgenes Canyon Road, Calabasas. Free. (818) 357-5313. email@example.com. www.sushmamohan.com, www.sooryadance. com.
Karnatik Music Concert. Mysore
Brothers (violin), Srimushnam Raja Rao (mridangam). Organized by South Indian Music Academy. 5 p.m. Hoover Middle School Auditorium, 3501 Country Club Drive., Lakewood. General, $25, student/senior, $20. (714) 681-2099. firstname.lastname@example.org. www. simala.us.
Mega Light Music Program featuring S. P. Balasubrahmanyam. Eighteen-
member orchestra features singers such as S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K.S. Chitra, S.P. Sailaja, and S.P.B Charan, singing songs from a variety of Indian languages including Tamil, Telegu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. Organized by Indian Fine Arts Academy and San Diego County Telegu Association. 4-7 p.m. California Center for the Arts, 340 North Escondido Blvd., Escondido. $75-$25. (858) 638-0744. email@example.com. www. indianfinearts.org.
Karnatik Music Concert. Bharat
Sundar (vocal), BU Ganesh Prasad (violin), Trivandrum K. Balaji (mridangam). Organized by South Indian Music Academy. 5 p.m. Hoover Middle School Auditorium, 3501 Country Club Drive., Lakewood. General, $25, student/senior, $20. (714) 681-2099. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.simala.us.
Vocal Music Concert. Hindustani classical and Nirguni bhajans by Kalapini Komkali (daughter and disciple of the late Kumar Gandharva). Accompanied by Sanjay Deshpande (tabla) and Raya Korgaonkar (harmonium). Organized by Baithak. 4-6 p.m. Simi Valley Town Center Hall, 1555 Simi Valley Town Center Drive, Simi Valley. $15 individual; $25 couples; $10 seniors and students. email@example.com.
The Mystical Flute of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. Organized by AID
LA-OC. 5:30-8:30 p.m. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Tickets: $75, $49, $39, $29. www.aidla-events.org/hpc/.
The Occupy Movement and Gandhi.
As part of the Gandhi Day Celebration. Featured speaker, Joseph Prabhu. Event includes cultural exhibits featuring jewelry, clothing vendors and children’s activities. Followed by an Indian vegetarian dinner. Organized by Valley Interfaith Council. 3-7 p.m. St. Bernadine of Siena Parish Hall, 24410 Calvert St., Woodland Hills. Free. (818) 451-6575. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.
Divine Stories, bharatnatyam dance, Sept., 29
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india currents • september 2012 • 49
Yoga Gives Back J ust $25 can buy a Justin Bieber “Boyfriend” t-shirt for the average American, but for India’s destitute, the . very amount is a path to transformation from poverty to hope manifested through collateral free micro-credit programs and education funds initiated by an unexpected source, the Los Angeles based organization Yoga Gives Back (YGB). YGB will hold its second global event called “Thank You Mother India,” which is a call to action within the universal yoga community to repay India for affording the ancient gift of yoga to millions world-wide. Spearheaded by founder Kayoko Mitsumatsu in 2007, the organization realized the potential of the six billion dollars per year yoga industry, to help the poorest people in the world. Mitsumatsu and her small troop of volunteers diligently worked to assemble nearly 100 yoga studios in 14 countries including Belgium, Portugal, Singapore and others to host a special class this September. Mitsumatsu’s credo “for the cost of one yoga class you can change a life,” resonated through grass-root ambassadors or teachers from various yoga studios. The ambassadors will offer the proceeds from the donation sessions to YGB which works with local NGO partners in India to fund struggling
Jayashree has been micro loan borrower since 2007 50 • india currents • september 2012
women with little access to capital. Women are the bulk recipients for such micro loans as YGB research shows that they “are more likely to use the profits from their businesses, not just to feed their families, but to improve their families’ nutrition and living conditions, as well as to send their children to school thereby giving the next generation a much better chance to climb out of poverty.” YGB’s inspiration is drawn from Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus’ revolutionary micro financing breakthrough in Bangladesh. YGB began by supporting 10 children supported by YGB micro-loan programs in India and partnered with the Grameen Foundation USA. and resulted in “doubling the number of By 2010, in addition to supporting the our fund recipients in India, which is now Grameen Foundation, YGB sought to build funding 103 women and children” adds to direct relationships with its fund recipients, Mitsumatsu. and developed a direct funding program As an example, Mitsumatsu explained called “Sister Aid” with NISHTHA in West NISHTHA is now funding 44 mothers Bengal and Deenabandhu in Karnataka with micro loans and 44 daughters with which provide educational, vocational education funds so that they can remain training and micro-credit programs to help in school. By the second year, out of the 44 ailing women and children in India build women, 22 women who received the loan sustainable lives. in 2011 have reported an income increase Mitsumatsu recalled her visits with one of 400% on average. Nearly half of the such recipient named Jayshree in Bangalore, daughters have remained in school to date. who lived in a one room house with her Loan repayments increase chances of new husband Ramo and two children. Jayshree future loans and YGB affiliates are reporting recently qualified for her fourth loan for Rs. a high success rate of roughly 90% and above 30,000 (about $550) from YGB affiliates, in loan payback rates. after successful repayments of her prior This year’s Indian themed fundraiser loans. The current loan will be fully utilized is geared to raise awareness within the to pay for medical school for her eldest son Indian community as well as the local who dreams of becoming a dentist. yoga community and aims to raise at least Back in 2007, Ramo’s rented rickshaw $50,000. barely provided food for the family. After The event will take place at Jayshree’s discovery of micro-loans through philanthropist Dr. Amarjit Marwah’s neighbors, she received Rs. 7,000 which 14 acre ranch in Malibu. The evening’s funded the rickshaw business and tripled entertainment will feature kirtan music and their income. odissi dances by Sharanya Mukhopadhyay Jayshree paid back her initial loan in one and her dance group, dinner, a silent auction, year and doubled her second loan amount to guest speeches and video presentations. Top purchase a sewing machine to make custom yoga celebrity and Mitsumatsu’s trainer and bags for clients. With a third loan Jayshree YGB ambassador Jorgen Christiansson who expanded her business to include a snack taught Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and shop from which she continued her ongoing Sting will be in attendance amongst other sewing business. yoga celebrities and guests.n The average funding commitment is for 5 years and $25 is the usual loan amount to start a business for many recipients, which Saturday, September 29. 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Dr. according to Mitsumatsu has ushered a Marwah’s estate, Malibu. Pre-buy tickets positive impact in many recipients’ lives. through www.yogagivesback.org/tymi. Last year’s fund raiser raised $27,000 with 50 studios participating from 10 countries
