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M3 JUNE 2011

NIKKI HALEY

The Governor AZIZ HANIFFA salutes South Carolina Governor NIKKI HALEY, INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2010 SPONSORED BY

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Governor Nikki Haley with a flight crew from the Charleston Air Force Base, which flew a Boeing-made C17 to the Paris Air Show recently. She was in the French capital to build South Carolina’s brand as an aerospace hub

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hen Nimrata ‘Nikki’ Randhawa Haley won the general election against her Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen November 2, 2010, she become South Carolina’s first woman and first Indian-American Governor. It was a historic win in the largely conservative state — one that first seceded from the Union when Abraham Lincoln, who promised to emancipate the slaves, was elected President. What made Haley’s triumph overwhelming was also the significance of her victory in the primary and subsequent run-off against her fellow Republican opponent, the precursor to her ultimate gubernatorial victory. Here, State Representative Haley, in an amazing come-from-behind victory, beat back the worst of

South Carolina politics — with racial overtones and unsubstantiated allegations of infidelity against her — to trounce Gresham Barrett, winning 65 percent of the vote. Haley’s triumph — besides her being a woman and a minority — against dirty politics that had hit a new low even for a state that seemed to have the exclusive rights for dirty politics, showed what a fighter she was. She persisted in getting her message across and being an effective communicator while taking the high road and remaining unruffled by the allegations and other personal innuendos. Perhaps in the process, she signaled a new phase in South Carolina’s politics and, more importantly,

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OFFICE OF GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY

From the Editors For being the first woman and first Indian-American governor in a largely conservative state; for triumphing over historic odds and pulling off an amazing win to become the face of the New South; and for encouraging a new generation of Indian-American political aspirants, we honor Nikki Haley with the India Abroad Person of the Year 2010.


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THE MAGAZINE

M4 JUNE 2011

‘She has always been told that the sky is the limit, nothing is impossible’ Professor Ajit and Raj Randhawa speak to AZIZ HANIFFA about their daughter’s remarkable road to history, her commitment towards her people and the great pride she has for her heritage

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ver dinner at their exquisitely furnished lakeside home in the gated Spence Estate community in Lexington, a suburb of Columbia, the state capital, our gracious hosts, Professor Ajit and Raj Randhawa, South Carolina Governor Nimrata ‘Nikki’ Randhawa Haley’s parents, acknowledge to India Abroad that nearly six months into their daughter’s tenure, they are still “amazed” at the run she has had and the national profile she has acquired. Nikki has been talked of as a Professor Ajit, left, and Raj Randhawa, who gave their daughter PARESH GANDHI potential Republican Vice Nikki Haley her roots and her wings Presidential candidate and is a regunot returning to India — and the driving force lar on CNN, Fox News and been interviewed by behind the family’s success. the likes of ABC News This Week’s anchor, the “People were talking about racism and religion redoubtable Christiane Amanpour. and this and that, but we never paid any attention The Randhawas both admit it’s still “unimaginto this. We just kept moving, totally focused,” says able” and somewhat surreal that their daughter Raj. dared, not only to take on the entrenched old boys “We were fortunate to come across a physician — network establishment and prevail, but continued Dr Michael Watson — and he was one of the first to hammer away at the residual vestiges of this people who integrated his office. Because when we cabal. She took them to task with new and procame over here, there was a separate door for gressive legislative initiatives that makes them blacks and separate doors for whites. And we were accountable to the people of this state — where told how Dr Randhawa walked through the white they had seen racial discrimination up close and doors,” continues Raj. personal when they moved here nearly four It was Watson who delivered Nikki 39 years ago decades ago. in Bamberg, and the Randhawas recalled how the Ajit Randhawa is an orthodox Sikh who sports a good doctor, now in his mid-80s, had called and turban, and hails from a suburb of Amritsar, wanted to attend Nikki’s inauguration. They Punjab. He lived most of his life with an uncle in immediately made sure he was accommodated in Ludhiana, as his father was in the Indian Army the VIP enclosure. and traversed the country. Six months into her tenure, the Randhawas say “I still remember when I was in UBC they could not be more proud about Nikki’s per(University of British Columbia in Vancouver, formance, and attribute it to the foundation and Canada) and I got this offer (after obtaining his discipline she was raised by. PhD to teach at Voorhees College in Bamberg, South “She is very firm on what she believes in and Carolina) and was going to accept it, people said, mainly, that’s exactly what she stands on. So, once ‘He’s probably going to get shot in the very first she makes a decision — that that is the right thing month,’ even before I get my first pay-check,” he to do — then she will do everything possible to get recalls. “I came home and told my wife, ‘This is that done. She doesn’t back down,” says Dr what they are saying. Are you scared?’” Randhawa. Raj told her husband that she was not scared at “She was pretty shaken up by the establishment all and that “When death comes, death comes anyfor a little while, but she stood her ground,” he way. So, nobody can stop it. It could happen even adds. here in Vancouver. So, accept the offer and let’s go.” Raj says Nikki is “a very genuine person,” and Dr Randhawa, now retired, acknowledges his wife is the family’s rock and anchor. She has been the catalyst in their moving to South Carolina and M5 X

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“laser-focused.” “She believes in her conscience, what she says, and she wants to put the truth out. What she is inside, she is outside and what you see is what you get. She’s not afraid to do something — to believe in her own conscience and she’s been given the training.” The Randhawas, who are deeply rooted in their Sikh faith and have transformed one large room in their home into a gurdwara, say there is no way Nikki could fail because “there’s God on her side.” When we point out that Nikki doesn’t shy away from speaking of her immigrant roots, her father says, “That is part of her heritage and she’s so proud of it and these are the facts.” The couple speak of how much of a people’s person Nikki was during her youthful days — she would interact freely with a wide array of people from all walks of life. They also mention how protective they are of Nikki COURTESY: THE RANDHAWAS Nikki Haley, an adorable 1-year-old and their other children. Considering that they were coming from a culture which was overly protective, Nikki and her older sister Simran were never allowed to have sleepovers and/or pajama parties. “So, it was good that I started a business and they were involved in it from their young age. They got a very good grounding and disciplined training while at the same time instilling in them that they could be anything they wanted to and the sky was the limit,” said Raj. Even as she was instilling these values in her children “and the Nikki, third from left, with her family. From left, younger brother Charan-Ajit, elder sister principles inherent in our faith, Simran, mother Raj, father Ajit, and elder brother Harmit we gave them enough independmodel — of always giving it her all. “We’ve always told ence to do whatever they wanted to and to maximize our children that whatever you do, give it your 150 their talents.” percent and put your full mind to it.” “We felt the best way children can imbibe a lot of “Make sure you give it your maximum and, of values is by simply watching their parents; and that is course, if you fail, don’t worry about it because you’ve exactly what Nikki did,” her father adds. done your best and that’s all you can do,” he adds. Raj recalls how with her accounting background Raj recalls how “she (Nikki) promised she would from Clemson University and a few stints with private work hard and said, ‘I will not let you down.’ And she firms, Nikki had joined the family business — a gift didn’t. She had always been told that the sky is the shop in Bamberg, which grew to an upscale fashion limit, nothing is impossible, set your mind and what clothing story called Exotica International. “This is you want you can have it. God is on your side and He where she realized how hard it is to make a dollar, will give you whatever you ask.” how easy for the government to take it away and what She acknowledges that her own love for politics and government intervention and regulations can do to a her being deprived of entering the fray by her parents business.” may have subliminally led to her encouraging Nikki When she realized the time for her to jump into the and living vicariously through her. political fray was opportune and decided to take on an Raj, who had a law degree from Delhi University, incumbent who had held the seat for over 30 years in did not gone into legal practice — because her parents Lexington, her parents were rooting for her. didn’t want her to. They wanted her to get married, Raj recalls that when Nikki came to her and said, and be a good wife. Once in the United States, she “‘Mom, what do you think — I would like to enter polworked her way to a master degree in education and itics,’ I said, ‘OK, but if you are going in, you are not was a public school teacher for seven years before coming out.’” deciding to launch her business Exotica, which grew Dr Randhawa points out that this was Raj’s personfrom a small gift store to a major international fashality — Nikki has often called her mother her role

THE HONOR ROLL India Abroad Persons of the Year, all SWATI DANDEKAR Iowa Congresswoman India Abroad Person of the Year 2002 SONAL SHAH Co-founder, Indicorps India Abroad Person of the Year 2003 MOHINI BHARDWAJ Captain, US Olympics Gymnastic Team & Olympic Silver Medalist India Abroad Person of the Year 2004 BOBBY JINDAL Then United States Congressman India Abroad Person of the Year 2005 INDRA NOOYI Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo India Abroad Person of the Year 2006 MIRA NAIR Filmmaker India Abroad Person of the Year 2007 FAREED ZAKARIA Then Editor, Newsweek International & host, Fareed Zakaria GPS India Abroad Person of the Year 2008 VENKATRAMAN RAMAKRISHNAN Nobel Laureate India Abroad Person of the Year 2009

ion clothing store. Despite all of her success in taking on the entrenched establishment and gaining a national profile, Dr Randhawa says all this has not “gone to Nikki’s head.” “The beauty is that whenever you talk to her, it doesn’t go to her head,” her father says. “She says, ‘I am taking it day by day and my first obligation is to South Carolina — that’s what I will do and even if they are pushing me for Vice President and other things, that doesn’t faze me because I’ve yet to prove to South Carolina what they sent me here to do.’” Says her mother, “We believe in living in the moment. Don’t think of the past — it’s gone. Don’t think of the future — it hasn’t come. Live in the moment and that same way, Nikki lives in the moment.” “If I ask her, Nikki you think you would like to become Vice President, she says, ‘Mom, I am thinking of today. My obligation is towards my people today. So, I am not thinking of tomorrow; I don’t put my hopes on anything like this.’”


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‘We are great in business, we are great in medicine, we are great in education, we are great in research, why can’t we be great in politics?’ SPONSORED BY

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The first Indian-American woman to be elected Governor, NIKKI HALEY, INDIA ABROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR 2010, tells AZIZ HANIFFA that her state took a chance on her and she needs to finish her commitment to them office and public service and you’ve been It’s been almost six months since you created encouraging them to run for office and history and became South Carolina’s first run very aggressively. woman Governor, first Asian American, first It’s time to step up. Indian-American chief executive of the state. You know what I say is that our parYou hit the ground running and started workents sacrificed so much for us to be at ing on your campaign agenda. this place and it’s now up to the our genDuring those quiet moments, when you are eration to step up and say ok, we are alone or with your family, do you reflect on this great in business, we are great in medihistoric moment and let it all sink in? cine, we are great in education, we are I do, and it’s overwhelming. You remember great in research, why can’t we be great the roller-coaster and you remember the good in politics? times and the bad times. But it’s what motiWe have a lot to offer on the policy side vates me. It’s what keeps me very much on of things and it’s up to Indian focus that I’ve got to prove that the people of Americans to step up and realize that South Carolina made the right decision. one of the best ways to serve your counYou don’t wear your race or ethnicity on your try is to serve in elected office. sleeve, but haven’t shrunk away from it either, But does the election of Bobby and and have always spoken of your immigrant now you — and that both of your were roots and the hard work and values of your parelected in the South — say something ents. that it applies only to conservative You had to take on an entrenched establishIndian-American Republicans and also ment and there were racial overtones, etc. But those who are only strong social conseryour constituency was put off by this negativity vatives as much as they are fiscal conserand elected you. Does this say something about vative Indian Americans? South Carolina and the country as a whole? There are great Indian Americans on It says a lot about the country. First of all, I the Democratic side and the Republican am so proud of my parents. My brothers and side. What I really want the Republican my sister know that we would not be where we community…or the Indian community are today had it not been for my parents. And … to realize is more of them are they struggled so much more than we did. And Republicans than they realize. so, my job is to make sure that we were posiYou know if you want government to tive, that we were strong — that I said I was be small, then you are Republican. the proud daughter of Indian parents that If you want government to stay out of reminded us everyday how blessed we were to Governor Nikki Haley in her office PARESH GANDHI your way and allow you to live your life live in this country. and run your business the way you want to, then You know folks from the East Coast and from What you saw were the people of South you are Republican. Washington talk about the South and sometimes Carolina and the people of this country embrace If you think taxes are high, and you want to see there’s a lot of negativity. Was this all sort of that American dream, embrace the fact that we them lowered, you are Republican. proven wrong? are a country of all races — that we are a country And if you are proud of the freedoms that you South Carolina is not the label that people have of different genders and cultures and that’s what have in this country, then you are Republican. given it in the past. It is a very progressive state. makes this country great. What has happened is a lot of Indians grew up It’s a very smart state. It’s one that’s very focused And, the fact that when Indians come here, thinking they were supposed to be Democrat on policy. They don’t look at a person’s race or they work very hard to give back. I always said because we are a minority, and that was just the gender. They look at the person and their policy that what I want people to know about the nature of it. But now we are seeing that with our and how they are going to have an impact on the Indian-American community is that they are the business and with the way we handle our money country. highest educated, they make the most money per and with the way we want government to be run I think they wanted everyone to see that they capita, they are the least dependent on governand allow us to have those freedoms that we are too are proud of the different cultures in South ment assistance and the one I am most proud of actually seeing more Indians that actually agree Carolina, and they are going to go with the per— they give more to charity than any other with the Republican philosophy as opposed to son that best fits the needs of the state and I am minority in the country. That is a great thing. I the Democrat philosophy. incredibly proud of South Carolina. want the entire world to know that. I think we But I will say this: We have great Indian Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and you in South should all be very proud of that. Americans on both sides — Democrat and Carolina, what does it say for Indian Americans In terms of the people of South Carolina turnRepublican. I would just like to see more running for political office? ing back this negativity and saying, we are not You’ve been a role model, particularly for going to take this anymore, what does it say about Indian-American women aspiring for political them? M8 X


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‘We are great in business, we are great in medicine, we are great in education, we are great in research, why can’t we be great in politics?’

Republicans. You met President Obama just weeks after you were sworn in and had no compunctions in expressing your strong reservations and concerns about his health care reform bill or Obamacare as it is called. Will you continue to try to overturn it in South Carolina and continue to speak against it even though there was all this criticism that yes, you’ve spoken out against it, but you had no compunctions in accepting federal money? Well, first of all, the previous administration accepted the federal money. I did not. But what I would tell you is we have to look at our states and say, how can we get the most health care for the least amount of money. And, I will tell you, mandatory health care is not the way to do it. All we have to do is go to Canada and realize that when they need a procedure done, they come to the United States to get it done. Nikki Haley during her campaign for Governor What we need to focus on is the that want to come work, we need to expand the fact that Americans have divorced themselves worker visa program so that we have options for from the cost of health care. We now go and get people to come here legally and still do the work procedures done without asking the cost. We do that we need for them to do. it because the doctor tells us to. And what we It’s got to be a two-sided approach. It’s not that know is, 30 percent of those processes are not we don’t want immigrants here. We just want to needed. If we suddenly saw the cost of these make sure that they follow the laws so that we actions, we would start to become more responcan maintain the integrity we have here. sible in our decisions. Do you think there has got to be a comprehenWhat I want to see is more transparency sive immigration bill or would you favor things between the patient and the doctor and the doclike what Senator Orrin Hatch, for instance, talks tor and the insurance company. about the fact that we need professionals? There is a great conversation about health care So, maybe, we need to separate the H-1B bill, in America. But what we need to understand is maybe we also got to clear these backlogs of green the way to get the most health care for the least cards. When you lump all of it into a comprehenamount of money and it is to have as many prisive immigration bill, many times nothing gets vate options as possible and allow the consumer done? to be able to choose which options are best for We need to understand that the reason we are them. dealing with illegal immigration is because the Has Tort reform got to be an integral part of any President has not secured the borders. It has health care reform bill? become very dangerous and we are now dealing Absolutely. When you look at frivolous lawwith the drug and gang problem that’s dangerous suits, when you look at the fact that doctors don’t to all of us. give you those five tests because they want to, What we do need is we need professionals. We they give them to you because of the three perdo need workers that we aren’t finding in this cent chance they could be sued, it raises the cost country. That’s the reason you expand the workof health care. Tort reform has to be a strong part er visa program. But you do it legally. That’s the of that. key to making sure that we get who we need. You also have some very strong views on immiYes, we need more professionals, we need more gration and have gone on the record that you are researchers, we need more engineers, we need against the legalization of undocumented workmore help. But we need to make sure that the ers in terms of a pathway to citizenship and also worker visa program is a good one, so that we can the DREAM Act, etc. What kind of immigration bring them over easily and we know exactly reform would you favor? who’s documented and who’s not. We need to do two things. One, I know that this In your interview with Christiane Amanpour country is a country of immigrants. But it’s also a on ABC you made it very clear that you are not country of laws. When we give up being a couninterested in being the Republican Presidential try of laws, we give up everything this country nominee’s running mate and there was no wiggle was founded on. room, no waffling on this issue. My parents came here legally. They put in the But if senior Republicans and the party and the time, they put in the money. It’s offensive to them ultimate nominee asks you to please join the tickwhen people come here and don’t go through the et because it would really give good chance of winproper procedures. What we want is to make ning, will you still refuse such a request? sure that everyone that’s here, is here legally. Yes, I will refuse it. Secondly, we want to understand that those

And the reason is: I have committed to the people of South Carolina to do the best job that I can. The best thing I could do is be a great Governor. The best thing I could do is talk about issues on a state level that are being pushed down from the federal government. That’s what I could do. That’s the way I can help the federal ticket — to continue to talk about the labor unions, about mandatory health care, about the spending that’s out of control. That’s the best way that I can help. But I owe it to the people of this state. The state took a chance on me. I need to finish my commitment to them. So, one more shot…no wiggle room no waffling, nothing on this PARESH GANDHI issue? None, none. My job is to make the people of South Carolina proud. If Governor Palin jumps into the fray — and I know you have tremendous regard and respect for her — will you endorse her or at this time, do you have a candidate of your choice for the Republican nomination? I don’t have a candidate at this time. What I will tell you is I am going to listen to all the candidates. This is going to be the best policy discussion we’ve ever had in a Presidential election, because President Obama has given us those issues. He is saying we are going to mandate health care, we are not going to let you decide it for yourself, he is saying through the union fight, we are going to go dictate where a company can and can’t create jobs. He is basically saying that we are going to push more down on the people as opposed to allowing them to make decisions for themselves. It’s created great policies and so what I am looking from the candidates on the Republican side is, I want to know where they stand on government spending when it’s out of control. I want to know where they stand on the labor union fight, when we got unions bullying in our states and telling our businesses what they can and can’t do. I want to know where he stands on energy independence when gas prices are high. So, I am going to look at all of these issues, look at the candidates, look at what the President’s reaction is, and I think we’ll have a great policy discussion. I actually don’t think we are dealing with is a boring slate. I think what we are dealing with is a slate that realty has to talk about the issues. And the most silent candidate so far has been President Obama. And even if Governor Palin jumps in, you won’t automatically endorse her? No. I think that I owe more to the country to

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‘The unknown Punjabi girl who did the unthinkable’ For Nikki Haley’s earliest supporters and fundraisers, there is a sense of vindication, discovers AZIZ HANIFFA SPONSORED BY

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havna Maker Vasudeva and husband Dr Rajeev Vasudeva, who were among the first Indian Americans in South Carolina who believed in Nikki Haley — besides her family — find the Governor’s political journey “phenomenal”. Bhavna, a community activist, belongs to a multitude of charitable and civic groups; her husband is a prominent gastroenterologist. The couple has lived in Columbia, South Carolina, for over two decades. They find Haley’s victory a vindication of the faith they had Dr Rajeev Vasudeva and Bhavna in her when she first decided to Vasudeva with Nikki Haley at the first seek political office and challenge fundraiser they hosted for Haley in an incumbent who had held the their home when she declared her seat in the state House of intent to run for governor Representatives for over 30 years. Haley’s success as a state legislator, as majority whip, and then elected.” being elected governor in a relatively short period of Bhavna speaks of what Haley has brought forth to time makes the Vasudevas brim with pride. They the South in terms of a political formula, hailing believe it has opened doors and enhanced the profile “from a little southern town; an unknown Punjabi of the Indian-American community. It is also changgirl that did the unthinkable and proved that the sky ing the face of the South that has often been was the limit.” maligned as racist and steeped in bigotry. Bhavna says that both times when Haley declared Bhavna recalls that when Haley first decided to and decided to run, Haley had “no proper staff, run for state representative, even though the there was no money, there was no network, but Vasudevas held the first fundraiser on her behalf and there was big heart, there was determination and believed in her, “we never thought she would win.” there was drive. There was somebody who was sin“We were first in line in supporting her, and we cere and genuine, had a message that resonated were with the Randhawas and we said, ‘Of course, with the people of South Carolina. That was the we are behind you 100 percent.’ But we never magic formula.” thought she would win. And, then when she ran for Raj, erstwhile division director at the department governor, we never thought she could win either.” of digestive disease and nutrition at the University “Not because she wasn’t going to try hard, not of South Carolina, recalls, “When she ran for state because of her ability,” says Bhavna, “In fact, my huslegislator, like Bhavna said, nobody thought she was band and I were so proud that she was going to run. going to win and the question was ‘Nikki who?’” But when you run, your put yourself out there. And “When she made that announcement, both of us by putting yourself out there, she was going to take agreed that we were going to support her, just on the entrenched establishment — the old boys netbecause she had the guts to run and take on this guy work.” who had been in office for over 30 years. But the “But she made us proud by running in such a rural first fundraiser, we literally had only about 10, 12 state against narrow-minded people and the people people tops, and we’ve got a great big social circle of Lexington made us proud as they saw past all the and invited a lot of people, but because she was political tactics and found it fit to elect her and, of ‘Nikki who?’ and nobody had heard of her, we didcourse, she then became a star.” n’t get too much interest.” Bhavna, who is president of the Republican Indian Of the dozen or so who showed up, Raj recalls, Committee South Carolina Chapter, says the nasti“over 90 percent were white Americans. In fact, we ness of these entrenched forces were evident once were a little surprised that Indian Americans didn’t again when Haley decided to run for governor, but, step as forth as we would have liked them to.” once again, “she put herself out there and it opened That win, he says, where she fought the local doors, God led her to the right path and she went full establishment and prevailed over a veteran, and in force and the right doors were open.” a county that was predominantly white, “really said “The bad was turned into good,” she said. “The a lot and showed her fighting spirit — that she was whole of South Carolina saw through the mudslinga dark horse who can come from behind and beat ing and saw into Nikki’s heart. That’s why she got

the best person. Because she’s got a vision, a good head on her shoulders, and great ideas.” “It shouldn’t be forgotten that she a great communicator too,” Raj says. “She’s got a great personality and is very personable. So, all those qualities finally shone through.” “I remember when she first ran for state legislator the first thought that came to my mind was — in the South? It’s just not possible. But we were so proud of her that she even had the courage. Because it takes a lot of courage to make that run as a minority, leave alone a female to run as a minority. That race really told us who she was and what she’s made of. And, of course, she did great as a state represenCOURTESY: THE VASUDEVAS tative. She made her mark there.” “When we had the fundraiser after she declared for governor, it was standing room only. She had gone from ‘Nikki who?’ to ‘Nikki Haley’ to ‘Nikki for Governor’!” He says her election, fighting off all of the negativity and the racial slurs, “not only said a lot about her, but also a lot about our state. The South has always been looked down upon as maybe racist, etc. But I can tell you, after more than 23 years here, I have felt at home in this state. I feel comfortable, everybody treats us nicely, everybody is personable. And what Nikki’s election has proven is that South Carolina has come of age.” “It will be tougher for an Indian American to run in New York State — think about it,” Raj challenges, “compared to what she did in the South against a basically good-old boys network.” “Nikki really embodies the best of both Republicans as well as Democratic ideas.” “In the past,” he acknowledges, “the IndianAmerican community felt the Republicans really didn’t welcome us; and that was probably true to some extent, because Republicans used to always be portrayed as white, right-wing, etc.” Now, according to Raj, “That’s not the case. Most Indians are fiscally conservative, socially conservative and Nikki embodies the best of both.” “What she has got to do now is: Show the rest of the world what she can do for this state in four years, and hopefully get re-elected for another four years. As long as she surrounds herself with good, intelligent people with the right intentions, I believe she’ll do very well.” He adds: “She’s a rising star in the Republican Party and I predict that in eight years, she will be looking at a national stage. I believe she can bring a lot to this country.”


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s a political animal, pursuing any Indian standing for election, small or big, remains an obsession with me as part of my career as a reporter. When I heard about Nikki Randhawa Haley’s candidacy back in 2004, it seemed she was just another aspirant on the block. I don’t remember if Haley first called India Abroad seeking coverage, or I called her after reading some report. Whatever it might have been, the first interaction impressed me. I asked her a routine question: Why was she a Republican, rather than a Democrat, favored by immigrants? Her reply was rather unusual. “Does it matter for the Indian community whether the candidate is Republican or Democrat? What we need is people in political office. Party affiliation is irrelevant for us at this time,” she said. “People are ready to elect Indians. It is evident from the number of votes Bobby PARESH GANDHI Jindal received.” Nikki Haley hit the big leagues by challenging and defeating Larry Koon, who had become a state representative 30 years ago Most Indian Republicans and inspiration for all in the family. ‘I worked very hard in the last two years. This is used other justifications: Indians are conservative; Before the primary election for governor last year, recognition for my hard work to improve the qualithe party upholds morality and virtues and family I traveled to Columbia with my colleague Paresh ty of life in the state,’ Haley said after her second life, which are dear to Indians; it is a party of small Gandhi. When I went to Exotica for an interview, win. government and more freedoms; the Democrats Raj was not ready yet to speak. Governor Mark Sanford, who would soon become take us for granted and don’t give us opportunity, But after the election, she asked me to meet her at her mentor, named her a ‘taxpayer hero’ for her while the Republicans push you to positions, etc. the victory party, where all her family members efforts to reduce taxes. She was also elected to a few Her candidacy for the state House of would be present. We were invited to their palatial important committees. Representatives from District 87 in her home turf of home set against the backdrop of a beautiful lake. ‘Representative Haley was selected because of her Lexington, South Carolina, attracted much attenProfessor Randhawa not only gave us a tour of the proven leadership skills,’ Republican Chief Whip tion. Her opponent Larry Koon, the incumbent, beautiful gurdwara he maintains on the upper level, Shirley Hinson said. ‘She is always prepared when was someone who had become a representative 30 but also handed us a book he had written about reliwe go to the floor and she’s passionate about issues years ago when Haley was just two years old. The gions and the unity of ideas. of concern to her constituents.’ district is very southern, mostly conservative and Two of their children, the elder son and Nikki ‘Haley proved throughout her first year that she is Republican. Haley, are now Christians, while the other daughter a leader,’ Majority Leader Jim Merrill said. Despite these political disadvantages and a camand son remain staunch Sikhs. As a young girl Haley dreamt of becoming mayor paign against her bordering on racism, the Raj had said earlier that she never objected to of Bamberg, South Carolina, her hometown then. Republican primary found Haley in a neck-to-neck Nikki marrying Michael Haley, a Methodist. “We At 38, she became the first Indian-American govrace with Koon. A run-off followed in which Haley believe that all religions are different paths to the ernor of South Carolina, the nation’s second Indiandecisively defeated Koon. In the general election in same God. So, I didn’t have any problem. My older American Governor and the youngest governor in November 2004, she stood unopposed. son who is a major in the Reserves also married an the United States. “Nikki is a different kind of candidate. I’ve lived American. These things are predetermined. Four remarkable individuals were behind her here a long time and have never seen a candidate Matches are made in heaven. Who am I to object spectacular rise. work as hard as she has. Her hard work and busithat?” she had said. Her mother Raj, a law graduate from India poised ness experience is what got her my support,” Cathy Professor Randhawa, one of the most lovable and to become a judge, was her role model and inspiraLanier, president, Technology Solutions, had said humble persons I have ever met, sees life philotion. Raj started the clothing company Exotica then. sophically. International three decades ago, and turned it into In the next election, there wasn’t even a primary a huge success. Haley’s father, Professor Ajit and the number of India Abroad features on her too Randhawa, acknowledges that Raj is the role model few! M12 X


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‘What was striking was the regal authority she brought to her role’ Zafar Hai on directing Madhur Jaffrey in The Perfect Murder, also starring Amjad Khan, Naseeruddin Shah and Stellan Skarsgaard

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adhur played an important role in The Perfect Murder. Her husband in the film was played by the late Amjad Khan. Their scenes together were memorable. For me, Madhur was intricately linked with Merchant Ivory. I had first seen her in Shakespeare Wallah, one of my favorite Merchant Ivory films and then again in Autobiography of a Princess. So it was not surprising that she was cast in The Perfect Murder. What was striking about Madhur in that film that I directed was the regal authority she brought to her role. Her withering glances at Amjad, and at Naseeruddin Shah, who played Inspector Ghote, will always stay with me. She was a dream to work with — asked a few pertinent questions about the scene, and was right on the button thereafter. I think the filming of The Perfect Murder was a special time for her, because her daughter Sakina also had an important part in the film. I have very pleasant memories of directing her in the film, and wish her the very best in her life and remaining career.

ing and it’s something relaxing for us. My son, who is now 18, loves to cook and he would like to be a chef. Sakina, you have acted in two films (Chutney Popcorn and Cotton Mary) with your mother. What was that experience like? Sakina: The good thing about it was that she’s a fantastic actress and you only want to work with the best. It’s a little tricky having your mother at work with you. The first time was a little bit jarring, but the second time when we did Cotton Mary that was just perfect. I was really comfortable having her there. What is Madhur Jaffrey like on set with young directors and actors? Sakina: She is so happy being on set and acting. People are always shocked by how low keyed, cute and fun she is to be around. I think this concept that people have about my mother as being very grand and elegant can be little intimidating. But she is grand and elegant! Sakina: She actually is. We had a little film festival in my town and we screened Today’s Special. People asked her questions about everything from cooking to acting. I was sitting listening and I said, ‘My God, she is incredible and impressive. She knows so much and is so passionate about the things she knows. And I thought, ‘Wow, she is totally cool. She may not act so with us, but she has gone places where we have not gone.’ So what was it like being Madhur Jaffrey’s daughters? Zia: She is one of the few people I know whose fame never went to her head. She actually does not have a sense of Madhur Jaffrey. She is immune to it. Her inner drive is her own. She isn’t out there comparing herself to others.

She doesn’t rest on laurels. And she has certain humility about it. There is a not a moment in her life when she says ‘I am Madhur Jaffrey.’ It often surprises people. It’s a very humbling way of living. She has given us a standard of excellence and failure was never an option. Basically everything had to be just so and I have that in me. There is never a moment when I say this is OK even when I am grading papers. We would go that extra mile, because that is what she gave us. She also gave a sense that originality is a nice thing. I think if my mother had been famous from the word go, we would have been carrying a particular kind of burden, say like Chelsea Clinton or Michael Jackson carried, which is that you have to appear in public in a certain way, and there is a public and private schism. But that wasn’t so in our mother’s case. She became famous later, by the time I was in my 20s. Sakina: She is so humble about her accomplishments and so determined to keep going. She is quite restless about what the next project will be, what else can she do? I did a movie with Anupam Kher this year, and I was like OK I am good for a while. But my mother will do a film with Christopher Walken and then she will be like ‘What book am I going to write next, what am I going to learn next?’ That’s an interesting aspect to her personality — the never ending quest for knowledge, doing something new, and that sense was in our household. Meera: I am amazed at how much energy and drive she has. She is happiest when she is working and she travels so much. Just keeping track of where she is absolutely exhausting to me. She is also one of the most focused people I know. She uses her time very well and that’s why she has been able to accomplish so much.


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ehana Mirza’s first feature, Hiding Divya, was a complex story about an Indian-American woman’s struggle with mental illness, while her broken-up family refuses to acknowledge her situation. As has been the case with many young South Asian filmmakers working in the United States, she thought of Madhur Jaffrey to play the protagonist in her film “While writing the script, I was thinking in my head that this would be a tough role to cast, and would be really challenging, as the character goes from being aloof to having a mental breakdowns and a lot of mood swings,” Mirza said. “When I thought who would have the chops to play that role, of course, I immediately thought of Madhur. I have grown up with her films and admired her work.” But Mirza did not know Jaffrey and was concerned how the veteran actress would react to the project. “I sent her the script, she read it and loved it,” she said. “She is such a generous supporter of new work. She wanted to make sure I was legitimate before walking into the project, and luckily she came on board.” Jaffrey acting career spans 46 years, yet she seemed excited about taking on a new project, Mirza said. “Her excitement was that it was new territory, a new generation speaking about issues,” she added. “For her that was just as important as the role itself. It was the fact that this film would be breaking some ground and bringing to light a story that hadn’t yet been told. It was really remarkable how much she gives.” “When one mentally thinks about directing Madhur Jaffrey, one can have panic attacks,” Mirza said, recalling the first few days of the Hiding Divya shoot. “But I was really excited to work with her. She’s a legend and there is so much to learn from her on the set. She’s so gracious and giving, and she really respects your vision regardless of the fact that she has had so much more experience than anyone on the set. She is so skilled in the craft, and she understands that it is a collaborative experience.” Jaffrey has worked on many independent films, so she knew about the challenges faced by small productions. “She is so impeccable and so diligent that it was always about the work, and never about the little things that seemed go wrong,” Mirza said. “It’s a small indie film and she rolled with it.” “I asked her to walk barefoot in a hospital gown down the street and she did it,” she added. “She never complained saying ‘Oh there is cracked glass on the street.’ That scene eventually got cut from the film. But she understood that these are things that you have to do and decisions you have to make. “ It was also an exciting challenge for the younger actors to have Jaffrey on the set, Mirza said. “She brings so much that everyone stepped up to the plate and wanted to give their best too. It was so wonderful to have her in the room and everyone work that much harder.”

‘I was not destined for such easy symmetry’ Madhur Jaffrey on growing up in Delhi. An excerpt from her memoir

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here are many Delhis, as we were to study in school, all built either alongside each other or wholly or partly on top of each other, often reusing building materials knocked down in bloody efforts at domination. Our own original family home was in Chailpuri, in the narrow lanes of the Old City. It had as its carefully chosen foundation sturdy stones “borrowed” from the walls of Ferozshah Kotla, the fourteenth-century

fortress and palace of a fourteenth-century emperor in a fourteenth-century Delhi. Starting with the ancient Vedic city of Indraprastha, which flourished in the fifteenth century BC, a succession of Delhis was built, first by generations of Hindu rajas, only to be followed in AD 1193 by a roll call of Muslim dynasties: Ghori, Ghaznavi, Qutubshahi, Khilji, Tughlak, Lodhi, and Moghul. They seemed to trust the dubious comfort of walled cities, and their leaders chose to name Delhi, again and again, after themselves. This ended, at least from the point of view of my childhood, with the British version, sans walls, New Delhi, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and built in the ruin-filled wilderness south of the Old City walls. The Moghul capital, Shahjahanabad, or the Old City or the City, or Shahar, was where the

written history of my family began. We were only blessed with our paternal side of it. My mother’s side either kept few records or humbly kept its accomplishments under wraps. This written history, bound in red, was kept in my grandfather’s home office. When my grandfather—Babaji, as we called him—decided to move out of the City to the orchard estate, he was already a very successful barrister. His new house, the one in which I was born, was a brick-and-plaster version of a multi-roomed, grand Moghul tent with bits of British fortress and Greco-Roman classicism thrown in to hint vaguely at grandeur. The road it was built on was named after my grandfather, Raj Narain Road (with the patriotic Hindification of names that followed Independence, it is now Raj Narain Marg), and had the number 7 on its front gate. From the time I can remember, we always referred to that house as Number 7, as in “I’m going to Number 7,” or “You know that big tamarind tree in Number 7...” Not wishing to waste money, and full of the brio of someone recently “Englandreturned” (he had been studying law in London), he designed it all himself. As the family story goes, it was at this time that the British had decided to move their capital from Calcutta to Delhi, and Lutyens was in the process of building the new capital, to be named New Delhi. Lutyens asked my grandfather to pick any piece of land in New Delhi and build on it—Lutyens might have designed the house himself had my grandfather asked—but my grandfather dismissed the whole idea, saying, “Who wants to live in that jungle?” Properties in “that jungle” are now worth as much as those in central London and midtown Manhattan. Years later, having proceeded beyond my three score and ten years, I was awarded an honorary CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II in Washington, DC, another city designed by Lutyens, in a house also designed by Lutyens, the British ambassador’s residence. As I stared at my reflection there in a pair of dark Lutyens’ mirrors, dotted with glass rosettes, I couldn’t help thinking that my life might have come fullcircle. I could have been born in a Lutyens house and received a grand recognition of my life in a Lutyens house. But I was not destined for such easy symmetry, or easy anything. Excerpted from Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India published in 2006. Copyright © Madhur Jaffrey.


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‘I am surely a perfectionist when it comes to food’ ARTHUR J PAIS on the Madhur Jaffrey recipes he treasures most SPONSORED BY

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adhur Jaffrey certainly knows how to whip up several dishes within 20 minutes, but when it comes to putting a recipe into a book, she will try it out many times. “I am surely a perfectionist when it comes to food,” she says. “Recipes are constantly tested till they really taste great.” The following are some of her recipes I have treasured most. Among many things, I like them for their clear instructions and economy of time. Like any other foodie, I make a few changes, or shall I say, add a few ingredients. I prefer the olive oil, and when I make a shrimp dish, I keep bit of the shell on, giving the dish a little flavor. The first two recipes are from her book At Home with Madhur Jaffrey: Simple, Delectable Dishes from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is published by Knopf which has brought out her major books in recent years. In the introduction, Jaffrey writes about how her cooking has changed over the years. She is often as rushed for time as perhaps her readers are. ‘I am always asking myself, ‘Is there an easier way to do this? So over the decades, I have simplified my cooking greatly. I now try to reach real Indian tastes by using simpler methods and few steps.’ For instance, she says, she knows too well that to make a proper curry generally calls for the browning of wet seasonings like onion, garlic, and ginger, the browning of dry spices like cumin, chilies, coriander, and the browning of the meat itself. ‘Now I find that if I just marinate the meat with all the spices and seasonings and then bake it, covered and uncovered, all the browning happens on its own; the curry absorbs the spices and it is delicious.’

SWISS CHARD WITH GINGER AND GARLIC

Preparation: 10 minutes Cooking: 7 minutes Serves: 4 1½ pounds Swiss Chard 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil 1 clove garlic, cut into long slivers 1 teaspoon slivered and peeled ginger ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper Cut the stems and leaves crosswise. Pour the oil into a large pot and place on medium high heat. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir a few times. Put in all the chard and when the leaves wilt, add the salt and cayenne. Stir to mix. Cover and cook, for about 5 minutes.

GROUND LAMB WITH PEAS (KEEMA MATAR)

‘I cannot imagine our picnics or train rides in India without this dish,’ she writes of the following

Any recipe that goes into a Madhur Jaffrey cookbook has been tested several times dish in her memoir Climbing the Mango Trees. ‘For my grandchildren, growing up in America, it is an all-time favorite. Sometimes we eat it with Pooris, the deep-fried puffed breads, as we did so often in India, and sometimes with rice. When cooking for the children, I leave out all the chillies, whether the powdered red kind or the fresh green variety. My parents did the same for us when we were growing up. I use low-fat yogurt, but you may use whole-milk yogurt if you prefer.’ Preparation: 10 minutes Cooking: 50 minutes Serves: 4 to 6 1 cup plain yogurt ½ teaspoon ground turmeric 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 tablespoon ground coriander 1 ¼ teaspoons salt One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated to a pulp 3 good-sized cloves garlic, peeled and crushed to a pulp 2 pounds ground lamb 4 tablespoons peanut or olive oil 2 sticks cinnamon, about 2 inches each in length 4 whole cardamom pods 2 bay leaves 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped ½ cup puréed tomatoes (also labeled strained

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tomatoes or passata) 1 ½ cups fresh (or frozen and defrosted) peas 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro 1–2 finely chopped fresh bird’s eye or cayennetype green chillies 1 teaspoon garam masala Put the yogurt in a bowl and whisk lightly until smooth and creamy. Add the turmeric, cayenne, cumin, coriander, salt, ginger, and garlic. Mix until well blended. Put the lamb into a large bowl. Pour the yogurt mixture over the top and mix (I use my hands) until thoroughly blended. There should not be any pools of yogurt left. Pour the oil into a large (preferably nonstick) sauté pan and set over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in the cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaves. Stir once or twice, and then add the onion. Stir and fry about 5 minutes, or until the onion pieces are reddish brown. Add all the meat. Stir and cook, breaking up the meat until no lumps and no pinkness are left, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato purée and stir it in. Bring to a simmer. Cover, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 6 to 7 minutes and making sure there is enough liquid so the lamb does not stick to the bottom. Uncover. Most

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of the liquid should have evaporated by this time. Stir and fry the meat for the next 5 minutes, removing and discarding the cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and bay leaves. After 5 minutes, spoon out as much of the fat as you can and discard it. Now put in the peas, cilantro, green chilies (if desired), garam masala, and 6 tablespoons water. Mix, cover and cook on low heat another 6–7 minutes, or until tender.

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‘I am surely a perfectionist when it comes to food’ cauliflower is just done and all the flavors have blended. Sprinkle the cilantro and green chilies, if desired, over the top. Toss and serve.

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1/4 cup heavy cream Pour the oil into a frying pan and set over medium heat. Meanwhile, combine the mustard seeds, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves in a small cup. When the oil is hot, put in all the whole spices. As soon as the mustard seeds pop, a matter of seconds, add the ginger and green chiles. Stir once or twice, and then add in the corn. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes Add the salt and cream. Continue to stir and cook for another minute. Turn heat to low and cook 1 to 2 minutes, stirring, until all the cream is absorbed. You can pick out and discard the cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves if you are serving those unaccustomed to large whole spices in their foods

In the following recipe Madhur Jaffrey offers a tempting but simple way of making a healthy and Another winning recipe I discovered when I first quick dish. An easy, perfumed, stir-fried corn dish read her memoir four years ago. that can be made with fresh or frozen corn, she ‘This is one of the ways our cauliflower was often says of the dish demonstrated on the BBC. cooked at home,’ she writes. ‘I use a 2-pound head Preparation: 10 minutes of cauliflower that yields about 7 cups of florets. Cooking: 10 minutes When cutting the florets, make sure that each Serves: 4 piece has a head about 1 ½ inches wide, has a 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil stem, and is about the same in length, or longer, as 1 teaspoon whole brown or yellow mustard seeds the width at the top. ‘ 4 cardamom pods Preparation: 15 minutes 4 whole cloves Cooking: 5 minutes One 1-inch cinnamon stick Serves: 4 2 bay leaves 6 tablespoons olive or peanut oil 1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger 7 cups delicate cauliflower florets PORK (OR LAMB) WITH LENTILS 1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh hot green ½ - 3/4 teaspoon salt Preparation: 10 minutes chiles (do not discard seeds) ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric Cooking: 1 hour 4 cups corn cut fresh off the cobs, or two 10¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper Serves: 4 ounce packets of frozen corn, defrosted and 1 teaspoon ground coriander 2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds drained ½ teaspoon ground amchoor (green mango pow4 teaspoons ground coriander seeds 1 teaspoon salt der) or 1 tablespoon lemon juice ½ teaspoon ground turmeric Generous pinch of ground asafetida ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper ½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled ¼ cup finely chopped onions and cut into very fine julienne strips (cut 1 teaspoon finely grated peeled into very thin slices first, then stack the fresh ginger slices and cut into fine strips) 1 ½ cups finely chopped tomatoes 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh 1 ½ boneless pork or lamb cut cilantro into cubes 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh green 1 cup green lentils, washed and chillies (optional) drained Pour the oil into a large frying pan and 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste set over medium heat. When it is hot, put in all the cauliflower florets. Stir and Toss the cumin, coriander, fry them until they turn reddish in spots. turmeric and cayenne in a small Remove them with a slotted spoon and bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water. Mix spread them out on a platter lined with well paper towels. Pour the oil into a large, wide pan Turn off the heat under the frying pan and set over medium heat. When and remove all but 1 tablespoon of the hot, put in the onions. Stir and oil. sauté for 3 minutes. Add the ginger Put the drained florets in a bowl. and cook and stir for half a minute. Sprinkle the salt, turmeric, cayenne, Add the spice paste and stir for a coriander, and amchoor over the top. minute. Add the tomatoes and cook Toss gently to mix. Taste for balance of them for 3 minutes. flavors, making adjustments if needed. Add the meat and cook for 3 Set the frying pan with its one tableminutes. Pour in 1 cup water and spoon of oil over medium heat. When it bring to a boil. Cover and cook on is hot, put in the asafetida, and a second medium high heat for 10 minutes, later the cumin seeds. Let the seeds sizstirring from the bottom now and zle for 10 seconds. Now put in all the then. ginger shreds and stir for 30 seconds. When the sauce is greatly Put in all the cauliflower and stir gently reduced, add the lentils, 31/2 cups to mix. Add a generous sprinkling of water, and salt. Stir and bring to a water, cover, and turn the heat down simmer. JAY MANDAL/ON ASSIGNMENT very, very low. Cover partially and cook for 40 For someone whose books sell so well now, she didn’t make any money on them Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the minutes or until lentils are tender. till her first television show


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AZIZ HANIFFA on why STROBE TALBOTT is a deserving winner of the inaugural INDIA ABROAD FRIEND OF INDIA AWARD Strobe Talbott — a key protagonist in resurrecting the United States-India relationship

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n every conversation, Strobe Talbott, a key protagonist in resurrecting the United States-India relationship after India’s nuclear tests in May 1998, hastens to note that he is no expert on India or South Asia. He defers or directs one to the likes of his colleague and friend at the Brookings Institution where he serves as president, Stephen P Cohen, considered the doyen of American specialists on South Asia, whose expertise is bookended by a lifetime of work in the region. But when Talbott says he is no expert on India or the subcontinent, he is being overly modest. There is no denying Talbott’s indispensable role in lifting the relationship from the doldrums. The nuclear tests left US-India ties in tatters, following Washington’s imposition of puni-

tive sanctions, leading to the kind of animosity reminiscent of — or even worse than — the Cold War. Talbott, then deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, along with then Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh held a series of painstaking and intense negotiations that came to be known as the US-India Strategic Dialogue. The Talbott-Singh talks were catalytic to President Bill Clinton’s transformational visit to India in March 2000, and set the trend for USIndia relations as they are today — which, however way once slices it, has never been better. Clinton himself acknowledges this hands-on role his close friend and former roommate at

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From the Editors For his historic engagement with India that paved the way for a robust India-US relationship; for conducting the most intensive bilateral engagement between the two countries in 50 years; and for being an exceptional statesman-diplomat, we honor Strobe Talbott with the inaugural India Abroad Friend of India Award.