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india currents • september 2012 • 51
Mind Body Integration
hy do you run a marathon, participate in a bike race, play a tennis match or simply walk every day? Is exercise a way of life? An integrated goal is not to achieve perfection in a challenging workout, or accomplishing one grueling endeavor after another in search of fulfillment. It is to develop our spiritual side. Ayurveda, the Science of Life, clearly explains that the main goal of exercise is to rejuvenate our body and mind, reduce stress and strengthen our immunity. The Charaka Samhita text written thousands of years ago, states that exercise when done to 50 percent of our capacity will be beneficial for health and longevity. When we exercise at a comfortable level we feel energized, our digestive fire or agni improves and we are able to remove toxins from our body. There is no formula to know the right amount of exercise but as we become aware of our own unique constitution or prakriti, we also begin to find the balance between exhaustion and comfort. This is the holistic approach to fitness and health. Modern medicine recognizes that the body produces a significant amount of harmful free radicals when we push ourselves to exhaustion that lead to diseases, degeneration and death. It is common to see people exercise with the latest gizmos—iPods, iPads, books, TV screens or simply chatting with neighbors to combat the boredom of exercising. The body continues to mechanically perform an activity while the mind has been hijacked. When the mind and body are performing the same task there is alertness as well as relaxation. This is the “zone” the athlete seeks in peak performance where the brain is relaxed in silence and the body is in dynamic action. When we are alert and relaxed equally we produce alpha waves. We are powerfully creative and productive at this state, drawing from a deep place of innate wisdom and limitless possibility. Here are four fundamental classical tools to attain mind body integration.
•Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishwara-pranidanani kriya yogah is the first sutra
in the second chapter in Patanjali’s yoga sutras. It deals with the fundamental concepts of purifying and strengthening our systems through disciplines designed to reduce physical, emotional and mental toxicity.
52 • india currents • september 2012
to reduce anxiety or nervousness. Practice meditation regularly to increase awareness and access untapped information and energy. Tapas and Svadhyaya become two sides of a coin to integrate our mind and body. When they both are present, we integrate our mind and body.
•Ishwarapranidana signifies the DiTapas is a wise and consistent discipline for purifying and strengthening our body to reduce physical, emotional and mental toxicity. We learn to balance perseverance and contentment to gain alertness, relaxation and confidence. Tapas is a good discipline to instill in young athletes. When parents and coaches adopt a process-oriented method of learning the sport, and children focus on skill development, they are happier, gain selfesteem and don’t fall sick as often. They learn the art of “less is more” and go back to practice with renewed energy. But if they push, strain and stress themselves to the maximum effort to win at all costs, the body, breath and mind will not integrate and stress levels increase in their growing bodies. The threshold for new stress is lowered with repeated stressors and eventually they experience “burn out” which leads to significant illnesses like anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive disorders, physical injuries and eventually exhaustion. Train yourself and your children to breathe through the nose the next time you play a sport. Conscious nasal breathing increases the tidal volume (amount of air going in and out) to two liters instead of mouth breathing where the tidal volume is only half a liter. Breath is the bridge between body and mind. By practicing yoga consistently, beginning every movement with the breath to help circulate energy, we build endurance, better coordination and a relaxed mind. Learn slow sun salutations or surya namaskars to warm up, stretch and strengthen the back, and also help with bilateral stimulation of both sides of the brain.
•Svadhyaya, literally means “to move to-
wards oneself” is where we come to a deeper understanding of ourselves and increase our awareness through the practice of meditation and reflection. For example, if we begin to train for a marathon without being truly self-reflective about our training, we may end up destabilizing our backs, creating some vulnerability and injuring our knees or ankles in the process. Pay attention to your breath
vine—the one with the greater knowledge. We all work towards the goal but we can’t control the outcome. However, we can cultivate intensity and steadiness dedicating our practice to a higher force. This is kriya yoga. This is yoga in action. We need to learn to relax so healing and reintegration can happen.
•Practice Yoga/Meditation. Yoga is a means to developing free will in the mind. Asanas help oxygenate the lungs. Combining breath with movement will lead to stress reduction. Slow sun salutations done with the initiation of the breath before movement will warm up the body, strengthen and stretch the back. Breathing becomes a massage from the chest, to the abdomen and then to the spine. These movements also help with bilateral stimulation of both sides of the brain. They integrate and make the brain capable of focusing and ready for learning. Meditation is an act of restful alertness. Meditation allows us to place our attention and intention in those subtle planes giving us access to untapped information, and potential energy. It is a simple process that teaches us the art of “less is more” and increases our awareness. When we become aware we begin to accept more, react less. We are willing to be with the experience as it is than what we would like it to be. We breathe deeply and counter stress by stimulating the vagus nerve that runs from the brain to the diaphragm and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. We learn to relax so healing and reintegration can happen. Ayurveda defines a healthy person as one who has a balanced constitution, clear thoughts, sharp sense organs and a calm and peaceful mind. We exercise to stay healthy. Lets make it an integrated and spiritual experience.n Raji Krishnamurthy is an ayurvedic wellness practitioner and yoga therapist teaching adults and young athletes yoga, ayurvedic nutrition and balanced lifestyles. She lives in Saratoga with her husband and two children, all competitive tennis players. www. theayurvedicathlete.com.