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Strobe Talbott tells AZIZ HANIFFA how his engagement with India pre-dates the 1998 nuclear tests

trobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration and presently president of the Brookings Institution, played a key role in resurrecting India-United States relations after the Indian nuclear tests of Brooke, left, and Strobe Talbott with Amarjit Singh. May 1998. Talbott and then Indian exterBrooke had lived in nal affairs minister Jaswant Singh held a Singh’s home when she series of talks that stabilized the relationfirst came to India in 1965 ship between the large democracies and set the stage for the robust bilateral ties that exists today. A former journalist at Time Magazine, Talbott also had a personal connection with India — well before his years in the State Department — which started with his late wife Brooke Shearer, who had a great love for India. Before becoming Deputy Secretary of State and a key protagonist in the USIndia Strategic Dialogue in the Clinton administration that resurrected the USIndia relationship after India’s 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests, you were a Russia specialist with Time magazine. How did your initial connection to India begin? Was it through Brooke (Shearer, Talbott’s late wife) and the time she spent in India as a student? It was essentially through Brooke, but would be our 40th anniversary this year. also for professional reasons. When I started courting When you were courting Brooke, were you already a Brooke in 1968, she was part of a program called the journalist or still in college? Experiment in International Living. She was 18 and In 1968, I was finished at Yale and about to go to was between her last year of high school and first year Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. of college at Stanford and lived for three-and-a-half So, this is indeed a small world — suddenly you run months in India. across Nayan and there’s this family connection to I would say it was a culturally, socio-economically, Brooke’s sister? very mixed experience because at the beginning, she This is a small world and India is an extremely lived in Delhi with Amarjit and Bhagwant Singh and small place with more than a billion people! But I’ve then for the second half, she traveled around, mostly just always been amazed that whenever I met Gujarat, but really, shall we say, third class, including Indians, how they tend to know kind of everybody literally sleeping in railway stations and things like else I raise in the conversation. So, Geeta obviously that. and Amarjit and Bhagwant — I knew Bhagwant up So, she saw a lot of India, both vertically and horiuntil he died about two years ago — and I try to see zontally. But during the time she was living at Golf Amarjit every time I go there. Links Road, she became part of this Indian family So, I’ve stayed close to the family for all these years. and I used to address what were effectively — and I During my first visit to work with Jaswant (Singh) mean effectively — love letters to her addressed to when I was in the State Department, there was a dinGolf Links Road, and, of course, that already pointed ner at the US embassy (in New Delhi) where all of my GPS system towards New Delhi because that’s that family showed up. So, it’s been a very precious where Brooke was during that time. relationship to me. So, that was a huge deal. As it happens, subseNayan, of course, is one of my dearest friends and quently to that, when I was a journalist, I was travelclosest colleagues, and when Brooke and I went to ing in Asia a lot and I got to know Nayan Chanda, Yale in 2001, Nayan and Geeta moved from Hong independently of the Brooke connection, but, of Kong, where he was with the Far Eastern Economic course, it immediately became apparent there was a Review, to New Haven and he became the founding Brooke connection because Geetanjali (Amarjit and editor of Yale Global, which thrives to this day. We Bhagwant Singh’s daughter and Chanda’s wife) was stay in very close touch. Brooke’s sister! They shared a room and all of that So, in a sense, it was the Brooke connection to India kind of thing at Golf Links Road… and her stay there that perked your interest in India At this time when you got to know Nayan, were you initially? married to Brooke? Yes, although as a student since childhood of things I was married to Brooke. Her experience in India international, I had been fascinated by India. A very was in 1968. We married in November 1971. So, this

early memory I have is that my father and mother were very tightly connected with something called the United World Federalist Movement and there was a guy named Norman Cousins involved in that. He was fixated on the importance of India. My father called my attention early on to a passage where Cousins predicts that the Third World War would begin in the Vale of Kashmir. So, all of these names, concepts, were there in my childhood and then there was Brooke and her connection to India. And then when I was a journalist in 1974, Henry Kissinger was Secretary of state and was making a trip that took him to the Soviet Union, to India and then on to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt. I was covering Kissinger as a COURTESY TEJBIR SINGH reporter at the time. We got as far as the refueling stop in Copenhagen and the Russians made clear that I was not going to be allowed into Russia because they were unhappy with my translation of the Khrushchev memoirs. I was politely, but firmly, asked to get off the plane because they complained and the Secretary’s plane couldn’t fly into Moscow. That left me with about a week to kill before I could pick up Kissinger at his next stop after Moscow in Delhi. So, I beat my way to Delhi where I had a friend named Jacques Leslie, who was the Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Delhi and he took me on a trip around India. It was great. We did all the obvious stuff — the Taj Mahal and all that — but we also saw some villages and it was really great. That was a kind of unplanned crash course on India. Incidentally, one of the memorable things about that trip is that every single foreign leader that we met died of either a violent death, or in the case of the Shah of Iran, an exiled death. You think of it — Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Muhammed Da’ood, and then we had the Shah. On the last stop on the way home was Egypt and a meeting with Anwar Sadat, and he too was assassinated. There were a lot of world leaders who were glad that Kissinger didn’t visit them on that trip. So, that was my professional introduction to India. Over the years when I was writing a column for Time, I went back to India quite a number of times I was far from an expert — still am far from an expert… These were the Cold War years… The Cold War figured prominently… and this is one

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s you look back at the state of United StatesIndia relations today, following former president Bill Clinton’s transformational visit in 2000, then former President George W Bush’s consummation of the nuke deal, and now President Barack Obama, hosting the first state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his trip to India — maybe both symbolic it could be argued — but also going to bat for India as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, would you say this kind of a relationship would have been unimaginable at the time you were trying to get it jump-started after the Pokhran tests? Or would you say it was sort of predictable, considering the commonalities, the shared values, between the US and India? I would say it was somewhere in between. It was certainly not incomprehensible, but it certainly wasn’t a sure thing. It was a classic case of having the right leaders at the right place at the right time. (Then) Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee and his key advisers — and, of course, I give huge credit to (then External Affairs Minister) Jaswant Singh — President Clinton, Secretary (of State Madeleine) Albright, (national security adviser Samuel) Sandy Berger, with whom I worked very closely during that period, all of them realized that there was something unnatural, unhealthy, bad for JIM YOUNG/REUTERS both countries, during the Cold War period about President Barack Obama, center, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, left, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari, the tension and even antagonism between, or at second from left, and Speaker Meira Kumar in parliament in New Delhi, November 8, 2010. The India-US relationship, Strobe Talbott believes, is a classic case of having the right leaders at the right place least, the diametrically and irreconcilably different up with two options. How big a deal was President Obama endorsing positions that they took on many issues. So, the long and short point is that we should not India for a permanent seat on the UNSC — something Something was wrong with that. It didn’t make put all of our eggs in that basket. We all want it to hapthe Indians have been yearning for years — although sense. And to have it continue, after the end of the pen — we want it to happen, the Americans want it to any reform of the Security Council is quite a way off in Cold War, it made no sense whatsoever. At least the happen, the Indians want it to happen, others want it the future? other could be explained in terms of non-alignment to happen, some don’t want it to happen, including I don’t want to be nit-picky or pedantic, but rememand the Cold War. some in Beijing. So, let’s keep moving in that direction, ber, what he actually said in that very successful But with the end of the Cold War, non-alignment but make sure that India is a member of the board of speech in parliament. He said, ‘I look forward to the didn’t mean anything anymore. I know that’s a condirectors of the world, which it is, and it is by virtue of day when…’ You can be absolutely sure that a lot of troversial thing to say in some Indian circles, since its role in the G-20, it is by virtue of regionally now time went into the composing of that sentence. And there are still a lot of Indians who take the non-aligned being a full member of the ASEAN Regional Forum. that doesn’t mean he was hedging his bet — that’s on movement very seriously. There are a number of countries — the US included the desirability. I always want to say non-alignment with what? The — that want to see India associated with APEC in a A moment ago, you used the expression he went to non is a negative, but what it is attached to has sort of formal way and then, of course, there is the East Asian bat for… In a sense he did, but he was clearly taking lost its meaning in the post Cold War. So, there was Summit. So, there are lots of forums, some of which — account of several things. One is that the United States recognition of that at the highest levels of both govlike the G-20 — are tailor-made to reflect the districan’t decide unilaterally who is going to be on the ernments, and despite the fact that it had taken a conbution of power and responsibility in the world today. Security Council for obvious reasons — it takes five. troversial development, namely the testing, to get us, The UN Security Council is emphatically not tailorWe know that at least one of the five is not going to be as it were, moving, it was quite natural that we would made to do that. an easy sell — namely China. want to move in the right direction. It is a holdover from the end of World War II, before And leaving aside the specific case of India, expandPresident Clinton and Secretary Albright, when they India even had its independence. Obama deserved the ing or reforming the Security Council is a huge, huge gave me my instructions for starting the dialogue with applause that he got, but he was picking his words challenge. I remember Jim Steinberg, who was head Jaswant Singh, said, we don’t want this to be just carefully and he was sort of hinting to the Indians that of the policy planning staff for a while in the Clinton about the nukes. Obviously, that is a central issue and they should not make this the be-all and end-all. administration, had said, ‘This is the diplomatic problet us do everything we can to find some common The US-India nuke deal was the centerpiece of the lem from hell.’ And if you remember, Kofi Annan (then ground between India and the United States, but we Bush administration. But during those deliberations the UN Secretary General), set up a special Eminent really want to open the discussion up — widen the Persons Panel to look into it and the Eminent Persons aperture — and Jaswant, of course, was willing to do Panel couldn’t even agree on one option. They came that. M108 X


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and the debate before president Bush signed the bill into law, you strongly opposed it, saying it compromised the US’s nonproliferation commitments, since India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and did not show any interest in signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was one of the major foreign policy priorities of the Clinton administration. Now that it is a done deal — though yet to be fully implemented — do you still have strong feelings about it? Let me clarify my position. First of all, my criticism was directed not against the Indian government or the Indian side. My criticism was of the Bush administration policy. I felt the wiser course — and this will not surprise you — was the one that the Clinton administration had embarked upon, and your readers should understand even though we’ve talked about it in the past, what the Clinton administration’s position was. Let me start with what it was not. We in the Clinton administration never took the position that India had to, must, or would become a signatory non-nuclear weapons state of the NPT. That was off the table. That was moot. When the desert shook that memorable whatever it was — Sunday night, Monday morning in May of 1998 — that issue was moot. India was a nuclear weapons state. So, the starting premise for the Clinton administration’s position was how could India, given its sovereign decision based on a sovereign right to become a nuclear weapons state, still contribute to the cause of a firm and effective global nonproliferation regime. And the answer would certainly have to leave India with the position that it had taken vis-à-vis being a nuclear weapons state. So, that’s what it was all about. My criticism of the Bush administration was that they essentially weakened the global non-proliferation regime in the deal that they ultimately signed. But once it was signed, I never had any doubt that, of course, it should be implemented because then that became a fixed reality and it wasn’t going to change. So, I was definitely in favor of implementation of the deal. I was, however, concerned that there were unrealistic expectations about the benefits that would flow to both sides as a result of the deal being passed, and guess what, there have been disappointments. I guess when you say there have been disappointments, presumably you are referring to the nuclear liability law passed by the Indian Parliament, which has put a damper on the deal? Oh, yes. All of that stuff. The disappointments on both sides. I’ve made pretty regular trips to India, I’ve heard Indians express frustration, I’ve certainly heard Americans express frustration. I was there on the eve of President Obama’s trip — I was in Mumbai and Delhi — and I talked to a lot of American businessmen who had showed up and some of them were resident in India, who were saying, ‘You know, we’ve got to do something about this liability law.’ And, of course, the United States is not the only country whose private sector has difficulties… Even the Indian private sector has expressed deep concerns… The Indian private sector… Russian… French. But my point is, Hello, this is a democracy and there is a separation of power between the legislative and executive branch and we have seen plenty of examples here in Washington. We see them right now where there is tension between the White House and Congress and that’s something that we’ve all got to get used to. Also, I would say that there’s probably been — a lit-

‘India and the US are not now, and may never be allies’

Then President George W Bush signs the 123 Agreement. Strobe Talbott thinks the Bush administration weakened the global non-proliferation regime by signing that deal PARESH GANDHI

tle bit like in the old days — just as there was too much emphasis put on the nuclear deal itself, now there is too much focus on the difficulties associated with it. But there is going to be plenty of other opportunities to make progress. Coming to plenty of opportunities, much to the disappointment of the Obama administration, the over $10 billion worth fighter aircraft deal did not go through for the American companies, even though President Obama sent a personal letter to Prime Minister Singh. India also abstained on the United Nations Security Council vote on the Libya No-Fly Zone, criticized North Atlantic Treaty Organization along with its BRIC partners, just to mention a few tweaks inimical to the US. Does all of this mean India can never be a strategic ally of the US, but only a strategic partner at best for all the euphoria and optimism of the pro-India lobby and Indophiles here? Some construe this as a defensive posture by India in striking out an independent, sovereign kind of line, that this may have something to do with the recent WikiLeaks revelations, and an attempt to stave of criticism that it has become completely pro-US? Can we put the WikiLeaks issue aside for a moment and deal with the rest of your question? First of all, at the risk of being a little bit focused on the semantics here, there is diplomatic and precise distinction to be made between an ally and a partner. If India were an ally of the United States, there would be a treaty of alliance between us, like the one between the United States and Japan, the one between the United States and Korea, and the one between the US and our NATO allies. We are not now, and may never be allies in that sense. And, by the way, one reason we may never be or not, in the any foreseeable future, is because there is still a huge constituency in support of India’s non-

aligned status, despite the fact that I would say that non-alignment and the non-aligned movement is very much an artifact of the Cold War. I remember having a conversation with (former Indian External Affairs Minister K) Natwar Singh when the Congress party was out of power and him saying to me that the proudest moment of his career was being secretary general of the Non-Aligned Movement. That sticks in my mind. I took that as a sign that there are still a lot of Indians who take nonalignment seriously. Are we strategic allies? Natural allies? Are we strategic partners? The fact is that we are strategic partners and none of the examples you have cited suggest otherwise. Take the aircraft deal — win some, lose some. India is going to make its own decisions for its own reasons, which are going to include technical considerations, which are the ones that they cited in the case of not going the US route — and by the way, there were some disappointed Russians as well. Second, India, understandably, wants to diversify its source of military equipment for all kinds of reasons, including probably uncertainty about what US policy or US legislation will be in the future. Third, I see estimates as high as $200 billion that India is going to be spending in years to come — so that means there is plenty more business to be done, and plenty more opportunities for American companies to have in on that business. But a more general point here is the United States has had lots and lots of disagreements with its allies, not to mention its partners over the years — we have them right now. I mean look at the tension between the NATO allies — that Secretary Clinton has been spending a lot of time with on how to prosecute the No Fly Zone in Libya, what the US policy should be with respect to

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Iraq, and this goes back more to the previous administration. We’ve had disagreements with the British, we’ve had disagreements with the French. Look at the tensions that arose between Eisenhower and Antony Eden and Macmillan, and in Kennedy’s case with DeGaulle and that (France) was an ally of the United States. You know, countries are in some ways like human beings. I have a lot of friends, colleagues, the personal equivalent of allies, with whom I disagree all the time and that comes with the territory — not least, because, we, within our countries have debates over these issues. So, again, too much has been made of these issues. Did you mention Iran as well? I am coming to Iran — that’s a whole separate question I had… We’ll deal with Iran separately. WikiLeaks, you’d be the better judge of that than I. WikiLeaks is an ambiguous phenomenon. It has two sides to it. On the one hand, it is a disgrace and an outrage and a colossal case of mismanagement of information by the US government that was allowed to happen because there are a lot of things in the world of ours that can only be dealt with effectively if they remain secret. So, no excusing that. At the same time, none of us have read all of the WikiLeaks because we have to live for 200 years and not do anything else because the volume is so large. The New York Times and other publications have been putting them out in sort of digestible chapters. It’s a good story. I’ve always been a fan of the foreign service and the way our diplomatic establishment works — I know it from the inside, and I’ve been party to plenty of stuff that’s secret. I believe the story that emerges (is that) there are good professionals doing the job they should do and it is really unfortunate that the revelation of these cables and conversations has embarrassed foreign friends. That’s regrettable and worse than regrettable in some cases. But the story that it tells, is one that we can broadly as Americans, be proud of. Coming to Iran, do you consider India’s close relations with Iran — considering its huge energy needs as India’s economy continues to gallop — becoming a major irritant, which could spill over in Congress because even India’s best friends on the Hill never fail to mention their deep concerns over this. With the new configuration in Congress, particularly in the House with all of the Tea Party types, can this morph into the kind of contentious issue that could make the US, particularly Congress, retreat to the old ‘you are either with us or against us’ kind of foreign policy, because foreign policy issues like those over a country’s policy vis-à-vis Iran can become a very handy and convenient whipping boy? First of all, I am going to be worse than your most picky editor here. Again, I am going to pick up on one word and take issue with it. I wouldn’t describe the relationship between India and Iran so much as close as pragmatically driven, and it is one of engagement with Iran. So, I do not share the view that it is ipso facto bad or wrong for a country — India or otherwise — to have to engage with Iran. Particularly, it is understandable in India’s case for the reasons that you mentioned. Being very much on the receiving end of energy supplies and for lots of historical and geopolitical reasons, it would be unreasonable and ignorant to take the position that India should boycott any relations with Iran. The issue is: How is India using that relationship. I

‘India and the US are not now, and may never be allies’

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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, left, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the cricket World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan in Mohali, India, in March. The willingness of some leaders in the two countries to got the extra mile gives Strobe Talbott hope for peace in South Asia

happen to know because I’ve talked to responsible Indians about this that India has lots of issues with Iran. The fact that it has diplomatic and other ties with Iran does not mean that Indian officials and diplomats aren’t very candid with the Iranians. So, that’s one point. The second point though is one for your American audience — Indian Americans and otherwise. They certainly know this, but maybe since you are read also in India itself, it’s very important that that audience understand that the United States comes by its neuralgia honestly where Iran is concerned. I mean, Iran is exceedingly dangerous. It is a complex country currently dominated by a very dangerous regime in multiple respects and it isn’t just its nuclear weapons ambitions. It is also its active sponsorship of international terrorism — an issue that, of course, has much resonance, if not more, in India, than it does in the United States — and its vicious and unrelenting opposition to the Middle East peace process. And, it is also, of course, a country that brutalizes its own citizenry in many ways. I said it’s a complex country and in some ways, of course, it inherits a great civilization, it has a young population, a very cosmopolitan population, it’s very plugged into the world, it has a degree of democracy well beyond those of most of the Arab world — even in the midst of the Arab spring or awakening or whatever we are going to call it — and my own guess is that sooner or later the more positive elements of Iranian society and polity will prevail over the execrable (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadenijad and what he represents and the clerics, which are not identical phenomena by the way. So, it’s potentially and in some ways actually useful for the United States to have close possible contacts with India on the subject of Iran, because India is a reservoir of deep knowledge about Iran, and insofar as we can from time to time find issues where we can have a common position, it will help.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about any rapprochement between India and Pakistan, considering Pakistan’s proxy wars against India, and now, in the wake of the deficit of trust between Washington and Islamabad after the killing of Osama bin Laden and also Washington’s close affinity with Delhi? Will Pakistan’s paranoia over this exacerbate? Would this lend credence to (strategic expert) Stephen Cohen’s prognostications of a possible 100-year conflict between India and Pakistan? We’ve talked a lot about a number of important issues, but this is one of the most important and certainly one of the most sensitive, no matter where you are talking —whether we are talking here or in Delhi or for that matter in Islamabad or Peshawar. Let me start with a sincere positive, that there is a ray of some light in a fairly dark corner that under now two leaders — the Musharraf regime and the current more democratic regime — that there have been contacts (with the the Pakistani leadership) and quite promising contacts, or at least what could have been promising and productive contacts and it is of huge credit to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as it was to prime minister Vajpayee before him that they have been willing to kind of go the extra mile. I had the honor of meeting with Prime Minister Singh and (National Security Adviser) Shiv Shankar Menon when I was in Delhi in February and we talked about a number of issues, but we definitely talked about this one, and I was impressed by the coherence and the conviction and the determination with which the prime minister talked about his desire to leave no stone unturned. But, of course, for reasons we all understand that determination must be accompanied by determination to defend India against attacks of the kind it has so grievously suffered.

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‘India and the US are not now, and may never be allies’

There have been moments when it looked like there was an interlocutor on the Pakistani side. Now here is what I think is the issue of issues and the onus for how this question is going to be answered lies with Pakistan. Will the political and security military elite of Pakistan at some point be willing to adjust itself to reality and to jettison once and for all the insidious myth that the greatest security threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity is India. That is demonstrably, empirically, not the case. The greatest threat to the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan comes from two sources — one to the northeast and the other within Pakistan itself. And we have seen that proven time after time and we are seeing it right now. You referred to whatever you want to call it — I call it the extra-territorial, extra-judicial execution of Laden by American forces — something that I heartily welcomed and approved of. It was entirely justified. And look where it happened. It happened in a virtual, if not literal, annex of a cantonment of the Pakistani military. It simply strikes me as unbelievable, incredible, implausible, After a bomb blast near Peshawar, June 9. If Pakistan fails, says Strobe Talbott, laughably so, that Laden was the ramification for the world could be huge able to live in that compound Islamabad — Rawalpindi is another question — but under those conditions without not only the knowlthat means Pakistan has an existential problem and edge, but without the support of important elements the address, the origin of that existential problem is in Pakistan. And not only is that an outrage against not in New Delhi, it’s not in India, it’s in Pakistan the United States, given this man’s responsibility for itself. the worst attacks on our territory we’ve suffered since The real question for Pakistan — I’ve traveled a lot the British burned Washington — leaving aside Pearl in Pakistan, and I have huge respect for so much of Harbor, which is a lot further away than Manhattan. what it represents, and so many of the outstanding And that’s not only an outrage to us as Americans, people I’ve known and worked with — they and the it should be an outrage to the world and it represents next generation of Pakistanis have to come to grips a profound danger to the Pakistani state. with this in the terms I am talking about, or not only The fact that there are whole vast regions of is the danger that my colleague and friend Steve Pakistan that are not really under the control of

W M106 of the fortunately-in-the-past tragedies of the USIndia relationship… You mean India being perceived as a surrogate of the Soviet Union at the time… Yes, and this natural allies line should have been present at the creation as it were — the creation of independent India, but wasn’t because India was seen not just as a non-aligned country, but virtually, though not literally, aligned to the Soviet Union. And, so, it figured in a lot of writing that I did at the time. Would you say it is ironic in a sense that after the US-India relations were in the doldrums following India’s nuclear tests, you found yourself as a sort of hands-on operational guy who was given the mandate to fix the relationship? What was hugely ironic was that it took what we in the American government regarded as a very nega-

Cohen mentioned. But remember, he put it in a conditional — he said, if Pakistan is not able to deal with this issue, one of two things will happen — unending conflict. I wouldn’t call it a 100-year war, but I would say unending conflict or the dissolution of the Pakistani state. How much of a danger will it be to the US, to India, to the region, and for that matter, to the world, if Pakistan fails, because apart from the fact that it has got this existential threat of such overwhelming extremism gnawing at its very fabric, it has also got a 100 nukes and that is what we know of? Just huge, huge, huge, and we are still counting (the number of nuclear weapons Pakistan may have). I mean, this is sensitive information, but I can tell you that there is an expectation that Pakistan — if the current trend continues — is going to replace the United Kingdom as the number five – quantitatively — nuclear weapons state on the planet, and if the trend continues, it could FAYAZ AZIZ /REUTERS replace France as number four. And, of course, I realize this is an issue much on the minds of Indian strategic planners. I guess it not just a question of simply replacing Britain or France as a nuclear power with more nukes, but that a failed Pakistan state with this kind of a nuclear arsenal, the ramifications, implications, coupled with radicalization, would be unimaginable? Absolutely. The fact, as we have been reminded by the all too timely demise of Laden, is that there is some kind of nexus between the most dangerous terrorist organization on earth and what are supposed to be responsible people in the security establishment of Pakistan.

‘India is an extremely small place with more than a billion people!’ tive development — Pokhran — to catalyze a positive development, which was the transformation of the relationship to something like what it ought to be. That is the irony. I didn’t see any particular irony that I was involved in that policy. I mean, I was close to the President, I had an appropriate level position in the State Department, I had been sent out to India as my first foreign trip as Deputy Secretary to deal with an earlier difficult issue, primarily with Pakistan over the Pressler Amendment and all of that. But it included a trip to India when Prime Minister (P V Narasimha) Rao was in office. That’s the first time I met Manmohan Singh, who was in

the meeting. I saw him both separately and with prime minister Rao. On my return in 1994, I made a report to President Clinton. He had always been fascinated by India. I urged him to make a trip there. I saw the (then) first lady (Hillary Clinton) and urged her to make a trip there. She very much wanted to and she did subsequently make a trip. When she did make the trip, she came to the state department after I had suggested to Secretary (of State Warren) Christopher that he invite her to come to the State Department to talk about it. So, there was a background, but then, of course, May 1998 happened.


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n the weekend of June 6-7 (1998, Talbott’s wife) Brooke and I, along with our parents, who had known Bill Clinton since the late 1960s, drove to Camp David. Visits to the Presidential retreat were supposed to be recreational for all concerned, particularly for the President. At lunchtime that Saturday, as we were working our way through a buffet line in the main dining room in Laurel Lodge, Clinton vented his worries about the latest turn of events in South Asia. Once we had our plates, we went off into a corner to talk. He was still fuming at the Indians. By being the first to test, they had set exactly the wrong kind of example for the rest of the world, especially Pakistan. That was partly because, as Clinton put it, India was ‘the Rodney Dangerfield of great nations’ — convinced that it was never getting enough respect. ‘But that’s all the more reason we can’t give up on trying,’ he added. ‘I’d like to find a way in on this one.’ While India was more to blame for the current perilous situation than Pakistan, it was also more likely to be part of the solution. Somehow we had to persuade India, as the larger, politically more stable, economically more dynamic of the two countries, to set a positive example for Pakistan by putting the brakes on its acquisition of nuclear weaponry. Clinton was drawn to the idea that he might help bring India and Pakistan together, or at least establish for the United States a relationship with both so that American diplomacy might better be able to influence them in a crisis. He had been frustrated at not having made much of a dent in US-Indian relations during his first six years in office. With only two years to go in his presidency, the nuclear tests gave him a powerful incentive to make up for lost time. Heading off an Indian-Pakistani arms race, and perhaps something much worse, was a compelling goal in itself. Beyond that, the very act of trying might give the United States a degree of traction with India that it had never had during the Cold War. Therefore, he wanted South Asia to remain ‘front and center’ in our diplomacy for the rest of his administration. The stakes justified a huge American investment, including, if it became useful, an investment of his time and political capital. ‘I want us to be bold and in the lead on this one,’ he said. The American people would ‘viscerally support’ whatever we did because there was a threat of nuclear war. I… urged that he give the job to someone who was part of the administration’s own foreign policy apparatus. Preferably, I said, it should be someone at just below cabinet rank who would have clout in our own bureaucracy and sufficient standing to deal with ministers — and, at times, prime ministers — on the Indian and Pakistani sides. ‘I agree with that,’ said Clinton, smiling. ‘And I

SHARON FARMER/THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

As President, Bill Clinton, left, was drawn to the idea that he might help bring India and Pakistan together, and for the task he chose Strobe Talbott — his fellow Rhodes Scholar and Oxford housemate

guess you just volunteered.’ He was right: I was by now deep enough into the assignment to be intrigued by the prospect of seeing it through. ‘Just call me a glutton for punishment,’ I said. ‘I’ll call you anything you want — as long as you don’t screw it up.’ The next day, Jaswant Singh arrived in New York ostensibly to participate in a conference on narcotics at the United Nations. He used the occasion to take counsel from Frank Wisner, who was widely regarded by Indians and Americans alike as a wise head on the perennially troubled relationship. Scheduling the meeting proved difficult, so the two ended up having their conversation in the back seat of a limousine on FDR Drive. Singh was careful to betray no anxiety about what awaited him in Washington, although he probed Frank in a low-key fashion about the mood in the US government and about me as his interlocutor. In his previous job as ambassador to India, Frank had doggedly argued for the longstanding American policy of uncompromising opposition to India’s

nuclear weapons program. After the tests, however, he felt that the United States must find a way of living and working with a nuclear-armed India. Frank believed that to continue treating India as an outcast or probationer would be a huge mistake. Somehow a way had to be found to bridge what he saw as ‘the chasm of history and estrangement.’ Frank believed that, paradoxically, the tests might make it easier to revitalize the relationship. Perhaps Pokhran II had ‘unshackled the diplomacy’ in the sense that neither the United States nor India could hide any longer behind the ambiguity of past Indian policy; they would now had to deal with the issues — and with each other — head-on. As a private citizen Frank could say all that, and Singh, as the Indian official assigned the task of bridge-building, took considerable encouragement

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from hearing it. While in New York, Singh laid out for several interviewers a strategic justification for the tests. India, he said, was filling the nuclear security vacuum left by the collapse of the USSR: ‘If you examine the stretch from roughly Vancouver to Vladivostok, you have a kind of a nuclear security paradigm that has come into existence through the dissolution of (the) Warsaw Pact. The Asia Pacific is covered in part. China is an independent nuclear power in its own right. It is only Southern Asia and Africa that are out of this protective pattern of security arrangements. Therefore, this, in our assessment and strategic evaluation, is an area uncovered and is a vacuum. If we have the kind of neighborhood that India has, which is extremely troubled, and if we have two declared nuclear weapons powers in our neighborhood, the basic requirement is to acquire a balancing deterrent capability.’ In other press events and a speech at the Asia Society, Singh said that by testing and thereby offering a nuclear counterweight to Chinese power, India had corrected a ‘disequilibrium’ in the Asian nuclear balance. That it was not just a favor India was doing the world, it was something India had to do in the face of its own most formidable potential enemy: ‘Large parts of the world today enjoy the benefit of the extended deterrence of nuclear weapons powers... (but) missing in the flood of comment on India’s decision to test nuclear weapons... are informed assessments of India’s own security predicament.’ He went public with what he had told (George) Perkovich over the phone: India was ‘willing to discuss the (Comprehensive Test Ban) Treaty, but not sign it when a gun is put to our head and we are informed that either you sign this paper or else.’ He also let it be known that Madeleine Albright’s comment in the Rose Garden several days before that India had ‘dug itself into a hole’ smacked to him of a cultural insult: ‘I must point out that, civilizationally, we, in India, do not dig holes to bury ourselves, even metaphorically speaking (Hindus do not bury their dead; they cremate them). Therefore, this observation exemplifies yet another fundamental lack of comprehension about the Indian state and about addressing Indian sensitivities.’ I was watching on the television in my office, in part because I wanted to get my first look at the man who would be coming to my office two days later. I concluded it was just as well that he and Madeleine would not be meeting this time around. I was also struck by his locution, slightly orotund yet elegant, more affecting than affected. Anyone who used the adverbial form of ‘civilization’ must take the qualities associated with the noun seriously. Jaswant Singh arrived at the State Department mid-morning on Friday, June 12. The meeting began in my outer office, which I used mostly for large gatherings and ceremonial occasions. Bruce Riedel came over from the White House to attend, and Singh was accompanied by (Indian) Ambassador (Naresh) Chandra, along with note-takers from the State Department and India’s ministry of external affairs. This was the normal procedure for a diplomatic encounter of this kind, especially since the visitor and I were meeting for the first time on behalf of our leaders and on a matter of great contention between two governments that had rarely been in

‘Don’t ask the way to a village if you don’t want to get there’

Indian leaders, scientists and defense personnel in Pokhran after the nuclear test in May 1998. With only two years to go in his Presidency, the nuclear test gave Bill Clinton a powerful incentive to make up for lost time, believes Strobe Talbott

harmony. In an attempt to rise above a stilted exchange of set pieces, I arranged with Bruce in advance that as soon as Singh and I had dispensed with opening pleasantries, I would invite him to join me alone in my back office. A one-on-one, without note-takers, would, I hoped, permit us to probe each other’s official positions more deeply, range more widely, and test how we might get along with each other. Bruce was fully in favor of this departure from the usual form. Chandra, unsurprisingly, was not. Singh nodded, but otherwise remained poker-faced. Once we were alone, I offered him a comfortable wing chair, although he did not look in the least comfortable sitting in it. Singh always carried himself like the soldier he had once been. His ramrod posture gave him an air of severity accentuated by his dark blue sherwani, which Westerners often call a Nehru suit, the collar buttoned tight at the neck. He spoke in a sonorous baritone and measured, often rather complex sentences. On the occasion of our first meeting, both his body English and his spoken English conveyed an extra degree of caution. Perhaps overcompensating a bit, I lounged on a couch opposite him and suggested that we shift from addressing each other by our titles to using our first names. He agreed, but in the substance of the conversation that followed about the nuclear issue, we both stayed close to our prepared briefs, each reviewing, politely but firmly, our government’s positions. India regarded the Pokhran test as an exercise of its sovereign rights and an act of military necessity,

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while the United States regarded it as an irresponsible and dangerous provocation. The principal American concern was that other countries with the capability and aspiration to have nuclear weapons would see India as having provided them with a tempting precedent. Jaswant asked me to look at what I had said from the Indian point of view: India was still excluded, as it had been for “the fifty wasted years” of US-Indian relations, from ‘its rightful acceptance’ as a normal, mature power; it had long been subjected to a double standard, denied the right to defend itself against its enemies. Foremost among those was China — ‘the principal variable in the calculus’ of Indian foreign and defense policy. As for India’s decision to go forward with the Pokhran II test, the United States bore its own share of responsibility for that development, ‘complicating as it may be.’ India might have been able to live with nuclear weapons merely as an ‘option’ and not felt it necessary to proceed with ‘overt weaponization’ had it not been for the indefinite extension of the NPT and Washington’s obvious intention to universalize the CTBT. The NPT in particular made a mockery of the goal of universal disarmament to which India had long subscribed since it legitimized nuclear weaponry. What gave the United States the right to say that there was anything illegitimate about India’s desire to guard its own security, including against nuclear

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— remembering what Clinton had said during our conversation at Camp David — India, having made itself part of the problem of proliferation by testing, should now find ways of making itself part of the solution. First and foremost, that meant never testing again. The best way of providing such a pledge would be to join the CTBT. Jaswant replied that it was further eviW M112 dence of unequal treatment that the established nuclear powers would insist on powers like China? India’s signing the CTBT after only one We fairly quickly exhausted our briefs test, while they had carried out some two on this subject. As it turned out, the most thousand. time-consuming and heated issue Nevertheless, he continued, India was between us was not nuclear weaponry, prepared to “find a modus vivendi with the but Pakistan. When that topic arose, US and with the global nuclear order” which was only when I raised it, Jaswant through participation in a number of arms would either sigh or shake his head control agreements, as long as none of wearily, as though I had diverted us into them required India to renounce either an area that was neither pleasant nor what it had already done or what it might germane — nor, for that matter, suitable feel necessary to do in the future to ensure for lengthy discussion between represenits security. He affirmed his government’s tatives of two ‘major powers,’ a category “de facto adherence to the spirit” of the that, for him, did not include Pakistan. CTBT and repeated what he had told As far as India was concerned, Pakistan Perkovich: in exchange for the lifting of was not just India’s sibling but its twin — American sanctions, India might take the “we are born of the same womb,” said next step, “de jure formalization of our Jaswant. However, from the moment of REUTERS position and acceptance of the letter of the its birth, Pakistan had gone terribly and Strobe Talbott with then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad. While permanently wrong. He did not take he was engaging India, Talbott was also speaking to Pakistan to halt an arms race in South Asia treaty.” The possibility of attaining this goal seriously — or at least he did not want seemed to be the most concrete and promising thing I pointed out that the United States had been, in me to think he took seriously — the chance of Jaswant had said and might be the basis for further recent years, moving toward delinkage of the kind he nuclear war between India and Pakistan, a relatively talks between us. We agreed that each of us would wanted. Since the end of the Cold War, Americans small, incurably troubled, and incorrigibly troubleassemble a team of experts and hold a series of meethad been thinking about India more in its own right, some country that dreamed of a parity with India it ings. To increase the chances of success, we would as a major regional power with the potential of would never attain or deserve. China was a power keep the substance of our discussions confidential, becoming a global one as well. It was India’s nuclear and a threat worthy of India’s strategic attention, not since leaks would only stir up trouble from those on test, along with the totally predictable consequence Pakistan. both sides who opposed compromise. of Pakistan’s that had refocused everyone on the I remarked that since Kashmir had already been Jaswant agreed. He asked that we be careful not to extent to which the two countries’ fates were, like it the casus belli for two wars between India and characterize our talks as a ‘negotiation,’ since that or not, interlocked. Pakistan, and very nearly several more, that issue too word implied retreat from ‘basic and immutable So the hyphen was not inserted between India and would, have to be on the agenda if US-Indian diplonational positions.’ Instead, we should conduct a ‘diaPakistan by outsiders. Rather, the two countries put macy were to resume. logue,’ the term that had already been applied to the it there themselves. It symbolized the way they prosJaswant, whose expression was deadpan most of exchanges that (Indian) Foreign Secretary K ecuted their relentless and seemingly endless anithe time, pulled a sour face. Kashmir, he said, should Raghunath had come to Washington to begin with mosity. They were, I said, like a pair of boxers, either be regarded as an issue of ‘closed history’ and a ‘case Tom Pickering thirteen days before Pokhran II. throwing punches in war or, when ostensibly at study in the rather fraught psychology of our neighHowever we explained our diplomacy in public, he peace, snarling at each other in a clinch. bors.’ It was not ‘fitting’ as a topic for international said, “People will demand of me, ‘Why are you even Scheduled to last an hour, the meeting stretched diplomacy. We should not let the Pakistanis’ obsestalking to the Americans about matters that are none for more than two and a half, nearly causing me to be sion with Kashmir make the hard work of improving of their business?’” That question, he said, would come late for my son Adrian’s graduation from high school. US-Indian relations all the harder. Americans must from parliament and from the press. It would also Toward the end Jaswant and I returned to the be especially careful not to fall into the trap of seeing come, I suspected-though he didn’t say so — from his nuclear issue. We agreed that however far apart our Kashmir as a flash point because that would only more hard-line colleagues in the BJP. positions, there was still an overriding need to reconplay into the Pakistanis’ game of trying to lure us How would he deal with that challenge? I asked. cile India’s security concerns with Washington’s nononto their side of a tiresome and pointless argument. He gave me a wan smile and replied that he would proliferation agenda. The Pakistanis kept talking about Kashmir as somemerely quote a proverb from his native Rajasthan: For Jaswant, reconciliation required the United thing that was ‘stolen or lost,’ when in fact it was nei“Don’t ask the way to a village if you don’t want to get States to accept India’s nuclear weaponry as a fact of ther. Pakistan’s fixation with Kashmir should be there.” life. understood as an objectification of Pakistan’s Like many of Jaswant’s utterances, this one took From the American point of view, India would have predicament as a lost soul among nations, an ersatz some unpacking. I hoped it would throw off his critics to accept that the United States would not do anything country whose founders’ only real legacy was a perback home as effectively as it stumped me when I first that diluted the NPT. That meant Washington could manent reminder of what a tragic mistake partition heard it. But once I had sorted out the double neganot grant India an exception that gave it the privileges had been. tive, I got the point: Since India and the US both had and benefits of NPT membership. Because India After I had referred several times to ‘Indiaan interest in finding a way out of the dead end they would remain outside the NPT, it would be ineligible Pakistan’ relations, Jaswant registered a complaint had reached, there was no harm, and maybe some for certain forms of assistance available to non-nuclear with the phrase and especially with the hyphen, good, in their representatives talking about how to do member states. Principal among those was help in since it encouraged the world to think of the two so. developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes, pricountries as locked in a deadly embrace. “Why do marily the generation of electricity. you Americans keep hyphenating us with Pakistan?” Excerpted from Engaging India by Strobe Talbott, As long as India understood those parameters, I he asked, “These linkages are unwarranted — they Penguin Books India, with the publisher’s kind permissaid, it might be possible for the United States to find are deeply resented in my country. ‘India-Pakistan’ is sion. ways of easing sanctions. But for that to happen, I said a false equation.”


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aswant Singh, then India’s foreign minister, and Strobe Talbott held an unprecedented 14 rounds of talks that brought the US-India relationship back from the brink and ushered in a new beginning. In an engaging conversation with Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi, Singh looks back at his first meeting with Talbott after India’s 1998 nuclear tests, the subsequent dialogue conducted in several countries, and salutes his American friend’s diplomatic skills and statesmanship. What was the background of the talks with Strobe Talbott? How did it begin? When the Indian nuclear test was conducted in 1998, the United States, of course, was greatly troubled by it. It (the nuclear test) encountered US state policy on nuclear issues. The US was also troubled by the fact that it was unable to gather any intelligence about the test prior to it being conducted. Considering all their satellite operations, all the intelligence that they had, it was a great disappointment to them. I wasn’t sure (about the talks). I asked Mr Vajpayee (then Indian’s prime minister). He asked me to go to the US and see if we could repair relations. The first thing I had to do was to establish whether I would be at all welcomed by the United States. The statements that were issued in the US and in Europe were condemnatory and troubling. I wasn’t going to the US or anywhere else as a supplicant. India is not a supplicant. I was going because we wanted to explain the rationale of our stand. We were doing what we did for India’s national security and national good. Finally, I got the message that yes, I would be received. And the person deputed by the US government was Strobe Talbott. Within India, then, there was some controversy. Strobe didn’t hold any ministerial level rank like me. They implied that I should be talking to Madeleine Albright (then the secretary of state). This was empty ritualism. I had no difficulty in talking to Talbott. You speak to whoever the United States of America deputes. I wasn’t alone. I had with me Naresh Chandra (then the Indian ambassador to the

and I.’ He said, ‘Yes, I do wish to ask the way.’ That was the start. When you took off from India, what was the prevailing view America had about India at that time? What America wanted was to roll back (India’s nuclear plan). But rolling back was not an option. Abandoning would affect our security. The US was determined because that was President Clinton’s stated policy. How did both of you get along so well? Intellectually, Strobe and I could relate to each other. Why did it happen? I don’t know. Fundamentally, we approached the whole issue honestly and with integrity. Strobe endeavored to serve his nation’s interest to the best of his ability. I tried to do the same for India. It was not the question of who gave in. The question was — how do I convey India’s position convincingly without being combative about it? Yes, there was disagreement. But I don’t recall if ever we were disagreeable about specific things. What were the parameters within which you were working? What were the parameters… except the rationale about India’s nuclear program? In 1998, a new paradigm had come into the system, which was different. India was all for the Vladivostok agreement (between the US and Russia that agreed to curb strategic nuclear weapons). A new nuclear regime had come into existence and India was out of it. Yet, we had our national security problem. The fundamental question that India has to address was: How do we address the challenges to our national security? Mr Vajpayee’s government took the decision that it would be better to be explicit HITESH HARISINGHANI about our nuclear power rather than (it be) implied or hidden and enhance the US) and Alok Prasad, who is now India’s ambassaprogram. The US, on the other hand, was pushing dor to Japan. for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. How did your first meeting with Talbott go? Could you clarify the controversy regarding your It went well. Strobe greeted me. My first sentence agreeing to sign the CTBT? Strobe Talbott has menafter the meeting was: ‘Strobe, I would like to share tioned it in his book, Engaging India. the saying that we have in Rajasthan: “If you don’t That’s the authoritative version. If the parliament want to go to the village, then don’t ask the way to of India were to agree to the CTBT, only then would it.” We have to make up our mind. If we want good relations with India, if we want good relations with the US, then we can start asking the way, both you M116 X


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we be able to move forward. That’s what you said? Yes. You conveyed that you are almost ready to sign the CTBT? It’s a question of how he intercepted (what I said). In diplomatic parlance, the scheme is to convey what you wish to convey in the manner as it is explicitly possible under the circumstances. But I do feel this is possibly one of the few exceptional negotiations where instead of going for each other’s throats, we became civil friends. I continue to value the relationship that evolved because it is a valuable relationship, both to me personally and to US-India relations. What was the secret behind having the negotiations in different locations? No secret reasons. It was just convenient. We had diplomatic obligations. He was traveling, I was traveling. So where do we meet? The best option was to meet at airports! What was his temperament like? Was he a hard nut to crack? I don’t think of Strobe as a hard nut. He certainly is a man of great abilities and intellect and statesmanship for the United States of America, with COURTESY THE STATE DEPARTMENT superb diplomatic skills. It was a very Strobe Talbott returns to the State Department, discussing his vision for South Asia with Assistant Secretary interesting phase of my political- of State for South Asian Affairs Robert O Blake, second from left, and others diplomatic career. These are the great differences. For over a decade That’s why he is almost considered not ‘pro-India’. When you look back to the history that you two Pakistan was an ally of the USA. India had not been, I think that is a very childish way to look at it. created, what are the enduring diplomatic achievereally, an ally until the dialogue with Strobe started Because he holds certain firm views on non-prolifments? and President Clinton’s visit to India became the eration and therefore he is anti-India is not the way What is enduring is that it is continuing. The turning point. to think. Indo-US relationship, thereafter, never, really, When you look back, what are nice things you As a friend of India he should consider the argulooked back. It continues to move forward. That remember about the talks with Strobe Talbott? ment that India needs nuclear power. doesn’t mean there are no disagreements. Its intellectual content. On that point, he might not agree. I don’t think It is not necessary that two great countries and The civility, and the level at which the conversawe need to probe into this. We don’t have to have two governments agree on everything on every tion took place. relations only with the great countries that agree on occasion. It never descended to Tu-tu-main-main (the all issues. Why should they? Besides the nuclear issue, what were the issues on blame game)! Did the talks break down at any point? Did you say which there was disagreement? Brajesh Mishra was part of the Prime Minister’s ‘I can’t…’? In the early years, I had difficulty in conveying to Office at that time. He was a former diplomat who I don’t think I said it. He said it on one or two Strobe and his colleagues that I feel real danger thoroughly understood your brief. We get the feeling occasions. from Afghanistan and, also, Pakistan. that he wasn’t with you. Like? I found that whenever I said this, it was assumed I was asked by the prime minister (Atal Bihari I can’t say. that either I was trying to side- step the issue of Vajpayee) to handle this matter. I handled it as best Give us just one example. non-proliferation, CTBT, or I was trying to get into I could. On non-proliferation. the usual South Asian tendency to hit at the neighBrajesh Mishra may have wanted to handle it, but There was great pressure on President Clinton at borhood when it doesn’t suit them. he had other responsibilities. that time. Strobe was very keen to have a diplomatI recall it very well. I had told Strobe that I pray it More than ten years later, how do you look back at ic breakthrough on non-proliferation with India. It should never happen, but I fear that the evil that has that time? would have taken the heat away from the other invaded my land, that is India, will someday in the I look at it with a degree of satisfaction. I do think challenges that President Clinton faced. form of terrorism, invade your country too. I am without wanting to boast about it, that the dialogue I think there was a failure on my part that I was troubled at recalling it, but that (9/11) eventually of 14 rounds between Strobe and I did lay the founnot able to convey to Strobe how India is the exisdid take place. dation of the Indo-US relationship and enabled tential adversary for Pakistan, while for India, Many Indian analysts and diplomats are edgy India and the US to bring in a new start. Pakistan is not. I tried to explain that our nuclear when they talk about Strobe Talbott. They feel he is Did you or Strobe give each other any gifts? program was not Pak-centric while Pakistan’s very tough on non-proliferation. I think the gift was Indo-US relations. (nuclear) program was India-centric. Why should he not be?


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owards the beginning of November Strobe called me on the telephone. He used our fairly lengthy conversation then ‘to both consult and inform me about certain developments.’ He said President Clinton would now be moving towards ‘exercising his executive authority for a waiver of sanctions.’ But before that he would obviously set in motion a process of serious exchanges with key figures in the United States Congress. All this, Strobe said, was born of the ‘president’s appraisal of the initiative that India had already taken and his highest appreciation of the prime minister’s various steps.’ But before the partial removal of the ban, there was another event of some significance — a speech by Strobe further clarifying the American position. He told his audience at the Brookings in Washington that his speech was a response to my contribution to a Foreign Affairs issue. He said, ‘The tests in May have increased tensions, highlighted the consequences of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and posed a serious challenge to the viability of the global non-proliferation regime. That means we have no choice but to adjust the focus of our diplomacy accordingly, even while our longterm objectives and interests remain intact.’ He then outlined the principles that had guided the American team in this dialogue: ‘First, we remain committed to the common position of the P-5, G-8 and South Asia Task Force, notably including on the long-range goal of universal adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We do not and will not concede, even by implication, that India and Pakistan have established themselves as nuclear weapons states under the NPT. Unless and until they disavow nuclear weapons and accept safeguards on all their nuclear activities, they will continue to forfeit the full recognition and benefits that accrue to members in good standing of the NPT… This is a crucial and immutable guideline for our policy, not least because otherwise we would break faith with the states that foreswore a capability they could have acquired — and we would inadvertently provide an incentive for any country to blast its way into the ranks of the nuclear weapons states.’ I left Delhi for Rome on the morning of November 17. The round of discussions that followed brought me down to earth. Strobe forced the pace and sought to ‘adhere to a game plan based on a timeframe’. Till then, there had been no deadlines, no time frame for agreements or their implementation. Strobe spelt

United States that India would simply not do anything under duress. I added a caution that we could not expect remarkable progress every time we met, that there would be time when we would have to pause, to take stock, and to reassess the whole situation. We issued a joint statement after the Rome round, and somewhat anodyne though it might have been, it still was ‘joint.’ And there was more in this joint statement than in any Indo-American statement even earlier. In January 1999, Strobe came on a return visit to India, again with a large team. The restricted sessions I had with Strobe were more open in approach and so, I believe, more productive. I illustrate through a single example, based on my notes, because of which the words might not be exactly those that were used but the thoughts and contents are. We were discussing the generalities of the dialogue when Strobe said he would not accept ‘cherrypicking and a selectivity of approach, your accepting what you prefer now, leaving the rest for later.’ “What does it matter Strobe, all cherries have to ripen and be picked, or rot on the branch or, perhaps, on the ground, some now, others later.” “But there has to be a timeframe within which we deliver, you and me.” “Yes, true enough, but this timeframe is not of today’s making, we are the inheritors of our respective ends of it. How then can the ‘frame’ of it be the same?” A short silence followed. Then I added: “It will be a great pity if we consign the future of India-US relations to permanent uncertainty by harmonizing our vision. Besides, I am not SUNIL MALHOTRA/REUTERS Over a period of two-and-a-half years, Strobe Talbott and playing any devious end-game of chess by Jaswant Singh, right, met 14 times in 10 locations in seven counties engaging in the questionable tactics of sitzfleisch… Also do not push for putting a limit on India’s capabilities that binds my country’s future.” out what he called the After a bit, Strobe responded, “Jaswant, you contin‘Big Package Approach.’ ue to strive for a high-level of sincerity and always ‘He said the United through generality.” States would uphold The joint statement issued on 31 January 1999, India’s strategy, that the conveyed the essence of the talks: ‘Both delegations US objectives and its are satisfied with the outcome of the talks. As with non-proliferation role earlier meetings, the security perspectives of the two had been sub-served.’ sides were further elaborated and clarified and proThis was based on the posal for harmonizing these perspectives were tone and content of the explored. The delegations believe progress was made relationship we had in several of the subjects under discussion and built and because, he remain committed to achieving more progress in the most generously added, weeks ahead.’ of ‘your graciousness ‘In this regard, a work plan for the next steps in the and understanding and US-Indian dialogue was agreed. US and Indian inherently gentlemanly expert-level teams will meet in March (1999) for folsense of fair play’. low-up talks on export controls. The US and Indian He emphasized that delegations at the Conference on Disarmament in India would not be pressured and it had been understood in the M118 X


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Geneva will endeavor to consult frequently on the status of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) and the possibility of other multilateral initiatives. Finally, Mr Talbott and Mr Singh will remain in close contact. While these contacts continue, both sides will endeavor to create a positive atmosphere for advancing their relations. A ninth round of the dialogue is envisioned towards the middle of the year, the dates and venue to be determined in consultation between the two capitals.’ ‘The two delegations recognize that the length of the time devoted to these talks is unprecedented in US-Indian relations. It is the view of both delegations that this is time well spent, laying the foundation for a new, broad-based relationship that has eluded the United States and India in the past, which both sides are determined to achieve in the future.’ During this visit to Delhi, Strobe spoke at the India International Center. Here, he said the United States and India ‘should be natural partners, but all too often in history, circumstances and incompatibilities of perspective seemed to have kept us from being so. This is a reality. But this is not necessarily a permanent one or an immutable one.’ REUTERS The year drew to a close with Kandahar. Then President Bill Clinton, center, and First Lady Hillary Clinton with then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the White House, Drained and emotionally exhausted by the September 17, 2000. This visit laid the foundation of US-India military cooperation challenge of the hijack, I met with Strobe nuclear deterrent. I have reiterated our firm comsteer clear of an arms race or further nuclear tests. again, for the ninth time, in London on 18 and 19 mitment not to conduct further nuclear explosive The Indian prime minister responded by reassuring January 2000. The atmosphere had changed beyond tests, not to engage in a nuclear arms race, and not his guest that ‘India’s policy was no threat to the US, recognition. This was a post-Kargil, post-Kandahar to be the first to use nuclear weapons against any (and that) India was not keen on a war with Pakistan phase; we were relating to one other in a very differcountry.’ or on an arms race.’ The talks ended with a tenent manner. It was not adversarial at all anymore, Following President Clinton’s visit, Prime minute discussion between the two leaders, without much more candid, much more trusting. Minister Vajpayee undertook a return visit to any aides. Later, they issued a joint ‘vision’ statement It was at this London meeting that India and the Washington between 13 and 17 September 2000. setting out their ‘resolve to create a close and cumuUnited States agreed to form a Joint Working Group The theme that underlined Prime Minister latively new relationship’ between the two countries. (JWG) on counter-terrorism. The talks continued to Vajpayee’s visit was a ‘further deepening and widenThey agreed to be ‘partners in peace, with a common remain concentrated on security and nuclear noning of Indo-US relations, as between two equals’. interest in a complementary responsibility for ensurproliferation, but the focus on terrorism had also got There was scarcely any discordant note. It was this ing regional and international security,’ promising to pushed to the front, particularly after Kandahar. visit that laid the foundation of Indo-American mil‘work together for strategic stability in Asia and The question of the CTBT (Comprehensive Test itary cooperation. The endeavor that had begun beyond.’ Ban Treaty) and other aspects of non-proliferation with Pokhran II had borne fruition. In a press statement, the prime minister put the remained, but what had gained importance were On 17 September, President Clinton and First new relationship in perspective, calling it ‘a durable, events between India and Pakistan that had occurred Lady Hillary Clinton hosted a state banquet at the politically constructive and economically productive in 1999. White House (in a huge tent set up in the South partnership between the world’s two largest democStrobe had wanted to know more about the Lawn) in honor of the Indian prime minister. More racies.’ ‘President Clinton and I have just signed a Kandahar incident. The most I could say was it was than seven hundred guests of diverse backgrounds vision statement. The statement outlines the cona ‘near impossible hijack to negotiate… in Kandahar attended. It was the largest banquet ever held by tours of and defines the agenda of our partnership in we did not have even a toehold’. I then shared a few the Clinton administration. By then Strobe knew the twenty-first century. We both agreed that our thoughts about the American role before, during and and I knew that the venture on which we had startcommitment to the principles and practice of after that hijack. Strobe personally had been most ed would remain unfinished. We had set out on our democracy constitutes the bedrock of our relations supportive. It was also in London that we discussed journey looking for a ‘way to that village’. We had and for our cooperative efforts internationally for President Clinton’s decision to visit India. Strobe found the way, I was sure, but we had not the time peace, prosperity and democratic freedom… We have reassured me that the visit ‘was not related to any to cover the journey and reach the village. also concluded agreements and understandings on progress on NPT.’ Elections followed in the United States and the the establishment of very wide-ranging dialogue Clinton reached Delhi on 19 March accompanied Democrats lost the While House. In September architecture.’ by his daughter Chelsea and an entourage of sixty2000, at a lunch in San Francisco that George On the issues Strobe and I had struggled over, three officials and more than a hundred journalists. Schultz, secretary of state in the Reagan years, Prime Minister Vajpayee added, ‘President Clinton After a ceremonial welcome at Rashtrapati Bhavan, kindly and thoughtfully arranged for me, I also met and I had a frank discussion on the issues of disarand a visit to the Gandhi Memorial, President Condoleezza Rice. Somewhere in the distance, the mament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass Clinton’s official dialog with Prime Minister Vajpayee village still beckoned. destruction. The dialogue, which is in progress took place. The meeting went on for an hour-and-abetween our two countries on these issues, has half. On non-proliferation, Clinton was firm, but not Excerpted from A Call to Honor: In Service of enhanced mutual understanding of our respective offensive. Emergent India by Jaswant Singh, Rupa & Co, with concerns. I’ve explained to President Clinton the Although he acknowledged India had the ‘right to the author’s kind permission. reasons that compel us to maintain a minimum determine its own security needs,’ he wanted India to


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India breaking out of the nuclear isolation imposed upon it after Pokhran-II was the biggest contribution of the Singh-Talbott dialogue, notes C Raja Mohan

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ithin a month of the nuclear tests, however, there was a tentative contact between the US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Jaswant Singh. The two agreed to initiate a dialogue to reconcile India’s security concerns with the nonproliferation objectives of the United States. Talbott insisted that the US was not exploring a deal that would find a way out of the countries’ apparently irreconcilable objectives. Rather the US, he said, was looking for Indian compliance with five benchmarks derived from the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) Resolution 1172; these were signing on to the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty), joining the President Bill Clinton with Jaswant Singh, left, and then Secretary of State negotiations on the FMCT (Fissile Material Cut- Madeleine Albright, in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, Agra. Despite the failure off Treaty), tightening Indian controls over the to conclude a nuclear understanding, Clinton chose to visit India in March 2000 to initiate a political rapprochement exports of sensitive technologies and comreturn for a substantive easing of US sancmodities, adopting non-threatening nuclear tions. In interviews given to the author weapons posture and lessening Indowithin a span of a few weeks, Singh and Pakistani tensions through dialogue. Singh Talbott hinted at how far the two sides had also suggested he was not in talks with moved towards a nuclear accommodation. Talbott to finesse a compromise that would Singh, in an interview at the end of 1999, demean India; New Delhi was engaging hinted at the possibility of India signing Washington to make it appreciate India’s the treaty while holding back on its ratifisecurity concerns. cation; he also distanced the government Singh and Talbott began to meet almost from some of the more expansive plans for every month until early 1999 and then less the Indian nuclear weapons program — frequently until early 2000. While neither the Draft Nuclear Doctrine that was issued side would acknowledge it was in search of by the National Security Advisory Board in compromises, each in fact was. The United August 1999. States sought legally binding restraints on India’s Talbott, on the other hand, suggested that the US, nuclear program that would limit its size and sophiswhile disagreeing with the Indian decision to go tication. Washington was not willing to end its politinuclear, would not insist on India joining the NPT cal opposition to India’s nuclear weapons program, (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) and giving up the nor would it legitimize it by accepting it as a reality. nuclear weapons program; it might acknowledge, In return for India’s acceptance of limits on its prohowever, India’s right to press ahead with sub critical gram, Washington was willing to ease its sanctions. testing of nuclear weapons, which the CTBT permitIndia, on the other hand, was declaring that it had no ted. interest in pursuing an untrammeled nuclear After many rounds of dialogue, the countries weapons program; it was interested only in a miniappeared close to clinching a deal, but in the end they mum credible deterrent that would be guided by a could not do it. In India, the government’s efforts to no-first-use policy. build a consensus on signing the treaty did not take India was also willing to consider binding conoff, thanks to the appearance of a rapid turnaround in straints on its nuclear program, but it was unwilling the Indian position. Getting the political establishto accept any suggestion of its rollback; in return for ment to agree to sign the CTBT foundered amidst the its restraint, India wanted an American political US Senate’s refusal to consider ratifying the treaty. In acknowledgement of New Delhi as a nuclear weapons the United States, there was a strong reluctance withpower and the removal of all sanctions against India, in the nonproliferation establishment to lift the many including those technology restrictions imposed high-technology sanctions that had accumulated since after the first nuclear test of May 1974, not just those 1974. The arms control community in the US was that followed Pokhran-II. dead set against being seen as rewarding India for its The essence of the deal boiled down to an Indian violation of non-proliferation norms. adherence to the CTBT, which was emblematic of the Despite the failure to conclude a nuclear underClinton administration’s arms control policies, in

standing, President Clinton chose to go ahead with his visit to India in March 2000 and initiate a political rapprochement with New Delhi. India’s campaign with the political establishment in Washington against the policy of not engaging India was beginning to pay off. Clinton himself moved from punishing India for its nuclear transgressions to building a new partnership, despite the continuing differences over the nuclear issue. In his address to the Indian parliament on March 22, 2000, he offered an extended critique of India’s decision to go nuclear, but his tone was respectful and gave the sense of a debate among equals. Furthermore, he unveiled a future vision of Indo-US relations that was appealing and warm. The Clinton magic was such that the entire Indian parliament, for a long time the deepest skeptic of American intentions towards India, was swooning over the American President. In one speech, Clinton had transformed the atmosphere of Indo-US relations. While parts of the punitive framework that the US had imposed in May and June 1998 remained in place, the two sides renewed their bilateral engagement across a broad front. Once Clinton signaled America’s readiness to engage India, the rest of the world leaders were queuing up to visit New Delhi. India broke out of the nuclear isolation that was imposed upon it after Pokhran-II. That in fact was the biggest contribution of the Singh-Talbott dialogue. While the nuclear differences themselves could not be resolved, the sustained conversation between Singh and Talbott produced a much greater appreciation of each other’s security concerns. It was the most intensive bilateral engagement between the two countries in fifty years. Never before had the two nations had such detailed discussions at the high political level over such a long period of time. As Talbott explained, ‘We’re getting better at disagreeing without being disagreeable with each other. We are developing the kind of mutual confidence — on a personal level, but I think also on a governmentto-government level — that is needed to work constructively on sensitive and important issues, including national security, counterterrorism and non-proliferation.’ Talbott was referring to the intensive communications between the two governments during the Kargil War and the crisis resulting from the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar via the United Arab Emirates. In both the situations of great difficulty for India, the United States played a positive role, which created the basis for trust and confidence between the two nations. Excerpted from Crossing the Rubicon, The Shaping of India’s New Foreign Policy by C Raja Mohan, with the author’s kind permission.


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Haley may have inherited her cleverness from her mother and the thoughtfulness from her father, but she is indebted to two others for her political success. One is her ‘rock and best friend’ Michael Haley, who stood firmly beside her when allegations against her appeared during the gubernatorial campaign. He never doubted Nikki, who he first met in college. He never tried to throw his weight around, stayed in the background, and took care of their children Rena and Nalin. The other, Tim Pearson, a young man from Connecticut, worked as chief of staff on former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s failed Presidential campaign. How he came to South Carolina to work for an unknown candidate, who was always at the bottom of opinion polls, is mystifying. If Sarah Palin’s endorsement put Haley ahead in South Carolina, Pearson’s ground work kept the campaign’s momentum going till Election Day. Much has been written about Nikki Haley since she appeared on the political horizon, but perhaps most touching was a letter her father-in-law wrote to a local newspaper in response to a story after Haley got elected to the state House in 2004, ‘She is first-rate in all she does, worked hard on her campaign and deserves everything that happened in the election. I am very proud of her.’

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Nikki Haley celebrates her gubernatorial victory with husband Michael, far left, who stood firmly by her side no matter how bad the mudslinging got, daughter Rena and son Nalin

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make sure that we look at all the issues. I am a great fan of Governor Palin and she was very good to me at a time when I needed it. But I think even she would expect me to go and look at the issues and look at the candidates and see what is best. Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar was here for your inauguration and has invited you to India and you are thinking of a trip to India in the fall. Have schedules been worked out? Will you lead a highpowered trade delegation because India is just galloping in terms of the economy and, there’s always the chance that it can generate employment in South Carolina? I met with the Ambassador. We were so excited to have her here. But I also met her in her home and I was so excited about that and we talked about a trip to India. I would love to go. I haven’t been since I was two years old and so I certainly want to go. But more importantly, there are great Indian companies that are now looking to invest in the United States and I want them investing in South Carolina. We are a great state — a pro-business state. The cost of doing business here is low, our trained work force is great. We got a right to work state, so we keep the unions out. So, we got a lot of companies calling me right now, saying they want to come like aerospace, automotive, research and development. So, I am heavily recruiting. Since I’ve taken office, we’ve brought 7,000 jobs. The unemployment num-

ber is down for the fourth time in a row. Exports are up, tourism is up and it would only make sense that we go to India and say, we want you here, we welcome you here, please come to South Carolina. So, it’s very much on the cards — a trip to India sometime in the fall and you would be taking a very high-powered trade delegation with you? Absolutely, with the whole emphasis of trying to see how much trade we can bring to the United States. And, finally, getting back again to the entrenched establishment, which you’ve taken on here and the fact that recently you got legislation pushed through on voting records. Are you going to continue hammering away at this, come what may, and whatever feathers you may ruffle? Is that your commitment, and do you feel that you can do that because you can carry the people with you? My job is to prove that there are results. It’s not about what you say; it’s about what you do. And so, since we’ve taken office, aside from the unemployment numbers going down and bringing in jobs, we’ve passed Medicaid reforms, we’ve got every legislator now voting on the record and they weren’t doing that. Last week, we signed a bill that said that if you vote, you have to show a picture ID. We are debating Tort reform right now. We are also debating restructuring. That’s my job to prove results. I want the people of the state and this country to really know what it’s like when an elected official works for them. I won’t stop until I prove that.

The Governor W M3 showed the new face of its polity — which, incensed by the attacks against her, made sure Nikki Haley would march into the history books. A victory that was considered so newsworthy that Newsweek magazine featured her on its cover and in the words of her father, Professor Ajit Randhawa, made him so proud because it “represented the face of the new South.” “Her driving force was because she was doing the things which people wanted. Not the establishment, but what people wanted,” Randhawa said. As her longtime friend and supporter Bhavna Vasudeva — who along with her husband Dr Rajeev Vasudeva hosted the first fundraiser for Haley when she ran for state representative and also when she declared her intent to run for governor — said, “The bad was bad, but it was turned into good.” A good, which according to Bhavna Vasudeva, meant South Carolina “saw through the mud-slinging and saw to the heart,” of now Governor Haley. In addition to being elected governor and achieving so many firsts, if she has to some extent changed the hearts and minds of South Carolinians that America is a tapestry of all races, cultures, religions and diversity and that this is the country’s strength, that by itself would have made Nimrata ‘Nikki’ Randhawa Haley worth of being our Person of the Year.

INSIGHT: Dino Teppara and Bhavna Maker Vasudeva on Nikki Haley


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parliament. In several ways, many of the iplomats are never silent. If accomplishments of the nuclear deal were need be, they can speak anticipated in the dialogue, though Talbott much without saying anyfelt that the Bush administration had conthing. Both these dictums ceded too much to India. proved wrong for a short The benchmarks set by Talbott during the period from May 11, 1998, in the dialogue were the very issues that were tackIndia-US context. led subsequently during the negotiations on More than the Indian nuclear explothe deal. India’s moratorium on testing and sions themselves, conducted in Pokhthe possibility of India signing the CTBT, ran that day, the way it was done withnegotiations on Fissile Material Cut-off Treout even the Central Intelligence Ageaty, strict export controls and strategic restrncy knowing about it was a cardinal aint were discussed threadbare and the prisin in the eyes of the Americans and nciples established between them helped we, Indians, were convinced that we the nuclear deal negotiators. had done nothing wrong, not violated Singh indicated readiness to sign the any international law, having declined CTBT in good time, he had no problem with to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation negotiating the FMCT, and he initiated Treaty. action on strengthening export controls. Then Indian foreign secretary K REUTERS His firm position that no restriction could Raghunath had just returned from Then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, center, with Strobe Talbott, right, and be imposed on fissionable material and Washington a week before, after pro- Vajpayee’s special envoy and then Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, in New Delhi during the that the strategic assets would not be subclaiming that India’s nuclear option third round of talks on the nuclear non-proliferation issue ject to inspection remained unaffected was non-negotiable. If India’s threat even when the deal was signed. In other words, Talbott thorny issues and the message was clear that perception necessitated it, India would not and Singh ushered in the spring in India-US relations the India-US situation warranted the use of hesitate to exercise that option. after the severe winter that set in, following the the President’s master trouble shooter. He When Ambassador Naresh Chandra and I nuclear tests of 1998. was sent off to Pakistan to show ‘restraint went to see assistant secretary Rick The personal rapport between Talbott and Singh and maturity’ by not testing in response to Inderfurth at the state department, we knew played a crucial role in the dialogue. They spent most the Indian tests, but that was a mission we had a hard task to convince the of the time between themselves, without their delegaimpossible, given the political reality of Americans as to why the tests were necestions. There were many tense moments as the gulf South Asia. But the visit gave him a glimpse sary, but we did not anticipate that we would between the positions was wide, but having come to of the complexity of the issues he had to tackface deaf ears and frozen tongues. first-name terms in the first meeting itself on the inile subsequently. Of course, Inderfurth and under secretary T P Sreenivasan tiative of Talbott, the two were able to get over them Strobe Talbott not only broke the silence, but Thomas Pickering, who joined us subsequentand return to cordiality. I recall how Talbott arrived at also began an unprecedented engagement with India ly, made it clear that India had done the unthinkable the Watergate hotel in a Mercedes convertible to drive in his two year-long conversations with Jaswant Singh and it ought to be punished. But beyond that, they did Singh to his home for a dinner cooked by his wife. It is and others. Singh has stated that there was no ‘advernot want to hear anything or speak anything. astonishing that in a country, where policy is made in sarial air’ even at their first meeting. ‘Besides, Strobe Chandra, the perfect spin master, tried all the tricks diverse fora, the dialogue between two individuals led made clear early enough that the US was not set upon in his bag to draw out the Americans into a dialogue, to policy change. They signed no agreements, reached a course to ‘punish’ anybody’, he said. That was a turnbut to no avail. He said that someone could go to India no conclusions, but their contribution set the stage ing point, which set the two countries to restore diato learn more about the tests and their rationale or and tone of a new relationship between India and the logue, trust and confidence. The credit for the change someone senior could come from India to share inforUnited States. In Talbott’s own words, ‘Sometimes a in the whole atmosphere should go as much to Strobe mation, but the response was stony silence. negotiation that fails to resolve a specific dispute can Talbott as to Jaswant Singh. The Americans were silent to us, but vocal to others have general and lasting benefits, especially if it is a The Talbott-Singh dialogue, which came to be and they created a virtual blockade against India, inidialogue in fact as well as name.’ known between them as the ‘way to the village’ — tiating unprecedented sanctions and getting their Jaswant Singh described Strobe Talbott as ‘a man of derived from a Rajasthani saying, ‘Don’t ask the way to allies to follow suit. We went public and spoke to every outstanding intellectual ability, transparent integrity a village if you don’t want to get there’ — laid the founaudience we could get, but the Foggy Bottom showed and blessed with an incredible ability to see the other dations of a new relationship, which has now matured no interest in listening to us. person’s point of view.’ Talbott, on his part, was grainto a strategic partnership. The two countries indeed We knew that the US had to break the silence one cious enough to admit that ‘Jaswant Singh came closfound the way to the village. day, but its timing and modalities were not clear. The er to achieving his objective in the dialogue than I did Undoubtedly, the India-US nuclear deal would not US policy makers, we were told, had divided themto achieving mine.’ have been possible without the long, intricate and selves into ‘relationists’ and ‘non-proliferationists’ and Talbott’s engagement with India continues beyond unconventional talks they held in different continents the former favored a dialogue, while the latter wanted the Clinton administration. As the influential and cities. The talks were not smooth and easy by any India to make a significant move like signing the President of the Brookings Institution, he promotes definition as can be seen from Talbott’s Engaging Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or declaring a cessaIndia-US relations and takes policy initiatives. His India and Singh’s A Call to Honor. Both of them have tion of fissile material production. President Clinton’s friendship with India endures. kept the essential confidentiality of the dialogue, but planned visit was already a casualty. the contours of their exploration are now available. The sudden emergence of deputy secretary Strobe Ambassador T P Sreenivasan served as Deputy Chief of Talbott outlined the parameters of the dialogue in Talbott as the interlocutor with India was a sign that Mission at India’s embassy in Washington, DC, during the various accounts of it in different fora, while Singh India had become a significant power to deal with. the nuclear tests in May 1998 and thereafter. was more sketchy in his statements to the press and President Clinton had used him before to deal with


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ay 11, 1998 was a day of truly historic significance. It was the day that India demonstrated and declared to the world that it was a nuclear weapons state. It was also the day that set into motion a new era of engagement between the United States and India. But, on this latter historical point, it might have turned out otherwise. First, there was the decision by the leaders of the two countries, then president Bill Clinton and then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to stay engaged rather than walk away from each other, despite the imposition of US sanctions following India’s nuclear tests. Second, and fatefully, the US and India were extremely fortunate that the two leaders chose to entrust this task of staying engaged to individuals with whom they had close personal ties and who held their highest confidence: deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott and soon-to-be external affairs minister Jaswant Singh. History is often shaped by the intersection of defining events and the personalities of those who have the opportunity to respond and shape them. This was such an historical moment, one that redounded to the great benefit of the US-India relationship. Strobe Talbott, left, with Karl F Inderfurth at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi Over the next two-and-a-half years, the two Independence in 1947 (which Strobe would refer in officials met 14 times at 10 locations in seven counhis book as ‘The Lost Half Century’). Their discusties. As Strobe wrote in his book, Engaging India: sions were interspersed with classical allusions to the Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb, ‘These encoZeno Paradoxes and the Myth of Sisyphus and occaunters added up to the most intense and prolonged sional Delphic utterances by Jaswant such as set of exchanges ever between American and Indian ‘Perhaps our own venture has been more directional officials at a level higher than ambassadors.’ than destinational.’ Nuclear disagreements were at the heart of these All this was marked by the highest degree of civilidiscussion but, in a broader sense as Strobe ty, respect and collegiality, which Strobe and Jaswant explained, ‘Jaswant and I were dealing with each imparted to the small teams that accompanied them other on behalf of two governments that shared a on their diplomatic journey. The two were not only desire to fix something that had been broken for a pursuing a meeting of the minds, they were kindred long time: the US-India relationship.’ spirits. The two interlocutors were well suited to this task. What was the outcome of this two-and-a-half-year Both were articulate and forceful advocates for their engagement? It resulted, in Strobe’s words, to a countries’ interests and positions, but both were also ‘benign version’ of the law of unintended conseopen and inquisitive to listen and learn from the quences: ‘Sometimes a negotiation that fails to other about their views and perspectives. resolve a specific dispute can have general and lastThe intellectual quality and range of the Talbotting benefits, especially if it is a dialogue in fact as Singh dialogue, as it came to be called, was extraorwell as name. Diplomacy that meets that standard dinary. These were not your typical government offican improve and even transform the overall quality cials exchanging ‘talking points’. of relations between states.’ There were explorations into India’s civilizational And that is precisely what it did for the US and past and the course of our relations since India’s

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India, and continues to do to this day. Recently, I had an occasion to be back in touch with Jaswant Singh and I made reference to the remarkable transformation that had occurred in USIndia relations. Agreeing with me that our two countries had traveled a long way together in a short space of time, he added in his typically lyrical fashion, “But the house is far from built and in any event the sound of a stone mason’s chisel and hammer must continue to reverberate in this mansion.” That is certainly true. But if there had been a cornerstone ceremony held for the laying of the foundation for this new mansion, Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh would have been observed working together to put that cornerstone in place. Karl F Inderfurth served as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs from 1997 to 2001 and was a member of Strobe Talbott’s team during his dialogue with Jaswant Singh. Inderfurth has recently been appointed the first Wadhwani Chair for USIndia Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.


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The last 10 years have been substantial for India-US relations, but the base of a proper understanding was set during the Talbott-Singh talks, says Naresh Chandra, then India’s Ambassador to Washington

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that time was a task. ficult — in fact, impossible trobe Talbott led the United States side in The main thing was to keep things going. — to get the Senate to ratithe India-US dialogue held after the The last 10 years have been much more specific fy that treaty. Pokhran nuclear tests. There were over a and substantial than before. The base of a proper It was difficult for the US dozen rounds of talks with then Indian understanding and frequent interaction between to convince Congress about external affairs minister Jaswant Singhji, India and the US was set during those talks. A lot of diluting the sanctions, and I must say he displayed tremendous qualities of credit must go to Strobe. Even after he joined the which had to be imposed a statesman-diplomat to normalize a very difficult Brookings Institution as president he has been very under US law and not only situation. helpful in having studies done on various aspects of dilute and overcome the I am very happy that India Abroad has chosen him Indo-US relations. He has for this award. Naresh Chandra made a very substantial contriThe background had been set bution. even before. There was a frameThe talks have endured in work for strategic area talks betwthe sense that the department een the then undersecretary of of state and our foreign office state Tom Pickering and the Indian are no longer strangers as we foreign secretary (K Raghunath), were during the Cold War and but before these talks could get thereafter. While the ice had into motion we had the nuclear been broken in the 1990s — tests in 1998, and the relationship the foreign secretary and the got very complicated. undersecretary of state had a There was lot of hurt, surprise, couple of meetings to get disappointment, which had to be things going — but the point is repaired, and things had to be that even after the talks the brought back to normal keel. Presidential directive on South I don’t think the Indian and US Asia had not undergone any sides had sat together for so long. change. That came later. They had several sessions all over I think the Democratic party the world — not only in under president Clinton was Washington and Delhi, but also in very strongly committed to Frankfurt, Rome, London. non- proliferation. It was a Strobe and Singhji did a wonderhigh priority item on the ful job. He is very deserving of the President’s agenda. As loyal award that is conferred upon him. officers, Strobe, Bob Einhorn There was a great personal relaand the others were pursuing it tionship which developed between with great enthusiasm and Singh and Strobe that set the gusto, so it was difficult for atmosphere. I, of course, interacted them to make compromises as with him even before these talks were made during the Bush started. It was just a matter of administration. chance that on the day Singhji was There was a certain attitudiavailable in Washington, DC, the nal problem on both sides. The secretary of state was out of town, JASON REED/REUTERS type of interaction that is needso Strobe was the acting secretary President Barack Obama dances with children at a Mumbai school last November. Naresh ed between two great democof state. racies was not there till the We had talks, he gave us a good Chandra believes the Strobe Talbott-Jaswant Singh era, regardless of how it may seem now, was mid 1990s, so we had a lot of lunch on the 8th floor of the the foundation of the relationship India and the US enjoy today problems of perceptions and department of state and things attitudes to overcome. These talks, the frequent negatives, but to explore new avenues and expand went from good to better and best as the talks went exchange of visits, helped bring out the necessary cooperation with India in various fields like trade, along. thaw in our relationship. technology, business. Strobe was a hard nut to crack. He was a profesWith all the countries with which India has relaFrankly, we kept things on an even keel, but the sional. He was always very conscious of the interests tions, the broadest range of subjects — and more frereal breakthrough came afterwards. of the US. At that time the President was very comquently — is covered between India and the US than In the last 10 years, after the conclusion of the mitted to non-proliferation, getting the Comprehebetween India and any other country. Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks, the progress has nsive Test Ban Treaty through and he had made that been so substantial that it looks as if not much was process very complicated. I think because of the tests Naresh Chandra spoke to Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi. achieved, but just maintaining cordial relations at we did, the Clinton administration found it very dif-


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‘India is nothing but a political miracle’ Nayan Chanda salutes his friend Strobe Talbott’s affection for India

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Strobe. Bush ignored the non-proliferation issue and embraced India as a nuclear weapon power. The Civil Nuclear Agreement subsequently signed by Bush and Manmohan Singh may improve relations even further, but Strobe worried about its global consequences. He is not fazed by his critics describing him as ‘an inveterate non-proliferation ayatollah.’ India, of course, has the sovereign right to be a nuclear weapon state, he says, but, ‘I was concerned about the non-proliferation consequences. I was also worried about unrealistic expectations on the Indian side and the American side. And guess what? Those expectations have been disappointed.’ Still ‘a deal is a deal,’ he adds, ‘and we’ll have to find a way of making it work.’ In spite of this disappointment as a diplomat, as president of the Brookings Institution, he has nurtured and built upon his personal and institutional relationship with India. Apart from his emotional ties through Brooke, he also finds that ‘India is nothing but a political miracle.’ He has already made two trips to India in the course of a year and will be making a third trip in September to generate enthusiasm and support for a Brookings Institution in India and an India Center at Brookings in Washington, DC. His admiration for India, though, continues to be tinged with worry. He says ‘there seems to be a growing tendency in India for the issues that prevail in elections to be very much local, rather than all-India. In order to have a coherent and effective foreign policy,’ he notes, ‘you have to have a coherent sense among the entire population of belonging to one state, one set of interests.’ Then there is the issue of the gap between the rich and the vast number of extraordinarily poor. He acknowledges ‘the leadership is trying to do something about that, none more than Manmohan Singh. But it is nonetheless a fact of life.’ The third thing that worries Strobe is India’s tense relations with Pakistan. ‘I would be very blunt,’ he says, ‘India has moved farther than Pakistan in trying to do something about that. I would love to see the continuation of the kind of statesmanship shown by a whole string of Indian prime ministers, most recently (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. I would sure like to see it reciprocated by the Pakistani side.’ While Strobe is delighted and honored by the citation as a Friend of India, he says, ‘I sure wish she (Brooke) were with me at the event, since she was a friend of India — and had her own family in India — long before I even visited India for the first time.’ His India muse and the love of his life Brooke passed away two years ago. But the bond with India that Brooke created and nurtured for Strobe carries on with his work with Brookings. REUTERS

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ndians would have no trouble believing that Strobe Talbott’s connection to India was written in the stars. Though he was not born to a family with any India connections in a way, he was ‘married’ to India. Like many kids in America, Strobe grew up having his father read Kipling’s Jungle Book to him. He was fascinated by Mowgli, Akela and Sher Khan, who populated imaginary Indian jungles. India was also a place that caused some anxiety. As a young adult he learned about Norman Cousins’s prediction that World War III would start in the ‘Vale of Kashmir.’ It was not, however, until he was 32 that he set foot in the India he had imagined. But long before that visit, India had already come to domThough Strobe Talbott, right, was intellectually drawn to Russia, India dominated his inate Strobe’s emotional life. emotional life — his sweetheart Brooke Shearer, left, lived there for a while One of his first love letters, he engagement with India would come four recalls fondly, was mailed to Golf Links years later. in Delhi, where his sweetheart Brooke As he writes in his Engaging India, on the Shearer lived with an Indian family as morning of May 11, 1998, he was stunned to part of the Experiment in International learn from a state department colleague that Living program. During his undergradIndia had just conducted an underground uate years at Yale, and then as a Rhodes nuclear test. As someone who studied nonScholar at Oxford, (where a certain Bill proliferation issues for years, written a couClinton was his house mate) Strobe carple of books and was deeply concerned ried on his long-distance courtship about nuclear war (he still recalls the ‘duck with India in the backdrop. In 1971, he and cover’ drills when he was in elementary married the sparkling Californian, who school in the 1950s), he was troubled by the had also become a darling of the Singh Nayan Chanda implications of the development. During family in Golf Links. Strobe not only that 1994 trip to the subcontinent, he had seen how gained additional ‘in-laws,’ but found in Brooke a adamant Islamabad was about continuing its nuclear bridge to the country. (Disclosure: The author too is weapons program despite sanctions. Seventeen days married into the same family). after the Indian test, Pakistan detonated its own Intellectually, however, he was drawn to the land of nuclear devices. Dostoyevsky and Lenin. It was, thus, ironic that his Managing the nuclear crisis in the subcontinent thus first visit to India — in 1974 — got extended because became Strobe’s major preoccupation. He was Moscow refused him a visa. His involvement with the launched into a two-and-a-half-year-long dialogue memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev as translator and ediwith then Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh, tor had angered Moscow enough to deny him entry which even included a dinner cooked by Brooke at even as a Time magazine journalist accompanying their Washington home. The dialogue, though, ended then secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Booted out of in disappointment for Strobe, as India never signed the plane in Copenhagen, a dejected Strobe flew to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that the US wantDelhi, where he was supposed to land with Kissinger ed. days later. That earlier than planned arrival, however, But the most intense consultations ever to occur gave him the opportunity to see up close the land that between the US and India nonetheless helped clear had enchanted Brooke, and to meet her ‘Indian famithe air enough for a triumphal visit by President ly.’ Clinton in 2000. On July 4 the previous year, at the Twenty years later, his deeper engagement with height of the Kargil conflict, Strobe spent the day cloisIndia came as the unintended consequence of his tered with President Clinton to pressure then expertise in Soviet affairs and nuclear non-proliferaPakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to agree to unition. Originally hired on as President Clinton’s special laterally pull back his troops. There was great urgency, adviser on Russia, Strobe was named deputy secretary as US intelligence had learned that Pakistan was of state in 1994. As the number two figure in readying its nuclear-tipped missiles. The crisis had American diplomacy, he visited India and Pakistan proved that India could rely on the Clinton adminisand had his first direct experience of dealing with the tration. subcontinent and its intractable problems. It was on Strobe had played a role in launching a new stratethis trip he first met Manmohan Singh, then India’s gic partnership that grew further under President finance minister, and says he was ‘very taken with George W Bush, albeit in a direction not favored by him.’ But the event that brought Strobe to a deeper

Nayan Chanda is editor, YaleGlobal Online (http://yaleglobal.yale.edu), and author of Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers and Warriors Shaped Globalization (Yale 2007, Penguin India 2010)


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‘He is part of our family’ Tejbir Singh on Brooke and Strobe Talbott, who he has known for more than 40 years

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about five years ago, Brooke came for ejbir Singh, editor of the 52the wedding specifically (to India). So, year-old, venerable Indian one kept in touch — even though sepapublic policy journal rated by continents and miles — we Seminar, has known Strobe always met warmly, affectionately. Talbott and his late wife She was really, really, special in my Brooke Shearer for more than 40 life because when I think back, I think years. this is the longest friend I have ever had Singh, nephew of the legendary over 40 years. That is pretty unusual I Indian writer Khushwant Singh and think for anybody, but especially for grandson of Sir Sobha Singh, who me. I have not particularly kept up with built the Edwin Lutyens-designed friends from school. So for me Brooke New Delhi that became the capital of was one of the oldest friends (I’ve had). British India, first met Talbott in That was because of the kind of person London in the late 1960s: she was. She was very, very comfortable I knew Brooke and met Strobe to be with in every situation — always through Brooke. warm, always affectionate, very even This was 1968. American schools tempered. had this program where they brought This was the height of the Vietnam out a whole lot of kids towards the War when we met. We all had pretty end of their schooling to live and different views on many an issue at that study for three months while they time. Whatever may have been our travel around a (foreign) country. political positions, hers was always the My family was kind of local most gentle voice, the most measured guardian and hosts for Brooke (who voice, the calm voice. One could never was sent to India) and that was how ever find fault with her for anything. we met. She came and spent time She was just really indescribable and with us in our home in Delhi (at 179, very unusual in that sense. Golf Links). We traveled together Strobe is very similar to Brooke (in briefly. I traveled with a group of this). Both had strong views. It was not these kids to Agra. I remember that that they were gentle in beating around trip distinctly. the bush with their views. They were She must have been 16 or therevery forthcoming. Very straight, very abouts. Just out of school. I had just clear. There was a gentleness to the way finished university in Delhi and was they portrayed their views, the way they headed to the States for further studarticulated their views. (There was ies. That was the winter she came, I never) any reason to take issue in any went (to the US) the following summanner. All the meetings were very mer. Different girls were placed in pleasant and very affable. different Indian homes and our home Brooke Shearer They were very similar in that sense. became Brooke’s home. with Tejbir Singh Brooke had views that were pretty She was very charming, very gentle, COURTESY TEJBIR SINGH strongly aired, but put across so gently but somebody who knew her mind and matter-of-factly, that it wasn’t easy to take Massachusetts. We spent the whole evening chatright from the beginning. When the trip ended, we offense if one disagreed — this even to the end ting with Brooke while the seven or eight men spoke met up again in London where I was passing where there was American policy towards Pakistan, to each other in Russian. All the time, including through on my way to America. American policy to India, intermingling of history, (through) dinner, was spent listening to the men She said she wanted to introduce me to meet her and the different issues that America was trying to chatter in Russian, while we three, my wife-to-be boyfriend. (I said) definitely. So, we rendezvoused resolve and had to walk the tightrope on. Mala (publisher, Seminar, and the daughter of Raj in London. I walked into the Time magazine office Strobe is very particular that he touches base and Romesh Thapar who founded the magazine), where there was a small cubicle. Strobe was sitting every time he comes to India. He would make it a Brooke and I sat laughing and chatting. there with both his legs up on the table, chatting on point to meet my parents (Bhagwant and Amarjit This was something I could not believe; it the phone. That was my introduction to Strobe. Singh). Even now he is very keen to meet my mothremained so vivid in my mind. A group of He was Brooke’s boyfriend, so obviously one thouer, even just for a cup of coffee, so he can touch base Americans who were all chatting incessantly in ght the best of him. She was such a charming, affecand say hello. It is very touching and very unusual Russian, not a word of English throughout the tionate and lovely girl, you know, one fully approved that people should take time out from very hectic evening. It was as if we did not exist. That was of the choice she had made. She had made up her and busy meetings and schedules to just touch base. around the time when Strobe was (translating mind to spend the rest of her life with him. That was (Equally unusual is) the affection that he has Nikita) Khrushchev’s memoirs (Khrushchev evident from the first introduction — that this was showed me and the entire family — (he was) very Remembers). It was published some time in 1970 or to be her man, so everything else just followed. much a family man in that sense. 1971. I went on to study in America (at the Fletcher He is part of our family. We have always thought There were meetings like that off and on (through School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts) and we met of him as part of our family. the years). I have memories of playing tennis with again. her on the courts in Cambridge. We kind of kept in One dinner in particular, I remember. Strobe took Tejbir Singh spoke to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel. touch through the years. When my son got married us to some friend’s home outside Cambridge,


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In many ways America is closer to India than to some of its formal allies, feels Stephen P Cohen

did not really know of Strobe’s deep interest in India until the day he plopped himself down in my office, just before becoming Brookings’ president, and declared his desire to make India a priority in the institution. “Sure,” I thought to myself, “you’ve probably said the same thing, about other countries, to other senior staff.” I privately concluded that the real test of any commitment to making India a focal point at Brookings was yet to come. No think tank had yet taken India seriously. Why should a Strobe Talbott-led Brookings be any different? In fact, it soon became apparent that Strobe did have a serious and sustained interest in India; one rooted in a belief that even though America and India might disagree on particular policies, these disagreements were overshadowed by fundamental commonalities. He took the ‘oldest’ and ‘largest’ democracy argument seriously, and rightly so. But, for him, this was only the beginning of an exploration of commonalities, not merely the rhetorical cliché at the end of a speech. It soon became apparent that Strobe held a strong personal connection to India. He differed from the many Russia experts who, through Soviet eyes, often saw India as a Russia’s clone or pseudo-ally. Strobe’s experience in Moscow taught him the value of India’s serious consideration to democratic norms. Strobe took the classic Nehruvian commitment to disarmament and arms control even more seriously than some of the Indian politicians and bureaucrats

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Stephen P Cohen, left, did not know of Strobe Talbott’s interest in India until he declared his desire to make India a priority at the Brookings Institution

with whom he engaged both as a Deputy Secretary of State, and, after the 1998 Indian nuclear tests, as the Clinton administration’s leading expert on India. His meetings with Jaswant Singh following the tests, and his crucial role in diffusing a crisis which could have escalated to nuclear war, are a testament to that

commitment. I met with some of his interlocutors, and while they were perplexed about American policy, they understood that Strobe was holding them to a high standard. As Strobe saw it, India and the United States were on the same side in the larger matters of world order and moral issues. Ironically, it was the contrast with the Soviet Union that may have made Strobe impatient with Indian intransigence on proliferation issues. He came to political maturity during the years when the Soviets recognized that nuclear and arms control cooperation was in their own self interest. He must have been frustrated when Indian interlocutors seemed to be repeating the same mistakes that America and Russia had made decades earlier. Strobe’s analysis of the root causes of the complex India-Pakistan relationship, which Jaswant Singh agrees with, is correct. Strobe has compared it with the relationship between the Ukraine and Russia, the context being the collapse of empire, resulting in similar anxieties — in particular, with respect to the disposition and control of nuclear weapons. He understands that while it is unlikely that India or Pakistan will become non-nuclear states under the nonproliferation treaty, it is possible that they may come to an agreement on nonproliferation and arms control that is in the best interest of both countries’ national security. Strobe has observed that America and India are not formal allies, yet in many ways America is closer to India than to some of its formal allies. Strobe’s leadership at Brookings enables us to engage with India across a broad spectrum of issues. The title of his classic book, Engaging India, on the unprecedented negotiations with Jaswant Singh, is a double entendre, and under Strobe’s leadership we have been busy engaging with this engaging country. Stephen P Cohen is Senior Fellow, 21st Century Defense Initiative, Brookings Institution.

‘Deeply Committed To Enriching America’s Relationship With India For A Lifetime’ W M105 Oxford — both he and Talbott were Rhodes Scholars — played in jumpstarting a relationship that was mired in acrimony. In a recorded video message congratulating Talbott for being the first recipient of the India Abroad Friend of India Award, Clinton said, “I can’t think of anyone more deserving.” He added: “Strobe has been deeply committed to enriching America’s relationship with India for a lifetime and he deserves a lot of the credit for

our country’s work together today.” Clinton spoke of how much he could always depend on Talbott “for his brilliant mind, his sometimes brutal honesty, the clarity of his thought and the consistency of his devotion to the possibilities of diplomacy and the promise of peace.” Perhaps the defining line in the former President’s statement was what he described as Talbott’s “consistency of his devotion to the possibilities of diplomacy.” The Talbott-Singh talks were held

over two-and-a-half years, covered 14 rounds at 10 locations in seven countries, and established a commitment that this relationship was too precious to lose, and had not just to be salvaged but nurtured to its full potential. As then assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs Karl F ‘Rick’ Inderfurth — who accompanied Talbott on these unrelenting rounds — wrote in his message on Talbott being accorded the award, “History is often shaped by the intersection of defining events and the personalities

of those who have the opportunity to respond and shape them. This was such a historical moment, one that redounded to the great benefit of the US-India relationship.” How true when Clinton said, Talbott’s unrelenting commitment during those times and even thereafter in the avatars that followed “has made a real difference in the lives of million of American and Indian citizens.” Strobe Talbott, a Friend of India indeed!


SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT

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VIJAY BALSE

Vijay Balse, the man with a steel-trap memory

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VIJAY BALSE, who broke new ground when he won Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions, is a winner of the INDIA ABROAD SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT 2010. P RAJENDRAN learns more about the man with the quicksilver mind

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ijay Balse is a careful man. He does not overstate his case, is conservative in thought, nuanced in argument and judicious in word choice. But come the moment, and he is resolute in action. Which was why after six auditions and over 16 years of trying to get into the Jeopardy quiz contest, he first won four games in a row, and then the all-important Tournament of Champions. His financial take: $84,400 in the first four rounds; $250,000 in the Tournament of Champions. His actual achievement: Being on the roster of top winners in Jeopardy. Balse’s win needs to be put in some perspective. He grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1970s and came over in the late ’80s to do his PhD in chemical engineering. As a graduate student, he was not familiar with a lot of the American tropes that turn up repeatedly on the show. He did not know much about sports, and still does not. And since Balse relies only on those rabbit ears atop his television, he cannot see those cable channel shows that can pop up on the show and bedevil the unsuspecting contestant (con-

sider these: Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell and Ted Lange as your bartender — Answer: Love Boat; Lee Majors and three different guys as Dr Rudy Wells; this show could both rebuild and recast — Answer: The Six Million Dollar Man). “I just hope they don’t show up,” he says with a faintly apologetic laugh. In his full-sleeve, periwinkle blue shirt, pleat-less black pant, with tamped-down Ivy League coiffure, chevron mustache and the promise of a paunch, Balse could pass for an office manager. But he really is an object of awe — to fans, friends and family. He even has a fan club on Facebook, that still hip standard for coolness. But Balse is not about coolness. He is an admirer of books, a devotee of academic preparation, a celebrant at the altar of fact, a high priest of all knowledge. Friends speak of how, when they returned home from elementary school in India, they would head out to play while Balse made careful notes of all that he had learned in handwriting that was not too far from print. Of how he prepped them so diligently for a Dumb Charades contest that they had little

choice but win. Of summers spent plundering the treasures in the library. And other stories that would make every hair on your head stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine (with apologies to

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From the Editors For their unique talent and razor sharp minds; for raising the bar with their amazing mastery; and for wowing us all with their astounding ability, we honor Vijay Balse, Aadith Moorthy and Anamika Veeramani with the India Abroad Award for Special Achievement 2010.


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‘When he won, it was a magical experience’ Dr Jayshree Kumta tells P RAJENDRAN what it was like to see her husband Vijay Balse triumph

ARE YOU IN JEOPARDY? Jeopardy Champion of Champions VIJAY BALSE compiles a special quiz for India Abroad readers

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The questions, written as typical JEOPARDY! clues, explore the influence of things Indian on the world at large. Clue 1 — This Indian clay oven, in which food is cooked over charcoal, is familiar to foodies all over the world. Clue 2 — This mausoleum on the southern bank of the Yamuna River outside Agra lends its name to a casino hotel in Atlantic City. Clue 3 — The name of this language, the most widely spoken of the Chinese languages, is derived from the Sanskrit for ‘counselor.’ Clue 4 — These riding breeches, cut full through the hips and close-fitting from knee to ankle, are named for Rajasthan’s ‘Sun City.’ Clue 5 — Queen Victoria is featured prominently on the label of this Bacardi gin product named for a city in western India.

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Clue 6 — The name of this rich soup, usually of chicken stock and seasoned with curry, is derived from the Tamil for ‘pepper water.’ Vijay Balse and Jayshree Kumta, flanked by, from left, contest coordinators Glenn Kagan, Corina Nusu, Maggie Speak and Robert James

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hen Vijay Balse steps before the camera, Jayshree Kumta’s nails suffer for it. Kumta, Balse’s wife, nibbles away ferociously at them until either they are gone or Balse wins — whichever comes first. Things are far easier for the nails now, since Balse has finished his successful run on Jeopardy. If Balse is intense about quizzing, Kumta, a pediatrician, is hardly easy on herself. She goes without sleep for 36 hours, does 24-hour shifts, heads home to make Upma and brownies for visitors, and, despite the grogginess, is capable of polite discussion, about her husband’s dream run. And as Balse discussed it, Kumta kept a fond eye on him while clattering about in the kitchen in their apartment in Chatham, New Jersey. Kumta and Balse kept taking cues from each other, and when Kumta was stumped by a question, Balse stepped in to reframe it so as to make it easier for his

tired wife. Kumta and Balse met up through a Web site for their Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin community, meetmatch.com. Balse says exchanging e-mails helped them understand each other’s personalities rather than physical attributes. They were engaged in November 1999 and married in December 2001. Kumta did not think Balse had prepared enough for his challenge on Jeopardy. “I felt he should have read more, but I think his preparation came from just being a voracious reader,” she says. “His real preparation came during the College Bowl (back in college), I was getting desperate (saying) that, ‘Look, you’ve gotten the opportunity now.’ I told him, ‘Why don’t you prepare?’ What he did was watch the previous shows.” Kumta could be excused for being a little resentful —

M16 X

Clue 7 — This diamond, whose name is Hindustani for ‘mountain of light,’ is a jewel in the crown of Queen Elizabeth II. Clue 8 — The name of this sailboat with twin hulls, used in Indonesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia, is derived from the Tamil for ‘to tie wood.’ Clue 9 — This type of sub-atomic particle with integral spin, such as a photon or meson, is named for an Indian physicist. Clue 10 — This British term for one’s native land is derived from a Hindustani word meaning ‘foreign.’


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Smashing records A friend from Mumbai tells P RAJENDRAN that Vijay Balse was an academic star at the city’s prestigious UDCT

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hen Vijay Balse went to undergraduate school in Mumbai, studying to be a chemical engineer, it was easy for other students to discount the quiet young man, though they probably knew he was bright. By the end of the first year, when the results came out, they knew for certain: Balse not only did better than everyone else, he was so far ahead smashing academic records that the competition was relegated to the second, third and fourth rankers, says Anant Vaidyanathan, Balse’s close friend at the time. “He’s extremely unassuming. People probably knew he was smart. He doesn’t appear dynamic. We became good friends from year one,” says Vaidyanathan, who remembers that Balse’s approach involved a mix of preparation and perfectionism. “He would prepare elaborate notes on every class. He would also borrow some of our notes,” Vaidyanathan recalls. Then, Balse would distill the essence of the information to ensure clarity. “They were the golden notes of UDCT (University Department of Chemical Technology),” says Vaidyanathan. “People asked me, ‘Can you ask Vijay for notes?’ People were desperate for them.”