I C spirituality and health September
The Power of Love in Action. Sunday
Service. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 2950170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yoganandasrf.org.
Karma: The Law of Cosmic Justice.
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.
What is God’s True Nature? Sunday Ser-
vice. Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 4544114. 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.
Sanskrit and the Yoga of Sound. Sanskrit is the language of consciousness. Reciting mantras is the practice of yogic awareness that uplifts our consciousness. In these gatherings we will explore the yoga of sound, which is the base of the Tantric tradition. Ends Sep. 23. Organized by Vasa Vyasa Center. Wild Mountain Yoga, 574 Searls Ave., Nevada City. $150/workshop, $25/class San-
skrit on Sundays. (530) 277-7519. http//www. vedavyasacenter.org.
How to Bring God into Your Daily 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) 543-0800. Fullerton Temple, 142 East Chapman Ave., Fullerton. (714) 5251291. Encinitas Temple, 939 Second Street, Encinitas. (760) 436-7220. San Diego Temple, 3072 First Avenue, San Diego. (619) 295-0170. Call temples for times. Organized by Self Realization Fellowship. www.yogananda-srf.org.
Bhakti Sangeet. By Thiruvaiyaru Sri. S.R.
Krishnan and his disciples. 1:30-5:30 p.m. Mandir, 1732 Reynolds Ave., Irvine. General, $15, Kids $5. (949) 510-7326, (949) 653-0518. www.mandir.ws.
Keep Calm with Hanuman. Hanuman
Chalisa chanting for 100 times for the health and welfare of the community. Organized by Chinmaya Yuva Kendra of Chinmaya Mission Los Angeles. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Chinmaya Rameshwaram, 14451 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. Free. (657) 210-CHYK, (657) 210-2495. email@example.com. www.chinmayala.org.
Loyalty: Highest Law of Spiritual Sucess. Sunday Service. Lake Shrine Temple
and Retreat, 17190 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 454-4114. Hollywood Temple, 4860 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 661-8006. Glendale Temple, 2146 East Chevy Chase Drive, Glendale. (818) 543-0800. 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.yoganandasrf.org.
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india currents • september 2012 • 53
the healthy life
hen Darwin used the term “survival of the fittest” he was counting your children and their children. If you raise children that have babies, you are what nature calls “fit”. You have successfully passed your genes to the next generation and in terms of survival, you have won. When young people are at the peak of fecundity, they invest in graduate school rather than in nurseries; spend their income on gourmet meals rather than baby food and strollers. Educated elites are planning to have children only after reaching their thirties. One can safely argue that they are responding to something other than a naturally selected tendency to rear as many as children possible. Ironically people who can have the most children are having the fewest or none. In recent years, infertility treatments have risen. More and more women are turning to desperate and expensive methods of treatment in order to get pregnant not knowing there is a free and simple alternative available elsewhere. While problems in conceiving can be attributed to a specific complication in certain cases, a healthy and nourishing diet can significantly boost your fertility and increase your chances of conceiving. Human fertility depends on factors of nutrition, sexual behavior, culture, instinct, endocrinology, timing, economics, way of life, and emotions. No diet can ensure that you will become pregnant. However, no one can deny the fact that human fertility is highly influenced by lifestyle and diet. A good nutrition may give you the extra edge to conceive. •Ayurvedic Preconception Care begins with the right partner. It is highly impossible to chose the right partner according to one’s physiological conditions like vata, pitta and kapha we can skip to next level. The emphasis is made on a balanced diet for couples. The first step is to detoxify the body (panchakarma). It insists on saatvic diet (food that aids good digestion). Diets rich in whole grains and organic produce promote digestion and assimilation. How well we assimilate food into the body is the first step in producing healthy sperm and eggs. •Way of Life. A healthy weight is one of the best things to increase a woman’s chance of conceiving. Daily exercise can help improve fertility. But, too much ex54 • india currents • september 2012
ercise can interfere with ovulation. Think of a balanced meal each time. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks and nicotine. Aim for eight hours of sleep and keep yourself stress-free. •Ayurvedic Fertility Treatment (garbhadhan samskara) speaks about some health tonics and fertility boosting herbs. Namely, Chyvanaprash is a traditional Indian nutritional elixir made from around forty different herbs, ghee and honey. Its main ingredients is Amla (emblica officinalis), a powerful antioxidant. It has long been used in India to promote immunity, strength and fertility. Shatavari (asparagus racemosus) is a powerful fertility enhancing herb. Ashwagandha (withania sominfera) is a highly rejuvenating herb that promotes fertility to both men and women. Though it is very important for women to consume a healthy diet and stay fit in order to conceive a baby, it is equally essential for men to have a balanced diet. Men’s diet and the lifestyle affects their fertility and the health of their future babies. •Foods that Boost Libido. Almonds, asparagus, strawberries, bananas, mangoes, peaches, figs, dates, chocolate, red meat, greens, eggs, seafood and herbs can increase libido. Asparagus rejuvenates the reproductive system both for men and women. Indian Moringa oleifera (drumstick greens and flowers) and dark leafy vegetables (kale, collard and amaranths) are useful in increasing libido. Purple onions, garlic and red chilies are best libido enhancers. Almonds are great for increasing sex drive. Dates restore sexual drive, increase endurance and improve overall vitality. Ginkgo biloba is considered beneficial in the treatment of male impotence. Zinc rich shell fish (crab, oysters and shrimps) and tree nuts (pecans, cashew nuts) are good forimproving overall vitality.