Vaidyanathan and Balse both prepared for the Graduate Records Examination, required for students applying to graduate school in the US. “We (everyone but Balse) got Barron’s GRE (a study guide). He started 18 months before the exam with an Oxford dictionary,” he says. Balse wanted to know the root of every word, says Vaidyanathan, speculating that Balse must have prepared in a similar fashion for Jeopardy. Balse has a tremendous memory, recalling minor details from long ago, according to his friend. “Even now after 25 years, he will remember little things his professor said,” says Vaidyanathan. He talks of how Vijay became the first UDCT student to get admission to the top chemical engineering universities. Four schools admitted him with financial aid — the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Delaware and Purdue University. Stanford University and Princeton University also admitted him, but would not provide financial aid. Balse settled for the University of WisconsinMadison. It was because he liked the program, not because it was the most prestigious, Vaidyanathan remembers Balse as saying. He lost touch with Balse over the years, as he moved from Colorado to California, where he now is a senior information

technology professional at Xilinx Inc. But Vaidyanathan’s ears perked up when colleagues told him of an Indian chemical engineer from New Jersey being on Jeopardy. Once he realized who that was, through LinkedIn, the online business social network, the friends got back in touch. Though Vaidyanathan was not able to be there for the recording of the show, he followed it on television. He admits he was surprised that Balse did not take an early lead in the Tournament of Champions final. But he says that Balse may have been slower on the draw because he tends to want to be sure about things. “Either (the answer) didn’t come in quick enough to him, or he was only 90 percent sure,” Vaidyanathan says. But he was quite sure that Balse would come back into the game. “I wasn’t surprised (at the win with the last question), Vaidyanathan says. “He stayed disciplined even though he fell behind.” Vaidyanathan says despite appearances, Balse is very outgoing once he has warmed up to a person. “He appears quiet from a distance, but he is very talkative,” Vaidyanathan says. “He’s interested in so much stuff — movies, music, general knowledge... There’s so much to talk about, every topic you pick.”

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After the win, they were contractually obliged to keep things quiet — from the day the show Balse put her through a rollerwas recorded to its actual airing coaster ride of emotions during May 21, 2010. the contest. In preparation, Kumta and “Watching the first game was Balse designed a card with a very tense. The returning Jeopardy theme, complete with champion (Jordan Brand) was an officially sanctioned very bright,” she says, amid Jeopardy logo. bouts of nervous laughter, as Kumta laughs excitedly in recshe describes her excitement at ollection of how her friends the time. “I was almost having a rooted for Balse, though she panic attack! I was biting my could not tell them how he had fingernails down to the bone. At fared. each phase, when he (Balse) Laughing in excitement, she was getting answers (right), I recalls, “It was fun. There was would have another surge of some days at the hospital when hope. And when he won it was I was on call and everybody — really a magical experience.” right from the clerk to the nursStill, after four wins on one es — kept one room empty (so day, he succumbed in the first DOMINIC XAVIER that they could watch a televione on the next. Jayshree Kumta is a pediatrician who goes without sleep for 36 hours, does 24-hour shifts, yet is up sion in there), would go in and “Seeing him lose that fifth to cooking for visitors and answering questions about her husband’s dream run say, ‘He’s winning, he’s winning,’ game was heartbreaking,” and come back and do something had a good idea what he could solve. through the whole experience, being Kumta says. “The worst part was again.” And that included the few times he on the sets, seeing how a show is waiting to get the call for the The couple can do without cable TV was stumped for an answer and she taped, seeing how the other contestTournament of Champions. Once we — “When we turn on the news it is had it. ants answer, you get caught up in all got the call, there was another surge just one disaster or the other” — so “I celebrate because those are the those things. So, actually seeing him of anxiety.” they cozy up to watch quiz shows tough ones. I really enjoy my victory. win was magical,” she says. Still, she had no doubts that he Cash Cab and — what else — He’s always been a gracious champiAlso, she had watched a lot of could do it. Jeopardy. on” — more laughter — “or a loser.” Jeopardy shows with Balse and so “I expected him to win. Going


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Shakespeare via one of Balse’s favorites, P G Wodehouse). Balse has good memories of Bombay, among them traveling easily. “There were so many simple pleasures in life I enjoyed as a child that probably you can’t do any more. You could jump in a train and visit your uncle or aunt. You could go from Santa Cruz to Andheri (both suburbs in northwest Mumbai). It was no big deal,” he says. Balse’s father Ramanand, who worked in Siemens as an engineer, was often away, commissioning plants all over India and abroad. His mother Shantha and paternal grandmother were their primary caregivers, Balse says. The children’s school was located in the same building that they lived in, and once back home Balse could relax with an Amar Chitra Katha comic or an Enid Blyton book. It was an idyllic existence for Vijay — study, read, and then study some more. In between, his mother’s three sisters, Kamalabai, Nalinibai and Rohinibai, would come with books as gifts so that he could read some more. “It’s good to have that kind of stimulation,” Balse says. “I have to credit my parents as well as my aunts for instilling (my love of reading),” he says, as he slumps deeper into his chair. He was admitted to the highly selective Bombay University Department of Chemical Technology (now the Institute of Chemical Technology), topped it year after year, each time shattering academic records that seemed unassailable. After graduating, he opted to study chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his PhD (trivia alert: His thesis, on catalysis, was about the use of mixed iron-antimony oxide for selective oxidation of olefins). Balse had grown up hearing the Bournvita quiz contest in India, but it was in Madison that he got really caught up with the world of quizzing, through the famous College Bowl. For once, Balse found something he was not prepared for. “I was not good enough. That spurred me to do well (the next time), he says. “Growing up in India you don’t have an idea of all these things that are” — he hunts for the word — “American...” He went on to make the Wisconsin team from 1989 to 1992, the team’s best showing being a fourth place in 1991. Hooked on quizzing, Balse began following Jeopardy, convinced he would do all right there. His wife Jayshree Kumta and he kept watching Jeopardy and comparing answers, with Balse appearing to have an unfair advantage. But things must have been looking bleak in 2009 when he finally got the Jeopardy call. And he started preparing again, this time focusing more on the psychological aspects. He wanted to see, he says, “What makes a person work well in a game, why does he fail? You try to avoid their mistakes.”

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He won all four games that day, stumbling on the fifth the next. “I don’t know even if I smiled after the first game,” he says, and he and Kumta laugh together at the thought. He points out the difference from the Indian competitions he knew: “There were three teams, and if you fell behind there was no way to catch up.” But here he could clamber back into the game if only he bet right. “You have to keep very cool. Many times, when they’re behind, people get desperate and keep buzzing in even if they don’t know the answer. That’ll hurt them and they’ll lose points. And because they have to catch up, they start taking more risks. The farther behind they fall, the more they take. You end up in the red and VIJAY BALSE on the Jeopardy experience risks get shown the door.” And besides knowledge and the canny use of strategy, Jeopardy also gives an lex Trebek (the Jeopardy host) is a really a nice guy. advantage to those quickest on the draw. He is really quick when running the game — like a In the very final game in the Tournawell-oiled machine. Everything goes like clockwork. ment of Champions — “I still get chills There are few glitches once in a while, but nothing great. watching that moment” — Balse was milJust walking into the lobby, meeting all my fellow conliseconds ahead of Stefan Goodreau in testants (was wonderful). These are the guys I cheered for answering the question. on television. It’s just incredible to meet them and shake hands with them. I’m a contestant, but I’m also a viewer. M18 X The fan in me felt great meeting them, but I didn’t think I didn’t belong. You have to believe you’ll win, otherwise you’re not going to. ANSWERS Ultimately, you don’t think about who you are playing against, you are focusing on the question, you are focusClue 1 — Tandoor ing on the buzzer. That’s the way you have to play the Clue 2 —Taj Mahal game. Clue 3 —Mandarin (Contestant) Justin Bernbach had won seven games and Clue 4 —Jodhpurs Jason Zollinger had won six games. I figured I’d meet one Clue 5 —Bombay Sapphire of those the next day. But I said to myself, if you believe you can win, you have to meet them sooner or later. It Clue 6 —Mulligatawny doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Clue 7 —Kohinoor I didn’t feel like a fraud because I know I’m good. But I Clue 8 —Catamaran also know I’m lucky. That’s a different story. But you have Clue 9 —Boson to have the confidence that you can win. I was lucky to Clue 10 —Blighty win, but I don’t think I didn’t deserve to win.

And as is his wont, Balse opted for endurance over flash. “I went in wanting to qualify for the TOC (Tournament of Champions), which meant that I wanted to win five games... Most people will be happy to win one game. Once they have won that they tend to lose their drive, their focus, their energy… I knew, for the long haul, you need to conserve your energy.”

‘I didn’t think I didn’t belong’

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‘Everyone was tense’ Vijay Balse didn’t even tell his brother he had won Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions, discovers P RAJENDRAN

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hen Vijay Balse made notes, those were for keeps. So, if he erred while making them in his print-like hand, he would not, like most people, scratch it out and go to the next line; he would toss the paper out and laboriously start working on his notes again, says his brother Gurudatt. “He has a steel-trap memory. He would read and absorb every word of every book — almost,” he adds. Even their games tended to get nerdy. “We would make crossword puzzles for each other. Mine was the kind a kindergarten student could solve. His was the more tough-to-crack kinds. He would seek out non-standard words, make it really challenging,” says Gurudatt, who says Balse found no joy in mere victory. “One girl beat him by a few points (at school), and she came running over, jumping up and down, so excited she’d beaten him. It didn’t bother him. He was more amused that she was excited about that,” he says. During the summer holidays, the brothers, who behaved more like twins, spent time at their mother’s hometown in Davangare, Karnataka. “We’d raid the local library. We’d be the first ones in and the last ones out. Amazing thing was, most of what we read stayed with him — and maybe five percent stayed with me.” Gurudatt says self-deprecatingly. He also says their father, an electrical engineer, was their role model. “He read a lot. He was very interested in music and movies. We were in awe of him. I think Vijay’s thirst for books came from our dad.” Their mother Shantha also thinks Balse was more attached to his father than to her. She remembers him as a mischievous child, who stopped well short of the annoying, with just one obsession. “He didn’t like anybody to touch his books or write on them. Since he was a child he used to keep them very neat,” she says. Family friend Himanshu Desai says Balse was “so good that he was scary.” “In college, while everybody else wanted to play and

W M17 “He (Goodreau) knew the answer. It was an easy question. If he had beaten me, he would have locked me out of the tournament. I had to keep telling myself, ‘Keep trying, keep trying. If you give up, you’re done.’” With his thirst for competition slaked for the moment, Balse has more prosaic plans for the future. “I want to find a job — that’s the thing I have on my mind,” he says. Can his achievement help him in that endeavor? “I hope people recognize this is a noteworthy achievement. I do believe the skills I have are the skills I have

Vijay Balse and Jayshree Kumta flanked by Vijay’s brother Gurudatt and his wife Reena. Also seen are Vijay’s nieces Neha, bottom left, and Anika

do stuff, he would come home, spend two or three hours. He would take notes, then rewrite them. Who does this? That level of thoroughness was unheard of,” says Desai. Like the rest of his family, Balse was cultured and polite, but was very picky when it came to food and his choice of friends and was put off by the concept of all-night parties. “It’s him and knowledge and books,” says Desai. “He’s actually still the person. He has not changed at all.” Because Gurudatt could not be there for the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, Balse could not tell him if he had won. “It shows his personality that he would not even

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reveal to me what the outcome was,” says Gurudatt, who said he was confident his brother would do well “because I knew him and his personality.” In fact, Balse had visited his brother’s in-laws after the contest. Later, they could not believe he had won and had been able to keep it all bottled up, says Gurudatt. When the contest came to the wire, was he worried? “The quieter he was, the more I was sure that he had either won or come close to winning,” says Gurudatt. “Everyone was tense, but I was not worried. His very reticence was a clue that he had won. If he had not won, he would have given some indication.”

Champion of Champions used on the show and vice versa: Quick thinking, putting things together. Those kinds of things are things you need in real life as well. I hope that (my win) will open doors.” But he wants to change his field. “Jayshree (who is a doctor)... actually saves lives. I want to actually make a difference.” And given his 16-plus years in chemical engineering, he plans to help address the energy crisis. That could mean a job in the government, which,

he says, has lots of openings that fit his background and interest. And he is happy with his dual heritage. “Just being an American or just being an Indian, you lose out something. I’ve grown up in one and lived in the other. I think I’m the better off for it. There are certain things in the US I’d have not gotten if I hadn’t been from India — and I value those. And there are opportunities that I get in the US that I didn’t get back in India. You cannot say

this is better or that is better,” he says. Which was why in his first set, he described himself as being from Bombay, India, and in the Tournament of Champions, as being from Chatham, New Jersey. But nothing mattered once the show got going. As Balse puts it, “It’s like studying for your SSC (the all-important 10th grade exam in India). By the time you’ve reached the exam you’ve already done all the work.”


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AADITH MOORTHY

The Geography Whiz AADITH MOORTHY, winner of the National Geographic Bee and the INDIA ABROAD SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT 2010, tells P RAJENDRAN that he has more worlds to conquer

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hen Bonny Jain turned up at the National Geographic Bee finals in 2006, host Alex Trebek asked him if he was disappointed that he had come in fourth the year before. ‘Not really,’ Bonny had responded, his easy confidence muted with a smile, ‘I wanted either first or fourth. If I get second or third I can’t come back this year.’ As the audience laughed, Trebek told them, ‘Here’s a young man who’s thinking, ladies and gentlemen.’ Aadith Moorthy, the 2010 National Geographic Bee winner, is just that kind of a thinker. Quieter than Bonny, Aadith won the Bee in a fivequestion face-off during which, punctuated by quick grimaces and tight smiles, he beat his last standing opponent Oliver Lucier 4-1. And when Aadith won, he nearly thumped the table — but didn’t. That’s the kind of tightly restrained boy Aadith is. “At the moment I won, the feeling was indescribable. I was overwhelmed,” says Aadith, who still has a strong residual Indian accent. “I could only understand what was going on when I thought about it again... Time was moving really fast. I was not able to (process anything).” He laughs a quiet adolescent laugh: “Hee hee hee.” After a year of contemplation, Aadith has concluded that he has done something of import. It was not roses all the way for him, though. When Aadith, of Tampa, Florida, made it to the 2008-2009 National Geographic Bee state finals, he had just come over from India. But while he had learned a lot, his discipline was a little looser than it is now. So, though he should have known better, in his tension and hurry to reply he placed Fort Sumter, which protects the city of Charleston, in North Carolina instead of South Carolina. Further stressed, to an easy question about which physical feature is most likely found near a volcano — a geyser or a lagoon — he wrongly answered ‘lagoon.’ Then, horror-struck looking around at the shambles of his campaign, Aadith wept. He watched numbly as Siva Kangeyan won the state championship for the second year in a row. Despite knowing the answers, including the ones he had got wrong, lack of discipline had done Aadith in. Sick to his stomach, he left the auditorium and sat on a bench outside to cry his boyish heart out. Kumar Nandur, a speech pathologist and Geography Bee coach, noticed his distress. He came over, told Aadith he had the ability to win next year. Habituated to victory and attention, Aadith was unprepared for his first serious failure. The experience could have made or broken him. It made him.

Aadith Moorthy has the world at his fingertips

“I put my foot down and decided I wanted to win it the next year. Since I had this extra time (having just come over from India, the studies were easier), I could devote it to geography,” he says. A few weeks later, watching the 2009 finals, Aadith realized the questions were far harder there. Chastened — and thoroughly impressed by national winner Eric Young’s performance — he got down to a grueling schedule. He finished the recommended

reading from Nandur, now his coach, ahead of time. “(Nandur) always says that if one follows him 25 percent he can become a school champion; if one follows him 50 percent he can make it to the state finals; if one follows him 70 percent he can make it to the national finals; and if one follows him 100 percent he can win the Bee,” says Aadith.

M22 X


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‘We are living a dream’ If Aadith Moorthy is driven, his parents are confident he can take the pressure, finds P RAJENDRAN SPONSORED BY

KNOW YOUR GEO? AADITH MOORTHY compiles a special Geography quiz for India Abroad readers Aadith with his parents Suguna and Subramaniam Satyamoorthy

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e are living a dream,” says Subramaniam Satyamoorthy, Aadith Moorthy’s father, with a laugh that suggests both pleasure and a still-bewildered pride. “It is nice, it is nice... At the same time it comes with a lot of pressure,” he says, describing how some friends have started an Aadith Moorthy fan club on Facebook. “Everything he does now is being observed. It puts a lot of pressure on the child.” But Satyamoorthy is not quite complaining. “It’s a good pressure. Everyone’s constantly observing you so you must take the right step. Also, the expectations are different. Now if he goes to a competition, people know him, people recognize him, and so they expect him to place (well),” he says. But then, anyone who gets past Aadith will savor the victory more. Satyamoorthy laughs, liking the idea. “It’s good. It’s good for everybody. The bar is set higher. We don’t have a choice. We’ve got to succeed. It’s a happy problem to have,” he says. His wife Suguna does not think the stress can be overwhelming. “No, no, there’s no problem. He is dedicated to his work,” she says, admitting that Aadith did tend to work rather hard during the Bee and she worried that he would fall sick with cold, the way he used to when he was younger. She is happy that Aadith has no trouble with his demanding International Baccalaureate program.

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“The regular, traditional schools are not challenging enough,” she says. Suguna and Satyamoorthy first met while studying at the Coimbatore Institute of Technology and, overcoming a few social obstacles, got married in 1991. They came to the United States first in 1993, then again for good — or so they thought — in 1997. When Satyamoorthy’s mother’s health deteriorated, they went back in 2004. Aadith was good enough in his studies to get a double promotion on arrival. But he had his difficulties with Hindi. Horrified by his first 80-something marks on 100, even if it was in a language that he had never studied earlier and in a class one higher than he would normally have been, Aadith pushed himself harder, and came back next time with what he deemed a passable 94 on 100. A year after Aadith’s grandmother’s death in 2007, the family returned to the US, where Satyamoorthy got a job at Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a company that analyzes marketing performance. Satyamoorthy says he spends a lot of time with Aadith, discussing studies and music. “I was in the rat race for some time... the family suffers,” he says. Now, he goes to work at 7 am and is back by about 4.30 pm, then gets back to work after 9 pm. “I keep work and family separate. I don’t bring work home, and I don’t take the home into office. When I’m

M21 X

1. Where can you find an island in the middle of a lake inside an island that is inside a lake inside an island? 2. Where do you find large wheels of stone — too heavy to even lift, that are used as currency? 3. We all know where Britain and Ireland are, but where are New Britain and New Ireland, full of exotic species? 4. We know the Fountain of Youth, but where can you find the Isle of Youth? 5. We all know where India is, but where is Kindia? 6. What island is not entirely located on one continent? 7. What is the only country that is in all four hemispheres? 8. Cape Wrangell, on Attu Island, is the westernmost point in the US, but where is Wrangell Island? 9. Benin City is not found in the country of Benin, but is present in what nearby country? 10. What is the name of the imaginary line that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan?


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‘To come from 35 to Number One in one year is phenomenal’ th

Coach Kumar Nandur tells P RAJENDRAN why Aadith Moorthy is such a whiz

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Anderson, Aadith’s social studies teacher at adith Moorthy has much to thank the Palm Harbor Middle School, worked Vivek Nandur for. If Vivek had not together to ensure the boy was kept on his toes. evinced some interest in quizzes Nandur’s coaching was instrumental in years ago, his father Kumar Nandur Aadith’s victory, says Anderson. “He undermay not have become the phenomestood there were patterns in the Bee. He would nal National Geographic Bee coach he is now. send me lists of facts,” she adds. Kumar Nandur’s students have won the In turn, she would put up morning Florida state Bee in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and announcements that helped the other teachers took the second position in 2009 and 2010. plan what Aadith needed to learn. “One thing that impressed me about Aadith It was easy, she says, because of Aadith’s was that when I gave him an assignment and quick processing speed combined with a phegave him a time frame to do it in, he would call nomenal memory. And the fact that his determe in three days and tell me, ‘Uncle, I’m done. mination ensures that he excels in whatever he Go ahead and ask me (the questions).’ And tries. when I asked him, he would at 100 percent,” Anderson spoke of how Aadith enriched says Nandur. class discussions by adding information and When Aadith became the Florida champion, describing how geography impacts history. he dethroned the state champion of two years, COURTESY: SATYAMOORTHY SUBRAMANIAM She spoke of how she admired his family — Siva Kangeyan, who also was Nandur’s stu- Kumar Nandur, right, knew he could make Aadith Moorthy go the final mile and how they had made her a part of it. dent. The other children in Aadith’s class helped, “He (Aadith) had made phenomenal progress in although initially they were a little bemused by all strategies that would help address it. acquiring information. To come from somewhere the attention being showered on him. Aadith was anxious all through the effort, Nandur like 35th to Number One in one year is a phenome“I think it was after he came to school, when there says, while emphasizing the difference he sees nal jump,” says Nandur, whose classes are free. were TV crews (around him) that they understood,” between anxiety and stress: “When people are The work involved collecting facts from magasays Anderson. Ironically, at the same time that stressed, they generally break down, but when peozines, books and Web sites. Aadith would also conBilly Young, a US Congressman from Florida, ple are anxious they usually perform well.” sult with him by phone or e-mail. moved to honor Aadith, state legislators were workStress, he says, makes people dysfunctional. “The motivating thing for him was that in the hising to take geography out of the curriculum because Still, Nandur realized Aadith could not finish all tory of the National Geographic Bee there has never it is not an essential focus, she adds. the work if he had to go to school every day. been a champion from Florida,” says Nandur, a “As educators we are banging our heads against “There was simply not enough hours in the day,” speech pathologist by profession. the wall. The deciders are not educators,” she says, Nandur says. So, from April, Aadith took off one day Nandur’s success came from the fact that he had hoping the experience with Aadith and his family a week, and two days a week for the last three weeks realized that because the questions were put forwill help when she and her husband Dustin prep leading up to the competition — to prepare better. ward in a way that did not reflect the way informatheir son Benjamin in the future. As the contest approached, Nandur and Michelle tion was usually provided, his students would need

‘We are living a dream’ W M20 spending time with the family I am not thinking of work at all,” he says. His schedule is tiring, Satyamoorthy admits, but says he relaxes with the family and that time at home is the best time he enjoys. Do he and Aadith get into arguments when they are together? Satyamoorthy picks his words carefully: “I don’t know whether it should be called an argument. It should be called a constructive discussion.” Then he

adds, “We don’t argue like crazy. So it’s (more) like taking up a point and arguing.” “I used to argue with my father, especially over politics,” Aadith says. Then with more force: “Yes, it happens. (Arguing) is a good thing to do, right? We challenge ourselves to go out and we argue — yes!” And what happens when they argue? “Geography, I definitely lose. Math, I’m beginning to lose,” Satyamoorthy admits, laughing again.

Aadith Moorthy with his mother Suguna after his win. His parents appreciate how hard he works at everything


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The Geography Whiz

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“When the moderator said only one of them is correct, my coach, Mr Kumar, screamed, ‘Yes!’” says Aadith. Technically, Rohith had another year he could still compete, but he had to leave the country when his father found a job abroad. Meanwhile, after the state win, W M19 the schedule got more strenuous for Aadith, but he was a glutton for Nandur’s preferred technique for his punishment. students involved concept association, Nandur teamed up with which he terms connecting the dots. Michelle Anderson, Aadith’s social “We would look at one place and talk studies teacher at the Palm Harbor about it. After that, immediately move Middle School, and got her to quiz to an immediately related place,” says Aadith in class. Aadith. “Teacher Anderson had made He cites the case of the state of many questions, which she sent to Georgia. “There were many tornadoes all of my teachers — to ask me in Georgia recently,” he says. “That when I had their classes. That gave would take us onto places tornadoes COURTESY: SATYAMOORTHY SUBRAMANIAM me geography practice in every usually occur — Tornado Alley, which is Music is an integral part of Aadith Moorthy, who has been singing period,” says Aadith. in the middle of the United States. From since he was four. It helps him relax That relentless preparation — there we can move on to what crops are complete with inquisitors at every grown in the middle of the US. (Then) turn — helped Aadith when he and to where these crops are consumed in Oliver faced off in the finals. the US, the big cities in the US. Then we Coincidentally, Oliver’s last incorcome back to Georgia and go to another rect answer was the same that place and continue the process. Rohith gave in his failed attempt: Connecting the dots.” Port au Prince. The question here From the state, the students would go was about the largest city in northon to the country of Georgia, the capital ern Haiti (answer: Cap Haitien). of the country, the conflicts and disasWith $25,000 stashed away for ters there, and more. college, Aadith went off to savor his Aadith describes how such associaother prize, a trip to the Galapagos. tions help. On the way, his mental boat was “One of the championship questions rocked in the conversational eddies was, ‘Tswana is a Bantu language spoproduced by his co-passengers, ken by the majority in which country?’ many of them naturalists. He spent After hearing ‘Bantu,’ we know it’s in his birthday, November 26, on Africa. But once we hear Tswana we Bartolome Island. may blank out,” he says. “I thought Asked about his plans after winabout it and then I remembered that ning the title, he had said, ‘I’m there’s a country called Botswana. done for the year. Now I’m going to ‘Tswana’ was in the name so I decided rest.’ with Botswana. I was right.” Of course, that was not true. He So, Aadith soldiered on with his hopes to transcend a mundane understanding of people.” preparations even while working on other exams and geography, though his reasoning can be harder to folSlowly, under Nandur’s tutelage, Aadith and his making a trip to India, complete with Carnatic music low. friend Rohith Ravi girded themselves for the state concerts to perform in. “Physics can come from geography. It can come Bee. Rohith was a suitable foil for Aadith. He got every answer right from an attempt at space geography,” he says, adding The pair decimated the competition, in the school Bee, and his that he plumps for theoretical physics, which also including the winner of the last two years, fellow students came up ANSWERS attempts to explain the geography of the universe. Siva Kangeyan. with a slogan: ‘Aadith wins 1. Lake Taal, Philippines For now, competing in a set of Florida Mu Theta “Rohith and I were good friends. He by default.’ 2. Yap Island, Micronesia Alpha, Aadith ranks among the top 10 in mathematwas good competition,” says Aadith. When the pressure got too 3. Papua New Guinea ics in the state. Though a year younger to Aadith, much, melody provided 4. Cuba Ask him what he would like to tell others who folRohith was indeed very good. For, when balm for Aadith’s exhausted 5. Kindia is the third low him, Aadith’s voice takes on a faintly didactic the championship questions were soul. He has been singing largest city tone. exhausted without producing a winner since he was four, and says it and capital of Kindia “Hard work reaps success,” he says. “Never give up. between them, the two friends had to go helps him focus. Prefecture If I’d given up in the first year of my Geography Bee, into a sudden death tie-breaker. Because “Carnatic music is very in the African country of I could not have won it the next year. I worked really they had studied the same material, the important to me. It helps me Guinea hard, learning 50 facts a day. Finally, the hard work first five questions they got either right or relax. It helped take my 6. New Guinea reaps success and I won.” wrong together. Then they were asked to thoughts off geography for 7. Kiribati But he’s clear that what defines success is not geogname the largest city on the Island of some time,” he says. “I like raphy alone. 8. Chukchi Sea, Russia Hispaniola. the most traditional form of “Everyone has their own gifts,” he says. “They Rohith blinked. He answered Port-auCarnatic music, music that 9. Nigeria should utilize their own gifts to the best of their Prince, which is in Haiti. Aadith said San brings water to the eyes with 10. The Durand Line ability.” Domingo. bhava (emotion). It calms


THE India Abroad

2010

SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT

THE MAGAZINE M23 JUNE 2011

ANAMIKA VEERAMANI

The Spelling Ace P RAJENDRAN speaks to Spelling Bee Champ ANAMIKA VEERAMANI, winner of the INDIA ABROAD SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT 2010

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namika Veeramani is a very calm girl. She won the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee last year, but is not the kind who makes much of her triumph, but just what she can do ahead. You know, what most people call level-headed. “I don’t think about the Spelling Bee at all. When people bring it up, it’s like, oh yeah, I wasn’t really thinking about that, but thank you,” Anamika, 15, says with a small laugh. For now she is worried about the work she is doing — in biology, chemistry, and some independent research in microbiology. “I don’t want to be a microbiologist, I want to be a surgeon, but this is very good preparation for that.” This year, she is working on detecting bioterrorist agents in the environment. It is hard to detect a bioterrorist agent, she says. “That’s the most important part because it can take months to find that there was a bioterrorist agent released in the environment.” She studied two agents, Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli, and found that they took just .01 microgram/milliliter and .065 microgram per microliter, respectively, to be detected. She hopes that all this research work will help her be better prepared for medical school. Though she had discussed becoming a cardiovascular surgeon soon after her victory — at the time she was bemusedly answering excited television anchors ask her odd questions, including, in one case, the spelling of the co-anchor’s last name — she is studying other material, too. She’s taking a neuroscience class to bone up on basic brain chemistry. She has dissected a sheep’s brain and is learning how commonly abused drugs — like heroin and cocaine — affect the brain. And she still finds time for golf and classical dance. “Golf is more of a summer sport, so it’s more intense then. When it comes to the actual school year, all of it is winding down. But dance is all-year round and it’s a huge time commitment. You have to put a lot of effort into it. I’ve been dancing since I was five years old. I like doing it,” she says. What does she like about the Bharata Natyam she does? “I really like the whole cultural thing,” she says, and talks about going down from North Royalton, Ohio, where she lives with her parents Malar and Alagaiya Veeramani and brother Ashwin, 11, to the Shiva Vishnu temple in Parma. She had already begun classes in dance and she carried what she learned at the heritage class over. “I came to dance class and I felt like acting it out,” she says. “Everyone in dance knew about our culture. I think it’s really important to keep that Indian culture even if we are in the United States.”

Anamika Veeramani, a young lady of many words

She had to stop going to heritage class because she was also studying classical Indian music. Keeping them both going was draining. Even the music got to be too much for her; in middle school, she had to reluctantly let go. As the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee loomed over her, she began studying long hours, 16 hours a day in some cases — at home, in the car, and wherever else she could. “I’d been doing it for such a long time that I felt well, okay, this is the last time you are doing this so might as well put in as much effort as you can.”

Now, given her other interests, she is considering a good run at the Brain Bee. “I’m really interested in science even more than I was in English. It’s just really interesting. I went to the NSF (National Science Foundation) Brain Bee last year. I tried it out. I didn’t do so well,” she laughs apologetically. “I knew the words, but the questions are haa-ard,” she says. “Everybody thinks that with spelling you memorize things, but I’m really horrible at memoriz-

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THE India Abroad

2010

SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT

THE MAGAZINE M24 JUNE 2011

In the middle of academics and preparing for the Spelling Bee, Anamika Veeramani still finds time for golf and classical dance

WORDS…

Spelling Bee Champ ANAMIKA VEERAMANI lists five words she loves

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ing things. I’m more of the kind of person who... if I see a thing a couple of times I’ll know everything about that word or about that part of the brain.” The questions are also put forward differently from what she was used to in the Spelling Bee. “You really have to think on your feet for the Brain Bee because they ask you a question and you have 15 seconds to answer,” she says. She is now interested in abnormal psychology — “schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, things like that. More so, when implicated in crimes. Forensic psychology.” She cites the case of a woman who drowned five of her children in the bathtub because Satan told her to. “She was very religious. Turns out she was schizophrenic,” says Anamika. This summer, Anamika is volunteering at the Cleveland Clinic though she doesn’t know exactly what she will be doing there yet. The gifted teenager also has very close ties to India because all of her father’s family lives in Salem, Tamil Nadu, and her mother’s parents live in Kodambakkam, Chennai. “Basically, all of my family lives in India except my mom’s brother and sister,” she says. “It’s like a family bonding event,” says Anamika, speaking of going shopping together in Chennai. “I actually really like India. It’s really nice. Obviously, I can’t live there because I’m going to school here and I kinda want to go to college here. But I really like the whole environment. (Chennai) kind of reminds me of New York City,” she says. Put in a spot and asked who she was closer to — her father or mother — she hesitates, laughs at a suggestion that she is being put in a spot, admits it is a tough question; and finally plumbs for her mother Malar. Malar coached her during the never-ending preparation for the Spelling Bee. But she loyally points out her father’s contribution, particularly on the green. “Dad took care of the whole golf class thing — which is a lot of effort,” Anamika says. “We need to get to the courses. Then there are green fees and driving range (fees)...” Besides golf, Anamika used to play softball. “But I kind of stopped that because it was interfering a

lot with dance,” she says. She attends the dance recital organized every year by her teacher Padma Rajagopal. Are there times she can combine dancing with her other interests? “Well, I don’t know how you can combine dancing with brain surgery,” she laughs. She is all for what is seen as a South Asian focus on education and culture. “Indian parents push you and all that stuff. Compared to your American peers, you are not having as much fun or you’re not going to the mall or whatever. It does actually pay off in the long run. It’s really transitory to go to the mall and have fun for a few hours. If you do something that will make you really happy. Like, say you are into spelling and you win the Spelling Bee that will stick with you for the rest of your life. Going to the mall really doesn’t,” she says. It’s better to wait and work really hard now for something that will happen in the future than have fun now and not worry about the future. It will eventually catch up with you, feels Anamika. “That was a big thing for me. I never had a Facebook or Twitter (account) and still don’t. But when we came to school Monday everyone will be talking about what they did on Facebook, what they did at the mall and what they did at parties.” “You have to focus on what you want and not what anybody else wants. Even though it’s your parents who are telling you to study, work hard, whatever, it does pay off. It will make you so much better in life than if you are just, like, partying every day.”

unukuupuaah. humuhumunluk Hawaiian trigger fis

It defines a smal spell use it is fairly easy to rd. I love this word beca wo e th e basic units of it if you learn the thre ence by ef fortlessly audi I could ‘wow’ my , all word. Additionally y spelling this long m to m ar a special ch Hawaiian words hold n. is no exceptio senses and this one

It defines a carved pole erected as a memorial to the dead by some Indians of western Nor th America. I like this word because it is a real teaser word and has an aura of mystery around it. It is spelt as a sequence of just three unique letters which makes it an appealing yet tricky wor d for a speller like me.’

fackeltanz

It defines the ceremonial torchlight procession formerly celebrating a royal marriage in certain German courts. This word holds bittersweet memories for me. In my first year of participation in the Scripps Spelling Bee I lost on this German word when I rendered an overly complicated spelling for this fairly straightforward spell. It is a ‘sweet’ word for me because misspelling it directed me to focus my efforts on German words during my preparation in the subsequent year. And it paid off big time when a German word, ‘stromuhr’ was thrown at me the following year and I aced it for my 2010 championship win.

mulligatawny

It defines a soup usually of chicken stock strongly seasoned with curr y. This word was derived from the Tamil language which is my mother tongue and so is a special word for me.

spizzerinctum

It defines the will to succeed. It means vim, energy, or ambition. I love this word because it defines my character and aptly describes me.


THE India Abroad

2010

SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT

THE MAGAZINE M25 JUNE 2011

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Malar Veeramani discusses her daughter’s road to the Spelling Bee crown with P RAJENDRAN

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aving Anamika study was a way to keep her out of trouble, says her mother Malar Veeramani. The Spelling Bee and the other honors reaped were just a hefty bonus. “Her strengths are that she is very smart, catches on quickly. But she has to be challenged more or she’ll get into trouble,” feels Veeramani. According to her, Anamika does not get frustrated and once in a competition she does not give up. But when she was younger, getting motivated was a problem for Anamika. ‘Why am I studying? Others are going to the mall,’ she used to grumble. “Her personality is such that once we enroll her in something she wants to go for it full-fledged. She would pester us all the time and pick our brains. When she lost out in the Spelling Bee in the seventh grade, I thought she’d say, ‘I’ve had it’,” says Veeramani. Not Anamika. “She made me sit with her and go over stuff for hours,” says Veeramani. It was also a way of connecting. “It’s not cool to be with your parents these days. She didn’t realize it; I didn’t realize it, but we were spending hours together. That’s what is the most precious reward for us as parents, rather than the COURTESY: THE VEERAMANIS 40K or the trophy or the media attention.” Anamika, left, with her family — mother Malar, brother Ashwin and father Alagaiya There were a lot of frustrations, Veeramani “I’ll be surprised if 30 minutes pass and I don’t live up to anyone else’s expectations.” admits. hear from either of them.” The altercations are over “The siblings bicker constantly, but when a third “I’m short-tempered and (when) she doesn’t get it party steps in, they team up,” says their mother. minor things and, therefore, normal, says VeeramI walk out of the room. Even through that, I think “They don’t need a reason,” she laughs. ani with a sagacity, some hints of which are already our relationship grew,” she says. observable in her daughter. “We didn’t want her to get stressed to the Veeramani says if Anamika had shown no point that she thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s not livinterest at all in the Bee, she doubts if she and able.’ As long as the basics are right, the culturher husband Alagaiya would have pushed her al values are in place, we are fine with that.” into it. Work was a good way to keep the child out of Veeramani came from India after being edutrouble, feels Veeramani. “Character is more cated there at a time it was difficult to get into important,” she says with a rueful laugh. a good college without working very hard. Anamika’s brother Ashwin, 11, has been “I think some of that rubs off,” she says. “On motivated from the outset, telling his parents top if it, she really is smart. She doesn’t realize early that he is different and that he does not it. We don’t tell her up front. We don’t want want to waste time like ‘them’ — the wastrels her to get all (superior) because of that.” who spend productive time at the mall. She says she used to teach MathCounts He also does not feel the sibling pressure, locally and saw Anamika’s performance was understanding that Anamika, at 15, is good in far ahead of other children her age. some things, and he in others. And for that Asked about Anamika’s varying interests — Malar thanks the fact that they are in this spelling, cardiovascular surgery and neurocountry. science — Veeramani laughs and says she and “We owe that to the US. In India, the presAlagaiya place no restriction on her “as long as sure would have been heavy, I think,” she says. she stays out of trouble. As long as it’s con“But here children are encouraged, told they structive, go for it.” are unique in themselves and do not have to Ashwin, his parents say, doesn’t feel pressured by Anamika’s success


THE India Abroad

2010

SPECIAL AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT

THE MAGAZINE M26 JUNE 2011

‘She was only in the third or fourth grade and would use these high school, college-level words’

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Anupama Subramaniam tells P RAJENDRAN what sets her friend Anamika apart

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namika Veeramani may study for her academic grade, but she enjoys chatting with friends, particularly her best friend Anupama Subramaniam. As Anupama, a new student at the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, puts it, “She’s very nice. She’s very outgoing. She’s always there for me to talk to, since we were kids.” From dressing up and pretend games together, the friends went on to learn dance from the same teacher. And it does not matter that Anupama is three years older than Anamika. “She definitely helped me during my arangetram (debut Bharata Natyam performance),” says Anupama. “She decorated the stage and had everything organized, she distributed the brochures...” Anamika has the ability to quietly keep things under control. “She has been very organized since the time we were children,” Anupama remembers. “And Anamika always had the best vocabulary. She used so many big words. And that was when we were little. I would sit next to her at programs and stuff, and she would use these really big, mature words. She was only in the third or fourth grade and would use these high school, college-level words. She was definitely very knowledgeable. She would also have conversations with me about material that wouldn’t be covered at her age level.” “She was the smartest girl in her class — and everybody knew that.” “When I was in the eighth grade, we would have math competitions. She was in the fifth grade and would come (and be on the team) with the eighth graders. She did good.” The friends would meet each other at get-togethers and Indian-style parties. “She began dancing, too, and we could talk about that,” says Anupama. “Then I went to the same school as her — middle school. I saw her around school. Even that furthered

Anamika Veeramani is an avid golfer COURTESY: THE VEERAMANIS

Anamika Veeramani, the queen bee

our friendship.” “She was always curious to learn more. She would always come to me for help with questions,” says Anupama. “She’s very friendly and...” She quickly sums up her description of her pal: “She’s a happy person.” Anupama is looking forward to next year when Anamika is to have her own arangetram. “I’m going to help her with that,” says Anupama, adding that she already goes in and sits in on some of her friend’s classes. Asked about Anamika’s weaknesses, Anupama thinks a bit and rejects the idea. “She’s pretty good at everything.”


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2010

THE India Abroad THE MAGAZINE M27 JUNE 2011

NAVEEN SELVADURAI

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The Innovator P RAJENDRAN logs into the world of Fourquare co-founder NAVEEN SELVADURAI, winner of the third INDIA ABROAD FACE OF THE FUTURE AWARD HOSPITALITY SPONSOR DOMINIC XAVIER

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n faded jeans and a white Usain Bolt T-shirt, Naveen Selvadurai looks like he’s taking it easy. In fact, he’s just taking a break from his sevenday job as co-founder of Foursquare, the social networking Web app that has been growing almost exponentially since it hit the market in 2009 and currently claims an estimated 10 million users. The company is worth an estimated $250 million, and Naveen at an estimated $80 million. Winging his way across the globe, Naveen, along with co-founder Dennis Crowley, has made Foursquare a byword in countries as far as Japan and South Korea. And they have plans to bring in a lot more users. The duo’s product relies on geolocation — locating on a map, usually using Global Positioning Satellites — and lets users inform each other of their location on the basis of which places they find interesting. The more active users are rewarded with digital points and rewards. Those who log in most often from a location get the title of ‘mayor’ of the location. This can translate into hefty discounts or other benefits. Among other things the network ensures a real-time reviewing system, letting users learn about the best places to visit, say, in a city.

And unlike other similar services, Foursquare does not decide whether friends should know where the user is; that choice is left to the user, who has to actively ‘check in.’ Some of the competition — including Google Latitude, which owes something to Dodgeball, the company Naveen’s co-founder Dennis Crowley started, then sold to Google — monitors people all the time. “It’s easier to share something like that,” says Naveen, but points out, “If there was something constantly tracking me and constantly advertising to everyone, then it is not as useful. For one, it’s creepy and maybe privacy-invasive. I don’t want people to know exactly what I’m doing, how I’m walking and where I’m going. The second reason is that there is more value in calling out just the interesting key points throughout the day. Your friends are more likely to pay attention to that.” All the personal data collected is only accessible to the user, though the company can view anonymous data. Naveen was born in Madras (now Chennai) to Selvadurai Kuppuswamy and Latha January 27,

1982. When he was 8, the family moved to the United States. It took him time to get readjust to Torrington, Connecticut. “I went from a really hot environment to one of snow,” he says. “It was hard growing up. It was hard making friends. It was a different culture, a differ-

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From the Editors For building a trust-based community of 10 million people and counting across the globe, and for being a pioneering innovator and leader in the field of social networking, we honor Naveen Selvadurai with the India Abroad Face of the Future Award 2010.


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ent language. Most of my life was just school.” But he had a friend at home, sister Chindhuri, now a research assistant in neuroscience at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “We were close in India and we were close here. We have always been very close. I helped her with school and advice about other things like that,” Naveen says. But Chindhuri was six years younger and hardly a mentor. “I had very few people to look up to for a very long time,” he admits. “My parents wanted me to do well in school, get a great job, probably be a doctor or engineer or something like that. They didn’t push any of the other things — (Indian) dance or music.” But he did study classical violin for a few years. Still, Naveen had watched his father at work, and decided at the age of 10 that he wanted to be an engineer, too. COURTESY: FOURSQUARE HQ’S FLICKR Naveen Selvadurai with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor honored Naveen “My parents were happy with whatever I and Fourquare co-founder Dennis Crowley with a Made in NY Award this year chose,” Naveen says. doing all the time. They e-mail us and send us feedNaveen chose to go to the Worcester back all the time. They talk about us on Twitter. Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MassaAnytime they get interviewed, they talk about us...” chusetts, where, bowing to maternal “Anytime users write to us we respond immedidemands that he do his master’s, he finished ately,” he adds. “Even today, if anyone were to e-mail both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in me, I’d make sure their question is answered or we just four years. During his junior year, he also have a dialog with them.” spent a semester at King’s College, London. Meanwhile, his links with India have grown more While studying at Worcester, he was also tenuous. Though he does visit family in Tamil Nadu working — as an intern, from 1999 to 2001, every four years or so, after the death of his grandat Lucent Technologies. He was working on parents — his strongest links to the country of his client software, designing a front-end user roots — those ties have weakened. interface for an ATM switch, and from 2001 Asked about expanding Foursquare in India, to 2003, at Sun Microsystems, where he Naveen points out there are not a lot of smartworked on software of help to other profesphones there yet. He says there is promise in sionals. He may not have got any preparation phones like Peek, which offer a few high-end feafor work on a Web app, but those jobs gave tures without being very expensive. him a taste of the work culture outside. So how does this New Yorker relax? After graduating in 2003, Naveen got a job “Most of my life these days is about work. I work at Sony, and moved to New York. Here he about seven days a week. Even when I go home (a worked at providing music over mobile new apartment he recently bought in Soho) or outphones. He then moved to Socialight, which side, I’m always checking e-mail or working on my addressed geolocation in a big way. He was phone,” he says. “I’m always testing the product, vice president of engineering. Socialight thinking of ways to make it better and easier.” shared office space with AreaCode, another software startup, where Crowley was then the director of product development. The two pioneers-in-waiting met in May 2007. COURTESY: GAP Naveen Selvadurai and Dennis Crowley make a statement “We compared ideas and notes on what we in a Gap ad wanted to work on. We didn’t want to work gave their feedback. We’ve always thought that for someone else. We wanted to start our own thing. building something great, building something that So, for about a year-and-a-half we talked about One of the youngest professors at others would want to use. For that reason alone, it’s what else we can start,” says Naveen. Princeton, mathematician extraordinaire, important to listen to the users,” he says. Crowley had already sold a rudimentary social a musician of unusual talent, Dr Manjul Discussing how the founders distributed their networking software, Dodgeball, to Google, before Bhargava won the inaugural India Abroad work, he says, “In the early days, we did a little bit of moving to AreaCode. He had been unhappy that Face of the Future Award 2008. everything. He (Dennis) did more of the product Google had not helped his software mature. By

The Honor Roll

2009, Google had shut it down. “In late 2008, we started really working on this thing called Foursquare. And in early 2009 — March of 2009 — we launched it,” says Naveen. Like Dodgeball, Foursquare too was named after a children’s game. “Foursquare was one of the first games I played when I came to the US,” says Naveen, adding that the first logos the pair made reflected this. “In the early days our friends gave us all the feedback and we built it. Afterward, the rest of the users

stuff and I focused more on the technical stuff. It was pretty easy to distribute everything.” And despite glitches, funding came in from some heavyweights — Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Kevin Rose of Digg, Alex Rainert, Dennis’ partner in Dodgeball and others. But even now, Naveen says, the most important feature of the software is actually the user. “Compared to all the other software I’ve worked on, the users are really passionate about the service. They tell their friends. They show off what they are

An astrophysicist exploring brave new worlds, she pushes back the frontiers of our knowledge, constantly. It is the enchanting promise of future achievements that India Abroad recognized last year by conferring on Dr Priyamvada Natarajan its Face of the Future Award 2009.


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2010

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Naveen Selvadurai’s parents show P RAJENDRAN the softer side of the millionaire

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aveen Selvadurai was always a quiet boy, even shy, says his mother Latha. “When he was growing up, he was very affectionate,” she says, adding that though he was not mischievous, he was certainly ambitious. Naveen never watched television, avoided toys and was not into socializing, she says. And once he got his first computer, in the sixth grade, his life changed. He was very inquisitive, especially when it came to physics and math, she says. While at Torrington High School, Connecticut, he made third place for his science project on artificial intelligence, winning a Texas Instruments contest. He clearly knew where he was headed. A glimpse of the style icon he would become was visible in the young Naveen Comfortable with electronics, while still in the ninth grade, he helped develop a system to tape the meetings of the Torrington Board of Education’s school meetings every Wednesday and put it up on the community channel on television. His name appeared in the credits, Latha says with some pride. When Naveen’s mother, his father Selvadurai Kuppuswamy and sister Chindhuri first came to the United States in 1991, they opted to stay in Connecticut because Latha’s brother Parasuraman lived there. By 1993, Selvadurai had earned a master’s degree in business administration at the Maine Maritime Academy. He had enough of going off for months on ships, and decided to look for work closer up. Selvadurai still remembers the From right, Naveen, his mother Latha, father Selvadurai and sister Chinduri summers. But he admits there was no father-son time he had returned home after a long trip, when social life. He was just too busy all the time. Naveen was three. “I came back to the airport. He And work still took him afar, leaving it to Latha to was in my wife’s arms. He was asking me, ‘Where bring up Naveen and Chindhuri. you park your airplane?’” Or when he used to take “He’s a good kid. He never had any problems. He the boy with him on his motorcycle. just wanted to finish his (education) fast and get “He was always attached to me,” says Selvadurai. into business,” says Selvadurai. He used to take Naveen with him to work in the

“He never argued with his parents,” says Latha. “(Selvadurai) didn’t want him to go to New York. Naveen told his father, ‘I’m moving to New York. I’m not moving far away.’ He never said no to his parents.” Selvadurai says Naveen was always a big ideas man, even advising Sun Microsystems to give its Solaris software away free. That bias towards open source keeps up with him as he works on Foursquare. Selvadurai wanted to start something of his own with Naveen, telling his son that engineering is what humans needs. But Naveen had other plans. “I tried to guide him at the school level. After that, I steCOURTESY: THE SELVADURAI FAMILY pped back,” says Selvadurai. Like most of us, Naveen used to like home food, particularly his mother’s Chicken Masala Curry. But not rice. And according to Latha, there is a very soft side to Naveen. “Once we got the Green Card in 1998, he wanted to bring his maternal grandfather, Sundaram Kandaswamy, over,” she says. He worked with the homeless while studying at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, despite a tight schedule there that included a job. He has run marathons in New York, raising money for Camp Interactive, aimed at helping inner city kids. He is also a solid mentor for his sister Chindhuri, now 22. “She looks up to him for everything. He is her inspiration,” says Latha, speaking of the time that he told her that if she surpassed him in all the things he had done at school — indoor track and a year-and-a-half of tennis in his case — he would give her a million dollars. Given that he has change to spare, this could be the time for her to collect it.