•Dad-To-Be’s Diet can affect her chances of conceiving. For healthy sperm, it is important that men include plenty of whole grains, lean protein, low-fat-dairy and more colored vegetables and fruits. Both zinc play an important role in conceiving. Low levels of zinc and selenium have been linked to poor sperm quality and a reduction in the sperm’s motility. Food sources of zinc and selenium include lean meat, baked beans, and selenium can be found in tree nuts, bread and eggs. Folate (vitamin B9), is important for men to make healthy sperm and is the naturally occurring form of folic acid. There is a small amount of evidence linking a diet rich in this vitamin to higher sperm counts. Folate-rich foods include green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and sprouts. Folate can also be found in pulses, potatoes and oranges. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with folic acid. Antioxidants may improve the quality of the sperm by decreasing the number of free radicals that can cause cell membrane damage. Eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables will give you plenty of antioxidants. If you have begun taking extra care with what you eat while trying to conceive you may want to take a closer look at the pots and pans that you cook your food in too. New research reveals that women with the highest levels of Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in their blood (150%) are more likely to have difficulty conceiving a child. Perhaps, nonstick cookware is one explanation for declining fertility. It may be wise to keep non-stick pans away from men too. The chemicals used in non-stick coatings are linked male infertility.n Malar Gandhi is a freelance scholar and writer, who specializes in culinary Anthropology and gourmet Indian cooking.
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india currents • september 2012 • 55
MACAU—Las Vegas of the East
y first trip to Macau was in 1992, in its last few years of being a downon-its-luck Portuguese colony before the planned 1999 handover to China. Back then the port smelled like sewage and the gamblers looked more desperate than glamorous. A lot has changed in two decades! My recent trip was in early April 2012 when the weather was in the 60s. I flew from San Francisco to Hong Kong, where I met up with a group of writers. We took the ferry boat together to Macau. The landmass of this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China includes Macau, which is a peninsula, and the islands of Taipa and Coloane. Macau and Taipa are connected by a bridge. Taipa and Coloane have merged into one big mass, thanks to many tons of landfill. This landfill hosts the highest concentration of casinos. The whole SAR covers just over 11 square miles. The plan for the trip was that the local hosts would show us writers some of Macau’s sights, and then we’d have time to follow our own particular interests. My interests range across the broadscape of vegetarian travel, fitness, religious sites and the arts. If my travels take me to unplanned locations, so much the better—I love to get lost. We spent two nights in the Mandarin Oriental, a beautiful 213-room hotel with lots of personalized service, and two nights in the much noisier Hard Rock Hotel. At the Mandarin, I loved that my bathtub had a view of the 338-meter Macau Tower. But I was a little 56 • india currents • september 2012
too far away to be able to watch the bungee jumpers going over the edge. Since I was in Macau partly to work on my vegetarian travel guide to Asia, I slipped away from the group our first night to go to Aruna’s Maharajah Indian Curry restaurant. Aruna Jha, owner of three restaurants, left her native Uttarakhand and came to Macau in 1983. The Macau Cultural Institute had invited her to teach kathak dance for three months. Three months turned into three decades, and now she’s an established and well-respected businesswoman in Macau. Aruna’s recipes are fabulous. I don’t want to say how many different dishes I tried, but the black dal and roti were excellent, and she made the best gulab jamun I’ve ever had. One of her signature dishes, samosa chaat, is samosa pieces drowned in a delicious yogurt sauce. I could have eaten there every day. And many Indian visitors do. In 2009, the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) held its awards ceremony in Macau. Later, the Bollywood movie Double Dhamaal shot scenes in Macau’s casinos, and the STAR Parivaar and Zee Cine awards were presented in Macau. Indian tourism to the SAR skyrocketed, and travel agents upped their offerings of package tours. According to Jha, “Before IIFA, nobody knows what is Macau. Now everybody knows.” Aruna said the main things Indian tourists come for are gambling, night life and relaxation. “Macau is very peaceful, not like India,” Aruna told me. “That’s why I’m here for 30 years.” Unlike Vegas, Macau doesn’t require a visa for Indian
tourists. As one of a handful of permanent Indian residents of Macau, Aruna is a key local contact for visitors from India. She serves up to 600 people a night when package tours are in town, catering to veg, non-veg, Jain and halal diets. Indian businessmen have talked to her about building a Hindu temple. As for tourists coming from the United States, gambling and nightlife are less of a draw. U.S. gamblers can go to Vegas, where there are even more casinos and a grittier
nightlife. Macau also has had a hard time getting big Vegas-style shows off the ground. Due to low ticket sales, Cirque de Soleil fulfilled only three-and-a-half years of its tenyear contract. That leaves Macau with one major show, “The House of Dancing Water” at the City of Dreams casino complex. Since it cost 2 billion Hong Kong dollars (about 258 million U.S.), I’m sure everybody’s praying it doesn’t close down. The performers in the show are absolutely amazing. As the title suggests, the show is based largely around water. The stage features a pool that fills and empties extremely quickly as different parts of the show require land or water. A team of muscle-bound divers execute flips from way up near the rafters. At one point, ramps are pushed onto stage for nerve-wracking motorcycle tricks. The only weak part of the show was the attempt at a plot, an insipid story about a princess who needed to be rescued and a bad witch who needed to be caged. So if gambling and nightlife aren’t enough to draw tourists from across the world, what is? The best part is the unique mix of Portuguese and Chinese culture. A-Ma, Chinese goddess of the sea, and Mary, Christian mother of God, are both abundantly represented in Buddhist temples and Catholic churches. Street signs are written in both Chinese and Portuguese. Narrow alleys full of Chinese shops open onto squares with churches or other relics of Portuguese architecture. To me, much of the fun of exploring a new place is discovering what’s around the next corner. Up Guia Hill, Macau’s highest point, I found the shelter where the metal typhoon warning signals are stored. Coded from one to ten depending on the severity of the signal, the appropriate shape is hoisted from a pole atop Guia Hill so people know how hard the wind is blowing. On the roof of an old Portuguese fort that now houses the Macau Museum, I saw young men practicing martial arts and a group of women performing tai chi with swords. Walking up one street, I came across the Maritime Administration Building, also known as the Moorish Bar-
Moorish Barracks racks. This gorgeous white-trimmed yellow building is an example of the Arabic influenced Portuguese influenced architecture. European soldiers couldn’t take the heat, so the barracks were built for them. Built in 1874, the barracks housed 200 soldiers and gave them a panoramic view of the Chinese coastline, which at that time was known for opium, weapons smuggling, and other piratical activities. Because Macau has long been a gambling town, it has a history of pawnshops. The old ones are picturesque. Each has a tall storage tower with small barred windows, designed to protect goods from Macau’s humid summers. I toured the Tak Seng On (which means Virtue and Success) pawnshop museum. Walking through the old pawnshop, visitors get a feel for the way business was conducted, goods were stored, and the shame that was sometimes involved, as evidenced by a thick wooden privacy screen that kept passers-by from seeing who was pawning what. For many visitors, the best part of Macanese culture is the food. While Portuguese and Chinese flavors predominate, other Portuguese holdings, such as Mozambique and Goa, contribute to the taste. There’s not a lot of main dishes for vegetarians like me, but my colleagues raved about the African chicken, a Macau specialty, and many seafood dishes. I did try my share of desserts. Macau makes a variety of puddings and mousses. But my favorite treats were the almond cookies that Chinese vendors bake and serve hot on the street. A box of those was my souvenir of choice. Macau has long been in Hong Kong’s shadow. It’s much smaller and more laid back.
Usually Macau is tacked onto Hong Kong travel guides as an afterthought, or a suggested day trip. Back when I first visited 20 years ago, a day trip to Macau was frequently recommended to travelers as a way to renew their Hong Kong visas. In fact, more than half of the arrivals into Macau are still day trippers, and the average overnight guest stays only 1.8 days. But I was charmed by Macau this time around, and even though I spent four full days there, I wished I’d had time to visit a few more temples and churches, wander another dozen streets, and sample another hot almond cookie. n For more info, see http://www.visitmacauchina.com; http://www.twitter.com/MacauUSA; http://www.facebook.com/MacauUSA Teresa Bergen lives in Portland, Oregon, where she writes about health, fitness, travel and the arts. She’s the author of “Vegetarian Asia Travel Guide,” the new edition of which should be done any day. www.teresabergen.com Storage Tower of old pawn shop
Typhoon Signals at Guia Hill Chinese woodcarvings
india currents • september 2012 • 57
The Courtly Pulao
f any dish can be said to be the foundation of a cuisine, it is pulao for the Mughal repertoire. It has a fascinating history and can dominate the dinner table as a colorful centerpiece. The fragrant pulao originated in Persia and spread throughout the world with a subtle change in the consonants of its label—in Persia it was called pilaf, in India pulao, Turkey pilaw, Russia plov, Trinidad and Tobago pelau, and in Uzbekistan and Albania pilaf. In Spain, with the addition of seafood and an emphasis on saffron it became paella. In Italy, butter transformed it into risotto. One of the earliest literary references to pilaf can be found in the histories of Alexander the Great when describing Bactrian hospitality. It was known to have been served to Alexander the Great upon his capture of the Sogdian capital of Marakanda (modern Samarkand, Uzbekistan) in 329 B.C. Alexander’s army brought it back to Macedonia and spread it throughout Eastern Europe. It is believed that the proper preparation of pilaf was first documented by the tenth century Persian scholar, Abu Ali Ibn Sina (popularly known as Avicenna), in his medical science book. He had elaborated on several types of pilaf and today in Tajikistan, Ibn Sina is considered the
“father of modern pilaf.” Between the eighth and tenth century, the pilaf was a nomadic shepherds dish, prepared over campfires. The dish usually consists of barley or wheat as the main ingredient, since rice was a luxury at that time and only nobles imported it from India. Emperor Humuyun (1530-1556) brought with him a strong preference for Persian culture and a large number of Persian cooks. Needless to say the Mughal dynasty introduced the pilaf to Indians. However, Indian cooks often incorporated their local dishes into the courtly culinary collection, and many innovative ideas were welcomed and accepted. By the time of Akbar, pilaf or pulao became standard fare in the palace kitchens with numerous variations to the ingredients, such as fruit, or turmeric and saffron, or onion and garlic, or with raisins and almonds. The varieties of pilaf in the subcontinent are chronicled in British traveler Sir Thomas Herbert’s writings (1668). Royal cooks judged the quality of a pulao by the rice, which was supposed to swell up completely, without becoming sticky and forming into lumps. A good pulao was also highly aromatic, filling the room with the delicate scent of its spices. The cooks soaked
Coconut Milk Infused Bell Pepper Pulao
58 • india currents • september 2012
Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She also blogs about Indian Food at www.kitchentantra.com 1 large onion, sliced 1 teaspoon of ginger-garlic paste 1 star anise 2-3 cloves 1 cinnamon stick 1 bay leaf, crushed 1 black cardamom 2-4 teaspoons of ghee(clarified butter)
Ingredients 1 cup long grain rice 3-4 different colored bell peppers, sliced 1 cup coconut milk 1 large onion, sliced 1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste salt to taste 5-7 mint leaves chopped 1 small cinnamon stick 2 cloves 1 bay leaf 2-4 teaspoons ghee (clarified butter) Method Heat ghee in a wide crock pot. Add the whole spices, let it sizzle for a minute. Add onions and ginger-garlic paste, fry a few minutes till the raw odor is no longer perceptible. Add rice. Fry the rice for few minutes, till it gets well coated with oil. Add mint, salt, coconut milk and a cup of water to it. Cover and cook over low-medium heat for 10 minutes. Once the rice is three-fourths
the rice in salted water for many hours to ensure that, when it was cooked, the grains were gleaming white. At Indian restaurants, pulao rice often appears at the table in different shades of color like pink, yellow, and orange. However, today with growing health concerns, the addition of vegetables have replaced the use of food colors in many households. The pièce de résistance of Persian cuisine is pilaf, a version crowned with nuts, fruits and currants. In Persian pilaf, the rice is cooked on a very low flame until the water is absorbed and the rice crusts at the bottom of the pot. This crusted rice is called tahdig and is considered a delicacy. Pulao is one of the most diverse dishes today with variations and innovations by Persians, Arabs, Turks, Armenians and Indians. Yes, there is no definite recipe for it, as every region and country has its own version to surprise us. That is one of the reasons for the popularity of the dish throughout Middle East, Asia and beyond. n