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‘They questioned the idea of a model minority; they spoke of our problems’ Margaret Abraham tells ARTHUR J PAIS why women’s organizations that work against domestic violence are true pathbreakers

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athbreakers is how Dr Margaret Abraham, a university professor and an authority on South Asian women’s movements, describes the work of Sakhi and older women’s organizations like Manavi, Apna Ghar and Maitri these past two decades. “They had hardly any resources and they faced a lot of opposition,” says Abraham, who has served on Sakhi’s board and is a sociology professor at Hofstra University, New York. Some people in the community wished these women would disappear, and yet the pathbreakers forged ahead. “They were not just another association. They were movements,” says Abraham, author of the acclaimed book, Speaking the Dr Margaret Abraham Unspeakable: Marital Violence Among South How did Abraham get involved with South Asian Asian Immigrants in the United States, published women’s issues? over a decade ago. “They were not interested in glo“I have always been interested in issues of power rifying our culture; they were true pioneers. They relations and the concepts of identity and marginalquestioned the way the majority community looked ity,” she says. at us; they questioned the idea of a model minority; Abraham arrived in America in 1984 as a 23 year they spoke of our problems; they started building old to do a PhD in sociology. ‘Aspects of power relabridges with law enforcement officials and the govtions, dual identity and dual marginality were key ernment.” aspects of my research,’ she has said in an earlier In the 1980s and early 1990s, domestic violence interview. India’s Jews and their migration to Israel was not spoken about publicly by families; it was was her focus. often seen as something that was not a part of the After Abraham finished her thesis at Syracuse immigrant experience, she has said in her interUniversity, she taught a course on marriage and views and talks. People wanted to show South family. ‘I found a vast amount of literature on Asians as a model immigrant minority community domestic violence, but most of the work addressing and this ideal of a model minority was used by some it was about mainstream communities,’ she has said politicians to humiliate African-American and in an interview. ‘There was very little literature on Hispanic communities. domestic violence among ethnic minorities in the ‘For South Asians too, it seemed it was important US and almost nothing on South Asians and to be invested in that South Asian identity — that domestic violence.’ you were hard working and combined a strong In the early 1990s, Manavi, which began its work work ethic and family harmony,’ she has said in an in 1985, and Sakhi, which did likewise four years earlier interview. later, had begun to make something of an impact in “This model minority image prevented us from the Northeast. ‘I had a group of feminist friends and going out and speaking about domestic violence with them I discussed activism and various aspects because in doing so, it would challenge or break of gender relations,’ Abraham recalled in one interdown the image of South Asians being able to be view. ‘My serious commitment to understanding economically successful and at the same time maingender abuse really started in the 1990s as part of taining strong family values,” Abraham tells India my sociological research project.’ Abroad. Apna Ghar, Manavi, Sakhi and other organizaApna Ghar, Manavi, Maitri and Sakhi’s leaders tions used the issue of violence against women to were not afraid of speaking the truth and fighting bring women across the spectrum — activists and for justice. victims — together. “They became the resources for “Today, we are not surprised by the number of raising consciousness, for providing services, and Indians who run for political office at every level,” mobilization,” says Abraham. says Abraham, adding that a whole generation of Last year, the Chicago-based Apna Ghar honored young men and women has been inspired by these Abraham for espousing the cause of women. women’s organizations to engage with and have a At Sakhi’s 20th anniversary, Abraham said, ‘Sakhi dialogue with mainstream political groups.

has taken big steps to make a difference. If we talked about abuse 20 years ago, it was seen as an issue that was taboo. Now we can talk about it, survivors have a place to go and address these issues, and we have institutions that actually know of the work. One of the greatest joys is that we have not only transformed our communities, but we are also able to celebrate the work that we do.’ Abraham, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband Pradeep Singh (their son Arun is studying in Chicago), is conscious of the need to look at second-generation desis. ‘We do not have comprehensive published data for the extent of domestic violence among second-generation South Asians. That does not mean it does not occur,’ she said in one interview. ‘ Abraham said she has been at events where second-generation desis have told her they experience domestic violence. ‘Many of these South Asian women may be tapping resources outside the South Asian community,’ she has said. ‘It would be good to have a study that focuses on domestic violence and dating violence among second-generation South Asians. Also, while statistics is important, I don’t think it really provides the whole picture of the complexity of domestic violence.’ Women, she has said in an earlier interview, should go to organizations or individuals they are comfortable with. ‘It is not necessary only to go to South Asian organizations,’ she has explained. ‘South Asian women’s organizations have done very important work in the last two decades in addressing domestic violence, both in terms of raising consciousness and service provision.’ She also praised organizations like the Domestic Harmony Foundation in Long Island, Narika in California, Raksha in Atlanta and ASAFSF in Arizona. “It is good to wish that these organizations all go away,” she says, “but that would mean there are no problems. We know these problems are very much with us and around us.” ‘I think that sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that it can happen to you,’ she has said earlier. ‘Some people are blasé or prefer to think it does not happen until it happens to someone they know or perhaps even to themselves. This is where education, consciousness raising and outreach can be helpful.’ A heartening development, she has said, is that men and teenagers have begun to volunteer at South Asian women’s organizations like Maitri,

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Sakhi officials with actress Shabana Azmi, center (in a red sari), at a fundraiser

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inspired by their mothers and sisters’ involvement with such groups. The emergence of second-generation leaders at these organizations is playing an important role, she feels; it will ensure that problems younger desis confront are addressed. Young people who did not encounter domestic violence may not view it as a social problem, she said a few years ago. ‘This should not stop us from educating them about the problem. Part of that education process is making people aware that domestic violence is a problem and a criminal offense. One doesn’t have to be in an abusive relationship.’ She tells India Abroad that one of the biggest achievements of Sakhi and similar organizations is that they have started looking at the problems of lesbians and violence against minorities in other areas. These organizations have also begun to look at issues like bullying at school and dating violence. “Each of these organizations is doing something different,” she says. “Manavi, for instance, is looking at women abandoned in India by their Green Cardholding or (US) citizen husbands.” Though these organizations mostly assist South Asian women, they have also helped women from the Arab world or other parts of Asia. By working for disadvantaged women and their children and making them stronger and productive, she has said earlier, these organizations are making America a stronger society. She echoed her thoughts from an interview with The New York Times a few years ago. ‘Any strong community is one that celebrates and takes pride in its achieve-

ments, but also acknowledges and takes action against its social problems,’ she had said then. ‘That makes for a stronger community.’ Combating domestic violence and the larger issue of violence and human rights continue to be the primary concern of organizations like Sakhi, but these groups also work with groups like South Asian Americans Leading Together in advocating voting registration and advancing immigration

argaret Abraham challenges the community in her interviews, articles and talks. Some of her thoughts: Don’t be a strategic partner through your silence. If you are aware of domestic violence, show your support to the person who is being abused and help them get information and resources to stop the abuse. There’s no harm in checking out and making sure the person is okay. It is great for people, especially young people, to volunteer with some organization or group. Service through volunteerism is not charity, but the idea of strengthening communities, giving back and empowering ourselves by being agents of positive change is about true partnership. As a volunteer you can make an individual and collective difference. We should be proactive in influencing the world we live in. Our commitment should not only be to end domestic violence, but take important steps to end all forms of violence.

rights. ‘We have to think and act about ending violence within our communities and also beyond our communities,’ Abraham has said many times. ‘It is very important to speak out and support the work that individuals and organizations are doing to end violence. In these tough economic times, it is particularly important for us to see what ways we can help nonprofit organizations in the work that they do.’

Apna Ghar, Manavi, Sakhi, Maitri and other organizations have used the issue of violence against women to bring women across the spectrum — activists and victims — together

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The Pathbreakers MANAVI, winner of the INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY 2010, uses words and silence to battle for South Asian women, notes ARTHUR J PAIS

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hen Manavi added a silent march along Newark Avenue, Jersey City, New Jersey, to its many activities six years ago, some people wanted to know why it was going to be a silent event. ‘A big part of why violence against women continues to happen is because of the silence in the community,’ Maneesha Kelkar, executive director, Manavi, was quoted as saying. ‘A silent march is our way to raise our voice — silently. It’s our way of saying that you have to take a stand against abuse. We are a very marriage-centric community. Problems in the marriage are considered ‘inside’ issues that shouldn’t be talked about on the ‘outside’. The silent marches are not directed at women alone. “A brother may know of his sister being emotionally and physically abused,” Kelkar tells India Abroad. “A son may want to help his mother, a father may want to know how he can help a daughter in an abusive situation here or back in India. A silent march generates quite a bit of action, but we don’t see it happen immediately.” Silent marches have been held since then at different locations, including Edison, New Jersey, which has a large South Asian population. “But for the rest of the year we are working and talking loudly,” Kelkar says, adding that South Asian women have been discovering day after day, thanks to organizations like Manavi, that there is no excuse for domestic violence. Manavi is among the handful of affirmation-action organizations for South Asian women that have in the last two decades inspired over three dozen similar organizations across American cities. It was founded in 1985 by Shamita Das Dasgupta, Radha Sarma Hegde, Shashi Jain, Rashmi Jaipal, Vibha Jha and Kavery Dutta. It was started as a consciousness-raising group interested in addressing concerns faced by South Asian women in the United States. However, it soon expanded its goals in response to requests from the community to help women facing abuse. “Battered women started calling us, too, telling us I have this problem and asking us for immediate help,” says Dr Das Dasgupta, an Indian-born psychologist, women’s studies instructor at Rutgers University, and adjunct professor at the New York University Law School. The callers were telling her and others at Manavi about not only being beaten by their husbands or verbally abused by them daily, but also of being exploited by employers. Some had been abandoned without visas or left penniless; some detailed sexual or racial harassment. Das Dasgupta, who did her undergraduate and

Founded in 1985, Manavi was the first organization in the country to focus on violence against South Asian immigrant women

graduate studies at Ohio State University and received her PhD in developmental psychology, was married before she was 20. “I have an incredibly supportive husband, and we have raised a daughter who is a successful physician,” says the author of books like A Patchwork Shawl: Chronicles of South Asian Women in America, Body Evidence: Intimate Violence Against South Asian Women in America, and Mothers for Sale: Women in Kolkata’s Sex Trade. “But I had begun thinking right at the time of launching of Manavi, what if my own life was abused? What could I have done?” Incidents of domestic violence were no more common in the South Asian immigrant community than in mainstream America, Dasgupta and the other founders of Manavi knew. But they also knew for immigrant women the abuse was compounded by the loss of familiar systems of support, she says. “Information, language, finances, even driving skills or how to look at a paper, these were all lacking,” she says. “And these are the concerns, today too.” As the first organization in the US to focus on violence against South Asian immigrant women, a big part of the initial effort was to convince the community that there was indeed a lot of abuse and hiding or denying it was not going to help. “There were no other organizations we could look

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up to,” says Dasgupta. “The mainstream women’s organizations had no clue about the problems women in our communities faced. We learned something or the other every day, but we remained focused.” The organization now serves over 300 women annually, offering legal services to strengthen their immigration status and obtain a divorce, lodging them in anonymous shelter homes and providing

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From the Editors For providing faith, refuge and succor to South Asian women facing domestic abuse; for helping them to make informed choices about the lives they lead; and for being a shining example to the community, we honor Manavi, Sakhi, Apna Ghar and Maitri with the India Abroad Award for Lifetime Service to the Community 2010.


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from the University of London, Goldsmith College, and holds a certificate in understanding women’s human rights from the London School of Economics. “A big success in Manavi being so successful is that we have a group of wonderful women who are experts in many fields. And to that, they add passion and commitment,” Kelkar says. “The support for the

them training to get better jobs. In between, the with Praxis International. In 2008, she was named a organization and its leaders, especially Kelkar, also Fellow of the Women’s Policy Institute at the participate in high-profile discussions like the ones Women’s Fund of New Jersey, to conduct collaboraorganized by the New Jersey Governor’s Office to distive work in Reproductive Justice. Since 2010, she has cuss immigration-related issues. A few weeks ago, at the 26th annual Manavi event, Kelkar announced how despite the recession and continuing economic downturn, Manavi launched two programs to empower South Asian survivors of violence. Its Economic Empowerment Program is designed to help battered women gain financial independence, and the other project, Bolo Behen or Speak Sister, was created with Christ Hospital to increase Manavi’s presence in Jersey City and raise awareness about sexual violence in the community. At the event, Manavi also screened to over 200 guests for the first time the economic empowerment video, Sonia’s Search. The 10 minuteinstructional video was filmed by Vaishali Sinha, and funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sinha, whose documentary Red Roses Manavi serves over 300 women annually, offering legal services to strengthen their immigration explored the lives of South Asian women who status, lodging them in anonymous shelter homes and providing them training to get better jobs come to America through marriage or family Executive Director Maneesha Kelkar obligations, is a big supporter. Her recent feaorganization is growing. We see a lot of young people served on the NJ Commission for New Americans, ture-length documentary, Made in India, directed coming in with their parents. They take pride in seeestablished to integrate the immigrant population in with Rebecca Haimowitz about outsourcing surroing women and children getting a new life.” New Jersey. gate motherhood, has been shown at many festivals, A model minority, the women at Manavi believe, Sonia Haque, who joined Manavi as the outreach including the recent New York Indian Film Festival. gives a helping hand to the exploited and nudges coordinator in August 2009, graduated from the Manavi activists would also love to connect with them towards healing and becoming wholesome and University of Florida in 2003 with a BSc in psycholoyoung South Asian women, some from the second productive, and does so with little fanfare. gy and a minor in Spanish. The following year she generation, who are forced into marriage. In a recent joined AmeriCorps. She interned with Manavi on a interview, Das Dasgupta spoke about how many of project to create an economic empowerment toolkit these young women are being forced into marriages and soon joined its staff. She says her passion for with men from South Asia, or South Asian women’s rights “sparks from living and hearing the Americans, and how they are disowned or made to daily experiences of women.” feel like they are betraying the community if they Razia Meer, who became the transitional home rebel against or divorce abusive husbands. Winners of the India Abroad coordinator at Manavi in 2003 and the director of Manavi staffers come with strong work experience direct services since 2007, was involved in advocating in many cases, and in the case of the younger leaders, Award for Lifetime Service to for the rights of South Asian immigrants in America with full of dedication. Some have also brought with the Community 2010 and the United Kingdom. Like many Manavi staffers, them scholastic and work experiences from several she has always been quick to credit her husband for countries. supporting her. “What is most important is that there is a big group Dr Joy Cherian received the first-ever Saswati Sarkar, who has been the technical assisof younger women, and in many cases their spouses, India Abroad Award for Community tance program coordinator at Manavi since 2007, who are passionately committed to Manavi,” says Das Lifetime Service. Dr Cherian founded the says she draws upon two graduate degrees, a former Dasgupta. Indian American Forum for Political role as community activist, and over six years of advoKelkar, who has held her current position in the Education, aimed to translate the commucacy, systems change and national and local antiorganization since 2004, confesses that she looked at nity's increasing numbers into political oppression training experience. She received her masManavi as a new opportunity, as she felt burnt out in power. President Ronald Reagan named ter’s in philosophy from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, the corporate world. She had graduated with a masDr Cherian as a Commissioner on the and her MS in gender and women’s studies from ter’s in economic development from the American Equal Employment Opportunity Minnesota State University. University, Washington, DC and consulted for the Commission. He served six years on the “I could not have imagined when I was studying in World Bank, taught economics and held manageEEOC from 1987 to 1993, the first AsianKolkata how widespread the abuse against South ment positions at corporations. But within weeks of American member of a US administraAsian women is across America,” she says. “I came to starting with Manavi, she felt fulfilled. tion, under President Reagan and, later, know of the full extent of abuse, be it through the Her work at Manavi is enhanced by the insights she President George W Bush. immigration process or through violence at home, gains from her many volunteer associations. She also during my first few months as a student.” serves on the Prevention and Public Education For his eloquent vision, his selfless genDebjani Roy, who joined Manavi in February 2009 Committee of the NJ Governor’s Council against erosity, and his tireless advocacy of Indian as a programs director. She says her interest and pasSexual Violence, the Public Policy Committee of the and American causes and institutions, we sion for women’s rights and equality began as an New Jersey Immigration Policy Network and the NJ honored philanthropist Sreedhar Menon undergraduate at New York University where she Advisory Committee for South Asian Americans with the second India Abroad Lifetime earned a BSc in marketing from the Stern School of Leading Together. She represents Manavi on the facService to the Community award. Business, with a minor in gender studies. She also ulty of the Advocacy Learning Center, an ongoing received her master of arts degree in cultural studies nationwide training project conducted in partnership PARESH GANDHI

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ell us about some of Manavi’s most heartwarming success stories. The most pleasing stories are of women — women who emerge from the shadows of violence, deprivation, and sorrows as strong, happy and healthy women. They become great workers; they take care of their families; they learn new skills; they make new friends; and they challenge debilitating patterns of living. These women look to being treated justly in society and become contributing members of our community. It is difficult to pick a few stories out, since many come tumbling into my thoughts and also because we have to maintain confidentiality. But I would like the readers to know, particularly those women who may believe they are alone in their suffering, that they are not alone. There are many women who have been in their shoes and have been able to make healthy lives for themselves. I would want women to realize that each of us have the right to live a peaceful, loving life. Some people used to describe women activists as home-wreckers who were unhappy in their own marriages… I believe South Asians who derogate women social change workers have forgotten their own cultural heritage. South Asia has a long history of female activism. Where there has been human suffering, South Asian women have been at the forefront of social change. Contemporary women activists are not unique; they stand on the shoulders of their foremothers. Manavi activists are legatees of this cultural tradition of women change makers. Most Manavi activists are daughters, sisters, wives/partners, mothers, and some like me, are PARESH GANDHI grandmothers. They work to bring about a just and Dr Shamita Das Dasgupta peaceful community. To dismiss women activists’ difficulties, the skepticism and hostility of the commotives as home-wrecking is to be shortsighted and munity not being the least. However, I have to thoughtless. acknowledge the support and encouragement we Manavi’s activists are neither home-wreckers, nor received concurrently. For every person who male bashers. They are activists and they speak opposed our existence there was one who wanted to about holding men legally and socially accountable hear what we had to say, who supported us finanfor their abusive conduct. cially, and who helped us continue with our work. It is best to recognize the debate about women Without these supporters we would not have suractivists being unhappy in their own marriages as vived. the distracting tactic that it is. On our part, we did not allow the detractors to What were the biggest obstacles Manavi’s sideline us or exile us from the community. We founders faced? How did you overcome them? claimed the community as just as much ours as Whenever something new happens in society, theirs. Since it was our community, we had a right particularly if those actions call for making fundato claim space in it and speak our mind. mental changes, one is bound to encounter impediWhat is the role played by men like your husband ments. In the beginning, we also faced numerous

in helping Manavi grow? Men have been an important part of Manavi’s history. And not just my husband Sujan, but many men joined Manavi from the early days. They have served on the board, were members, carried on various tasks and supported us. These men believed in Manavi’s cause and were committed to social change. They brought to Manavi their skills, time, labor, money and critical thinking. Manavi will be always grateful to these pioneering men who struggled with the women to make the organization strong. There are many men who are still great supporters of Manavi. What are your thoughts on second- and thirdgeneration South Asians helping Manavi? Many young women of South Asian heritage work with Manavi. Some work for a short time and others for a while. Some move on to become leaders in other areas of social change. The young women of today are amazing — they are strong, thoughtful, skilled, and committed to social change. They could have so easily turned away from the community, as they are more at ease with the mainstream than the first generation. But so many of these women and men have dedicated their lives to working in the community and have pledged to make it a better place for all. I am grateful for their commitment to Manavi’s work. I learn a lot from them and, I hope, am able to teach them something in return. What is the best advice you can give to a victim? The best that a woman who is in an abusive situation can do for herself is to believe that she doesn’t deserve to be abused. No one does. It doesn’t matter what she has done or how many mistakes she has made, she doesn’t merit abuse. No one can justify abusing another person. That is the first issue I bring up with women who have experienced violence. Generally, I try not to impose my views or opinions on others except for this one position. Regardless of what an individual woman decides — to stay with the abuser or leave him — I try to work with that decision and help her design ways to stay safe. But tolerating abuse quietly is not included in my advice. I tell women not to accept abuse, not ever. And I speak not only of violence within the family, but also of structural violence in society — racial discrimination, deprivation of opportunities, labor exploitation, judicial bias, trafficking, etc. I remember a woman who had asked if she could move into Manavi’s safe home immediately. She had

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ohini Sengupta, 16, is the youngest of over a dozen volunteers at Manavi. And like many teenagers who are drawn to organizations like this one, Rohini is also influenced by her parents’ interest in social advocacy, especially her mother Poushali, who is active in the organization. Rohini says that through her mother, who is a medical director at a big facility in New Jersey, and her father Kaushik, an IBM engineer, she has learned the importance of giving back to society. “I am their only child,” she says, “and they are among my role models.” Rohini also looks up to “Shamita Aunty” — family friend and Manavi co-founder, Dr Shamita Das Dasgupta. Some people would have thought that Rohini is too young to volunteer at an organization dealing with domestic violence, but she thought Manavi would be an interesting place to volunteer this summer. She feels strongly about helping her own community first. She remembers when she went for the interview the

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decided to leave her spouse after more than 10 years of severe abuse. When we went to get her, she and her two sons, both under five years of age, had been starved for nearly three days. They were frightened speechless. The kids hadn’t the courage to even ask for food. The woman had been isolated in her home for years, but the neighbors, many of them South Asians, hadn’t taken the time to find out what was going on in their apartment. They had heard her screams and seen the terrified children, but hadn’t taken the time to talk to them or intervene. When we picked up the woman and her children, the neighbors came out to thank us and expressed their concerns about her. They could have stopped the abuse some time ago, but didn’t. They hadn’t wanted to interfere in the family, forgetting that violence is not a private affair. Once at the Manavi safe home, this very courageous woman worked hard at menial jobs to support herself and her children. She struggled to learn English, driving and skills that would make her selfsufficient. Now she is living alone and raising her two beautiful children. She is flourishing. She not only takes care of her family but also gives her time volunteering for other women’s welfare. There were so many obstacles in this woman’s path: Lack of money, family support, little fluency in English, a temporary immigration visa, an unfamiliar society, and two children who had been abused. Her story is a story of success only due to her enormous resilience and tenacity and her decision not to tolerate abuse. But this is not a unique story. There are many others who have successfully

ger victims of violence, and in the Manavi staff asked her case of immigrant women, the vioabout her thoughts on lence seemed easy to perpetrate. domestic violence. She Rohini, who helps update Manavi’s recalled how she had started Web site among other things, knows thinking of women and viothat being a volunteer will fuel her lence, going back to the own growth. much publicized incident “I get to think a lot,” she says. “I disover a year ago when singer cuss many things, including the Rihanna was assaulted by nature of patriarchic society with volher then boyfriend Chris unteers and the staff. I look at the Brown. root of violence, and I watch how “My reaction at that time abused women are helped to fight for was perhaps typical,” she a new life. And I get to learn about says. “It was like, ‘What did the success stories.” she do wrong?’ Soon, I knew She has a feeling she is going to better. I began to think return to Manavi as a volunteer for about violence among partmany years. ners and spouses. And I said “What I like best is seeing other no one, man or woman, has Rohini Sengupta, 16, is the youngest Manavi members and volunteers being so a right to hit. He can’t hit volunteer committed and focused,” she adds. “And I see good her, or Rihanna can’t hit him.” results all around me.” Rohini also realized soon that women were the big-

‘I am overwhelmed by South Asian women’s capacity to care for others… even the abuser’ come out of violent situations and survived well. What are the life lessons you have learned from working with victims, volunteers and younger women? I am deeply humbled by women who decide to end violence in their lives and fight for justice. I am inspired by their courage. And I am overwhelmed by South Asian women’s capacity to care for others. Even when faced with severe violence, they nurture their siblings, parents, children, relatives and even the abuser. I am amazed by women’s ability to repair their injuries and forgive. From my young colleagues, I learn imagination and novel ways of assessing problems. They come up with unique solutions. Young women today know new ways of communication and reaching out to the community through technology. They tend to be out-of-the-box thinkers. Their dedication to working with the community is also inspiring. How has your work with Manavi helped you expand your horizons and do remedial work elsewhere, especially in Kolkata? Working with Manavi has deeply transformed me. I believe that everyone who has been involved in Manavi’s work has been changed by the experience. Manavi’s objective has always been to support South Asian women’s struggles for emancipation and self-reliance everywhere. To this end we used to have a program to financially support at least one women’s organization in a South Asian country

every year. This program ran for years, but has been suspended recently due to lack of funds. Personally, I have always learned from the struggles and activism of women in many countries, including (those in) South Asia. Lately, I have been spending some months in India each year and working with local organizations there. One of the results is the book I wrote with Indrani Sinha, Mothers for Sale: Women in Kolkata’s Sex Trade, which was published in 2009. The book attempts to understand sex workers as mothers and goes beyond the current debate on the viability and legitimacy of sex work for women. It highlights the aspirations and fears, joys and disappointments, triumphs and failures that sex workers share with all mothers. Based on information culled from more than 750 sex workers, including child prostitutes and 300 children of sex workers, Mothers for Sale explores the lives of mothers involved in the sex trade of Kolkata. When researching for the book, I witnessed the tremendous endeavor the sex-worker mothers exert to keep their children safe and get them away from the environment of sex work. They would do anything to get their children an education, which they believe would secure a positive future for them. These women’s efforts to make a better life for their children have profoundly touched me. It really is astonishing what women do to live in safety and dignity. They deserve no less.


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SAKHI

Advocates of Change ARTHUR J PAIS on how SAKHI, winner of the INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY ACHIEVEMENT 2010, has made a difference

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Sakhi, which was established in 1989 in New York, is an inspiration for newer women’s organizations in other American cities

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young man from near Winnipeg, Canada, gets a frantic call from his married younger sister. She cannot talk to him from her home in a town near New York. ‘I don’t care what our parents will say, but I cannot stand the torture,’ the woman in her mid 20s, who like her brother is an immigrant from India, says, sobbing. ‘I have put up with this for months. They beat me every second day and they expect me to work 10 hours a day in a doughnut shop and more hours at home.’ She has very little education, but she has heard of desi organizations that help people like her. But she wants to get her brother’s approval first. Her hus-

band and mother-in-law have hidden her travel documents, and she is not sure if her visa is still valid. The brother, who has heard about some desi organizations, looks up the Web sites of some of the organizations. Then he tells his sister that she should call the organization called Sakhi. Her problems began about three years ago when her husband realized that people from her village in India had offered much more dowry than she had brought with her. Having lived in America for a few years, she has come to realize the greed for dowry cannot really be satisfied, and he could go on demanding more valuables from her parents. A few days after her urgent call to her brother, she

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is gnawed by self doubt. Maybe her husband will change. But her brother believes she should not live under such oppressive conditions. Some details in the above-mentioned episode have been altered to protect the identities of those involved. But the truth is that two decades ago, it would have been mostly inconceivable that a brother or a family member would advise a married woman to escape the oppression. The change is a testimony to Sakhi and other similar-aimed organizations that not only offer (in many cases) shelter (often free, up to a few months) and psychological

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and legal counseling. More important, the organizations try to restore the women’s confidence, improve their existing skills or provide them new skills, and help them to stand on their own. Some women go through a divorce and find a partner or a new husband. These organizations may not always be successful in rehabilitating the women. In some cases, the women who have filed a complaint against their partners could change their mind — like a New York woman, who was allegedly torched by her husband, but withdrew the charges reportedly because of the pressure put by her community. But the heartening stories one hears — there are at least 3,000 women across America who seek various kinds of help from organizations like Sakhi every year — Sakhi Executive Director Tiloma Jayasinghe, left, and Board Chair are more prevalent. On the Sakhi Web site, Tula Goenka, Tamseela Tayyabkhan have been helped by the organization many one of the founders, notes: ‘The very nature of years ago coming back to help. Sakhi’s work is that it consumes you and then The New York-based organization, now in its spits you out, raw and drained. There is only so 22nd year, is a big inspiration to newer much you can give as a survivor, staff member, women’s organizations in other American volunteer or supporter.’ And yet, year after year, cities. many young and elderly women (in many cases Sakhi was part of a growing movement led by supported by their spouses or parents) offer a mostly young South Asian-American immihelping hand and say that their own lives have grants who wanted to confront social issues been fulfilled by being advocates of change.’ taboo in their homes and neighborhoods. “People say we have helped hundreds of “People in our communities did not want to women change their lives, but the credit should acknowledge the problem, and they did not go to the women too,” says Tamseela Tayyabwant the outside world to know we had such khan, board chair of Sakhi, which is a pioneer problems,” says Tiloma Jayasinghe, a graduate organization in helping South Asian women of New York University and the George move away from an environment of physical Washington University School of Law who and emotional torture and take their destinies joined Sakhi as its executive director last in their own hands. “Many of the women have February. Like many Sakhi volunteers, some of faced unimaginable horror. Some of it has been whom are lawyers, she is prepared to accompaperpetrated directly here, but a part of it has ny the women to the courts. been instigated by their in-laws thousands of Having worked as a social affairs officer at the miles away.” United Nations Division for the Advancement Sakhi’s help is quite extensive: Women and of Women, where she was responsible for anatheir children may need a shelter; they may lyzing and identifying policies and practices need a lawyer to fight immigration and other eliminating violence against women from an problem issues; they may need courses in international perspective, she is using her legal, English or help to get a professional degree. educational, and organizational skills to make Some women may want to remarry and need to Sakhi even more effective than it has been for talk about it with a counselor or a friend at over two decades. Sakhi. Sakhi is not just helping women in distress, Tayyabkhan has been a volunteer at Sakhi she asserts. since 1993 when, as a volunteer advocate, she ‘Yes, we help one woman at a time,’ she helped develop the literacy program by providdeclared at the organization’s banquet last year, ing basic skills of learning English as a second ‘but we are also impacting her children, her language. This literacy program at Sakhi has parents, her extended family, her friends, her grown into an economic empowerment procolleagues, her neighbors, and their children, gram through which access to computer traintheir parents, their extended family, their ing and other skills is provided. One of the joyful experiences of working at Sakhi, says Tayyabkhan, is to see women who M40 X

A survivor’s story

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am human, and I have a dream of my own. From childhood, I’ve dreamed of someday becoming a lawyer. Suddenly, while still a student in college, my mother wanted me married. I was shocked. My mother, the only parent I knew, my caretaker and my best friend, wanted to give all that responsibility, along with her daughter to a strange man! My father died when I was six years old, and I became very devoted to my mother. It was this devotion that made me agree to the proposal in the end. Thus, June 11, 1992, I got married. My marriage was the start of a new era, and I had embarked on a new journey. Within two years, I was in the United States, a pregnant woman. I didn’t know how to talk to all the strange people around me, so I kept to myself. The only person I had was my husband, but sadly, though he could understand the words, he couldn’t understand the feeling beneath them. I, however, came to understand him as an abusive and ruthless man. Yet, I stayed with him for 22 years. I spent the prime years of my life with someone who never understood me for who I really was. It’s a long story, and it only gets longer. In October of 2002, he left me with our four children. I was in bad shape. I cried and cried, unable to see my path. I prayed to Allah to help me out, to make a roof on top of our heads, to help me out of this mess. Out of the blue, one of my relatives took me to a lawyer, who suggested I go to Sakhi for help. Reluctantly, I agreed. When I first came to Sakhi, I didn’t realize how this organization could help me. I suffered from so much angst, but Sakhi helped cut through all that and heal the wound. Their help gave me a new dream, one that was for both my children and me. It made me want to spend my whole life alongside my kids. O my precious children! I want to see them with happy faces and prosperous lives. I’ve become a hard worker, doing my best for people other than myself. From my life experience, I can tell you in a strong voice: Don’t look back. Go forward with life, but always remember to get there on your own two feet. Take a seat in the front row of the Society class; you’re a woman and you’re proud of it! There isn’t a thing women can’t do, without needing to be the play doll of a man to achieve it. Let society and the world know that women, united, can be more powerful than men. I hope someday, we can all march out of our long journey with this slogan: ‘A woman is a woman, not some burden attached to a man. Women is what we are, and what we’ll always be.’ Courtesy: http://www.sakhi.org


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friends, their colleagues and their neighbors, rippling outwards in a true global movement to end violence against women.’ ‘The expertise that we gather at Sakhi, the combined power of all these stories, enables us to amplify the voices of those who before were voiceless,’ she added, ‘and tell of their courage.’ Talking to India Abroad, Jayasinghe speaks of how people at large in the community are coming forward to help the organization, which does not depend on government grants alone. Often, the parents and siblings of activists contribute. The last Sakhi gala was attended by Chandni and Mukesh Prasad, key sponsors of the SAKHI.ORG Swarna Chalasani Economic Sakhi officials with filmmaker Mira Nair, third from right, and other guests at a fundraiser Empowerment Fund (Chalasani, an sociologist Margaret Abraham called ‘the myth of faced with additional barriers that require extra activist at Sakhi, died in the World Trade Center on the model minority.’ support. The learning environment at Sakhi can be 9/11), which gives grants to help people pursue ‘There were hundreds and hundreds of new a safe environment that includes opportunities to higher education and entrepreneurial goals. immigrants who struggled, and their wives strugovercome these barriers.’ Providing English lan“It is with their help and the help of other likegled, too. They knew little English and had little guage skills is an important part of its entrepreminded individuals in our community that we hope skills,’ Abraham has said. ‘And many of the victims neurial program. to expand our programs to respond to the changing of domestic abuse and violence came from this “The goal is to develop better communication so needs of survivors,” Jayasinghe adds. “We have group, though some women with affluent backthat women can navigate American society — started re-galvanizing our Women’s Health ground and good jobs also were victims of this whether the public assistance system, talking to Initiative to focus on the link between domestic viosilent crime.’ someone on the street, ordering at a restaurant — lence and reproductive health and choices.” One reason why organizations like Sakhi were and ultimately enable them to achieve self-suffiJayasinghe believes connecting with mainstream needed was because courts and welfare organizaciency and empowerment,” says Jayasinghe. organizations makes Sakhi more effective. Last tions frequently did not understand the dynamics Sakhi’s journey began June 18, 1989, when September, Sakhi attended the first annual Queensof an extended South Asian family, The New York Mallika Dutt, the well-known activist who now runs based community fair organized by the protective Times noted some years ago. An abused woman Breakthrough, invited a few friends — Anannya services division of the New York City administramay need a restraining order not only against her Bhattacharjee, Megha Bhouraskar, Romita Shetty tion for children services. Sakhi offered information husband but also against her in-laws, Prema Vora, and Tula Goenka, among others — to discuss the about the culturally sensitive services it offers surSakhi’s then executive director, told the Times. domestic problems faced by South Asian immigrant vivors of domestic violence, who are often South Volunteer Falguni Lakhani vividly remembers women. Asian immigrant women. working with a domestic violence survivor. ‘Very early on, we decided we did not want to be ‘At events like these, links are created between ‘She insists I changed her life, but I know that her an esoteric group spouting empty politics,’ Goenka, service providers and the communities we all serve,’ influence on me was far greater,’ Lakhani said in a who would publish a desi cultural magazine a she noted later. ‘For example, child welfare profestestimonial on the Sakhi Web site. ‘The survivor decade later, recalled on the Sakhi Web site. ‘We sionals at ACS can learn from community organizaand I spoke daily and I watched her grow from a wanted to focus on real issues faced by women, tions such as Sakhi about religious, cultural and distraught young person to an empowered woman politicize ourselves, and the society around us linguistic issues that may arise in working with who ultimately took charge of her life and turned it simultaneously. Domestic violence seemed a logical immigrant families.’ around. When I feel down or overwhelmed, I recall issue to focus on. There was no South Asian group There is no doubt that coming to Sakhi for servicthe strength and courage that this 20-year-old disdealing with it in New York City. We also wanted a es can restore a sense of control to survivors and played, and tell myself if that if she can make it, name that stood on its own and not an acronym. provide a safe, open environment, Sakhi’s advocates everyone can.’ Sakhi seemed a good choice. We liked the meaning say. At the same time it is important for survivors to The increasing involvement of the larger commuand it denoted the same thing in several South leave the safety of Sakhi and fend and advocate for nity is absolutely needed, says Jayasinghe. “It takes Asian languages. Sakhi for South Asian Women was themselves on their road to independence, Sakhi a community to end domestic violence of all kinds,” born.’ declares on its Web site. she says. “Violence does not end in a cocoon and it Sakhi’s young founders, who came mostly from ‘Women who face abuse have often been forced to cannot end in a cocoon.” economically well-to-do families in India and who immigrate to the US against their will, and thus do Helping the survivors to advance their job were studying in America on scholarships, knew not have the freedom of living that many other prospects or creating new skills will always be one that Indian Americans enjoyed an annual wage migrants to the US have,’ the Sakhi Web site says. of Sakhi’s most important missions, she says. almost double the national average, and had buying ‘They do not have equal standing in their intimate “It is not a charity,” she insists. “It is a partnerpower of as much as $20 billion each year. But they relationships, so self sufficiency is not encouraged ship.” also knew that the community was a victim of, what more, learning English unnecessary. They are thus


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In December 1989, Apna Ghar opened the first transitional shelter in America serving Asian victims of domestic violence

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bout 10 years before Chicago cab driver Mohammed Haroon doused his wife in gasoline, locked her in his taxi, and burned her in public sight in August 2000, Apna Ghar had been talking and working against domestic violence. One of the organization’s founding mothers, Kanta Khipple, will recall the story of a married woman abandoned by her in-laws in a hospital following surgery. She will tell you about a woman who was left at a bus station in a small Wisconsin city with a one-way ticket to Chicago; the woman had no family in America and no savings. Another woman’s in-laws, Khipple remembers, destroyed the daughter-in-law’s documents so that she could not leave the abusive home environment. Incidents like these prompted Khipple and like-

minded professional friends Prem Sharma, Ranjana Bhargava, Lee Megalaya and Frances Kung to offer help through the newly started IndoCrisis Line. Sharma, an artist, had created the Crisis Line after having learned from her association with local Hindu temples and cultural organizations about the hidden side of the Indian community. In the late 1980s, hotline calls revealed increasing incidents of domestic violence, abandonment, child abuse and neglect, sexual and criminal assault among the growing population of South Asians settling in metropolitan Chicago. The five women decided they could offer help not just to Indians, but women of South Asian origin too. They would refer the victims to shelters, but soon started hearing about how uncomfortable the women — who knew little English and couldn’t

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convey their frustrations and fears — felt there. Also, mainstream organizations were not getting a clear and sensitive picture of what was happening to the South Asian women. Often social workers and anti-domestic violence advocates asked why it took a woman years to leave an abusive relationship. Because of the cultural differences in language, dress, food, religion, family structures and values, Asian-American women were reluctant to seek help from existing shelters and social service organizations. At the same time, social service agencies were seeking individuals with knowledge of South Asian cultures to provide translations, counseling, legal services and other supportive services.

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with Apna Ghar than most other would-be volunteers. “Chatting with her we found out that she These factors led to an organization that now had spent a few months in our shelter home offers a number of services for women ranging with her mother when she was very young,” from a shelter home to a child visitation prosays Program Director Sanjna Das. “Her gram and therapeutic classes for children of mother has established several small busidomestic violence — Apna Ghar. nesses, which are thriving, and this young The turning point for the organization came woman wants to give back. It is one of the as the result of one of the most tragic events in most inspiring stories I have heard here.” the history of Chicago’s South Asian commuDr Rambha Radhakrishnan, a retired faminity — the murder of Shahpara Sayeed, who ly physician from Cook County Health had emigrated to the United States from Services, and Apna Ghar president, believes Pakistan in 1999 to be with her husband and the organization’s continuing success has to children, wrote Harvard College student do with the backing of the older and younger Tanushree Jaggi who studied the incident for generation of South Asians in Chicago. the Harvard-based Pluralism Project. “We have a large number of young volunThe case is officially closed, Jaggi wrote, but teers and they come from different ethnic that is only because Haroon, who had been backgrounds,” she says. “The work done over held without bond at the Cook County Jail, the last two decades is inspiring many people.” died of AIDS-related complications a few The organization publicizes its work years later. ‘Regardless, the event sparked a through activities including walkathons and massive community response that included well-attended fundraisers like the recent Taste Chicago’s Muslim leaders,’ Jaggi wrote. of Life event, which had over a dozen top chefs ‘People from all over the city left flowers and from well-known Chicago restaurants offering candles at the site of the young woman’s food and services. death, people held rallies, vigils, and even a The guests learned of stories like Anna’s, an Unity Walk Against Violence, that was coimmigrant from the Caribbean whose abusive sponsored by Apna Ghar. For Apna Ghar, the husband had made sure she did not have a event, as tragic as it was, marked the beginsocial security number. About three years ago, ning of a new sort of relationship with she sought legal and other counseling from Chicago’s South Asian faith community.’ Apna Ghar, which petitioned for her under Apna Ghar, whose volunteers and staff the Violence Against Women Act. Last year, include women of many faiths, sent letters to PARESH GANDHI she completed a medical billing and coding a variety of faith and community organizaApna Ghar publicizes its work through walkathons and fundraisers like the Taste course. Helped by Ashima’s Progressive tions informing them about the atrocity and of Life event, May 25, which had top Chicago chefs offering food and services Education Fund, an Apna Ghar initiative, she organized a Community Roundtable. passed the course with distinction, and found a job says Khipple, who has worked as a professional The first meeting included representation from as well. social worker for over three decades. “It is not that the Lemont Temple, the Sikh Religious Society of ‘You have helped me put my life back together,’ we believe more domestic violence is occurring in Chicago (Palatine gurdwara), the Muslim she recently wrote to the organization, ‘and see that homes, but that more women, and in many cases Community Center, and the Marthoma Church of something different is possible for me.’ sons, brothers and fathers, are seeking help and Des Plaines. Apna Ghar’s founding mothers would love to hear speaking the unspeakable,” she adds. Apna Ghar was finally able to establish outreach many more such stories. According to Apna Ghar, in one year ending June within South Asian religious institutions. ‘It was difficult for South Asians to believe that 2010, 54 women and children received shelter at its Usha Wasan, a board member at Apna Ghar and domestic violence was occurring in our backyard,’ facilities, spending a total 4,316 days. In addition, an active member of the Lemont Temple, persuadthey said in a joint statement recently. ‘The odds for 21 mothers and children stayed in Apna Ghar’s ed it to allow the organization to have a table and success were against us, yet we were able to overtransitional home for at least 6,475 days. The numbooth at the annual day-long meal. Suresh Babu, come the denial and resistance in our community ber of clients receiving supportive services was 257, organizer of the fair as well as a member of the through the support of key community leaders, pasand 186 sought legal services. The number of nonCommunity Roundtable, persuaded the temple sionate advocates, and dedicated volunteers’. client hotline callers receiving information and suppresident to waive the booth fees for Apna Ghar, port was 1,738. Jaggi noted on www.pluralism.org Among Apna Ghar’s many successful Another result of the Community Roundtable achievements is the South Asian was that the Muslim Community Center, one of the Seniors House of Peace to help neglectlargest Muslim organizations in Chicago, began ed and mistreated older South Asians. giving substantial donations to Apna Ghar in sup“It is amazing that despite governport of Muslims who needed to get back on their ment cuts and declining donations, feet. Donations included food, the first month’s rent dding to the many activities involving children, Apna Ghar is keeping its programs for women leaving the shelter, and other financial Apna Ghar offers dance and movement therapy as intact,” says Serena Chen Low, the donations, Jaggi’s report said. part of children’s counseling. It is offered by Rakhi organization’s new executive director. The Reverend Roy Thomas invited Apna Ghar to Rangapara, who says the therapy helps children create a “It was started by five gutsy women, the Marthoma Church of Greater Chicago, where positive self image, develop self confidence and improve and they are very much with us, except its leaders made a presentation on the problem of on communication skills. for one who has died. Their commitdomestic violence in America, specifically in the In 1991, Apna Ghar opened the Supervised Visitation ment has led to a new generation of South Asian community. and Safe Exchange Center, where non-custodial parents women, and many men, to support the In December 1989, Apna Ghar opened the first could visit with their children in a safe, supervised enviorganization.” transitional shelter in America serving Asian vicronment and parents could drop off and pick up their Recently, a 17-year-old girl called tims of domestic violence. children when the courts determined that unsupervised Apna Ghar and offered to be a summer “Who would have imagined that in 20 years, we visits were permitted. volunteer. She was far more eager to be would serve more than 5,000 women and children,”

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‘We should not be needing an organization like this’

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But Apna Ghar’s founders recognized the need for it in time, notes ARTHUR J PAIS

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anta Khipple, who is in her late 70s, walks with a stoop, and there are several times in a day her energy level dips. But when she talks about Apna Ghar, her face lights up. Even as her daughter Ranjana Khan tells her that it is getting late in the evening and she ought to go home, as it happened at a recent fundraising event for the organization, Khipple will stay back and look at the big change Apna Ghar has brought about in 20 years. “We should not be needing an organization like this; that means there should not be violence against women,” she says, “but it is like saying we don’t need hospitals.” Unlike many similar organizations which were started by women in their From left, co-founders Prem Sharma, Kanta Khipple and Ranjana Bhargava 20s, Apna Ghar’s founding mothers went on to get a degree in social work and worked were really mothers. They were in their 40s. with the Family Planning Institute in New Delhi in “We began with the Indo Crisis Line in 1989,” 1960, then to Sweden on a Swedish government recalls Prem Sharma. “We had little idea of how scholarship for advanced study in social welfare. prevalent domestic violence was in our community. Her interest in women’s issues became stronger But when we began keeping a tab because of our when she joined the University of Michigan in 1964 answering service we knew we had a really big and for a master’s program in public health. growing problem on hand. We felt we needed a bigA sign of her early activism and her connections ger organization, and an organization of our own. to rural India is her clothes. She has always worn a Instead of referring the women to service organizasari or a salwar kameez whether she was in Chicago, tions that had no idea of our unique needs, we in Stockholm or in the Caribbean. The British were thought we should start Apna Ghar.” in India for 200 years and never bothered to wear “We came from very different backgrounds, but the sari, she says wryly. we felt we needed to start something of our own, an In 1986, Khipple’s three children urged her to organization that understood the needs of South retire, but the retirement lasted just about a month. Asian immigrant women,” says Khipple. She wondered why she should retire if she did not Ranjana Bhargava, who served as the executive feel weak physically and mentally and was eager to director of Asian Human Services, has been workwork. She learned about the Club of Indian Women ing with many city agencies and officials for three started by Prem Sharma and the Asian Human decades to make them understand the issues conServices led by Ranjana Bhargava. cerning Asian women at large. The Apna Ghar Though she had told her children she was going founders also include the late Lee Maglaya, who to do only voluntary work, she found herself workwas a race relations coordinator at the AHS, and ing as the mental health coordinator at the AHS the late Francis Kung, who served for years as the when Bhargava moved on to another organization. foreign students’ advisor at Truman College. But the women kept in touch. Khipple is spoken about in almost reverential Working at the AHS provided Khipple with terms by her colleagues and second- and third-genpainful insights, but it also made her resolution to eration volunteers. Instead of retiring, she has conwork with women stronger. Many of the women tinued working with the organization, leading had become so depressed they could not function. many of its protests and marches, and creating Some were married to American husbands who awareness about it at religious locations, especially expected them to be doormats while they had during its first decade. affairs. She would soon discover that similar situaShe says her activism began during India’s strugtions existed in Asian families. Women were also gle for Independence, when she was about 14. She

tortured and emotionally abused when they could not produce a male child. When Khipple sent the women to local shelters, the women started calling her back. Some said they could not eat beef or pork; some said they needed a translator; some worried they could not start a rehabilitation process in a few days and needed a longer stay to heal themselves and learn a trade. Their husbands had deliberately discouraged them from learning a craft or improving the one they had. Some South Asian women were simply scared to be in the mainstream shelters. They were afraid of drugs, they were worried about violence. In many cases, they just did not understand what the supervisors were saying. The shelter people were also calling PARESH GANDHI her regularly to say, ‘Can you please come interpret?’ Increasingly, the founders realized that there was a need for a shelter for Indian women. After wrestling with the name for the new organization for weeks, Khipple suggested Apna Ghar, though she was afraid that it would take some time for a non-North Indian or a non-Indian to get used to it. Back home in India, she told the co-founders, when women quarrel with their husbands, they say I am going to ‘my home.’ They mean they are going to their parents’ home. She wanted the women to feel welcome with an assuring name. “The name has caught on, and officials and social workers in the mainstream have learned to pronounce it,” says Serena Chen Low, Apna Ghar’s new executive director. “My little boy knows how to pronounce it.” Collectively, the founding mothers argue that when Apna Ghar welcomes a woman it is upholding family values. The woman could find happiness for herself in the new environment, protect her child from being a witness to abuse — and may eventually find a husband who accepts her for what she is. “Building the self-esteem of a woman is always on our mind,” Khipple says. It pleases the founders to see their daughters take an equal interest in Apna Ghar. “This is one of the few organizations that has its founders with it. Not only that, our daughters hold offices in it,” says Khipple, referring to her daughter Ranjana Khan, Sharma’s daughter Monika and Bhargava’s daughter Anurima.