done (about 8 minutes), add bell peppers and continue cooking over low heat for another 4-5 minutes. When the rice turns fluffy, remove from heat. Serve warm as a main course.
Ingredients 1 cup long grain rice ¾ cup corn kernels 2 green chillies, slit in the middle
Method Heat ghee in a wide crock pot. Add the whole spices and let this sizzle for a minute. Add the chilies and wait till they splutter. Add onions and ginger-garlic paste, fry a few minutes till the raw odor is no longer perceptible. Add rice. Fry the rice for few minutes, till it gets well coated with oil. Add corn kernels, salt and two cups of water. Cover and cook over low to medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Once the rice is done, remove from heat. Let pilaf rest for 2 minutes before serving. Serve warm as a main course.
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india currents • september 2012 • 59
Mind it, Pundit Origin: 1665–75; < Hindi pandit < Sanskrit pandita learned man, (adj.)
n my recent summer trip to India, I spent an extraordinary amount of time with pundits of many different stripes. I flew to Calcutta to interview a fashion pundit, laughed at the endless audacious repartees from one of the world’s most respected textile pundits in Delhi, gabbed with an articulate and feisty pundit of education and women’s empowerment in Chennai and marveled at the humility of a newspaper pundit over a cold coffee at the Amethyst Café in Chennai. Again and again, when I was at home, I marveled at the punditry of my own father as I sat next to him in our living room and talked to him about the meaning of life, living and death. During this stay, on more than one occasion, I recoiled from the heat of the hands-on workshops on tea-making from my father’s Man Friday, the Guru of the Paper Dosa, Vinayagam, who now thinks of himself also as India’s chai pundit. Pundit Vinayagam fits the last definition for “pundit” in the Merriam Webster’s. pun•dit noun 1: pandit 2: a learned man : teacher 3: a person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass media : critic Like P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves who frequently displays mastery over a vast range of subjects–from philosophy to poetry, science, history, psychology, geography, politics, and literature—my father’s valet also waxes eloquent on the subject of one-way streets in Chennai (now that it has been torn asunder following plans for the metro), sari shops, concert artistes, matters of housekeeping, details of plumbing, dosa textures, international baggage allowances, tailors, cooks, bank timings, broadband connections and wedding halls. Note that Vinayagam’s sundry punditry does not mean that he may, for any reason, be referred to as “Pandit Vinayagam” just because one of the entries for “pundit” is also “pandit,” with the word referring to a wise or learned man. Thank the lord, Vinayagam’s streetsmarts simply cannot equate to erudition or scholarship. For example, the term “pandit” is often used as an honorary title for a scholar in a field and it was how Indians used to refer to Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru, the erstwhile prime minister of India. The word “pundit” itself originates from the Sanskrit pandita meaning “learned.” It becomes obvious why the term “pandit” must be used sparingly. While traveling through South India last month, I ran into many practicing priests or “pundits” inside ancient temples. I wasn’t sure if they were Hindu scholars learned in Sanskrit, Hindu philosophy and religion. But one thing I had little doubt about. Those priests were in the business of keeping an eye on our wallets to know how well we were positioned to tip them before they parted with the deity’s blessings. In most of the temples, we found we could have a special audience with the deity in the sanctum sanctorum within minutes, provided we paid a special fee for extra-special treatment. We discovered that most of India’s conmen are to be found in its most sacred places. By a deserted portion of the 60 • india currents • september 2012
A Temple Donation Box
seventh century Sanishwaran temple in Tirunallar in Pondicherry distict, a gentleman appeared from nowhere and appointed himself as planetary agent between our family and a dour priest in a black dhoti who, incidentally, also appeared from ether. Soon the two of them pressed us for 200 rupees per person so that we’d be rid forever of our “shani” or “misfortune.” Even before we were ready to think about whether or not we wanted to continue to live with our shani, the sorry priest in black began chanting Sanskrit verses to drive away the evil forces churning our lives. Then Saturn’s agent pressed a black cloth into our hands and told us to donate it to the glum, bare-chested priest after repeating the mantra that was being recited by the man. Then the agent issued another warning. “Madam, when he finishes, you must give away the cloth to him and walk away from him. Don’t ever turn back to look at him, alright? Never ever do that. Because he is taking away all the misfortune from you and embracing it as his own, don’t you see?” I wondered for a minute whether the emaciated priest with a saturnine face looked thus because he had absorbed everyone’s shani. I suspected, even as I realized I was being conned, that this was also the best possible confidence trick in the galaxy. What better way than to tell me that I must never set eyes on the con artist again, especially if I wanted my stars to align? The San Francisco Bay Area also has pundits whose bands of holy ash belie their stash. One in particular has been known to recite a constellation of the same mantras for birth, death, housewarming, marriage and everything in between. He has been known to invoke Goddess Lakshmi with eyes partially shut while taking in the flushed granite and marble in the homes in which he was pretending to be a priest. The story goes that he informed his client, just as he was packing up his bags, that his charges were a hundred dollars higher than what he had quoted on the phone before arriving at the lavish place that, unfortunately, was also located at a greater distance from his home than Google Maps had originally envisioned. Upon receiving his check, the priest fished out the keys to his swanky car and sped off with the day’s loot, leaving the house owners incensed at being gypped in the name of religion. I will close my piece with one plea to the Webster’s committee: please consider including a fourth entry for the word. It must be stated that “pundit” may sometimes mean “bandit,” especially in the context of some Hindu priests around the world who have been caught practicing daylight robbery in the guise of propitiating the gods on our behalf. n Kalpana Mohan writes from Saratoga (this one's from Chennai). To read more about her, go to http://kalpanamohan.org and http:// saritorial.com.
I C relationship diva
GIVING the Green Light
When I’m out socially, guys don’t tend to approach me. Is it a good idea for me to approach guys myself? To take it even further, what about actually asking a guy, who seems interesting, out? Does doing these things seem confident or desperate to guys?
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contact and smile more than once and/or combine a few of the above signals to effectively give the green light. Now once a woman gives the green light, there is typically no need to approach and/or ask most guys out. If a guy doesn’t approach or ask you out after clearly being given the green light, absent extenuating circumstances, he is unlikely to be interested. An uninterested guy may be receptive to a woman asking him out, but his lack of interest is likely to foreclose any long-term potential, even if the two people end up going out. Many guys take the path of least resistance, and will be open to seeing where a woman asking him out may lead even if they don’t believe there’s any relationship potential. n Jasbina is the founder and president of Intersections Match, the only personalized matchmaking and dating coaching firm serving singles of South Asian descent in the United States. She is also the host of Intersections Talk Radio, a monthly lifestyle show. www.IntersectionsMatch.com. Jasbina@intersectionsmatch.com.
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As a dating coach to both men and women, I believe that most guys will approach a woman they are interested in IF (and this can be a bigger “if” for some guys than others) the woman clearly gives the green light. What do I mean by “giving the green light?” I mean giving the guy signs that you’re open to his approach—in other words, being approachable. Signs women give guys, which allow them to feel that their approach is unlikely to be rejected include eye contact, smiling, open body language, and initiating conversation. Let’s discuss each of these in turn, beginning with the potent combination of eye contact and smiling. Signaling receptivity to
approach via eye contact and smiling involves the woman first making eye contact with a guy, and then when the guy locks eyes with the woman in return, the woman continuing to hold his eye contact for a few more seconds, and then smiling. Another signal of receptivity towards being approached involves “open” body language, including uncrossed arms and legs. Sending a signal via initiating conversation may be as simple as just warmly greeting him with a friendly “hello;” asking for help of some sort, i.e. directions (a guy who’s interested will savor the opportunity to help); or observing him and making a playful comment about something you’ve observed. While being more approachable may feel more natural to some women and less so to others, and many of the nonverbal signs mentioned above oftentimes actually occur at the unconscious level, conscious awareness and practice can make cultivating approachability second-nature (and fun). As many guys are not as adept at reading people as women, generally speaking, a woman may, for instance, need to make eye
Call (714) 523-8788
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org india currents • september 2012 • 61
Krishna M. Sadasivam is the cartoonist behind UNcubed, a weekly online auto-bio comic, focusing on life as an Indian guy in the United States. When he’s not creating comics or working as a freelance illustrator, Krishna teaches full-time in the Media Arts and Animation department of the Art Institute of Tampa in Florida. See more of his work at http://www.uncubedthecomic.com/.
62 • india currents • september 2012
I C dear doctor
Overcome by Inertia
I am trying to work on a few projects at home. I find myself procrastinating and feeling overwhelmed by them. Most projects are not that difficult and some include simply getting estimates and having some repairs done. I feel alone and find myself fearing the work. Days and weeks go by without my accomplishing what I need to finish. Then I end up feeling pretty bad about myself and get a bit down. I don’t know quite how to break out of this cycle.
I hear a burdened tone to your question, like these are chores you have to do and don’t want to. Is that how you feel? Are you feeling fatigued in your life right now? If so, check to see why that may be so. Fatigue and tiredness lead to boredom and feeling slouchy, rather than enthusiastic and industrious. Take some time off to just rest, play, and think things through. It will be easier and more positive after you’ve had a good break.
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Is there a genuine interest in doing these projects and is there any joy in the process of doing them? If not, the work will feel like a drag and you will move forward very slowly. You may not want to tackle everything alone, even getting an estimate to repair something in your home. It’s harder to make decisions by ourselves by simply considering different options in your own head. You might want to ask a friend or a relative to join you in some of these projects. Working in partnership or as a team is a lot more fun and you can chat about different possibilities, get another opinion and have fun along the way. The right company when doing difficult tasks can lighten things up and help you make decisions much more quickly. Another opinion is generally a good idea anyway. We have become too much of a self-serve society and our technology gives us a lot of information immediately, but often it isolates us and makes us believe we ought to be able to be self sufficient and independent.