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anial Noorani, a Chicago entrepreneur, social advocate and philanthropist, remembers how the bullies in his neighborhoods in Pakistani cities five decades ago went after smaller and weaker children. “When I was invited to join Apna Ghar, I welcomed it as an opportunity to fight domestic violence bullies,” says Noorani, who served as president of the organization for two years, starting 2007. He is the second man to be president of the organization; Sanjay T Tailor was the first, starting in 2001. “Having the support of men is very important to us,” says Kanta Khipple, one of Apna Ghar’s five founders. At a recent fundraiser, she invited a journalist to meet Dr Shastri Swaminathan, a psychiatrist who is also a clinical associate professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. “He has been providing psychiatric services for our clients for many APNAGHAR.ORG years, and he is one of the backbones Apna Ghar distinguishes itself by its staff and volunteers from more than 20 ethnic and race backgrounds, including Caucasians, Chinese and Ugandans of the organization,” she says. Serena Chen Low, the new executive director at sor, worked as a case manApna Ghar distinguishes itself Apna Ghar, has over 18 years of nonprofit leaderager for The Children’s Aid by its staff and volunteers — ship and management experience, which includes Society in Brooklyn, where from more than 20 ethnic and 14 years of service for the Glide Foundation, a social she provided direct service race backgrounds, including service organization in San Francisco. Most recentprogramming for adolesCaucasians, Chinese and ly, she was director of operations for the Make-Acents referred from the Ugandans. Its firebrand comWish Foundation of Southern Nevada. Chen Low court system. At the munity and legal advocate, served on the board of the Donaldina Cameron Heartland Alliance’s Safe Sabrina Inga, is a Ugandan. Its House, a nonprofit serving immigrants and domesfrom the Start Program, staff and volunteers speak neartic violence survivors in San Francisco’s Chinatown, she provided therapy for ly 24 languages, including and was a founding member of the Las Vegas chapchildren and their primary Arabic, Hebrew, Luganda, ter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s caregivers who had experiPersian, Hindi, Gujarati and Forum because of the prevalence of human traffickenced trauma due to Russian. ing of Asian women in Las Vegas. domestic and/or communiThough most of the Apna “I am surrounded by some of the most dynamic ty violence. Before taking Ghar clients are of South Asian people in this city,” says Chen Low. “I find it inspiron her current position, she origin, it has also helped Arab ing to work with them. People want to come back served as a part-time faciliand South East Asian women. and volunteer long after they have held a position tator in Apna Ghar’s Child Another reason why Apna with us or retired. Their dedication is amazing.” Visitation Center. Ghar is effective is that its At a recent event the organization recognized this The organization’s legal staffers and volunteers come Dr Rambha Radhakrishnan, PARESH GANDHI dedication by honoring Swaminathan and Naiyer advocate, Neha Gill, has with plenty of mainstream President, Apna Ghar Rafathullah, in addition to a strong supporter, grown up in India, Mauritius, experience. Sanjna Das, the Professor Margaret Abraham. A longtime volunteer and the United States. She received a BA in interprogram director, has nearly two decades of experiand administrator, Rafathullah was hired as an national relations from Knox College in Galesburg, ence in social services and as a clinical counselor. office administrator at Apna Ghar in 1996 and Illinois, and studied international development in She earned her BA in human services from the worked in that capacity for 10 years. She volunteers graduate school at the University of Minnesota. National-Louis University and a master’s in social as an Arabic interpreter, a language she picked up After interning for a community-based organizawork from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She in Kuwait. tion in Nairobi, Kenya, she became interested in has extensive experience designing strategies that Dr Ashima Mehta, who served as president in fighting for women’s rights. She also serves on the help clients navigate court proceedings, home-own2003, says whenever she thinks of Apna Ghar she is board of the Leadership Center for Asian Pacific ership agreements and family and intergenerational reminded of the saying: ‘Tough times never last, but Americans and is pursuing further education at challenges. tough people do.’ DePaul University. Kathleen Dunn, the shelter and housing supervi-


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MAITRI

The Empowerers ARTHUR J PAIS on MAITRI, winner of the INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY 2010

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The Maitri staff takes pride in encouraging clients to think for themselves HOSPITALITY SPONSOR

We don’t like to use the word victims here, we like to call them our clients,” says Sarah Khan, program director, Maitri, who has spent over seven years with the San Jose, Californiabased women’s organization. “That I think is the right word to use. For what we have been trying to do since the beginning is to get the women and the children on their feet, boost their self esteem, and get them once again to be part of the mainstream world, where they work with dignity and live a life without abuse.” Outsiders do not understand how much Maitri encourages its clients to think for themselves, she says, adding, “We discuss at length the options the women have. Some may still want to go back to their spouses, hoping to improve their situation. Or some may decide to come to our shelter. Unless we give them the options and help them make their own decisions, we may be controlling them, and that is not right.” Amid the many success stories in the Silicon Valley, the persistent fight of a dozen women to create a new life for women of color who are putting behind them abusive relationships just cannot be ignored. Though the local media and the mainstream press in the Bay Area have covered Maitri’s work, its success story needs to be hailed further.

Roma Mazumdar, one of Maitri’s founders, remembers the first months of starting the organization at the home of novelist and literature professor Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in 1991 in Sunnyvale. Known for her bestselling novels like The Mistress of Spices, Divakaruni had just begun to realize that

there were ‘invisible’ women who were physically and emotionally abused by their spouses and needed urgent protection, counseling and support to be on their own.

‘She promised me that no one would hurt us in this place’ A six-year-old transitional Maitri client tells her story

O

ne day mommy told me we were going to a special place. It was a special place for special people, like me and her. She promised me that no one would hurt us in this place, and everything would get better. She also told me I was

going to a new school, and that I was going to have a lot of fun and make new friends. We finally got to our house with our two bags. We had our own room and our bathroom. We met other aunties who lived there. Mommy cooks for them

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and sometimes they cook for us. It is like a family. We go to the park in the evenings with two other girls, just like me, and they like to play on the swings. There is this nice lady who goes to college, and she comes to see me once every two weeks. Mommy says she’s a ‘vol-teer.’ She takes me to watch movies sometimes or to have ice cream. She even helps me with my homework. Mommy says that soon she and I will go to our own apartment. She says it will be only me and her, and maybe I will even get to see grandma again.


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order against their partners and spouses. But we have to provide culturally sensitive and holistic help. We “I was helping a woman who was in have also been offering culturally an abusive situation,” Mazumdar sensitive information to the police remembers. “And I was getting to and social service agencies about realize we needed an organizathe different world in which our tion to help her and surely there women live. At times, a mainwere more people like her. stream social worker or a lawyer Meeting with Chitra began to may just say, ‘Why can’t she leave change things in a big way. We an abusive relationship?’ But there did not have the help of computcould be many reasons, including ers then. We did everything by pressures from the family that ourselves, designing and making keep a woman in a torturing relaflyers and distributing them at tionship. There are many reperIndian stores and places of worcussions to be thought of, not just ship.” here, but back home.” The handful of women also One of the earliest discoveries took a 40-hour course to deal Maitri made was that domestic with domestic violence. violence could be directed from “Anything we did in the start 10,000 miles away, by the in-laws faced resistance,” she says. “We in India or Sri Lanka or Pakistan. were called home-wreckers. “Working with the women and Some people said we had nothing children who are remaking their better to do, but in a few months MAITRI.ORG To get through to the community, Maitri held outreach events discussing domestic violence, raising lives is a passionate job for us,” at least a few people began to says Vishalakshi Vallurnatt, who admit that there was a problem in awareness about the issue puts the word about Maitri across to our community. And they were surthe community and mainstream. Right from the start, she was each new step takes time. They have to prised to find out that it was not only “There are times when we forget we impressed with the dedication of the be restored physically and emotionalthe poor and illiterate women, but also have our own lives. We even forget founders. She recalls being with ly, and that takes time. Some of these the educated and well-earning women about taking a maternity leave.” She is Divakaruni at her home and getting women left their homes without even who needed help to rebuild their expecting her first baby in a few weeks. trained for counseling. Divakaruni’s a change of clothes.” lives.” Maitri’s work is not confined to helpmother-in-law suddenly appeared in “Our new home will be expanding,” Today, Maitri is helping not only ing their clients become new persons. the room with her two-year-old grandshe adds. “Though we do not charge women fighting abuse, but also It supports the showing of independson Anand. He had stuffed a bud from anything at first, many women start teenagers facing violence in their ently made films at local film festivals a plant into his nose and Pelia could paying once they get a job. The spirit social and dating life, and seniors. and literary festivals that celebrate see a tiny bit of it. “Chitra was so of giving back is very strong among “Lately, we have started helping women’s independence. It argues in brave,” she recalls. “She finished the these women.” women who are being abused by their the media and in court rooms against counseling session in 10 minutes and Pelia, who has been Maitri’s presichildren, or other members of the South Asians under trial for murder in took Anand to emergency.” dent and board head but considers family,” says Mazumdar. “They need the US, who have used the ‘cultural As we talk, Pelia and others point herself primarily a volunteer, was not feel they are helpless because they defense,’ arguing that their murderous out the American women’s advocacy working in the corporate world when are thousands of miles away from their actions should be blamed on cultural group they share the floor with. she felt the urge to give back. homes and they do not understand the beliefs. And it joins demonstrations “Here is an example why we needed “I had no idea I could do something local language. Some of the abuse against powerful perpetrators of disour own organization,” she says. “Acrofor my own community till I read an starts when you bring your parents crimination and violence. Through its ss us women seek mostly a restraining article about Maitri,” she says. under a pretext here, but you want Web site and newsletters, it seeks to them to be unpaid babysitters and enlighten people about issues like domestic help. This is a new area of date, sexual and school violence. activism for us.” At Maitri, staffers and volunteers are “Domestic violence is not always becoming increasingly aware that the about beating,” says Khan. “There violence against women and children could be control over money. The fight cannot be easily defined. The staff pays to keep the children away from the attention to stories of violence in the mother. There is also immigration viomainstream media and does its own lence where a woman is made to be reading. utterly dependent on the man because pproximately 1.5 million women are physically assaulted by an intiAs with the other South Asian of her immigration status.” mate partner annually in the United States. Since many women expewomen’s organizations, at Maitri, too, Maitri, which has been offering tranrience multiple victimizations every year, an estimated 5.9 million over two dozen South Asian languages sitional facilities to women and chilphysical assaults are perpetrated against women in the US annually, are spoken. Some of the second-generdren since 1999, recently bought a according to the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease ation volunteers say that though they larger facility for about $1.7 million. Control, National Violence Against Women Survey. can understand one or two Indian lan“In Silicon Valley it may not look like Women are the victims of intimate violence and homicide significantly guages, they are making an effort to a big mountain, but it was a big mounmore often than men. Intimate partner violence accounted for 22 percent learn the languages well so that they tain for us to cross,” says Sonya Pelia, of the violent crimes against women compared to 3 percent of the violent can offer better service. who has been with the organization crimes against men, according to the Department of Justice, bureau of jus“We also keep in touch with groups from the start. “The mainstream sheltice statistics, violence by intimates. similar to us,” says Khan. “We offer our ters help people for a limited period of Each day, more than three women in the US are murdered by a male intiown expertise, having dealt with time because women from this counmate partner. At least 65 percent of intimate homicide victims had physiclients of various backgrounds for try know how to get around, how to cally separated from the perpetrator prior to their death. years. And we continue learning.” get back on their feet. For our clients,

Numbers speak louder than words

A


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‘Could I have said anything different to persuade her to break free from a life of abuse?’ Maitri co-founder and novelist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni tells ARTHUR J PAIS the story behind the birth of the organization

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Was there an incident that led to the founding of Maitri? There were two incidents. When I was volunteering for a mainstream shelter in the Bay Area, a young South Asian woman with a baby came in to the office — she had been seriously battered. We spoke to her and counseled her all day, and got her to go into the shelter as she was obviously in danger. But over the weekend she called her husband and he came and picked her up. We never heard from her since then. The incident really affected me. I kept thinking, could I have said anything different — to persuade her to break free from a life of abuse? It also struck me that if she had had a shelter to go to where she could have talked to South Asian women, maybe she would have felt more comfortable and would not have gone back to her batterer. It made me determined to create a service to support such women through their difficulties. The second incident, also in the Bay Area, was of a young woman in a difficult situation, who grew very depressed and suicidal. A couple of friends and I found out about it, and went and spoke with her and saw how lonely she was, how she felt. She had no one to turn to. This further solidified our feeling that we absolutely had to start a service to help women who felt at a complete loss. We needed to find them a way to get back on their feet. So, together we started Maitri, very small at that time, with no budget — just an extra phone line put in my home. The board members helped pay for the phone each month; we got training through Support Network and took turns answering calls. How did you deal with the people who denied there was a problem and with those who said you should not discuss it in public? This was quite a problem at first. Many felt we were destroying the Indian-American community’s reputation as a model minority. There were threatening messages on our answering machine, but we just kept at it. Each woman we helped gave us inspiration to continue. We held outreach events where we discussed domestic violence, raising awareness about this taboo issue. We were helping the ‘invisible’ people. Depending on how acute the situation was, we referred the woman to sources that could help her, or advise her to contact shelters or the police, or provide other necessary information. All our services are free and confidential. We also offered legal and medical help and family counseling. Most of all, we provided

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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a sympathetic ear, a sense that the woman is not alone, and a strong belief that no woman should have to put up with abuse, ever. Were you always interested in women’s issues? When I lived in Kolkata, I was totally immersed in the culture, and, thus, totally accepting of it. I never thought of women’s rights, or their problems. If things were hard for us, I reasoned that that was just the way of the world. Wasn’t it the same everywhere? This is not to say that there aren’t feminists in India. There is a strong movement, with dedicated women working to improve laws and conditions for their sisters. But I had grown up in a very traditional household, and had been kept carefully insulated from such events. Coming to the US gave me the distance I needed to look back on my culture with objectivity, to pick out what I valued and realize what I didn’t agree with. One of the latter was the double standards in effect in many areas for women, and I strove to remove these from my life. This was also the time I started observing carefully the lives of other Indian women around me. I noticed that many of them were still caught in the old value system that gives a man precedence and power over

them and excuses all their wrongs, and that, away from the traditional joint family that kept a watchful eye on things, such women were even more vulnerable. In 1989 and 1990, I came across several women who were victims of abuse, doubly victimized by the fact that they were unfamiliar with the workings of American society and had no one to turn to. They were also uncomfortable with the idea of taking family problems to strangers, to white people, especially. That was considered a great shame and a betrayal of the Indian community. Several didn’t speak much English. They had no idea of American laws and rights. They believed their husbands when they threatened them that they would be deported if they contacted any authorities. It was when one of these women, desperate and believing that there was no help available anywhere for her, attempted suicide, that I decided I had to do something. What were some of Maitri’s earliest achievements? Getting women to start over. To be happy about the choices they made about their lives. Right from the first, our goal was to help empower women, and I think that continues to be our greatest achievement. I am particularly happy that there is a transition center for women who need a longer time getting back on their feet. Our aim always has been preventative. We try, through ads, to get women to call us before it is too late. We also provide educational workshops in the community to teach women legal and financial independence and survival skills, and we offer awareness workshops open to all — to alert the community to the problem of abuse. Tell us one or two stories of women who were empowered by Maitri. I’ll give you a couple of composites, to preserve anonymity. These were young women who got divorced and went onto college, did exceedingly well, winning scholarships and other honors. One went onto an Ivy League college and now has an extremely good job. There was another young woman whom we helped by providing job training and training for interviews. She got a decent job, then got promoted within the company until she held a very high position. She went on to mentor other women. Women have gone through med school after Maitri

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hashank Chitti, a college student in Orange County, California, helps Maitri with fundraising and other volunteer activities. He learned several years ago that charity begins at home. “When my father passed away (he was in the 10th grade then) about three years ago, my mother started looking to making her life meaningful and active, and that led her to Maitri,” he says. Like him, the young volunteers who help the organization in chores ranging from running its computer system to publicity and raising funds have family members associated with the organization. They represent the growing involvement of second-generation desis with organizations of the ilk. Shashank’s mother, Jaya, says she wanted to volunteer for Maitri for years. “I like the idea of helping women boost their self-esteem and become stronger people,” she says. But since she was raising Shashank and his younger brother, she could not make the time. “My husband died suddenly and you can imagine what a blow it was to me,” she adds. “I had to continue my IT (information technology) work, but I felt a stronger need to give back. Slowly, I was discovering that it was helping me physically and emotionally.” Among the many things she started Sanjana Lakshmi, right, with her mother Jayasri Suresh doing for Maitri was collecting food are many needy people here.’ from food banks and taking it to the transitional The club gave $1,500 to Maitri. homes for their women and children clients. “I began “Many of his friends are now in colleges in different helping out my mom in this kind of work,” Shashank parts of the state, some are outside California,” Jaya says. says. “They are planning to raise money for Maitri on He knows English, Telugu and some Hindi. their campuses, too.” “It is a great help in dealing with some of the peoHelping Maitri makes them model Americans, feel ple in the transitional home or people wanting hotthe young volunteers. By helping the women and line information,” he says. children heal themselves, become self-assertive and At school he started raising money for Maitri productive, the young volunteers feel, they are makthrough the Desi Club. Traditionally, half the money ing America a better place. raised through the club’s annual event went to a charErin Haque feels she is not only doing good work, ity in India. But Shashank argued, ‘We are American but also learning something along the way. She is the kids and we should give back first to America; there

ARTHUR J PAIS meets the inheritors of the Maitri legacy youngest of the three volunteers we meet at the Maitri office, but is very well informed. “I want to know as a teenager how I should be treated,” she says. “I want to help other teenagers recognize abuse, to be aware of it all the time and ask for help when they are in trouble.” She also wants to encourage them to learn about helping others who are victims of domestic abuse. They should be able to recognize domestic violence not only in their own families, but also in other families and do something about it, she adds. Sanjana Lakshmi, daughter of a software engineer and a feminist mother, who works for Maitri, says she has been encouraged by both parents to give back. Helping women and children is part of her family history, she adds. “My mother gave me my grandmother’s last name,” Sanjana says. “She had wondered for a very long time why PARESH GANDHI women should take the last name of their men.” Sanjana’s mother said she wanted to have her mother’s name too, but her parents would not let her do it. “But my husband Sankaran Suresh has my kind of thinking,” she adds. Sanjana has used class projects to spread the word on Maitri. She has enacted stories of abuse and redemption that women and children found because of Maitri. She has learned that domestic violence is not confined just to the uneducated. “The more I am involved with Maitri, the more knowledge I get about women and children,” she says. “I would like to see many other Indian teenagers join us.”

‘Could I have said anything different to persuade her to break free from a life of abuse?’ W M47 has helped them and become doctors who now help women in abusive situations. It’s an amazing ripple effect. Women we helped are now happily remarried, balancing home life and careers. Has your association with Maitri influenced your novels in any way? It has made me more compassionate and aware of women’s issues. My work with Maitri and (similar organization) Daya has been at once valuable and harrowing. I have seen things I would never have believed could happen. I have heard of acts of cruelty beyond imagining. The lives of many of the women I have met through this organization have touched me deeply. It is their

hidden story that I tried to tell in many of the tales in my short story collection, Arranged Marriage. It is their courage and humanity that I celebrate and honor in all my novels. What do you think of the new generation of Maitri volunteers and activists? They are doing so well, so wonderfully. They have achieved far more than I had imagined when a group of us started this work in a very small way. I’m very proud of them and the hard work they put into it. The board, the volunteers — they are all excellent human beings, so motivated. I’m honored to be associated with them. What do you think of the state of some of the women’s empowerment organizations you know of, at least of Daya?

Here in Houston I am associated with Daya, a similar — and similarly wonderful — organization. I used to be on their board and now am on their advisory board. They are a younger organization and, thus, are going through some of the growing pains that Maitri has weathered. They do wonderful outreach programs — often at one of our local universities, using plays and seminars to point out the importance of positive conflict-resolution techniques and the importance of financial independence for women. They do a lot of outreach through local religious organizations. They have a fine transitional home now. They provide counseling, legal help, financial help, job training, job search — all kinds of assistance. I greatly admire the women and men on the Daya board and love working with them.


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SHEENA IYENGAR

Back row, from left, a guest, Garud and Sheena Iyengar and Jasmin Sethi. Front row, Ishaan, center, with friends

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ARTHUR J PAIS on why SHEENA IYENGAR, winner of the INDIA ABROAD PUBLISHER’S SPECIAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE 2010, is so extraordinary

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t is Ishaan Iyengar’s sixth birthday. His parents Garud and Sheena Iyengar, both professors at Columbia University, had planned a birthday party outdoors close to their spacious university apartment in Manhattan. But the rains intervened and the party is held inside the apartment building. The Iyengars have invited some of their colleagues who have children, and a few family members. We see Amarjit Sethi, Sheena’s maternal uncle who gave her away at the wedding in Bengaluru, chatting animatedly with the guests. Sheena lost her father when she was 13. Her gutsy mother, who brought up her two blind daughters to be self-reliant despite early bouts of hopelessness about their fate, is away in India on a short visit. Also present is Sheena’s younger sister Jasmin Sethi, an attorney at the

Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, DC. Both sisters have been blind from their high school years. We watch the simple festivities — Garud, a professor of engineering, is in charge, organizing the games for the kids and making sure that the children do justice to the pizza. For the grown ups there is a variety of Indian food ordered from a restaurant, and Sheena wants to make sure that everyone has at least a second serving. Author of the highly acclaimed and bestselling book, The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar is just a gracious host and a proud mother this morning. After lunch, we move into the Iyengar apartment. We are there to interview not just Sheena, but also

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FROM THE EDITORS For being the world’s leading expert on choice; for her thought-provoking narrative about its power to shape lives; and for being a towering inspiration of human grit, we honor Sheena Iyengar with the India Abroad Publisher’s Award for Excellence 2010.


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THE MAGAZINE M50 JUNE 2011 Sheena Iyengar is the inaugural S T Lee Professor of Business at the Columbia Business School

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chat with her articulate family — her sister, husband and uncle — as to what makes Sheena a dynamic professor, a much in-demand speaker at business centers and top universities, and how she goes about making her important choices. In her book, which is partly a memoir, she not only writes about her parents Kanwar Jit Singh and Kuldeep Kaur Anand’s arranged marriage in India, but also about their plans to bring up their children as observant Sikhs. The Sethis settled down first in Toronto in 1971, and then in New York, leading a struggling immigrant life. Her father died of heart attacks suffered within a few hours. From her memoir — ‘which is dedicated to Dad, who told me anything is possible, To Mom, for being there every step of the way’ — and from the interviews, we learn about some of the big decisions Sheena has had to make. She will tell you that at three years old, she was diagnosed with a rare form of retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disease of retinal degeneration. ‘As a toddler, I constantly ran into things, and at first my parents thought I was just very clumsy,’ she writes, ‘But surely a parking meter was a large enough obstacle to avoid?’ By the sixth grade, Sheena had lost the ability to read. By the 11th grade, she had lost her sight entirely and could only perceive light. She vividly remembers that she was told by her high school guidance counselor that she should not bother applying to college and that no matter what, she

The Thinker would eventually end up on a government handout. But her resilience and her father’s encouragement that she could excel in any field, particularly in psychology, pushed her towards college. She graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania with a BS in economics and a BA in psychology. She then earned her PhD in social psychology from Stanford where she would meet Garud. By then, she had decided that while she would remain committed to her Sikh heritage, when it came to her marriage, she would choose someone she was compatible with. Even if he was a non-Sikh, like Garud was. The following year of her graduation, her dissertation, Choice and Its Discontents, received the Best Dissertation Award for 1998 from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. In 2002, she was the recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Social Scientists for her work on cultural differences in decision-making. In 2005, she was invited to a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before the publication of her book two years ago, she had written for CNN.com, Slate and strategy+business, and was a guest on CNN, CNBC, CBS Sunday Morning News and The Today Show. She had studied while in college and Stanford various choice-making patterns, especially among people

of an orthodox, conservative and liberal religious disposition. In one widely-quoted and discussed experiment she conducted in a grocery store in California, the researchers set up a sampling table with a display of jams. In the first test they offered 24 different jams to taste; on another day they displayed just six. Shoppers who took part in the sampling were rewarded with a discount voucher to buy any jam of the same brand in the store. It turned out that more shoppers stopped at the display when there were 24 jams. But when it came to buying afterwards, fully 30 percent of those who stopped at the six-jam table went on to purchase a pot, against merely 3 percent of those who were faced with the selection of 24 jams. Her research has also shown that the more fund options an employee has to choose from in a 401(k), the less likely he or she is to enroll in the plan. For those employees that do enroll, having more fund choices tends to lead to poorer investment decisions. Her book, which made the shortlist for the Financial Times Business Book of 2010 Award and competed against outstanding writers like David Kirkpatrick, Michael Lewis, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Sebastian Mallaby and Raghuram Rajan (the eventual winner for Fault Lines), was among the best reviewed books of 2010. It offers provocative and often startling insights into wide-ranging subjects from arranged marriage to personal growth movements to the concept of happiness under

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Iyengar, but adds quickly that her “irreCommunism. pressible” son can choose what religion She has, in short, become a worldhe wants to follow — if at all — when he renowned expert on choice. ‘No one grows up. Her immersion in Iyengar asks better questions, or comes up with culture is evident; she not only knows better, more, intriguing answers,’ noted to make Bisi Bele Bathu, a traditional Malcolm Gladwell, who quoted her Karnataka dish, but also pronounce it work in his bestseller, Blink. the way her in-laws, who live in The Art of Choosing has been called Bengaluru, would. ‘refreshingly thought-provoking’ by The We talk about how Garud and New York Times and ‘a page-turning Sheena got to know each other and narrative that blends academic rigor decided to marry. He was certain that with a pop culture sensibility’ by The she was going to be his lifemate and Boston Globe, while The Wall Street told his parents. They consented, but Journal felt it was ‘provocative rather not before, according to The New York than prescriptive.’ As in her classroom, Times, his mother visited the family in her book she mixes stories from popastrologer who told her not to worry. ular culture and her personal life told The couple, the astrologer told Garud’s against the backdrop of economic, mother, had been married in seven past political, business, religious, and spirilives and would be married in seven tual realms. future ones as well. The inaugural S T Lee Professor of “In the Sikh wedding, we basically tell Business at the Columbia Business our daughter that this is the time of School and research director of the your life when a new era begins,” recalls Jerome A Chazen Institute of her uncle Amarjit Sethi. He remembers International Business, she says she telling Sheena, “Up until now, you were will not waste her energy deciding on living in your parents’ house. Now the trivial matters. Sheena, 41, has also said second phase starts, where you have to that ‘choice can provide a sense of freebelieve in a life of give and take. dom and control that is essential to our well-being.’ ‘It is the most powerful tool we have to shape our lives, to go from who we are today to who we want to be tomorrow,’ she added. ‘Unfortunately, the misunderstanding and poor practice of choice often undermines its many benefits and leaves us frustrated, overwhelmed and unhappy.’ She tells us that she wrote the book “to reach not only to the business world looking to improve strategy, leadership and customer relations, but also for readers at large.” Among the many important choices she had to make in her personal life was how to raise her only child. She decided to PARESH GANDHI bring him up as an Sheena Iyengar, an impressive professor, is a much sought after speaker worldwide

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Sheena was diagnosed with a rare form of retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disease of retinal degeneration, at age three. By 11th grade, she had lost her sight entirely

Everything will be shared from this point onwards. If you start sharing and do it the right way, and not try to overtake other shares, life will be good. You are adopting a new family. Your mother-in-law will be treated like a mother. If you treat your mother-in-law as a mother, your husband will treat your mother as a mother. Now, after so many years, I have never heard any complaint from Sheena’s mother-in-law or fatherin-law. Sheena has been very cooperative. We are talking about two totally different cultures. One is 100 percent vegetarian; the other is 100 percent non-vegetarian. But things worked out.” “Sheena’s mother and I are very close to the Iyengar family, to Garud’s parents,” he adds. “We see each other, we invite each other, we have dinner together, we eat together, and we laugh together. It’s like adopting a new family in India. In India itself, there are so many different cultures that in India itself you are a foreigner until you see the other regions. The language is different, the religion is different; you are

a foreigner in your own country. This is an experience — that we got to know another Indian culture. So, we are more Indian than before.” During the hours we spend in her apartment, chatting with her family, Sheena is ever ready to offer any help for this feature. She lets us chat, discreetly offering tea and other refreshments. She dotes on her son, but is aware that he has to be disciplined in a smart way. He played an important part in her book. ‘You were the invaluable youth consultant who asked every night “What story did you write today?” and listened patiently as I explained,’ she writes in the acknowledgements section. ‘In my efforts to make my stories clear and engaging for you, I inevitably discovered new and better ways to tell them to everyone else.’ At the end of the interview as we say goodbye to the family, Sheena, who is in the next room, emerges with my notebook. I had left it behind. “I think this is your book,” she says.


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‘Happiness is not a goal I know to wrap my head around with’ Professor Sheena Iyengar explains the personal choices she makes each day in a fascinating interview with ARTHUR J PAIS ow do you go around making choices? There is one particular decision-making process that I have used for pretty much all the big decisions: Should I get married, should it be to Garud (her husband), what the career choice would be, how to write a book, or to limit all my speaking engagements to no more than two a month… There is essentially one pattern. Most people would say to you that when they think about their choices, and they try to compare and contrast their choices, they make up pros and cons: If I marry this person, these are all the positives and these are all the negatives; if I don’t marry, these are all the positives, these are all the negatives. If I write a book, these are the good things that could happen, these are the bad things that could happen, should I do it, should I not do it? I would say this is essentially not the right Sheena Iyengar way to go about deciding what choices to Why did people tell you that you should not marry make. The reason is because you essentially get disGarud? tracted by lots of different pros and cons that are For obvious reasons. For one, he was an Iyengar, I irrelevant. What I always start with is: What is the was a Sikh girl. We were very different. A lot of peogoal? It’s possible that I have the wrong goal in mind. ple also felt it would be difficult for a blind person to I am not going to say we know what is the best thing get married into a traditional family. How would one for us. But I start with the goal and I really judge manage? Some people had plenty of reservations as every choice by the yardstick of that goal. Once I to whether it would work out. Many people felt it know the goal, it may be that none of the choices are would be so bad that this could end in us breaking up. really relevant. I would say that those fears were shared by both famOnce I know the goal, I may actually create the ily members and non-family members. choice that I want or that is more in line with that Now, let us say you thought about that as a choice. goal. So, that is really my yardstick. Once you know Then you would say that the choice is: Should you get your goal, you are able to get opinions from people married, should you not get married? Then you and you know from my book I am a great believer in would make pros and cons for both of those. And you getting opinions from other people and learning from would compare those choices. I would say if you did their experiences. But I judge those opinions based that, you would get distracted by a lot of things. Then on my goal, which makes it a lot easier to know which you would get bogged down in lots of details. opinions matter to you versus which ones will matter Well, the pros and cons of marriage versus the pros less. and cons of not getting married: I never really I believe you asked my husband how he decided to thought about it that way. For me the goal was I wantmarry me, right? I can give you from my perspective ed to spend time with this person. I didn’t know the answer to that as well. It was not an easy decision whether it was going to work out or not. And if you because there were plenty of people that were ask peoples’ opinions, they have opinions as to naysayers and there were plenty of reasons to say whether it will work out or not work out. that this is not a good idea. There were much fewer If my goal was simply to spend time with this perreasons to say that this would be a good idea. I got son, the only way to maximize on that goal was to opinions on both sides. There were people who felt I marry, irrespective of whether it works out or not. So should get married and there were people who felt I you see, essentially, it ended up becoming clear as to shouldn’t marry Garud.

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what choice to make. Because if you know your goal, then the dominating alternative becomes transparent in many cases. In a sense, when people would say how did you make that choice whether or not to marry this person? I never really felt like it was much of a choice only because I understood my goal. I would say the same thing was true when I chose my career: I never asked myself: What would make you happy? Lots of times people ask themselves: Should I take up this job, should I take up that job, what would make one happy? Happiness is not a goal I know to wrap my head around with. I simply ask myself: What would you be good at? And if your goal is to do what you would be good at, it becomes much easier to figure out what you would be good at and usually it is more transparent, so your choice is much easier to make. Actually, most often, it is more obvious to you. And so when it comes down to the question of limiting myself, I am seeing that since I wrote the book (The Art of Choosing) over two years ago, my schedule has become very, very busy and since there are many smaller goals that one wants to maximize, you want to have to reach out to as many people as possible, I would say that the number one goal in terms of my work life is always to produce quality. First and foremost, you will see that if you get too busy, you begin to lose the ability to deliver as much, right; because you will get so busy that you will not have time to think through every single decision. Once you recognize that even though people will say ‘Well if you limit your (public speaking) schedule, if you don’t do it many times, you will lose fraternities,’ all of that become distractions if you pick that up against your goal. You want to make sure you have quality. If you say, look, I want to make sure I do quality; quality in terms of you don’t want your research to suffer, you don’t want your teaching to suffer, you don’t want your performance in giving talks to suffer. Once you have that goal in mind, it becomes very easy how much you can have, all in order to maintain quality. I feel the number one thing people really need to being a good chooser is knowing their goals. The more you understand those, then you understand what the dominating alternative is. It becomes clear

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to you which is your best choice. It also becomes clear to you that none of these choices are working and it becomes clear to you how to create the choice that would work better for you. And then your workload is also clear. What do you need to do? I think most of what leads us to be dissatisfied with our lives and our choices is our inability to figure out what our goals are. Then we see something happen to us, then we are unhappy and then we don’t understand why we are unhappy, or why we chose what we chose. That is really because we really didn’t know what our goals were. Your sister Jasmin she told me about your audio books , and how she would listen outside your room. What books gave you a lot of strength, a lot of happiness, a lot of satisfaction? Interesting! I really like the story of the Mahabharata. I think there is a lot to that story and you can learn a lot about life. Not an easy book obviously. I don’t know if I would say that everybody should pick it up, considering how long it is. There’s a lot to that story I like The Mahabharata shows how there is really no one good guy. Essentially, every character has pros and cons; it is quite complicated in the end. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran — that was an interesting read. I think it is sort of a more Judea-Christian-Muslim take on life. I also like Self Reliance by Emerson. Would you tell us about a book or film that made you think more about life? Did you see The Tree of Life? I don’t know how it will do at the box office, but I found it fascinating. It is about the tug-of-war between nature and the human race. This reminds me how complicated it is to figure out how to parent your child. They (the couple in the film) are loving parents, but they had very different ideas about what lessons to impart to their children. The mother really wanted the children to appreciate the beautiful things in life and the father really wanted the children to be tough, engage in trickery and get ahead in life. You know, when you look around you, parents are constantly trying to figure out how to raise their kids, what decisions to focus on. I would say, probably we are figuring how to decide even more than in the domain of our work life. In our work life knowing your goals is very, very important, knowing how much information and choices we have to face today. The average person in his job engages in about 120 tasks in a week. But I think, in your family life, all the different decisions you have to make about child-rearing are much more complicated than your work life. And it becomes really important to think about your goals. Very often, when you talk to people in their middle age, when their kids are all grown up, they are disappointed with things that their children ended up becoming or doing. They say I wish my child was more religious, I wish my child had these sets of values. You know some of that is not in your control; but when you ask them, ‘Did you impart these goals to your kids?’ you often find they did not do it. So much so that they figured out that these were important to the children only when the children were not there. And it does seem to me — not that you can really protect against being dissatisfied with

‘Happiness is not a goal I know to wrap my head around with’

Five of the six authors shortlisted for the Financial Times Business Book of 2010 Award — from left, Raghuram Rajan (the winner for Fault Lines), David Kirkpatrick, Sheena Iyengar, Sebastian Mallaby and Andrew Ross Sorkin

how your children grow up — that that is a domain in which one has to think about one’s goals because your children aren’t always going to be everything that you want them to be. What goals do you have for your son Ishaan? I am not your typical traditional mom in that I am not the kind that is there for him every single day and every single minute of his needs, so to speak. I really focus on the things that I care about. I want him to have a good understanding of his roots, I want him to understand that he was born an Iyengar, to understand what that means, to understand Hindu mythology. I hope he has that knowledge. Whether he turns out to be religious or not is really up to him. I want him to have a sense of discipline, discipline in terms of how he approaches his work and to know how to exercise discipline. I want him to have a strong sense of responsibility and duty — you could call them Indian values, universal values. You have to have a strong sense of obligation and responsibility to your parents, to your family, to society. Other than that, I am willing to let him be free to pursue whatever goal he wants. From my perspective, I want him to understand his roots, I want him to have discipline, when he pursues things to work hard at what he pursues. He should have a good sense of responsibility to his family and society. I want to expose him to different things: Some things he will take on, some things he won’t. So each day, I will think what do I want to expose him to? When you called we were just doing an exercise of what he sounds like when he’s whining, when he’s grumpy, when he’s yelling at people. I want him to understand (both) how obnoxious it sounds as well as how his voice is just out of control. I decided that instead of yelling at him about it,

which seems thoroughly ineffective — I think part of the problem is that he doesn’t understand how he is coming across — I decided to use exposure as my tactic. So, I got him a little tape recorder. This is something I use for myself anyway — a tape recorder to record myself before I give a lecture so I can hear myself, how this is going to come across. I bought him the same tape recorder and I recorded him. I recorded him sounding angry, sounding sad, sounding whiny, sounding grumpy and then I said let’s try that again. That was another way of communicating. It’s done without lecturing him; it’s funny. He took over that tape recorder and was replaying himself, and replaying himself. He was listening to himself and the different voices. I think it’s a good age to start delving the communicating skills into him. Your sister Jasmin and many others have told me how much you love traveling, that you have travelled to more than 30 countries. Tell us how you fell in love with travel. I first started traveling in a big way in 1989. I was starting my junior year in college and I decided to study abroad in Madrid. It was not because I had a particular passion to go to Spain, but in my high school years, when I had to pick a foreign language, I had picked Spanish. So, when I got to college, the only place where you could go study abroad depended on you passing the fluency test. So, I ended up in Madrid. I stayed there for a semester. When I was there, I somehow had this very romantic image of travel, I don’t know if it was because I was a product of the time or whether it was specific to me. But I had this image that the really cool people would backpack all around Europe. And whenever

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You get a much more cleaned up version if you do the tourist sites. Even though you lose time on actually seeing what a country is like if you go as an academic, you get more of the local flavors. You meet the faculty members, the PhD students, you get a sense of what their values are, what their lifestyle is like. And, that’s what, I guess, I find interesting. When did you get interested in food?

you ended up at a train station in Europe, whether it would be in Paris or Berlin or wherever it was, there would always be this group of Americans with their backpacks and they were talking about how they were traveling around all by themselves for three months or six months and roughing it out. And these were considered to be cool people. Anyway, I was in Spain and I wanted to be one of those cool people. I used to travel a lot with this one girl. Her name was Valerie. We ended up traveling to a number of places throughout Spain. We traveled to the Berlin Wall when it fell. It was in November of 1989. We went to the Wall, joined in the party and also participated in the chiseling of the Wall. But East and West Germany had not yet merged. And in those days even though it was easy to go back and forth (between West and East Berlin), your exchange rate was much better if you got your East German marks on the West side. We even smuggled in money. I COURTESY: SHEENA IYENGAR remember smuggling money Sheena Iyengar and her mother Kuldeep Sethi enjoy the London Eye under our clothes. We were pretty I’ve always been interested in food. My father was bad (laughs). really into food. He loved to try out different dishes We went to Salzburg and Vienna. Oh, we got stuck and come home and try to prepare them at home. in a concentration camp on Christmas Eve because That was a big hobby of his. My father was around the gatekeepers did not know there were tourists. So until I was about 13. My mom is your traditional we got locked in; we had a bit of a traumatic experiPunjabi housewife. Her favorite food is Roti Aloo or ence. Luckily for us, there was a little chapel that had something. I got exposed to a lot more cuisines when been built at the edge of the premises. At midnight, I was growing up because of my father. I suppose I somebody came to drop off a little Christmas tree, took to it well. I do tend to try cuisines from different and that was how we finally got out. parts of the world. I also cook in a more fusion way. I Valerie and I parted ways in Paris. I went from would say some of my favorite cuisines would be real there to London. I traveled again in 1995. I went to Chinese like in China. I’m a big fan of French. I’m not Japan as part of my dissertation. I had studied as big a fan of Italian. Japanese for a couple of years when I was a PhD stuWhat I like about different cuisines is I look for difdent. While I was there, my (future) husband visited ferent cooking techniques and different spice combime and we ended up traveling to cheaper parts of nations. I’m always fascinated by the kinds of things Asia. At that time, the money you got in terms of dolthat people try out. I am always fascinated by the diflars as compared to the yen was pretty bad. We ended ferent spice combinations that people came up with in up going to places like Singapore, South Korea, different parts of India. Thailand. What questions do people ask you at book readings? I’ve always had a fascination for culture. So, as part What is interesting about choice is that it affects of my research, I’ve always found ways to go to differevery aspect of people’s lives. At almost every session, ent parts of the world. somebody or the other will ask you a question about a What do you enjoy most on your travels? particular kind of choosing domain that you have not I really like to learn about a culture when I go to a been confronted by. place. I’ll go as a tourist and there’s something to be For example, yesterday, I got an e-mail from someenjoyed being a tourist: Going to the museums, one who runs one of these pantries for the homeless. checking out the restaurants and doing the tours, etc. He wanted to know whether when offering people free I often find that I learn a lot more if I actually go as food should he give them choice or should he just give an academic because then you actually meet the them a readymade pack. locals. You talk to the locals and you see more of their I first want to know what the data was. Did he have life. I find that I get more interesting stories that way.

THE HONOR ROLL Winners of the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence VANITA GUPTA Lawyer India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2004 ANURAG KASHYAP, ALIYA DERI, SAMIR SUDHIR SHAH, RAJIV TARIGOPULA Spelling Bee Stars India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2005 SUNITA WILLIAMS Astronaut India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2006 RENU KHATOR President and Chancellor, University of Houston India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2007 JHUMPA LAHIRI Novelist India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2008 MADHULIKA SIKKA Executive Producer, NPR India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2009 RAJU NARISETTI Managing Editor, The Washington Post India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2009 ABHIJAT JOSHI Screenwriter India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2009

any observations about people’s perceptions of the food he was offering; who the people were, the age group, etc. I gave a talk at Bloomberg– and I was asked, ‘How do you make sure that your choices don’t get affected by the way people stereotype you?’ Another question I was asked was: ‘You know Bloomberg only offers me Coke at lunchtime. Is that because of some experiment?’ You know, they come out of all different directions.


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My visit to an Indian astrologer, says Sheena Iyengar, was prompted by an interest in the relationship between prediction and choice

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ow are they able to put so much faith in one man? What is it that gives astrology such sway over them? Here I am, finally, seated on a divan in an airy room, feeling somewhat airy myself — perhaps from anticipation, perhaps uncertainty — awaiting the attentions of the famous S K Jain. Above me, ceiling fans turn languidly, not so much to cool visitors, I think, as to disperse the incense that has been lit somewhere in this ante-chamber. I arrived through a long corridor, a passage from the ordinary world into a quieter, more mysterious one, and was met at the door by two women who asked me to please remove my shoes. The floor is smooth and cold, seeming to my exposed feet the perfect foundation for a new experience. One of the women gets things started by asking for the date and precise time of birth for me, my son, and my husband. She needs to know the exact minute of each in order to print our charts, which will reveal the locations of the stars and planets when we were born. Before she leaves to enter the information into the computer in an adjoining room, she instructs me to pray to Lord Vishnu to take away my sorrows and shortcomings and replace them with bliss and joy. This involves chanting the following mantra one hundred times: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” To help me keep count, she hands over a string of one hundred beads; with each repetition, I should slide my forefinger and thumb from one bead to the next. The other woman, who has been waiting patiently, now sits beside me to monitor my progress and come to my aid if I stumble over the words. Not wanting to disturb the hush that seems native to this place, I proceed in a whisper, my voice barely audible even to myself. Upon reaching the last bead, I return, as if from a trance, to the fans and the fragrance of the waiting room. The time has come to meet Dr Jain, one of India’s most famous astrologers, thanks to his popular show on Udaya TV and his high-profile consultations with prominent government officials. My visit, shortly after New Year’s 2009, has been prompted not by any resolutions but by an interest in the relationship between prediction and choice. Over

Sheena Iyengar’s book, which was among the best reviewed books of 2010, has made her a world- renowned expert on choice

the years, I have seen how the diverse group of my Indian friends and acquaintance has used astrology to make a variety of decisions. Marriages, for example, have been sealed, scheduled, or broken. The path to my own marriage was lit by the stars, if you will. When my husband and I decided to marry, our families were not entirely pleased. He, an Iyengar, member of a South Indian Brahmin caste, was expected to marry another Iyengar. Not only was I not an Iyengar, we didn’t even share the same religion; as far as our relatives were concerned, the match was inappropriate and most likely doomed. My soon-to-be mother-in-law hastened to a trusted astrologer. As soon as she walked in, even before she was able to ask her question, the woman told her, “They’ve been married for the past seven lives and will be married for seven more!” All that was left was to make it official in this life: We were married — in a traditional Iyengar wedding, no less. In India, astrologers are frequently solicited for advice on personal affairs, but their influence also extends to the public sphere. The politicians and officials who consult Dr Jain might be asking him about the outcome of an election or looking for guidance on a matter of state business. How are they able to put so much faith in one man? What is it that gives astrology such sway over them? I’m here as an observer, a seeker, a skeptic. I want to know why people allow their choices to be directed by this arcane art. However, in the atmosphere and ceremony of this unusual ‘office,’ I’m

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finding it a little difficult to keep my researcher’s hat from slipping. Chanting complete, I am led into the inner sanctum and seated at a desk, across from the man himself, whom I imagine as a slight but impressive figure dressed all in white. After examining the charts, paper skies rustling at his touch, Dr Jain tells me in a gentle voice that my marriage was destined — now the second time I’ve heard that. He also says that my son was born under a lucky star and will live a long and fulfilling life. We spend an hour talking about my life, my work, the ways in which I could be a better guide to my family. To conclude our session, I’m allowed to ask one specific question. “Anything you like,” he says. I think for a moment. “The book I’m working on,” I say. “How will that turn out?” He needs a little while to mull it over. A little distance, too. He shuffles off to another room, leaving me to wonder what he might be doing in there. Perhaps meditating upon a statue of Krishna and then ringing a bell to summon the answer? Maybe he’s poring over a book containing the wisdom of the ancients or reciting his own special mantra. Whatever his method, he does come back with an answer, one he delivers with confidence and benevolence: “Madam, his book will far exceed your expectations.” Excerpted from The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, Hatchette, with the publisher’s kind permission.


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‘Had I not torn my ligament, I probably would never have met her’ SPONSORED BY

Dr Garud Iyengar tells ARTHUR J PAIS about his unusual love story

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son I am going to spend my life with. he story of your marriage is very What made you say, ‘This is the perromantic. It is like a Bollywood son I would like to spend my life with’? story. As Sheena would put it, I have this Oh! The bus stop story. I thing called responsibility mania. To haven’t told you the story… me, what is important is that the perSheena must have told you many times. son be very sincere, have a very similar Tell us your version. Then, let’s comset of values. My parents are very pare stories... important to me. It was important that This was my first semester in the US. I whoever I marry would be able to work had started graduate studies at Stanford. with them, be able to relate to them. Towards the end of that semester in 1993 She seemed like somebody who had I had torn my ligament. Before tearing overcome all kinds of difficulties in life. my ligament, I used to go around on a She had a varied upbringing. She had bicycle. So, there I was, waiting at the gone to Japan (when she was a PhD stubus stop to take the bus back to my dent at Stanford) and fended for herapartment. Sheena was also waiting. self. At that time her name was not Sheena; I wanted my wife to be confident, to she was Arlene Sethi. The fact that her COURTESY: SHEENA IYENGAR be an equal, rather than somebody who name was Arlene Sethi will become rele- When Sheena, aka Arlene Sethi, wed Garud Iyengar takes care of me. I wanted it to be a vant in a little bit. So, we met, we sat, we cooperative situation. She seemed like a person who department people waiting to protect her. chatted. I was very nervous about my PhD qualifier was loving, yet confident. I could see her telling me I was half convinced that behind the doors of the that was coming up in a couple of weeks. that whatever I am doing right now is just utterly various buildings there were people hiding to proLater I found out that Sheena thought I was this stupid and I shouldn’t be doing this. I wanted sometect her. But nothing bad happened fortunately lonely Indian guy with no friends. So she decided to body who would be willing to say that and be will(laughs). take pity on me and started talking to me. Maybe ing to take the heat for it. That’s how we met. That’s how we started seeing she was given the impression by her parents and How did you prepare your son Ishaan to the fact each other. It was just a chance event. Had I not everybody about immigrants not having friends. that his mother cannot see? torn my ligament, I probably would never have met The story was obviously not updated even when Actually I don’t think we prepared him. I don’t her. there was a mass of Indians showing up. think we really took the step. In fact, our view was Who proposed first? I start talking to her. Then at a certain stop she quite the opposite, that this is his existence. Just as We knew each other for three years before we got gets off. I get off at the next stop. I thought she was there are people who are in a wheelchair and their married. We met in the summer of 1993. We decidinteresting. I thought it would be very nice to meet children grow up with that. To me, it was just part ed to get married probably at the beginning of 1997. her. But she very strategically gave her name as of Sheena’s identity. I felt we take our parents for We talked for at least three years. We started out as Sheena, which was her nickname, and which she granted, whoever they are. They are our parents. friends. We used to even talk about other people would officially adopt soon. But I did not know all And this was his mother. that we liked, but then we began to realize how this. It’s an ongoing process to educate him that certain much we liked each other. Two or three days later, I was in the main comthings work with his mother and certain things We thought it would be a good commitment to puter center at the university. There was an ad there don’t. But we never really said that ‘Look your mom each other. If my memory serves me right, it was I which said that a blind graduate student in psycholis blind, therefore, you have to do some set of who proposed. It was also the circumstances: ogy wants to have readers and there was her telethings.’ We figured that from a very young age, he Sheena was graduating and there was a time when phone number. But this time it was her name would see it. He will see that this is how it is. somebody had to take some step (to propose). I Sheena, not her official name. So I found the numWhen he was very young, we put little bangle-like think Sheena wanted me to propose and wanted me ber, I decided to give her a call. This was during the things (bells) on his legs, so that Sheena would to be the one who took the initiative. Christmas break. I left a message saying ‘I found know where he was in our house. He used to strugYour parents live in India. How did you tell them your ad and I’d like to meet with you at some point’, gle with the bells and try to pull them off, but we about Sheena? and that was about it. I didn’t think anything of it. had to keep putting it back. Slowly he started getThey came to know of her indirectly. My mother’s She came back from vacation and gave me a call. ting a little bit of understanding of them, he undersister’s sister-in-law used to live very close to She said, ‘How did you find my number?’ and so on. stood that they were needed for a reason. Stanford, so I occasionally visited their place. I took I said it was in an ad and so I called you. She susOnce he started speaking, they were taken off. Sheena once to their place; so they knew I was seepected that I was some kind of stalker trying to get Then we had to work with him to tell him when he ing some girl. hold of her. When I said ‘Why don’t we meet for spoke to his mother that he can’t nod his head, he I am sure the sister-in-law would have talked to lunch?’ she came up with this idea of meeting in the can’t wave his hands and that he had to be very speher sister-in-law, who would have talked to my Thai café, which was in the psychology building, cific about making sure that he talked to her and not mom. Other than that it was just a direct statement: thinking that if something happened she could made gestures. This is the person I am interested in. This is the pershout and there would be all these psychology


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THE MAGAZINE M60 JUNE 2011

‘She is a force for higher achievement’ Jasmin Sethi on how Sheena Iyengar has been more than a sister to her SPONSORED BY

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successful in the workplace; how to make heena and I are nine years apart. She people look past the blindness and see you has been a lot of things to me, not just a for a professional and a competent person. sister. There are times she has been For all of these things, she always provided almost a parent because our father passed a lot of advice and just understood intuaway when I was five. My mom and my sister itively what the problems were and what essentially raised me. She was changing my the solutions could potentially be. diapers when I was born and babysitting me There are many things I have learned when she was nine. So, she has been a sister, from Sheena. There is always a value to she has been a parent; and as I have gotten work hard and achieve. Be comfortable in older, she has been a mentor, a mentor in a lot deciding what makes sense for you and not of ways, professionally and personally. just looks good to others. Don’t just judge She was always very tough on me, even yourself by what everybody else is doing, tougher than my mom in terms of performing but think about what would make me the well in school. I would write a paper, Sheena best at what I want to be. And, set an would read it the night before and say, ‘Oh, objective goal for that. this is crap and you need to redo this paper.’ She also taught me: You do work that is Then she would help me and push me to redo objectively recognized. You don’t worry everything and work harder to make it a about what your colleagues are doing or much better piece because she always wanted what anyone else thinks. Do what objecme to do more and do better. She was contively gets you good quality. stantly a force for higher achievement. That is something I have striven for in Personally, growing up as a blind profesmy career — what I should be doing to be sional, she has taught me a lot of things; a good lawyer regardless of what anyone practically, how to do different things — else around me is doing. Sometimes you everything from cooking to traveling, finding get advice, but you also have to kind of different tips on how to get things done. A lot decide for yourself what it takes to be realof blind people struggle with that, especially ly good. That is definitely a very important if they do not know other blind professionals, lesson. but I had someone at home who could We tend to live in a very self-absorbed answer just about any question. society. We tend to focus a lot on ourselves, Sheena’s help was crucial because while our own preferences. But she is a crossgrowing up I knew that our mom didn’t know cultural psychologist. She sees the clash everything as she had emigrated from India between the Asian and the Western. and so she did not know much about the Indians are more focused on the group as American education system and how to move well as your duty to family; not just looking up professionally. But Sheena was supposed at what your own preferences might be at to know everything! Anytime I found out that PARESH GANDHI any one point and time. Sheena didn’t know everything, I was almost Jasmin Sethi with Ishaan and a guest at her nephew’s sixth birthday party I think constantly trying to balance that, tryhard on her which, of course, was not fair at ing to figure out what makes sense for me as an missed. Mom and Sheena thus found out that I had all. But that was just part of growing up, I think. individual, but at the same time keeping in mind been listening to the story and I got into big trouble. Sheena and I both love novels. We both listen to a what is also good for the group; not just neglecting When Sheena was at Stanford, I spent a summer lot of audio books. When I was about seven years one for the sake of the other; but actually trying to with her in California. We did different things: old, I would sit outside Sheena’s room trying to lisbalance both. Without her I would not have learned Hiking the foothills, going to restaurants. With ten to her books; her books were more interesting to appreciate it enough. Sheena I tried different kinds of cuisine. I would not than my books. For instance, if she was listening to have had that exposure to different ethnic food had Gone With the Wind when she was a teenager, and I Jasmin Sethi is an attorney adviser in the division of it not been for her. Mom didn’t eat a whole variety was way too young to listen to it, I would sit outside trading and markets at the Securities and Exchange of food. It was mostly Indian food, North Indian her room listening. Commission. She holds a JD and PhD from Harvard food at that, and a few other things, like pizza or It was a kind of family ritual that when mom was University. She received her BA, magna cum laude, falafel. making dinner, making Roti and so on, we would from Harvard in applied mathematics and economAs an older sister and friend, the strength I tell her what we did all day. Sheena would also tell ics. A Fulbright Scholar, she received an MSc in ecoreceived was blindness mentoring. Anything I went her about the books she was listening to. Mom nomics from the London School of Economics. through, I knew she would have gone through would get entertained with these dramas. Sheena Among the many honors she has received are the something similar: Whether it was a difficulty of would tell her each day what happened in the story. Mary P Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Award how to do something practically or how do you tell It was like a Hindi movie serial almost, but told presented annually to blind people who have when onions are fully sautéed or to get to know a within the family. demonstrated superior scholarship, leadership, new city when you are interning in a new place. But then I got discovered. Because every time enterprise and service to others. Anything from that to the bigger things: How do Sheena missed something in the story, I got impaShe spoke to Arthur J Pais you overcome the stereotypes that make yourself tient, and I would tell both of them what she had


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2010

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THE MAGAZINE M61 JUNE 2011

VIJAY IYER

Vijay Iyer

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VIJAY IYER, winner of the INDIA ABROAD PUBLISHER’S SPECIAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE 2010, tells ASEEM CHHABRA that in the past he used to be someone on the fringe of the mainstream jazz community. ‘Now, I am part of the conversation’ n 2009 Vijay Iyer recorded his 12th album, Historicity, his first with the German label ACT, and something clicked in a different way. “This was the first time I wasn’t just playing my own compositions,” Iyer says at his home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “This was my first piano trio album, which is a classic format in jazz history. More than half of the album was covers — pre-existing material —from a wide range from the last half century. There was something about it that a lot of people could find themselves connecting with it.” And the accolades piled on. Iyer’s group, the Vijay Iyer Trio (with Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums), was named Best Ensemble (international) in the 2010 ECHO Jazz Awards, the German equivalent of the Grammys. Historicity was ranked the number one jazz album of 2009 by top

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media outlets, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and National Public Radio. JazzTimes magazine’s poll with 40 critics voting selected Historicity as the number two jazz album of the year. Oh, and then there was the Grammy nomination for the jazz instrumental album of the year. “In previous years I would get handful of those mentions,” he says. “That year I got all. It sort of kicked things into a different gear. There was such a critical mass around that album that it actually sold some copies for a change, which is very rare for a jazz record.” In the past he felt he was considered someone on the fringe of the mainstream jazz community. “Now peo-

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FROM THE EDITORS For blazing a pioneering trail in music; for being the first Indian American to really make a mark on the jazz scene; for his artistry and virtuosity, which has been hailed the world over; we honor Vijay Iyer with the India Abroad Publisher’s Special Award for Excellence 2010.


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ple see me in a landscape of the jazz scene,” he adds. “I am part of the conversation. That’s more than I ever expected to happen, particularly as an Indian-American man entering this area. So it’s really validating and I hope it will inspire others in our community. But I also know these things come and go and nothing is permanent.” He said he had low expectations of winning the Grammy, since votes are cast by all members of the body, most of whom are not jazz literate. They usually vote for the most popular name. One of Iyer’s co-nominees, well known saxophonist James Moody, died the week after the nominations were announced. Moody had never won a Grammy. So, his win was almost guaranteed, Iyer says. “I was very happy he won, and it didn’t even feel like a loss,” he says. Then he adds with a laugh: “And I will always be referred to as a Grammy nominee!” Iyer was born and raised in upstate New York, in a family that was part of the early wave of Indian immigrants who arrived in the United States in Vijay Iyer, left, with Nitin Mitta and Prasanna, his collaborators on Tirtha the 1960s. As a child Iyer took violin who basically owned it.” lessons and played in the school and a youth orchestra “I saw that this music had a role in people’s lives and in Rochester. But he was also fascinated watching his that it reflected the stories of their lives,” he adds. older sister Pratima play the piano. Over years, he “That’s an education that you can’t teach in a classexperimented playing her piano. room.” “That’s basically how I learned to play the piano and For a while he led this double life — a physics stuit took a long time, but it’s still ongoing,” he says. dent as well as a jazz musician. But music took off in His high school jazz band accepted him as a pianist ways he had not anticipated. While at Berkeley, he and there were many music sessions at home with came into contact with the world-renowned saxofriends in his parents’ family room. As an undergradphone player Steve Coleman. uate student of physics at Yale University, Iyer contin“He’s a genius, a visionary, incredible composer and ued with his passion for the piano, finding a way to also very grounded in the history of music,” says Iyer. play somewhat professionally at an off-campus club “I started hanging out with him and his group in San called Malcolm’s. Francisco — he’s originally from the East Coast. He “I will never forget one night at Malcolm’s as I was sort of took me under his wing. When I listen to myself playing a solo section in a quartet setting on the comback then, I hear nothing but flaws (laughs), but it was position called A Night in Tunisia by Dizzy Gillespie, very generous of him. Part of it is that I hadn’t gone to and I had this sudden realization that I was getting a a school to learn music and he must have appreciated real-time response from the audience,” he remembers. that I learned music my own way.” “That was a revelation to me that there is this dialogiThe major turning point came when Coleman called cal dimension to music and there’s a whole storytelling him to go on the road with him, that too to Europe. aspect to live performance.” “And I had never performed professionally,” Iyer says. Iyer also continued to follow the scholastic path. By that time he had finished his course work and From Yale he joined the University of California, research and was more flexible. Berkeley to pursue a PhD in physics. Iyer’s first album, Memorophilia, was released in In a way his real piano education started from the 1995 with Coleman and other band members. time he moved to a neighborhood in Oakland, But there was still that question of a PhD. Iyer finalCalifornia, across from a club that had jam sessions ly had a conversation first with himself and then with every Sunday. his parents about taking up jazz music as a full-time “They didn’t have a piano, and when they found out profession; and not finishing the PhD. that I had a keyboard they asked me to practice with “It was more about that all these years I had worked them,” he recalls. “Once a week, or once every other on something and now I was about to abandon it,” he week, I would sit down and play in this jam session recalls. “It wasn’t like I was losing interest in physics, environment in Oakland. It was mostly an Africanbut I was equally interested in music and it gave me American community, one place where I experienced instant gratification.” the music in the context. It was a place where the “When I told my mother, it was very upsetting for music was created, and I was surrounded by people

her,” he remembers. “It was especially upsetting because no one knew if it (playing jazz) was viable and it seemed like a damn foolish thing to do. And actually it was in the scheme of things. I knew that music would be a path of struggle. But I also realized that if you are going to struggle with something then you should also love it, otherwise you would be miserable. I also knew that there was a possibility and it was something I loved that I couldn’t deny.” Eventually, he created his own independent PhD program at Berkeley — in technology and arts. At Berkeley Iyer also met his future wife, Christina Sunita Leslie, who was in the mathematics PhD program. The couple moved to New York City in the late 1990s. They have a five-year-old daughter, Jayanti Nina Leslie-Iyer. Jazz had become his calling and that was validated when he visited a physics academic conference. He met some of his peers, many of whom had taken up assistant professorships in small universities in remote towns. “When they asked me what I was up to, I told them that I was living in New York playing music,” he says. “I sensed they were mad because I was ALAN NAHIGIAN doing what they wanted to do. That was kind of eye-opening — that even though we were all struggling, they thought I was living a dream life.” By now he was touring regularly with Coleman. It was through Coleman that he met fellow IndianAmerican jazz saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. “We were in the same room and Steve said, ‘You guys need to work together’,” Iyer recalls. “Obviously that was a very important connection. Rudresh and I had our quartet for a solid 10 years. We still perform together.” Iyer’s second album, Architextures (1998), was a collaboration with Mahanthappa. They entered the field nearly at the same time and went through the process of struggle together, getting small tour engagements. “Jazz is a pretty small market,” says Iyer. “We tried to make it viable, even though we were pretty marginal on the scene. Little by little we started to get visibility. But there was quite a struggle in those early years in 1999 and 2000.” One way they got around was looking outside the marketplace for funding through nonprofit organizations and other foundations. “That helped fuel a lot of our innovations,” says Iyer. “There were things we were able to do because of those grants that helped us form some of the musical language that we developed together.” Historicity carried a cover image of British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s sculpture that was featured at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Iyer’s next two albums, Solo and Tirtha, both also from the ACT label, carry different Kapoor sculpture images. Iyer has 15 jazz albums to his name so far — solos and works he recorded with an array of veteran and contemporary jazz artists, and even Indian classical

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THE MAGAZINE M63 JUNE 2011

‘There is a power that we wield as musicians that I take very seriously’ SPONSORED BY

Grammy nominee Vijay Iyer is among the first Indian Americans to enter the jazz scene. ASEEM CHHABRA shares notes with the gifted pianist

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o you play every day in the morning, after your daughter has gone to school? Yes, certainly if the house is empty around 10 or so, if I am not pulled into business stuff. Then I will try and sit down for a while and lose myself in the music. Which is not to say that I am not paying attention (he laughs), but it’s more that I am trying to achieve a certain unity. Sometimes it works. Making music is like doing yoga or meditating in that it brings you in touch with different layers of who you are and what you are. You confront your own limits of what is possible and you can stretch on those limits. And you also become aware of the non-unity of consciousness. So it has all these qualities. So, this is religion for you. It basically is. It is a spiritual practice. Unfortunately, I am going to watch you play now, and I don’t know how spiritual that would be for you. Yeah, not very. Iyer then plays a solo piece. Are you religious at all by the way? Not particularly. I was raised sort of Hindu (and he laughs loudly). Weren’t we all… We went to temples sometimes. We sang bhajans (Hindu devotional songs) sometimes. We did a lot of things sometimes. It wasn’t very organized. It was more about major events that would be a focal point. And also for me — our social life revolved around the Indian community in Rochester. That was our community, that was our safety net, those were our people. The foundation you get from being around these people, that becomes your bedrock and that helps define who you are. I saw you perform last month at the New York University with the Vijay Iyer trio. What I liked was watching you interact with the audience. You really seemed to be enjoying being on stage. When you perform what goes on in your mind? Are you aware of the audience? I mainly respond to the general energy I feel in the room, the audience’s response. And also how things feel and sound. I sense how things feel at that moment and I even try and authentically improvise through the whole set. Even to the extent of what we are going to play next is a choice based on what just

Though Vijay Iyer’s tryst with music began with the violin, it was the piano that captivated him

happened and what the moment seems to dictate. I am not there just to display something, but to feel connected to the audience. It is not just about perfecting something at home and then showcasing it on stage. It is about the process, the engagement with my colleagues on the stage and the energy in the

room. But how do you define the energy in the room? I have to say it’s a bit different playing in New York than elsewhere. I have been here for a while and the audience knows me. I am not a complete unknown quantity here. I can trust that the audience is somewhat there with me already. But sometimes I may have to disarm them. They might think who is this Indian guy playing piano? But they have come to see this Indian guy playing the piano… Well, in New York certainly. But in Stuttgart, maybe not. In Melbourne, I am not sure. COURTESY: SITA RAGHUNATHAN But when they buy the ticket they know they have come to see Vijay Iyer, who is of Indian origin. At some level they know what they are getting into. But you want them to be authentically engaged in what’s happening and not have any preconceptions. So, you have to get them past the preconceptions, if there are any. It’s just something I have had to face being an Indian American in this area of music and being among the first is that people sometimes have no idea what to expect. So, you want to cut that immediately, perhaps by addressing them directly. You speak with an American accent and that must help… Yes, certainly, and perhaps that can dispel the initial mystique. Sometimes it is also nice to work with the mystique and the sense of the ritual. So, we might sometimes start the set with an alaap, something that opens gradually and unfolds very delicately, mysteriously, step-by-step in a contemplative fashion. It has a ritual quality to it. What you want to do — as my friend Wadada Leo Smith (trumpeter and composer) once said — what we can do as musicians is to eclipse the realities that the audience bring with them to the moment of performance and create something that has its own selfcontained reality. So, in a way it makes them not forget, but depart from where they just came from. And then when they leave, you will have altered them somehow. There is a power that we wield as musicians that I take very seriously. So, that can be done without saying anything. We can come on stage and set that in motion.


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‘The world needs more musicians than physicists!’ SPONSORED BY

Vijay Iyer’s parents tell ASEEM CHHABRA about how their son jettisoned physics for jazz

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ita Raghunathan remembers the day very well. It was Valentine’s Day weekend in 1994 and she was visiting the Bay Area on a business trip. During her visit, she had lunch with her son Vijay Iyer, who was at that time pursuing a master’s-PhD program in physics at the University of California in Berkeley. During lunch, Vijay told his mother that he was considering taking up music as a profession, and not finishing his PhD. “It was emotional for both of us — it was not easy for him to tell me that he would not continue with his PhD and it was not easy for me to hear that he was going to drop science,” Sita recalls at her home in Rochester, New York, that conversation 17 years ago. “At the back of my mind I was also thinking about him (points to her husband Y Raghunathan), since he’s a scientist. It was important for him that both his children study science, especially because they were so good at it.” “So we had a very long conversation,” she continues. “I remember telling him, ‘You have been given these gifts for a reason, so find a way to balance them. If you have this education, if you don’t drop out, it will be good for you.’ I remember telling him those exact words, because I went over it again From right, a young Vijay Iyer with his father Raghunathan, sister Pratima and mother Sita

COURTESY: SITA RAGHUNATHAN

and again in my mind afterwards, thinking, ‘Did I say the right things to him?’” She had concerns about her son’s career and his future. “As a parent I wanted him to be happy doing what he was doing, at the same time we had spent a lot of energy getting them educated, giving them the best opportunities, including an Ivy League education,” she says. “And nobody had done it (become a musician) in our family.” “Especially since we were first-generation new immigrants,” adds Vijay’s father Raghunathan. “Where was the security and stability in this field? We didn’t know anything about the lives of musicians, even though we knew he was excelling in music.” “I remember Raghu said to him, ‘There is so much work that needs to be done in physics’,” says Sita. “And Vijay said, ‘The world needs more musicians than physicists!’’’ It all worked out well. Iyer took his mother’s advice and went back to school, eventually developing his own PhD program that interconnected his passion for music with science.

The proud parents at their Rochester home DOMINIC XAVIER

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‘The world needs more musicians than physicists!’

“We didn’t tell him anything,” says Raghunathan. “He channeled it himself with the help of his professors. He had some very good mentors.” Sita remembers an early December morning last year. She woke up and logged onto her computer. As a habit she visited her son’s Facebook page. Vijay had updated his status — just two words — ‘Grammy Nominee!’ The phone started ringing soon after, Sita says, as family members called from as far as India and Phoenix, Arizona. Since it was early, Sita sent her son a congratulatory e-mail instead of calling him. “We didn’t know what it actually meant,” says Raghunathan. “We had seen all these pop musicians win Grammy nominations. But we didn’t know what it means for a jazz nomination.” “I remember the picture of Norah Jones on stage holding her trophies and Michael Jackson winning all the Grammys,” adds Sita. The Raghunathans came to the United States as COURTESY: SITA RAGHUNATHAN At home, Vijay, left, would perform for his parents, sometimes by himself and other times with friends part of the early wave of immigrants in the 1960s. profession,” his mother adds. One day he mentioned to his mother that he was Raghunathan did his PhD from the University of The first time the Raghunathans saw their son pergoing to audition for the high school jazz band as a Florida in Gainesville in pharmaceutical sciences and form professionally was at the Yoshi’s Jazz Club in the pianist. “I asked, ‘How are you going to do that?’” Sita landed a job with a pharmaceutical company in Bay Area. “It was lovely,” remembers Sita. remembers. upstate New York. Sita started an MBA program at They now make occasional trips to New York City to The next day he came home and told his mother the same university, but finished it later at the see their son perform. In April, they were at New York that he had been accepted as the pianist. Rochester Institute of Technology, when her children City’s Asia Society where Vijay performed from his “I called the jazz teacher in school who told me he — Iyer and his older sister Pratima — were in school. new album, Tirtha, with Indian fusion guitarist had natural talent,” she added. “He did say that Vijay After her MBA, Sita worked for 26 years at the Xerox Prasanna and tabla player Nitin Mitta. At home the had picked up some ‘bad habits’ since he was selfCorporation. Raghunathans often listen to his music on CDs. taught. So, the teacher suggested it would be good for Music appeared naturally in the household. When “We don’t have iPods,” Sita says laughing. “We are him to take some lessons too. That summer he took Pratima was six, she started piano lessons, while Vijay quite old fashioned that way.” about half-a-dozen piano lessons and that was his jazz took up the violin. “We always had some Indian music Raghunathan considers Vijay’s first album Memorotraining. But mostly he is self-taught.” playing in the house, so we thought it would be good philia among his favorites. “It was very good and some At home, Vijay would perform for his parents, somefor them to have some classical music training,” Sita of his mentors performed on that (album).” times by himself and other times with friends. “Wherecalls. “There were no opportunities for them to learn Sita also likes his newer work — the Grammy-nomnever we would have a celebration, a party, he would Indian classical music here, so we enrolled them in a inated Historicity and Tirtha. have a jazz quartet or a classical violin performance in western classical school.” “Some of his musical pieces have evolved over the the family room,” says Sita.“He was pretty serious.” Pratima and Vijay were enrolled in the Barley years,” she says. “There was one piece called Even when he went off to Yale to study physics, he School of Music in Fairport, New York. Later, they Remembrance that he had performed earlier, with played in jazz bands. took private lessons. Vijay played the violin throughRudresh (Mahanthappa) playing the saxophone (on “We never discouraged him from playing,” notes out his school, performing in the orchestra and also the 2006 album Raw Materials). That was nice, but he Raghunathan. playing with the Rochester Philharmonic Youth plays it again in Tirtha and that sounds so good.” “But we didn’t encourage him to take up music as a Orchestra. At times he would play on his sister’s piano.

W M62 musicians. Historicity featured the trio’s interpretations of many popular pieces of music, including M.I.A’s Galang and Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere. “People cover music all the time,” Iyer says. “It’s part of the tradition. I just cover music that affects me, from Stevie Wonder to M.I.A and Steven (Stephen) Sondheim.” Iyer’s 2005 album, Reimagining, featured a version of John Lennon’s Imagine. “That was a major point of reference to re-appropriating and transforming existing cultural objects — one that is out there, with which you can have a dialog,” he adds. “Improving is the main directive, the prime way of expressing new ideas in jazz.” Iyer has a range of other work behind him and some other forms of experimentation that he hopes to share

The Artist in albums soon. His collaboration with poet-rapper Mike Ladd has included looking at different states of being brown in the post-9/11 environment. They are working on a project focused on young, minority veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Tirtha features Indian guitarist Prasanna and New Yorker Nitin Mitta on the tabla. Iyer has worked with other Indian-origin musicians including Karsh Kale, Talvin Singh, Suphala, Trichy Sankaran and Umayalpuram K Sivaraman. With all his success, Iyer still has one concern — that in all the conversations around his music, his ethnicity is always mentioned. “I was born and raised in the US and I came to jazz

as most people do — through school,” he says. “I have music training and then developed stuff with my peers and played with elders. That is how everyone learns music. I just didn’t drop off from the sky. But still The New York Times, when they reviewed my Solo album last year, they said I am not from the main line of the jazz tradition. That’s not something they would say about a white musician, even though everyone agrees that jazz is first of all African-American music.” “There is no mark of ethnicity on white people,” he says. “But others like us — Indian Americans or Chinese Americans or Arab Americans — we are always marked by that.” “Over time I feel my work has to supersede this issue,” he adds. “I have accumulated a body of work, wherein I have presented a fully authentic and complicated vision of what it means to be a person like me.”


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‘A brilliant, unique voice’ Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa tells ASEEM CHHABRA about his 16-year-old association with Vijay Iyer

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n 1995 a young Indian-American saxophonist made a brief trip from Chicago to Stanford University. Rudresh Mahanthappa’s plan was to informally study with Steve Coleman, the legendary jazz saxophonist. In between the sessions the two would talk, and Coleman would tell Mahanthappa about other musicians in the Bay Area. He mentioned a pianist named ‘Veejay’ a number of times. “Finally I asked him, ‘Is this guy’s name Vijay actually?’” Mahanthappa recalled from his studio in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn, New York. “He said, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Oh, so he’s Indian?’ I had always thought that I was the only Indian American doing this stuff.” So, Coleman introduced Mahanthappa to Vijay Iyer — a Rochester, New York-born, Yale-educated jazz pianist who at the time was also pursuing his PhD degree at the University of California, Berkeley. Coleman had played on a couple of tracks on Iyer’s first album, Memorophilia, released the same year. Introducing the two, Coleman said to Iyer, ‘Hey, Veejay, if I cannot make it for your gigs, you should invite this guy,’ Mahanthappa recalled. That evening Mahanthappa and Iyer went out to grab a few beers. “We were both kind of awestruck that there was another Indian-American musician who had similar pursuits and interests in jazz,” Mahanthappa said. That night there was an informal music session; the two decided to stay in touch. They exchanged their first albums by mail — Mahanthappa’s Yatra was released in 1994, while he was still in graduate school. Later, Iyer contacted his new friend, inviting him to perform together at the Desh Pardesh festival in Toronto. They continued to play together occasionally, in Chicago and in California. But most of their collaborations — recorded and live — started when they both moved to New York City in the late 1990s. “It wasn’t until we moved that we developed a repertoire specific to the duo,” Mahanthappa said. Initially, the focus was on exploring their interests in Indian music, he said. “Vijay was more focused on the rhythmic aspect, the Indian percussionist stuff, while I was more keyed into the vocalists and the shehnai players,” he added. “In that sense it was very complementary, as we learned a good bit from each other. And we continue to, although we have slowed down a bit.” What made their collaboration unique, Mahanthappa said, was “we both have very unique approaches to our instruments, so we cover a lot of ground. It’s a very atypical sort of duo situation, since we are both soloists and accompanists at the same time. Often times you will see a piano and a horn duo, where one will be a soloist and the other accompanist. I feel we have transcended that very

Vijay Iyer, left, and Rudresh Mahanthappa

effectively.” Their friendship went beyond music. Iyer’s mother Sita Raghunathan refers to the two as brothers. “We are both South Indians and we grew up in similar home situations — children of intellectuals — where making a career choice of being a musician was certainly not the most welcomed thing,” Mahanthappa said. “It is certainly now, but not at that time, and understandably so.” And, he added, laughing, “As my wife and I plan on starting a family, I am not sure if I want my kids to be musicians either.” There was also subtle and sometimes obvious racism in the United States of the 1970s and 1980s. And, as they started their careers as musicians, they sensed some of that within the jazz community. “There was no template for an Indian-American jazz musician and that echoed in lots of areas of the industry,” Mahanthappa said. “A record label did not know what to do with an Indian-American jazz musician. I was told that I should have a tabla player in my band. One lawyer told me that I should get (sitar maestro Pandit) Ravi Shankar as a guest on my first album. And I said this music had nothing to do with Ravi Shankar.” But over time the two changed that. They have been able to stake their claims as American musicians in the heart of the jazz music scene, winning awards, accolades from critics and fans, and traveling across the world for concerts.

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“I really feel that having each other has helped us to get to that place,” Mahanthappa said. “I don’t know what it would have been like to do it alone.” He has fond memories of the friendship. A few years ago, the two were rehearsing at Iyer’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and, as Mahanthappa recalled, things were not flowing well. “So I suggested, ‘Man, let’s just get the heck out of here and go to the canteen in the Hindu Temple in Flushing’,” he said. “We went and got some Dosas and I know that there is no one I would have rather done that with. We didn’t even have to talk about anything except the Dosas, and it felt OK. We have had a lot of moments like that.” It also helped that their musical ideology matched. Jazz music, they agreed, should be relevant and speak to contemporary culture. “It’s something we have been both concerned with,” Mahanthappa said. “Jazz should speak to the current political climate, and at its core it is essentially world or multicultural music. Vijay obviously understands that and it reflects in his work with (poet-rapper) Mike Ladd for instance.” “Vijay covers a lot of ground,” he added, calling the Grammy-nominated musician “a brilliant, unique voice,” with a vast musical repertoire that can include Thelonious Monk or a Duke Ellington tune as well as the latest hip hop track. Mahanthappa added: “I can’t imagine this journey without that relationship.”


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From left, Fieldwork mates Steve Lehman, Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey SCOTT FRIEDLANDER

‘Vijay’s music is like going to a candy store’ You never know what he will surprise you with, Columbia music Professor George E Lewis tells ASEEM CHHABRA

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ike many people who have followed Vijay Iyer’s career as a jazz musician, George E Lewis first met him during Iyer’s student days at University of California, Berkeley. Those were the crucial years when Iyer was honing his skill as a pianist, performing at clubs and other gatherings. “Vijay was part of the Asian-American music scene in Berkeley,” Lewis told India Abroad from his office at Columbia University where he is the Edwin H Case Professor of American Music and director, The Center for Jazz Studies. “But even before I met him I had heard of this talented man studying science, music and a multi-instrumentalPARESH GANDHI George E Lewis ist. He sounded like some kind of a genius.” music traditions,” Lewis said, examining the evoluThat initial connection led Iyer to invite Lewis to tion of Iyer’s music compositions. “The combinations perform on his first album, Memorophilia. “His comof those traditions and the new ways of looking and positions were difficult, challenging,” Lewis recalled. thinking at rhythm, post-jazz in a way, led him to “But I saw him as a very creative person who was make collaborations with musicians born and raised crossing all sorts of boundaries.” in the Indian subcontinent. He’s a very cosmopolitan Lewis also served on Iyer’s PhD committee. artist.” Although at that time he was teaching at the “Vijay’s compositions have emotional content and University of California, San Diego, he would take intellectual depth at the same time,” he added. “It is a trips to the Bay Area to work with Iyer on his disserchallenging combination, one that you cannot often tation. have in music. Vijay manages to straddle that line “Later one began to find a number of persons startvery effectively.” ing to gravitate to Vijay,” Lewis said. “He is a very perA few years ago, on a visit to Rome, Lewis saw Iyer’s sonable individual. He’s charismatic in a very quiet trio performance (including Marcus Gilmore on way.” drums and Stephan Crump on bass) in an open-air “Vijay being Indian American had to be influenced theater. by the American and the South Indian Carnatic

“The Italian audience was ecstatic,” Lewis recalled. Still he was amazed when Iyer’s 2009 album Historicity received a Grammy nomination, because they are generally not given in the area of, what he described as, “experimental music.” “But I am gratified and I see this as a sign that Vijay’s music is reaching a much wider audience and is resonating deeply with people,” he said. Lewis explained that he considered Iyer’s music experimental in that the Indian-American artist is trying new approaches to music and not treading familiar paths. “He is interested in shaking things up, challenging prior understandings of what it means to be a musician, to make music and to listen to music,” Lewis said. “He uses his scientific knowledge and knowledge of music history. Everything goes into his music. That is what experimentation is all about — to create new understandings and new combinations and new ways of connecting music with the human condition.” As Iyer performs with his trio, writes for large ensembles and orchestras, and does politicallyinspired music theater work with artists like Mike Ladd, Lewis seemed excited about his future as a musician. “You cannot predict what Vijay is going to be doing next, but you have to know that it will be something no one has heard before and it’s going to have great integrity and appeal for me,” he said. “It will be like going to a candy store.”


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Rachel Cooper, director, cultural programs and performing arts, Asia Society, New York, has organized many of Vijay Iyer’s performances. She tells ASEEM CHHABRA about the qualities that make Iyer a great musician Rachel Cooper

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o you remember the first time you saw Vijay perform? I went up for the San Francisco Asian American Jazz Festival in 1994, when I first saw him perform. I was very excited. He must The Vijay Iyer Trio at the ECHO Awards in Germany improvisers’ community. He is very generous, so have been 24. He was a mesmerizing artist. He was there is a sense of giving back. Yes, he’s got ideas that an exciting, innovative artist and a very interesting he wants to see through, but he is also interested in thinker. the work that others are doing. Later, we talked about working on a project, but he Vijay is an American musician, yet he told me that in was still in school at that time, working on his PhD. reviewing his work, some critics often bring up the He hadn’t even recorded his first album. It took us a fact that he is of Indian origin. Do you think that plays while to work out something. in his music? How has he evolved as an artist? Vijay is a complex person as most good artists are. He is a tremendous musician; his music takes you There is fluidity in terms of identity and that makes on journeys. Sometimes the journey is very them who they are. One part of it is being an Indian metaphorical, conceptual and literal; sometimes it is American and one part of it is being from India. He purely music extraction, but it is always a journey. owns the jazz tradition, as much as he owns the India And it’s very seductive. I always feel as if I want to go side, as much as he owns the Asian American side. All with him and keep finding where this is going. That of these things come together in interesting ways. makes it really interesting. I think there are choices he makes. If you look at his Another aspect of Vijay’s work is that he’s an incredlatest album Tirtha, it was a much more self-conible visionary, both in terms of his artistry and as an sciously India collaboration. But his work with Mike idealist. He has a real understanding of the power of Ladd is about telling other stories. the arts and the potential of social action to reach We first worked with him in a big way for the projpeople and try to make a change. He is somewhat ect called In What Language, inspired by the ordeal fearless. He’s willing to try out (new things). He has of the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi who arrived in worked in prisons and with people coming back from early 2001 at the JFK airport to change planes, but the wars, their dreams. All of this is so evocative, was instead put in shackles and deported. He wrote a because… he is also narrating all of this through moving essay later saying he wanted to explain his music. story to his fellow passengers. ‘I’m not a thief! I’m not Vijay’s a real collaborator. He is a part of the coma murderer! ... I am just an Iranian, a filmmaker. But munity or various communities — the Asianhow could I tell this, in what language?’ American community, the jazz community and the

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Vijay and Mike created this piece about an airport where many people are detained for various reasons. The program was premiered here and then Vijay traveled with it to many other cities. In What Language was one of the biggest programs we commissioned. As an arts curator at the Asia Society, I feel very happy to have known Vijay as an artist. I am also a beneficiary of his generosity because he has been able to advocate the role of arts in ways that is sometimes hard for the insiders. He’s a good listener. There are people who spout out views all the time. They may be brilliant, but they are not listening and responding. What do you think of Historicity, his Grammynominated album? When I am trying to do work at the Asia Society and thinking of new ideas, I often play Historicity. Some of his music is more abstract, but I always feel like I am on a journey. There are times when it is quite lyrical and melodic and at other times it is going in totally different directions, and the interplay is quite different. It might be quite abstract or conceptual. It is accessible, but it is never easy. Yet I want to go there. I want to follow him. It is always enticing. Vijay is a great musician and a great person and I feel lucky that he’s in New York City; he is very inspiring.


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What the pundits say about his music Over the past decade, Iyer has established himself as one of the freshest, most compelling jazz leaders in the field. — National Public Radio

native New Yorker’s elegant, lyrical approach to improvisation is startling from the instant his fingers press upon the keys. — Time Out Chicago

When a pianist of Vijay Iyer’s caliber waits this long to put out a solo album... it must be that he’s been waiting until he’s ready… Solo is Iyer’s grand statement, and with it he has fulfilled his promise. — The Boston Globe

Pianist Vijay Iyer has reached the point where aficionados spar over favorite works: The raw, scorching duets with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa? The abstract, avant-garde Fieldwork project with Steve Lehman and Tyshawn Sorey? The large-group, multimedia pieces with spoken poet Mike Ladd? — The Boston Globe

He’s a great young artist. I use the word ‘young’ not in terms of his music, but in terms of his age. He’s very bright in terms of musical concepts, philosophies and theorems and things like that. — Wadada Leo Smith, trumpeter and cofounder, Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who collaborates with Iyer in Smith’s fiery Golden Quartet, in the Los Angeles Times

Why has pianist Vijay Iyer become one of the most discussed young musicians in jazz… The depth of his sound, the originality of his conception and the epic scope of his performances make him a singular figure in contemporary jazz… No other ascending jazz pianist today sounds like this, or conceives improvisations on such a herculean scale. — Chicago Tribune

Pianist Vijay Iyer’s Historicity was among the spellbinders of its year, — All About Jazz

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His proprietary approach to the piano sounds even more erudite and austere when he plays alone... He plays jazz piano in a foreign language in which he alone is fluent. It is redundant to speak of his technical brilliance because it is inseparable from his accretive creative process, in which external elements are introduced and multiplied and layered into vast designs. Iyer’s magic is that, once he has taught you how to listen to his music, you hear the angles and planes cohere and begin to strangely flow. You hear new pure forms of esoteric lyricism infused even into songs that Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand sang, like “Human Nature” and “I’m All Smiles.” — Thomas Conrad for JazzTimes after the Heineken Jazzaldia Festival De Jazz Vijay Iyer is a classic example of the infuriating, overachieving immigrants’ son – he’s smart enough that he could pursue physics at the graduate level; he’s gifted enough that he could ditch science to become one of the most respected jazz pianists working in the New York scene today. — GQ India, citation for the 50 Most Influential Global Indians The sum of Vijay Iyer’s gifts is more exciting than any of the parts. He brings to improvisational music, most of all, the aura of an art starting fresh, just beginning — not looking back, much less winding down.

He manages to unleash a sense of pure improvisatory abstraction that can cross over into the realms of contemporary classical music as well as responding to the historical demands of jazz piano. — Jazzwise HANS SPEEKENBRINK

— Christopher Lydon, host, Radio Open Source, for the Huffington Post Never let it be said that pianist Vijay Iyer is one to shy away from a challenge. And, frankly, when you’ve got the chops he has, why would you? — Los Angeles Times Vijay Iyer has captured the ears of critics and listeners like only a handful of the most elite jazz pianists since McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor, or Misha Mengelberg initially burst onto the scene. There’s no other single player who sounds even remotely like him, few who can match his inventive and whimsical sense of play or seriousness, and absolutely nobody who presents the stunning, highly intelligent music he dishes out. — All Music.com Working with everyone from avant-garde darling John Zorn to left-wing hip-hop duo Dead Prez, pianist and fierce intellect Vijay Iyer is a remarkably complex, thoughtful presence in the jazz world. The

As a pianist, Iyer has developed a style so thoroughly his own it is difficult to pinpoint antecedent or influence, a rare accomplishment even in a genre often defined by just this aspiration. As a composer, he has pushed the edges of modern jazz’s contours. And as a bandleader, Iyer has made the most intelligent choice of all: He has surrounded himself with artists of equal ingenuity, grace, and distinction. — AllAboutJazz.com Just because the titillating Historicity is largely a covers disc doesn’t mean the pianist has taken his eye off the ball writing-wise. It simply means that he’s as strong a programmer as he is a conceptualist — which is way strong. — Village Voice Iyer is a formalist and has a classical orientation. The uniqueness surrounding his compositions originates in an extraordinarily deep awareness of processes of musical perception... His music exhales a beauty that is sculpted and exceedingly well-crafted. — JazzReview.com


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Pulitzer Prize winner SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE, winner of the INDIA ABROAD PUBLISHER’S SPECIAL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE 2010, tells ARTHUR J PAIS why he is a physician first

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ing less than a biography of cancer, ix-year-old Leela and her baby Mukherjee produced a groundbreaking sister Aria are joyous at seeing book, The Emperor of All Maladies, that their father arrive home earlier will forever give patients — and their docthan usual. But they soon realize tors — an answer to the question, what is that Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee is cancer?’ said Time magazine. home early for an interview. The reason for the wide success of the “Again?” Leela pouts, but seems book — a rarity for a 600-page tome filled resigned to the deal. After all, her father with 50 pages of scientific notes — is easy has probably spoken to every major publito grasp just a few dozen pages into it. cation and television channel since the Mukherjee, assistant professor of medilaunch of his bestselling book The cine at Columbia University, staff cancer Emperor of All Maladies — A Biography of physician at the Columbia University Cancer and the subsequent Pulitzer Prize Medical Center and self-taught writer, for general nonfiction. offers one riveting story after another: But Mukherjee, 41 — who was raised in Stories of patients, stories of researchers, New Delhi and has a Stanford BA, is a the history of the disease many people Rhodes Scholar and a Harvard MD — will hesitate to call by its name, and the curtell you that he is a physician first and a rent state of research. It is never a feelwriter next. good book, but it is one that will make one As he makes milky tea for himself and feel that the battle against cancer is not a offers some to us along with homemade lonely struggle. popcorn, he tells us that the book is at the Mukherjee, whose love of literature service of his science; even the garden he includes Shakespeare, Tagore, Primo Levi has created atop his mid-Manhattan and Susan Sontag, recounts discoveries, home reminds him of his lab work. setbacks, victories and fatal setbacks in his Just like his patients, he wanted to book. Making appearances are the Persian understand more about the stubborn disQueen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off ease, which is over 4,000 years old. her malignant breast; the 19th-century He recalls talking to a patient who had recipients of primitive radiation and stomach cancer. “She said, ‘I’m willing to go on fighting, M74 X but I need to know what it is that I’m battling.’ It was an embarrassing moment. I couldn’t answer her, and I couldn’t point her to a book that would. Answering her question — that was the urgency that drove me, really. The book was For giving hope and strength to written because it wasn’t millions battling a dreaded disthere,” he recalls. ease; for breaking new ground The book created extraorin the realm of science writing; dinary buzz weeks before its for blending a fine mind with publication in November last extraordinary humanity, we year, as the publishers, honor Siddhartha Mukherjee Scribner, sent out hundreds with the India Abroad of copies of the advance readPublisher’s Special Award for er’s edition. Excellence 2010. ‘Setting out to write noth-

From the Editors

Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee — a master of the arts and sciences

PARESH GANDHI


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chemotherapy; Sidney Farber, who pioneered the treatment of childhood leukemia; and Mary Lasker, the millionaire philanthropist behind years of pioneering cancer research. ‘Cancer was an all-consuming presence in our lives,’ Mukherjee writes. ‘It invaded our imaginations; it occupied our memories; it infiltrated every conversation, every thought. And if we, as physicians, found ourselves immersed in cancer, then our patients found their lives virtually obliterated by the disease. In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel Cancer Ward, Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov, a youthful Russian in his mid-forties, discovers that he has a tumor in his neck and is immediately whisked away into a cancer ward in some nameless hospital in the frigid north. The diagnosis of cancer — not the disease, but the mere stigma of its presence — becomes a death sentence for Rusanov. The illness strips him of his identity. It dresses him in a patient’s smock (a tragicomically cruel costume, no less blighting than a prisoner’s jumpsuit) and assumes absolute control of his actions. To be diagnosed with cancer, Rusanov discovers, is to enter a borderless medical gulag, a state even more invasive and paralyzing than the one that he has left behind. (Solzhenitsyn may have intended his absurdly totalitarian cancer hospital to parallel the absurdly totalitarian state outside it, yet when I once asked a woman with invasive cervical cancer about the parallel, she said sardonically, “Unfortunately, I did not need any metaphors to read the book. The cancer ward was my confining state, my prison.”)’ As a doctor learning to tend cancer patients, Mukherjee notes he had only a partial glimpse of this confinement. ‘But even skirting its periphery,’ he confesses in the book, ‘I could still feel its power — the dense, insistent gravitational tug that pulls everything and everyone into the orbit of cancer. A colleague, freshly out of his fellowship, pulled me aside on my first week to offer some advice. “It’s called an immersive training program,” he said, lowering his voice. “But by immersive, they really mean drowning. Don’t let it work its way into everything you do. Have a life outside the hospital. You’ll need it, or you’ll get swallowed.”’ In a way, the book, which was in the works for over six years, began with those first months of Mukherjee’s oncology fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital. ‘It was impossible not to be swallowed,’ he says. ‘In the parking lot of the hospital, a chilly, concrete box lit by neon floodlights, I spent the end of every evening after rounds in stunned incoherence, the car radio crackling vacantly in the background, as I compulsively tried to reconstruct the events of the day. The stories of my patients consumed me, and the decisions that I made haunted me.’ Mukherjee’s narration of those moments consumed the readers. Much of the book was written at home.

The Healer Mukherjee may have the discipline of a trained Hindustani classical musician, but he admits he never had a timetable to write the book. “I wrote in stretches,” he says. “I never said I will write so many pages per day or per week, nor did I say that I will get up at a certain time of the morning. There were times I wrote during the day, and

author of The Noonday Demon — An Atlas of Depression, said, ‘Rarely have the science and poetry of illness been so elegantly braided together as they are in this erudite, engrossing, kind book. Mukherjee’s clinical wisdom never erases the personal tragedies which are its occasion; indeed, he locates with meticulous clarity and profound compassion the beautiful hope buried in cancer’s ravages.’ Mukherjee’s reputation is solid in the research world, too. Dr Riccardo Dalla-Favera, director, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, Peers consider Siddhartha Mukherjee a unique type of scientist

PARESH GANDHI

then in the mornings. I never skipped the paragraphs or chapters and went back to them. It was one continuous process, in a way.” He has said in interviews that he wrote most of the book in bed, and by mastering what he called the ‘art of full indiscipline.’ Historian Tony Judt (Ill Fares the Land), who died last year, was one of the early readers of the book. ‘With The Emperor of All Maladies, he joins that small fraternity of practicing doctors who cannot just talk about their profession, but write about it,’ Judt wrote. The fraternity includes Indian-origin physicians like Deepak Chopra, who went to the same school as Mukherjee (St Columba’s in New Delhi); Abraham Verghese (Cutting for Stone) and Atul Gawande (The Checklist Manifesto). The Boston Globe put Mukherjee in the league of Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking — ‘in the pantheon of our epoch’s great explicators,’ while the Pulitzer Prize committee called the book, ‘an elegant inquiry, at once clinical and personal, into the long history of an insidious disease.’ Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning

Columbia University, has said Mukherjee’s research adds to the growing body of knowledge about cancer stem cells, which are believed to lurk in the body even after chemotherapy and which can trigger recurrence. ‘He’s a unique type of scientist,’ DallaFavera added. ‘Not only is he totally dedicated to his science, on which he has a very original approach, but he’s a true intellectual and scholar.’ While his preoccupation with his research continues, Mukherjee, the son of a manager and a school teacher in New Delhi, pays keen attention to his family. He listens to the stories Leela reads him; he takes her out with him often, at times to a classical music concert and occasionally for a cancer talk. The Mukherjee home is full of art — sculptures acquired from the Silk Road countries, a few contemporary pieces and some of his wife Sarah Sze’s (the sculptor and MacArthur Fellow) work. He is also happy to show you evidence of his recent hobby, gardening, and the place on the terrace that serves as a summer reading venue on most days. Soon after the interview, Mukherjee and his wife are rushing to an engagement. As we pack up, Leela looks at us with a smile. “Is the interview over?” she asks.