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It’s natural to feel bad when we don’t meet our expectations and fail to accomplish things we care about. However, we also tend to like ourselves based on our accomplishments. We live in a culture of achievement, where we are constantly measured for our tasks and accomplishments. This is too materialistic, individualistic and capitalistic. Who we are counts more than what we accomplish. If you think that getting the pending tasks done will get you closer to the life you want to lead, then let the good feelings about your life be your compelling force. This is much better than beating yourself up or doing things so you don’t feel guilty about it later. A positive goal gets us more in the mood than a “have to.” Once you get through the inertia, the momentum of the task will carry you and your creativity and energy will start to flow. n Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. (650)325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com.
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india currents • september 2012 • 63
the last word
NBC, Shut the **** Up
nce every four years, I complain about television coverage of the Olympics. This year, when National Public Radio (NPR) reported that National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was trying a different approach, I was hoping not to have to complain. But tuning the dial, I found the same hyperbole, the same parochialism, the same jingoism that has dominated television coverage of the games for decades. The broadcasts haven’t changed, but viewers have. We live in an era when news is available minute by minute, when television shows are watched via Netflix, online through websites like Hulu, via On Demand, through recordings made on DVRs, or from plain old DVDs rented from video shops. In fact, this last one is rapidly becoming extinct. So much so that no one watches shows when they are actually on. But NBC has not taken this reality into account at all. It is abiding by a stone-age model of television broadcasting wherein bombastic commentators tell viewers what to think. It is a model so ancient, it boggles the mind. Television, in the meantime, has made such strides that it has become an art form in its own right. The television revolution started with programs like “Six Feet Under” and “Sopranos” that set a new bar for quality and excellence. Television was no longer the poor cousin of cinema, but an altogether different medium, in which characters, stories, and settings could be explored in depth in a way that was impossible to do in a two or even a three hour movie. This realization was what got me hooked on HBO, which, as its slogan indicates, is not television. A truer tagline was never coined. When viewers began to watch AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” they realized what TV was really capable of. Surrealistic sequences, Shakespearean acting (even though I personally am not fond of Shakespeare, it is still considered the gold standard for drama), and great storytelling mesmerized us. After “Breaking Bad” no one could conceive of going back to old fashioned television. Except NBC and its tired business model. It still has commentators shouting at the tops of their voices while swimmers glide through water with such grace that you want to just watch them. But NBC never gave the viewers a chance to react to the display. There was in fact so much screaming going on that I was not surprised that viewers wrote in to NBC telling them to “shut the **** up.” Of course, they did that for the opening ceremony, but I think the message applies to all of NBC’s coverage of the Olympics. There is an old axiom for writers, “Show, don’t tell.” NBC’s motto however seems to be just the opposite; it is so busy telling
We all know that the only reason NBC puts these events [Women's Beach Volleyball] on during prime time is to titillate the male viewers who, I am willing to bet, could care less about the scores in these events.
64 • india currents • september 2012
us stuff that we lose what little surprise or excitement we can summon up for these telecasts, particularly since we already know who won. I can visualize the commentators frothing at their mouths as a Niagara of words pour out. Why not shut up and let the viewer imagine? Why not let the picture tell the story? Why not introduce some art into the broadcasts by way of intelligent camera angles, surrealistic sequences, and emotional truths? The actual games, on the other hand, have changed drastically since the cold war era, when the U.S.S.R. and the United States used to vie to show their prowess. What better testimonial to this than the fact that the Queen herself entered the digital age by actually participating in a skit? Just a decade ago, no one would have thought such a thing possible. If the British Royal Family can finally enter the twenty first century, why not NBC? NBC does have a miserable excuse of a storyline for the games. A storyline constructed long before the competitions actually took place. A storyline built around a few white American athletes who NBC presumptuously wants us to bond with, like Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin. The network squanders away so much time showing replay after replay of their events and stretching out the thin plot that we miss important things like Great Britain’s sensational medals in track and field. Thousands of viewers complained about this and about NBC’s time-delayed coverage, but to what use? NBC stuck to its game plan, not being spontaneous or creative, even as it urged the athletes to be so. Then there is the matter of the commercials which interrupted the flow. We were told they are needed but how about coming up with some other ideas, like giving Google or Apple the right to show them online, in real time? In fact, some viewers apparently did manage to find such live broadcasts. This was the first year that I tuned out while the Olympics were on. I used to look forward to them, but I just could not muster enough enthusiasm. There was no emotional hook for me. Besides every time I tuned in, I saw only the Women’s Beach Volleyball team hopping about in the sand wearing skimpy bikinis. We all know that the only reason NBC puts these events on during prime time is to titillate the male viewers who, I am willing to bet, could care less about the scores in these events. But did you know that Olympics rules dictate a maximum length for their panties? Now if that is not sexist, what is? Gloria Steinem, please comment! Indian athletes, of course, were conspicuous by their absence. I am willing to bet that this will not be for long. That one day, India will burst onto the Olympic scene, dazzle the world with its excellence, and take all the gold. Why do I think so? Because India is hot now in everything else, like technology, music, film, literature, science, and social movements. And when that time comes, I want an American coverage of the Olympics to be global. I also want the likes of Danny Boyle not only to direct the opening ceremonies but also the content of the television coverage. How about Vince Gilligan (creator of “Breaking Bad”), Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”), James Manos (“Dexter”), or David Chase (“Sopranos”) to produce the shows? The Olympics are important; they are more than about sports. They are our opportunity to see the world. But NBC’s world, tragically, still consists of Peoria. n Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED. Visit www.saritasarvate.com
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