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hat’s your typical day like? Usually, I come in the morning around 9 or 9.30 after having dropped my daughter off at school. The first thing I do after I come is look at cell culture. I love looking at cells. It’s a little bit like gardening. This is a very unusual situation because it is not a very scientific exercise. It is almost like an artistic exercise to look at what a healthy cell looks like, what a healthy culture looks… It is something that you learn from experience. You cannot often describe what a healthy cell looks like, but each cell has its unique characteristic, and I spend about half an hour opening up the incubators and just looking at the cells Just across the street is the clinical building. A lot of my time is spent shuttling back and forth to this lab where we explore the very basic biology of cancer and across the street where we take care of patients with the same kind of cancer we are looking at under the microscope. Cancer is obviously a very complicated field and we try to look at the cells and we try to understand the biology of cancer. PARESH GANDHI I usually spend about an hour a day Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee spends a large part of his day shuttling from this lab where he does research on cancer to the clinic reading articles from scientific journals across the street where he treats cancer patients from the last few days, making marks spend about 50 percent of my day reading or trying with a pencil in the margins. I am very old fashI am also dipping in and out of this book on canto learn something new that is not mechanical. ioned. There is a saying in the lab: Lots of people cer, which is a completely different kind of literaEvery day before going to bed, I try to read some who work at the frontiers of technology are usually, ture. It is the history and biology of how cancers parts of a book or sometimes a couple of books. I am mostly highly technophobic. I am like that. I still move in the body, and I am re-reading And the Band an odd reader. I read three pages of a book and then prefer a pencil. I still prefer to read books in their Played On by Randy Shilts, an amazing book on the three or four pages from another, and often a few hard format. I barely know how to use most techearly days of AIDS in America. pages from a third book, often without any strucnology. I keep going back and forth between the books. It turing. I have a huge pile of books next to the bed I also spend an hour with every person in the labis like eating a meal in a very big buffet. and I often graze one through the next. oratory, thinking of what happens next, what the Do you ever give up on a book? What are you reading now? next series of experiments are going to be like and I am a patient reader. I read with a second chance I am reading an amazing book Reading My then I make a sudden switch, sometimes in the midin mind. I might read the first 70 pages and if I find Father by Alexandra Styron, the daughter of dle of the day. I go to see patients. And it is a big culit very tough, I move ahead and read five to 10 pages William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner, tural shift. I often change my clothes because I often in the middle. If I find the pace has changed or the Sophie’s Choice), who was an amazing writer, but wander around the lab dressed informally. I spend book has become more interesting, then I will go on. lapsed into depression. He was a very mercurial peran hour or so in the clinic, calling on patients and To me the first 70 pages are often very crucial. son. This is a recent book. I am reading Kay Ryan’s try to see what is happening in the clinical arena. Your book jumps from one time period to another, The Best of It (written following Ryan’s partner of I will often come back after that for a few hours, yet it flows beautifully… discussing the experiments, looking at what hapThe reason for that is it has to do with the linear 30 years being diagnosed with terminal cancer). In pens in the lab. Then I go back home. structure of the writing. I am a very linear writer. I fact, I was in a Manhattan book shop looking it up My general principle is that 50 percent of my start with the first word and end with the last word, when I heard the Pulitzer news. (Ryan too had won waking day should involve some activity that although I obviously edit heavily in the middle and, the Pulitzer, in her case for poetry). It was very requires real thinking as opposed to mechanical appropriate that this was the moment I heard of the activities because I think that thinking is working. I prize. M76 X


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ironically, that is what really held the book together, structurally speaking. People would sometimes tell me, if you are struck now, why don’t you skip five chapters, write five chapters, and come back to write the missing chapters. I just could not do it. It is not my style. I could move around very large chunks of material, but not jump ahead, It is like a conversation. You can’t tell someone, now, carry a bit of this thought forward, and have a conversation on something else and come back later to where we had left off. That is not how a conversation works. And the best books I think have the quality of an amazing conversation that would go on for hours. (George) Orwell has that conversational quality; reading him is like having a conversation with someone of amazing incision and depth. So, in my case, the linear quality helped a lot in the writing of the temporarily complex book. What was the process of writing this book? Did you have any fears? I have been working at it for sixand-a-half years. The book was an immersive project for me that I did not imagine a life outside. I had promised a patient that I would write it, not in so many words, but I was trying to answer a few questions. I am asked why physicians and scientists write books. My answer is that I wrote it to answer the questions: Where are we in our battle against cancer? How did we get there? What happens next? I am also asked what my next book would be. I say, I will think of the next book when I have a question. There was an urgency about writing it. It felt very essential to me. I think all good work comes out of that kind Siddhartha Mukherjee enjoys the of need. I did not know the distance to garden he has created in his know if this was any good or not. It apartment with wife Sarah Sze was like this: I write 10 pages, wake up the next morning and say, this is absolute junk. But again, the necessirelationship of the parts to the whole and the whole ty of trying to get the story out allowed me to do it to the parts has to be accurate. There is cleanliness in a way that kept going. in good writing, be it fiction or nonfiction. And it is How much of revision was there? incredible and wonderful when you read it. I believe you need a week to 10 days after what Take Orwell, one of my heroes. You realize that if you have written to read it, in order to generate anyyou pare down a couple of sentences of any of his thing that makes any sense. I would say that in a major essays, the entire essay will change. It would typical bout of writing, I generate a huge amount of somehow remain incomplete, and that is the kind junk. The manuscript I handed in was three times of leanness in his writing that one admires most. It the current size of the book (it could have come to is so lean, so accurate; it is like a syringe, sharpened some 1,800 pages). With the help of my editor, I cut to an incredible point. So, again, you learn from it down. reading. Was it easy to let so much of the book go? Atul Gawande is another great example of fine It is particularly hard to let anything go, but at writing. His prose is so lean; there is no fat on the times you have to. The famous principle that you bone. have to murder your own darlings, applies to good When I let go two-thirds of the book, I never writing as well. Sometimes you think you have writthought I would want to use the material for anothten something amazing, and, of course, it’s not. The

er book. The idea of recycling is a problematic one. Readers will detect in a nano-second the recycled material. You can’t pull a fast one on readers. You have said you did not want to write a technical book. If the book was overly technical, it would lose its real essence, which was to talk about the larger history of the story of cancer and thread it through the social history of the illness. When I re-rread the book, I realized that you get into some very complicated science in the book... The idea of the cancer genome is a very contemporary idea in science and the ambition of my book was to bring the reader to right up to the most contemporary science, sparing no details, but allowing them to understand it, hopefully, at an approachable level. My impression is that we do not pay readers the kind of respect that they need to be given. Readers have an amazing capacity to draw in complex information. And readers can sense when you flub complex information. Not to give them complex information is a kind of weird disrespect to their commitment and for their intelligence. I wanted to avoid all that. I wanted to tell it as it is — this is the status of cancer and we should be able to talk about it without getting into jargon, and without getting into overtly complex things. It gets back to a musical performance. A good listener can pick up a single note in a performance that has 7,000,000 notes, and it will jar him the entire evening. A good book is like that. A good book has the same quality of a musical performance; the whole thing fits. PARESH GANDHI You are a trained classical musician. Has music influenced your writing? I have learned Hindustani classical music. I first learned it when I was seven years old and I continued to learn for the next 20 years. I learned very intensively until age 19 when I came to this country. But then I would go back home usually in the summers and continue to learn Hindustani classical music from my ustad (guru) who unfortunately passed away three years ago. Hindustani classical music has had a very major role in my life. How music influences one’s writing is a complicated question, and I am not sure there is an obvious influence. Certainly there is no influence that one can immediately pinpoint. But one thing I find very interesting in Indian classical music is nad, the sound that can be heard, and

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nahat nad, the unheard sound that lives in the space between sound. Of course, the unheard sound is much more difficult, much harder part of music. The nad sound you learn first, the great musicians learn it first, and later they learn how to control the space between sounds. I think that idea is influential in my writing In The Emperor of All Maladies, I often cut a story and there is a space which lives in between the stories. And sometimes the cuts are quite accidental and strong, as you would be in the middle of writing something and you cut and move two centuries back or three centuries ahead. And I think some of this idea that a real narrative pulse can live not inside what the written text is, but in between the texts. I think that is what I may have subconsciously picked up from classical music. Generally speaking, it is not traditional to insert biographical or autobiographical details about your daughter’s birth in a book, which is a history of cancer, but as a writer you have to know your inner impulses. And sometimes doing something very wrong can be something very right in the context of a book like this. All of a sudden, your story in that part of the book about politics of cancer in America in the post1960s — it is a very tragic moment in the history of cancer, but also in some ways, the story is becoming larger and larger and larger and more impersonal. And in the middle of that, it is a somewhat flatfooted move to talk about the birth of one’s daughter. It felt right to do so, but I kept wrestling with it over and over again. And I said to myself, if it feels right, then it must be in the right place, and it is amazing how many readers have responded to it. It was almost a non-sequester. You talk about the obsession of Sidney Farber and philanthropist Mary Lasker to find a unitary cure for all cancers and all of a sudden, I am an oncologist at the moment of my daughter’s birth. One of the things important in that moment was to suddenly personalize the story and it goes back to: How one is an oncologist and also a father… What it takes to be a doctor and also a human being who participates in the lives of the people he loves. Those kinds of questions you would not get to until the story suddenly turns and becomes an intensely personal story. Perhaps it was not a coincidence that I was there at the birth of my daughter. The childbirth wards in the hospital are exactly at the opposite (end) of cancer wards. And even that is a not a coincidence. For

the way the hospitals are arranged and their general architecture is planned tells a story. There are few infectious complications from childbirth these days in America because of hygiene and antibiotics. And remember in the chemotherapy ward, any infection can become a lethal rampage. So, even this juxtaposition of the childbirth wards and the cancer wards where many patients will unfortunately die is not coincidental. On the one hand it is very prosaic and the other hand it is very profound. But you would not know that until you investigate the inner architecture of a hospital. The anatomy of a hospital makes sense in the same way that human anatomy makes sense. The New York Times feature on you described you as looking like a Bollywood star. Do you get recognized these days, following the many appearances you have made after the Pulitzer Prize? I had promised to sign a number of books for my publisher, but I could not get parking, and an assistant came down with many books. I was signing the books in a hurry. A gentleman who saw me doing so, stopped and asked, ‘Are you the author of the book?’ He then said, ‘I will go to my office and bring the copy and would you please sign it?’ Tell us about your interest in cooking and gardening.

THE MAGAZINE M77 JUNE 2011 Once I asked my mother, who is an amazing cook of Bengali food, to give me a recipe many years ago when I first came to this country. She said, ‘You will add some cumin.’ I asked, ‘How much cumin?’ And she said in Bengali, ‘Andaje,’ which means by estimation. And then she said, ‘After this you must add some chilly.’ And I said, ‘How much?’ She said, ‘Andaje.’ I asked, ‘How much of ginger?’ She said, ‘Andaje.’ You then understand what your recipe really is, right? Your recipe really becomes a set of guiding principles that allows you to reach a place. But, of course, ultimately it is based on estimation… There is an appropriate and an inappropriate amount… that is my general approach to cooking. And I have to say that though I enjoy the garden we have upstairs, it is planted on principles that a real gardener would find abhorrent, that there are dry plants next to wet plants and so forth. But it happens to work for us. As my mother would say, andaje. I try to read in the garden every day — a large part of the evening in summer we spend there. I try to read there every day in summer. Gardening is something new to me. I think it became a mechanism to medicate myself against the hospital; the emotional depth that one reaches as an oncologist is very intense. Everyone needs an outlet. And what is amazing is that these outlets keep changing. PARESH GANDHI Gardening has been one such outlet in the last 12 months. Are you a good cook? My approach to food and gardening are both haphazard. I don’t cook from recipes and I don’t garden from principles. A cookbook is to food what a zoo is to animals. I love cooking and eating Bengali food. I find the idea of ‘Indian food’ somewhat unnerving because there’s little resemblance, as you know, between the food of Kerala, say, and that of Punjab. There are some commonalities, but the differences predominate. One commonality, incidentally, might be in the common love of chillies. And that’s particularly fascinating since the chilly, as far as I know, is itself a foreign insertion into Indian food. There’s something quite wonderful about the fact that one of the definitional commonalities of Indian food happens to be a foreign import... tells you something about how history can be stranger than fiction. And my favorite chillies? The Bhut Jolokia or Naga Jolokia (considered the world’s hottest). Do you enjoy shopping for groceries? I buy most of the groceries from the Union Square

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green market or from the Indian stores on Lexington Avenue. It amazes me how efficiently I can shop at the stores on Lex. It takes me hours to shop at Whole Foods, for instance. And yet, I can walk into Kalustyan’s or Spice Corner and have everything at my fingertips. Smaller is almost always easier. What are your favorite food passages in literature and movies? You’ve got to love the rhapsodic sentimentalism of Marcel Proust (Remembrance of Things Past) and his madeleines. There’s an amazing scene in Teen Kanya (Satyajit Ray’s film, made in 1961 on the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore’s centenary) in which the future mother-in-law is suspiciously interviewing Aparna Sen about exactly what spices go into what food. You can feel their relationship thaw once Sen gets the mother-in-law’s questions right. You admire Satyajit Ray? Not only has Ray made these wonderful movies for children, but he is also a great director of children. He has also made films keeping certain ages in mind; some films are meant for seven to 10 years, some for 10 to 15 and some for the older ones. And then there are films for adults. He is like Tagore and he has spanned an entire gamut of age. You can come to Satyajit Ray in many ways. What are some of the words you love in English and Bengali? I love the word leela (also his older daughter’s name)… it carries a small meaning, play or frolic, but also a big meaning, cosmic play or cosmic frolic. I like the way words can have small and big meanings in Bengali or Hindi. I also love the strange way that words enter English, and the links between them. For instance, the word suffer and the Hindi/Arabic safar, (which means) journey. Could there have been a link between these? There’s no obvious etymologic connection, but it’s either hidden or a poignant coincidence. What kind of stories do you read to your daughter Leela? These days she reads to me (laughs). Leela is reading a very funny book, Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same! It is about twins who look the same to people, but are, in fact, not exactly the same. My mother is an identical twin, but she is an extrovert while my aunt is an introvert. Are you religious? I don’t think of myself as a religious person. Spirituality is more complex, as you can imagine. I think in some ways, of course, doctors and writers — I first think of myself as a physician and second-

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arily as a writer — whatever their religious beliefs be, have the capacity to stand in what is obviously one of the most seminal moments in life — illness and then death — and this has consequences for spirituality. There are very individual consequences, and I think they stand outside religion. Do you meditate? No, but I read. I am not into yoga, though my wife is. I generally like solitary exercise, like running or breathing. In winter, I run indoors. I don’t follow any particular diet, am just careful of what I eat. But I must have two small pieces of chocolate with my breakfast, and it has to be a very high quality chocolate. That way I am sated and don’t crave for more. There is some animated discussion in recent years about prayer and healing. Do you believe that prayer has any role in healing? It’s a complicated question. I know very little about prayer and healing. What irritates me is when someone goes up to a patient and argues that they are not healing because they aren’t praying. It seems incredibly presumptuous, and, in fact, doubles the guilt and trauma... Some patients want to pray, more power to them. Some don’t. There is no archetypal illness, so why should there be an archetypal, formulaic response to illness? Do you love to travel? I don’t particularly hate to travel, but I find myself being a traveler all the time. I have a love-hate relationship with travel. I hate the process of traveling, but I love the outcome. The stimulus is very intense; it is like having 12 cups of coffee at the same time. Travel really changes my whole bandwidth as it were. It may seem that I have been traveling all over the world. Oddly enough, in those instances I actually made homes in those places, and doing so was very important to me. When I was in California, I lived there… I made a nest there. When I moved to England, I made a nest at Oxford, and so was it in Boston and now, in New York. So, this was not really travel and these spaces did not become foreign to me. When I came to New York from Boston, I did

not consider it traveling. I came here to make another nest for myself. There is a long history of travel and travel writing in Bengali literature. Typically every summer, if you travel to Darjeeling (in Bengal) or Shillong (in Meghalaya), or some other peculiar place in India — peculiar because it is far off from Kolkata — you will often see a group of Bengali travelers, and they have a similar thing to do. As a child, I would observe that they would be in Shillong or Amritsar and seeking out a Bengali restaurant. You may ask, what is the purpose if going to Amritsar then? And the answer is, there is a complicated desire, a very old desire, and this has been written quite a lot in Bengali literature, of finding a foreign land and making a nest in it. There is a beautiful line by Tagore (which translated means): I have sought what is unknown in the known, and conversely, what is known in the unknown. That is what I have sought. There is something essentially Bengali about that phrase. I think of New York as my city, and the minute I begin to think of it as a foreign place, then my whole project, my whole sense of identity begins to collapse You came to America when you were about 19, but your Indian roots are still very strong. It is much easier to live in a country like America when you have a strong sense of your own identity. Some people may think it might be easier if you came here as more of a blank page, but in fact that it is exactly the opposite. The assimilatory forces are so strong in this country that that they would sweep you off your feet. And I felt that, being somewhat grounded in a particular culture or a place, having grown up in Delhi, allowed me to have a sense of confidence about being in a very foreign place, and that confidence allowed me to own the place as my own. I would not have had the kind of ownership of America, otherwise. Even assimilation, I think, requires a kind of confidence — or demands a sense of confidence.


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Siddhartha Mukherjee may have won a Pulitzer, but to his family he is still their Boomba. His parents Chandana and Sibeswar Mukherjee introduce Boomba to MONALI SARKAR

He wanted to know everything’ Glimpses of the Siddhartha Mukherjee the world sees today could be seen in the gifted child he was. “Siddhartha was an inquisitive child. He wanted to know everything; he wanted to get inside everything,” says his mother Chandana Mukherjee. “He was always a book lover — we gave him his first book, a children’s encyclopedia, when he was four; his birthday gifts were always books. He started writing at a very young age. He would write poems, stories, plays and scripts.” “Once when Nabaneetadi (Dev Sen, the writer, is a family friend of the Mukherjees) came to our home, he showed her his writings and she told me then, ‘Don’t discourage him.’ From that time I never stopped him.” “Siddhartha is also a very good singer and an art lover,” Chandana Mukherjee says. “He worked with Feisal Alkazi, who used to do music theater workshops. He acted in Feisal’s play Charandas Chor, which became very famous. Once when Feisal came to our house, Siddhartha showed him the notebook he used to write in, and Feisal found it very interesting. Siddhartha is very talented in many respects, but now he doesn’t have any time for these interests. We feel bad about it, and so does he.” “As a student, Siddhartha enjoyed arts as well as science,” she adds. “He always said music and science had a deep connection. But academically, I think, he was more interested in science than arts.” ‘Siddhartha wanted to study at the best colleges. Always.’ From St Columba’s to Stanford, Oxford and Harvard, Dr Mukherjee’s journey was driven by his quest for knowledge and passion for excellence. “Siddhartha wanted to be a doctor from the beginning,” says his mother. “He didn’t want to be a surgeon; he wanted to be in research. He wanted to know

the inside story of everything. That quest was in him. Siddhartha wanted to study at the best colleges. Always.” “We had visited San Francisco when he was in the 11th grade,” recalls his father Sibeswar Mukherjee. “He saw the parking spots for Nobel Laureates at the Lawrence Berkeley lab and made up his mind that he wanted to study in the United States. He came back and appeared for the SAT, got a record-breaking score of 1580/1600, applied all by himself and got a full scholarship to all the Ivy League colleges. He wanted to study on the West Coast as well as the East Coast. Since he wanted to study medicine at Harvard, and Stanford, at that time, was the best for undergrads, he picked the latter.” ‘There is yet to be a professor who can fail Siddhartha Mukherjee’ As a student, Dr Mukherjee left his mark on the institutes he went to and the people he worked with, including a Nobel Laureate. “In Stanford, one day he went to the dean to talk about a hall that looked very blank, very lifeless,” Chandana Mukherjee remembers. “He told the dean that he wanted to paint a mural there and asked for a ladder, pencils and colors. For the next 15-16 days, he painted the mural of musical instruments. We don’t know if it is still there, but it was quite an attraction then.” “After graduating as a Phi Beta Kappa student at Stanford — where he gave up his chance to deliver the convocation address because a friend wanted to do it — Siddhartha wanted to get into the Harvard Medical School,” says Sibeswar Mukherjee. “But Harvard would take only 60 students for the course, and the scholarships were only for American citizens. He would have needed $40,000 per year for two years. I told him that my annual salary wasn’t that much. At that time, I got a job offer as a consultant, which

promised to pay me that much annually.” “Then Nobel Laureate Paul Berg (Siddhartha had been working in his lab), told him that a salaried father from India would not be able give $40,000 a year,” recalls the proud father. “He offered to nominate Siddhartha for the Rhodes Scholarship, and told him if he got that, Harvard would accommodate him. Luck favored him, and he got the scholarship.” “At Oxford he finished his PhD (in immunology) in two years. Since he wanted to get to Harvard soon, he arranged for a private convocation, on the day of his interview,” he adds. “I told Dr (Alain) Townsend (Siddhartha worked in his lab) that if he failed the interview the convocation would be meaningless, and he said, ‘There is yet to be a professor who can fail Siddhartha Mukherjee.’ Siddhartha cleared the interview, though he was asked to rewrite the paper (which he did some months later from Harvard). The next morning he returned to the US and went to Harvard.” ‘I want to go for a subject where there is still no breakthrough’ When it came time to choose a career path, his interest in humanity motivated Dr Mukherjee. It was the same quality that made it a difficult choice to live with. “Oncology was not his interest at first,” says Chandana Mukherjee. “When he had to decide on a specialization, he called me one day to say he wanted to opt for radiology,” adds his father. “After a week he called again. He said, ‘Radiology means the machine tells you everything. Where is my effort? I want to go for a subject where there is still no breakthrough.’ That’s why (he chose to study) cancer.” “He thinks about people,” his mother points out. “He thinks something has to be done. The death of a teacher and an aunt (both to cancer) played on his

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cent true?’ Boomba replied, ‘What do you mean by 100 Siddhartha percent true?! Why would I mind too.” Mukherjee’s parents call up otherwise?’” “After Harvard, he went to Chandana and “After the call we were wide the Massachusetts General Sibeswar at their awake,” she says. “We came Hospital in Boston (with a felhome in Delhi out to the living room and my lowship in oncology). He was husband took out the Britaunhappy in the beginning and nnica Encyclopedia (which he would get very stressed,” she had once gifted his son) and recalls. “He was too soft for it. he read all about the Pulitzer.” He used to discuss his patients “We were very excited. In with me — the children in the the morning I went for my oncology department, how he yoga class as usual. Then the would deal with them. The phone started ringing. Contichildren were very fond of him, nuously. Finally, I told my as he would sketch, sing and yoga teacher that I had to dance for them to cheer them leave. I visited the temple and up. I saw that he was not came home. happy, and I asked him to do DOMINIC XAVIER “I saw many cars and peosomething else. He gradually ple outside the house. I thought there was started loving the subject, the mystery of it.” some function in the school nearby and peo‘I didn’t like the idea of a book on cancer’ ple had parked outside our house. I was It was probably Dr Mukherjee’s initial battle annoyed with the driver for letting them do with treating the disease that pushed him to find Family members on Siddhartha Mukherjee so. As soon as I entered, my maid said, ‘Go a therapeutic release in writing about it. change first, some people are waiting for you.’ “Siddhartha told us about the book in 2004, As a child, what was outstanding about Siddhartha — he I asked her where my husband was. She said just after his marriage,” says his mother. “I asked will always be Boomba to us — was that he had an excellent he had not come back from his morning him what he was writing on. When he said it was ready wit and a great sense of humor. He could see the lighter stroll. When I came in, I saw some eight peoon cancer, I didn’t like the idea. I thought it side of life, no matter how challenging the situation, whether ple with cameras sitting. I was stunned. I didwouldn’t be fascinating to he was facing a tough exam n’t know why they wanted to talk to me. I read.” or anything which preshadn’t done anything. That was the first day. “The book was finished in sures someone at that age. “For days after that the phone never 2010,” she says. “His younAnd, of course, combined stopped ringing. Three phones rang conger daughter was born Janwith that, he had an outstantly. For the next two days we couldn’t uary 23 that year and we standing IQ, dedication even eat our meals on time. We had lunch were there then. I started and the willingness to sucaround 4.30 pm! I fell sick because of all that reading the manuscript. I ceed. His book gives a lot of — repeating the same thing again and again was familiar with the stohope to me and humanity in front of the lights and the cameras. I can’t ries, as he had discussed at large that he is waging a forget the excitement of those days.” some (of them) with me. I fierce war and there seems ‘Siddhartha is very attached to the family’ used to read and weep and a little chance that we No matter how driven he is, family was and wonder what would happen might emerge winners. remains at the core of Dr Mukherjee’s life. to the family.” Deepak, left, and Sameer Banerjee This feeling was even more “Siddhartha is a homebody. He is very “We were there when the significant than him winattached to the family,” says his mother. book launched in November,” she adds. ning the award. The prize was incidental; it came as a shad“During the Jaipur Literary Festival this year “Incidentally, my daughter’s (Ranu Bhattaow of the quality that he showed. he was here (in India) for seven days. He charyya) book on teaching, Castle in the — Deepak Banerjee, maternal uncle spent only three days in Delhi, but he wanted Classroom, also launched the same day.” to meet everybody. He told me, ‘I can’t go to ‘What Pulitzer?’ We always thought he would do something great. In fact, meet everybody; you call them home.’ Some While Dr Mukherjee’s parents always had the we expected him to win the Nobel Prize. I wish someday he 80 people turned up and he enjoyed that. He faith that he would one day make India proud, comes back to India and does something here. Doing someis also a very caring father. No matter how their reaction to his winning the Pulitzer Prize thing in India has always been on his mind. busy he is, he makes time for best underlines why he remains modest. — Sameer Banerjee, maternal uncle the family.” “We had been tracking the success of the book, “My daughter-in-law Sarah but I totally didn’t expect anything like the Siddhartha was always a cut above the rest. We (the MacArthur Prize-winning Pulitzer,” says his mother. “Generally he never had the same classical music guru. He would say, sculptor Sarah Sze) is also a calls after 12 am. That day, April 19, we were ‘Look at Siddhartha, he remembers all the taans.’ homebody,” she adds. “We get sleeping when the telephone rang at 1 am. I said, And I would say, ‘Please don’t compare us.’ I along very well. She is a ‘What happened? Why are you ringing at this would be struggling with all the notes, whereas he Chinese American and our hour?’ I asked if everything was all right and he had everything on his fingertips. We knew that he values are similar. Unlike my said yes. He asked if we were sleeping, and I said, was special. I had thought his book would be very son, she enjoys food. She likes of course, we were. Then he said, ‘Ma, I have got difficult to read. My mother (who was very close to prawns, Shorshe Baata, the Pulitzer.’ I was stunned. I said, ‘What Dr Mukherjee) and maternal aunt fought cancer. Khichuri. She likes my cookPulitzer?’ I knew the book was on the top 10 list But when I read it I realized that people can ing. She understands Bengali. and all that, but I didn’t expect this. I had never relate to it. Had my parents been here today, they She also speaks a little bit of it. thought about it. Booker, yes, but not the Pulitzer. would have been on cloud nine. I talk to her in Bengali and she I woke up his father and said, ‘Boomba is saying — Joyeeta Mukherjee, first cousin Joyeeta Mukherjee is picking it up.” he won the Pulitzer.’ And he asked, ‘Is it 100 per-

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iddhartha and I met through a common friend who had gone to college with me and to graduate school with him. He actually knew my sculpture before we met, because one of his great interests is art. One of the things that immediately attracted me to him was his amazingly diverse set of interests. He loves music, obviously science, art. He’s someone who’s generally just very interested in ideas and easily engaged with culture in the world. I think that is also one of the things that I loved about his book. I felt he was very engaged with humanity. It’s a book about an illness, but also a deeper book about humanity. So it’s very readable for everyone, in my mind. He’s obviously someone who’s deeply involved with literature. There are books all over our house and he’s always reading several books at a time. He loves poetry. After we first met, one of the things that he did was he sent me a poem. It was a Ted Hughes poem; it was very beautiful. As a present back to him, I made a sculpture out of the poem from the book that it came from. It was funny because when I gave it to him he was quite shocked that I had actually cut up the book — because for him books are so sacred. That was something I adored about him — that he loves books deeply and that his love of literature from childhood until now is really what makes him a very full person to talk to, to live with, to engage with. We share a deep respect for education, both of our families — for science, art, literature. Our families

are very close. His parents and my parents get along very, very well. So, that has been a real joy. Also, for us, family comes first. We were brought up that way. So we share that; I think those fundamental values really cross cultures. Siddhartha is an amazing father. He’s very playful. He’s always playing games and engaging the kids that way, reading. He is a deep lover of music, in particular Indian classical music. Just the other night, Leela (their older daughter, who is six) and he went to a concert, an all-night concert. I suggested that he bring her

back before midnight, which he did. But she loved it. It was a really special experience for her. Culturally, we try and share those things with our children. We bring our kids to museums all the time; they go to art openings. Leela is encouraged to go to shows and even [to] lectures with us. If she feels tired, she falls asleep on our lap. She’s very well behaved. She sits through hours-long lectures on cancer. But this one (the younger daughter who is a year-and-a-half old) is not going to lectures yet. Sarah Sze spoke to Arthur J Pais Siddhartha Mukherjee sings at a family event

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My brother was my first travel come grew up sharing a room, panion. One of my earliest memories of toys, books, pencils, traveling together is from a road trip to crayons, erasers, markers, Madhya Pradesh. Our grandfather had ideas, opinions, visions been regaling us with dangerous dacoit and dreams. Charting our stories along the way. By the time we course through stories read and reread, arrived at the Panna diamond mines, delving into myths and legends, exploring my brother and I had fallen asleep. Our the wonders of the scientific world, and family went off to visit the mines, leavsoaking in poems and songs, our childing us behind with the driver. Upon hood passed in discovery. returning, they found two terrified chilOur father instituted the system of dren, seemingly convinced that the ‘books on birthdays.’ Every birthday, we dacoits were just about to pounce on were allowed to pick as many books as the them, clutching each other for support! years we had just celebrated. Through the Supporting each other is what we did years, our shared bookshelf grew, groanon subsequent trips without our famiing under the collective weight of chillies. Traveling through Europe together, dren’s literature, the classics, world literawe learned to negotiate currencies, conture, encyclopedias and anthologies. Our versations, cuisines and cities. Later, as parents brought the world to our my husband and I moved to different doorstep, and then they opened the doors cities around the world, Siddhartha and nudged us out to explore. spent his holidays with us and we disMemories jumble kaleidoscopically as I covered Hong Kong, Beijing, Brussels think of my brother, Siddhartha Mukherand Tokyo, this time along with our own jee. He was my first playmate and could growing families. I spent some part of dream up stories to enact that would take each year visiting him as well and grew us hours, sometimes days to complete, to love Boston and New York. twisting and turning dramatically. Toys Traveling with Siddhartha is always were incidental; all we needed were bedan adventure and an education — findsheets, some string, maybe some chairs ing the perfect sashimi knife, studying a and most importantly a bed that we could series of paintings in a museum or dismagically turn into a ship, a caravan or a covering a shop that sells only mushtent. Oh, and the fantastic food we conrooms, his interests are as eclectic as his jured up on these imaginary trips! One readings. particularly memorable menu included Traveling home from my trip to New everything chocolate — biscuits, cake, York last year, I read the draft manusandwiches, milkshake and ice cream! script of The Emperor of all Maladies on Siddhartha retains this playful side even Siddhartha Mukherjee with his sister Ranu Bhattacharyya. COURTESY THE MUKHERJEE FAMILY the long flight back. Crying, sighing, today and I see him tumble back into The siblings have always been close rejoicing my way through the book — childhood as he plays with his children much to the mystification of my neighbor — I finalbook proposal that remained frustratingly tenuous. and mine. He has now become their first and most ly closed the covers as the flight circled over Tokyo Siddhartha said, ‘So, tell me, what do you want to favored playmate. Comic, creative, inventive, he can Bay. Fascinating, enthralling, compelling, the book really write about?’ He took notes while I talked entertain close friends and family for hours with took me on an emotional and intellectual journey and the proposal was borne out of those notes. He clever impersonations, humorous anecdotes and into terrain completely unfamiliar to me, made also read every word that I wrote, made suggestions soulful songs. The air seems gilded with fun when approachable by a guide, not only knowledgeable and celebrated along with me when the book was Siddhartha is around. but also with the ability to explain and share that finally published. His intellect is so finely honed My brother was my first study partner. Books knowledge. I recognized the storyteller’s flair, the and his vision so empathetic that he helps people spread around our beds, we coached each other stimulating intellect, the adventurous vision and find the words within to express themselves. through tests and exams, clarifying and extending the deep compassion that is my brother, Deeply compassionate, he will offer the most and each other’s thinking. During particularly hard Siddhartha. I am so proud that the world gets to see the best of himself — his time, his knowledge, his exams, we set up a chessboard between our beds it now as well. experience — whenever his help or advice is sought. and would take a break from studying by playing a He remains humble about the help he offers, game or two. Even today, I rely on him to clarify my Ranu Bhattacharyya, the author of The Castle in though, and will shrug off gratitude, embarrassed at thinking. the Classroom, lives in Bangladesh any fuss. Five years back, I was wrestling with writing a


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Writer and family friend Nabaneeta Dev Sen was so impressed by Siddhartha Mukherjee that she created a character in one of her novels and named him Siddhartha We met at different times in different cities. Once he was in Kolkata for a few days, and we spent long hours talking. Rather, listening to Boomba’s stories about his work. He had a lot to talk about. He talked about cancer, the disease, the patients, their families, their treatments, the fears, the possibilities, the suffering. He talked as if in a trance, I listened to him spellbound. This was a disease I had been in close contact with. Two brothers of my mother, my father’s only brother and my father-in-law had all passed away thanks to cancer. I was so impressed by his dedication and hat can I write about determination that I created a character in one Siddhartha? I have of my novels (Shani-Rabi), a young idealist been an admirer of his Bengali doctor from the Harvard Medical since his childhood, and School, dedicated to his research and to his my admiration has patients. I named him Siddhartha. increased with time. I think it was in the early 1990s, when we met Shibeshwar Dada (Siddhartha Muin Oxford, he was doing his research there. We kherjee’s father) had mentioned casuCOURTESY THE MUKHERJEE FAMILY had walks and coffees together, and visited ally that Boomba’s (Mukherjee’s pet name) book was finally completed and The young Siddhartha Mukherjee, with his deep interest in music and art and his talent for writing, bookstores. One day he brought a friend to my made a special place for himself in Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s, left, heart room in Oxford. “Meet my friend Amrit, she published. In fact, it was on sale and says she knows you.” She turned out to be the Boomba had a lean and hungry look, long legs stickselling like hot cross buns. Dada was rather surprised youngest daughter of our old friends, Manmohan and ing out of shorts grasshopper-like, bright eyes shining that there was such a huge market for a book on a Gursharan (India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan beneath a mop of unruly hair, and was never still; killer disease. Although he always had great faith in Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur). except when he was drawing or writing or practicing his son’s abilities as a brilliant scientist, but to see him I remember a delicious Bengali dinner at his bachmusic. as the author of a bestseller was a bit too much. elor den in Cambridge (Massachusetts), when his He was a wonderkid to me. He could sing I was not surprised as I had seen Boomba’s literary parents were visiting and his mother was in charge of Hindustani classical as well as Rabindrasangeet, play efforts as a child. He was always very special, a multithe kitchen. This was before he had met his talented several musical instruments, make lovely models fariously talented boy. and beautiful sculptor wife, now the mother of his with sticks and paint, and write beautifully. He also After a few days Dada called again from Delhi, to two daughters. stood first in class, won debates, and was the teachers’ tell me that Barack Obama had read Boomba’s book When I wrote to Siddhartha congratulating him on favorite in school. Although I was his parents’ friend, and was so deeply moved by it, that he had invited his Pulitzer, he wrote back a beautiful note, mentionBoomba had struck up a special friendship with this him and his wife (Sarah Sze) to dinner at the White ing among other things, “Do you remember the time aunt. He showed me his drawings and shared with House on February 24. A most unexpected piece of we went to the Faber and Faber bookstore together? me his copybooks of poetry and prose. I found them news indeed! That was my first exposure to Marianne Moore, and surprisingly impressive, with much depth and matuWe were all very happily excited. I made a mental Plath, and Larkin. Unforgettable!’’ rity, though he was playful and boyish as his years note to buy the book before the week was over. If These are the sort of things that are close to his demanded. Obama had the time to read the book, I should have heart and that is why he is who he is, and why he We were going to the Himalayas in a car from Delhi time too, if a bit slowly, what with my poor vision and writes the way only he can write. “Many thanks, then, in 1982 or 1983, Boomba wanted to join us. I was magnifying glass. But I got busy with fresh work, and for that trip, and for a lifetime’s journey,’’ he ended. ready to take him along with my daughter. But his could not visit the bookstore, until Dada called again In the meantime I have got hold of his book, and mother Chandana said no. “It will be a great strain on one day. am simply overwhelmed by his style. Warm and you, trying to control him. He will jump around and “Nabaneeta, here is a piece of news you will really beautiful, smart and humble, this doctor’s command may fall into a gorge, you know he doesn’t listen to love! We just heard from Boomba that his book has over the English language could be the envy of any anybody.’’ got the Pulitzer Prize! Guess it will be in the papers literary practitioner. The book has a wide range, how So, he stayed home, away from the dangers of tomorrow!’’ easily it plays with the past and the present across unknown realms. But not for too long. What fabulous news! Boomba has won the cultures — with history and science, with dreams of He finished school and went to Stanford with a felPulitzer! people, and their achievements, with suffering and lowship for his undergraduate studies in science. There was general celebration in our house, and the healing, emotions and wisdom — and makes us look Soon in one of the Los Angeles newspapers, we saw a next morning all the papers had Dr Siddhartha towards a brighter future for mortals. picture of a student perched upon a high scaffolding, Mukherjee’s picture along with a humble statement We look forward to more such insightful and sensipainting a wall. It was Siddhartha, a first year stuof his. tive writing from him. dent, painting a mural on a tall wall at Stanford. After This is a great beginning, I told myself. Stanford, Oxford, Harvard Medical School, the We met when Siddhartha was Boomba and all of 10 Nabaneeta Dev Sen, a distinguished poet, novelist and Massachusetts General Hospital, the feisty young years old, and his beautiful sister Ranu, brilliant in academic, lives in Kolkata. oncologist Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee moved on. school and a great classical dancer, in her early teens.

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Siddhartha and I have been friends since 1986, when we were in (in Delhi’s) St Columba’s School. St Columba’s had a rare quality. It was the kind of school that said, ‘Fine there are people whose focus and aim is academics and getting into the IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), but this is a school where if you are interested in dramatics, debating, painting, poetry, writing, extempore speaking, music, we will encourage you.’ I think that was the foundation of my friendship with Siddhartha. We were both members of the school debating team. We did a lot of writing for plays together. We were both editors for the school magazine. We had a very early fascination for Indian music. We used to listen to music together at a time when very few schoolchildren were interested in Indian classical music. We became very, very close friends very quickly. I think my friendship really started saying: ‘Wow, there’s an amazing person, who is so talented.’ The seeds and the interest in being good at many, many things or being interested in many things was already there in Siddhartha. I saw him express an interest in art and culture from a very early age. It is a very rare thing for a 14, 15, 16-year-old student to be a Renaissance man. But from a very young age, both Ranu (Siddhartha’s sister) and he were so steeped in the tradition of Hindustani musical culture and dance that it entered his consciousness. I will never forget when in the 11th and 12th grade for the Youth Quake (a national inter-school competition for extracurricular activities) Siddhartha took on the responsibility of coordinating the Indian music performance for the school. In St Columba’s there were hardly four or five people who knew Indian music. He created an orchestra of 70 children who had never had any musical training, composed a piece, and we won. Siddhartha was also exceptionally good at many subjects — though I think he particularly enjoyed English, physics, biology and mathematics — and was always inspiring because he made it look effortless. While most people would struggle for months and study 12 hours a day, Siddhartha, even on the day of the board exam, would talk about Indian music or a painting rather than memorizing a physics formula like others. I never saw him flustered about an exam or a test. Another fundamental influence on our lives were the Irish missionary brothers at St Columba's. For people like Siddhartha and me who spent 13 years there, the dedication and the selflessness and the pas-

Pankaj Gupta at Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Delhi home. He says he has always felt like a member of the Mukherjee family

sion with which the Christian brothers ran the school was a great inspiration. ‘He got scholarships to both Harvard and Stanford, as an undergraduate, which is very rare’ The ambitions that Siddhartha espoused at that time were not specific to a task. I think his ambition was to be studying at the best universities possible. He got admission to both Harvard and Stanford, and he got scholarships to both as an undergraduate, which is very rare. Most people thought he would go to Harvard, but he chose Stanford because he wanted the liberal California atmosphere. He said it is an excellent school, maybe not as old and venerable as Harvard, but he wanted to experiment with what it could offer him. His ambition at that time was always academic challenge, an environment that would push and provoke him. Medicine as a larger kind of arena was always of interest. After the board exams (Indian state level exams), Siddhartha chose science with biology and it was clear that it would mean some interest in medicine. But he was always an intellectual liberal, and when you are of that nature, the exact point of where you go eventually can be one that is quite flexible.

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Also, the advantage of studying in the US — we both went there in 1989 — is that you don’t directly go to medical school. You have to study a four-year undergraduate degree before you can even apply to medical school. In those four years, he studied philosophy, biology and physics. Coming from the vigorous, disciplined model of St Columba’s, America was like a breath of fresh air. You could study architecture and English; you didn’t have to choose one or the other. That was so liberating. If there is a lesson to be learned from Siddhartha it is that Indian universities should let people have the freedom to be both architects and writers, to be both doctors and authors. ‘Siddhartha is a humanist. That was apparent even when he was 15’ Siddhartha (chose to work on cancer because he) is fundamentally interested in humanity. He is interested in civilization. He wanted to focus on something that was uncharted. In that sense, he is an explorer in the great tradition of intellectual explorers. At the same time, Siddhartha is a humanist. The

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one thing about him that was apparent even when he was 15 or 16 and is absolutely still true at age 41 is that he is a very rare and incredible combination of extreme intelligence, coupled with extreme compassion. And when those two formidable components occur together, like they do in Siddhartha, you can expect something spectacular. I don’t mean spectacular in the sense of look at this award; look at this prize; look at this recognition. It means the life of the mind. It means the evolution of his persona in very profound ways. And when those profound evolutions happen to intercept with the rest of us, you get a Pulitzer; you get a Rhodes; you get a Nobel. The funny thing is (the day the Pulitzer was announced), I logged onto The New York Times Web site past midnight (India time). It said the Pulitzer Prizes were announced. It didn’t say his name, but I had an intuition. I said (to myself) Siddhartha has won this. I clicked on the link and saw his name. I remember thinking, this is the beginning. Siddhartha called me that night, at around 4 am. After that I probably got six calls every two hours. He would switch off the cell phone, because it was ringing (constantly). Then he would put the phone on and call me and say now this is happening. We were all so excitSarah Sze, second from left, Siddhartha Mukherjee, second from right, and guests with Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House. With little interest in ed! ‘This is the kind of book that gives you material things, Mukherjee realized he didn’t have a pair of shoes to wear to the dinner; Sarah had to buy him one so much hope’ The one thing I have learned from Siddhartha is that he has won the Pulitzer, but he is not affected by The thing that really catapulted the book into such that if there is one quality in life one must have, it is it. He asks you for advice even as he is winning the phenomenal success is Siddhartha’s rare ability to the ability to laugh at oneself. He has that ability, and Pulitzer. make what could be a very obscure, very complicated, that’s something I find inspiring. Siddhartha also has ‘When President Obama invited him for dinner, he very depressing subject matter into something so an amazing ability to listen. didn’t have a pair of shoes’ accessible, so easy. Many people feel Siddhartha can be distant or Siddhartha is also not interested in material things. I had been hearing about the book for five years. I removed, but I think this is a sign in many very intelHis wife Sarah (Sze) is a MacArthur genius. had been reading pieces of it for years. Then about a ligent people. He doesn’t waste time. He doesn’t Siddhartha is a Pulitzer winner and they drive a year ago, he said, ‘Here’s the advance copy. I want you engage in pleasantries. You will never see him interHonda that looks like it is 20 years old. His car looks to read it and tell me what you think about the way it ested in social chitchat. He is not interested in the like a junkyard car. In fact, the joke among us friends flows.’ I thought I was reading a mystery thriller. It trivialities of life. He is interested in a few people with is we should gift him a car wash. was amazing. whom he has deep bonds. He says the energy that When President Barack Obama invited Siddhartha My mother-in-law, who is a cancer survivor — those bonds take to sustain is not a casual thing and and Sarah to the White House for dinner, Siddhartha Siddhartha was instrumental in setting up her treatthat he would much rather devote his time to those didn’t have a pair of shoes! He has worn the same ments — read the book and said, ‘This is the kind of rather than spread it thinly around many people. black clogs since he was in medical school; Sarah had book that gives you so much hope, because you know It has been more than 25 years and we have always to go and buy him a pair of shoes. some very, very brilliant people are devoting their stayed very, very close. I have always felt like I am a ‘He is so generous, beyond the boundaries of genlives to the solution of a seemingly intractable probmember of the (Mukherjee) family. Siddhartha tells erosity’ lem.’ me sometimes that by moving back to India, ‘You I am very, very fortunate to have Siddhartha as a That’s the magic of the book. I couldn’t put it down. have taken the pressure off in many ways because friend. He is so generous, beyond the boundaries of My parents have read it twice. now I know my parents are there and you are there.’ generosity. But I worry that not enough people in India are It has been a very warm and intimate relationship, When my father-in-law suffered a massive cardiac reading it. In fact, Siddhartha and I talked about it. in a way that only Indians can in some ways (have). In arrest in Boston, Christine and I were in Delhi. It was He said, ‘It’s interesting that from the publisher’s some ways friendship (for Indians) means being an a few weeks before our marriage. My first phone call point of view India doesn’t represent a big volume, extension of the family, and close friendship is being was to Siddhartha, who was then at the Massachuwhereas the US, Europe, a small country like a family member. Siddhartha is really like a brother. setts General Hospital. He spent the next 10 days Holland, (are) huge.’ I hope the book gets translated with my mother-in-law. He never left the family. My into Hindi, Bengali and other regional languages. Pankaj Gupta is a New Delhi-based architect, and father-in-law passed away, but that was a kind of The other thing about Siddhartha that is amazing shares with Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee a love for defining moment. is his sense of humility and modesty, no matter how writing. He has co-authored Golconde — The The friendship is 25 years old, but when is a friendmany accomplishments he keeps accumulating. Of Introduction of Modernism in India. ship tested? In moments of real need. And in those course, he loves the fact that the book has been so well He spoke to Monali Sarkar. moments his support has been absolutely heroic. received. He is as justifiably proud as anyone could be


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‘This book separates him from everybody else’ Professor Virender Chauhan, secretary, Rhodes Scholarships in India, on Siddhartha Mukherjee — the student, the scientist and the author

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met Siddhartha for the first time when he was still in school. I think he was in 12th grade and was trying to find what he should do. We had a long chat about it. It was clear talking to him that he wanted to do science, and his intensity even at that time would lead one to believe that he wanted to do serious science. I didn’t watch him carefully (then); but this much I remember: he managed to give an impression that he was different. He was quite self-possessed. I didn’t see him after school. What I did see was an essay (statement of purpose) he wrote for his admission in Stanford University. The president of Stanford (thought) that that was one of the best essays he had read, from a young kid. I really thought that, at the age he was writing, the essay it was an outstanding piece. I could see at that time that this kid would have a real spark. I didn’t tell him at that time, but you could see then that he was hugely ambitious and would do extremely well. Sure enough, he found admission not just in Stanford, but several other universities. I lost touch with him for the time he was in Stanford, but began to hear from him towards P RAJENDRAN the end of his time there. Siddhartha was Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, left, and Siddhartha Mukherjee with his Pulitzer Prize interested in applying for a Rhodes full time science , my bar to judge him would be highStanford, worked with Paul Scholarship. And at that time we were allower. I judge him a little bit harshly, I must say, simply Berg’s lab. In Oxford, he ing those who were in America to do so. So, he because we both do science. He knows how I judge picked the best immunologist applied, and it was not a difficult choice for him. But I judge him very well where his writing skills to work for. Then he went to the committee. are concerned. Harvard. So, you have StanfoFor Rhodes Scholarships we are looking for This book separates him from everybody else. rd, Oxford and Harvard. You people who have extracurricular activities. There will be .001 percent of people who do science can’t get better than that. Siddhartha actually had none. I’ll be very and other things. There is a man called Carl He is in a sense an uncomblunt. What I mean by extracurricular activiDjerassi, who should have won the Nobel Prize; he fortable scientist. But if you ties is someone who did serious sport or seriwrote some outstanding plays. (Richard) Feynman are going to write a book like ous theater or singing. But his skill that I saw he has written, then I think all very quickly was that he wrote very well, (who won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965) wrote is forgiven, because this sucks unusually well for somebody at that level. good fiction. This book would place him you. This takes so much out of And he made it (choosing him) easy. I (Mukherjee) in a really big league. That he would you. noticed that he had worked in the lab of Nobel write such an easy read for the general audience and Books don’t come out just Laureate Paul Berg, which spoke volumes Virender Chauhan yet bring in enough scientific terminology is an like that. If you write a book, it takes eight, nine, 10 about Siddhartha’s ability and what others saw in amazing skill. years of preparation. You can’t write a book in one or him. He had gone to one of the best universities. He The Pulitzer is the icing on the cake. I am extremetwo years, [not] that kind of a book. was very bright, and there is room for that. That year ly proud of his work. I would be very surprised if there Now, looking back, I am much more sympathetic to when we picked him, his selection was an easy one. isn’t another book. Not on cancer this time; he could him for being self-possessed, simply because this He was an unusually impressive young man. What well write fiction. It will be a shame if he doesn’t write book must have been incubating in his head. And if a occurred to me was that he was highly ambitious. I more. We should nudge him to write. work of that intensity is incubating in your head, then don’t say that in a negative tone. He was determined all is forgiven to me. to do well; he was a very intense kid. But those are A Rhodes Scholar himself, Professor Virender The book is excellent. His skills are here. the ones who produce something. Chauhan, was on the committee that chose Dr For someone who is as well trained as him, if he did Siddhartha is a great career builder. He went to Siddhartha Mukherjee for the Rhodes Scholarship.


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he Scottish woman travelling on a train between Glasgow and Edinburgh last summer with two young children frowned when I ordered Chicken Tikka Masala from the train cafeteria. “I gave up on ordering curries many years ago,” she said, “unless I know I am getting them from a first class restaurant.” For the same reason, she did not like to eat in restaurants, she added. She knew Chicken Tikka Masala had been proclaimed by many publications as Britain’s national dish, but in many British restaurants, the dish was overcooked She cooked her own curries, she said. “I have many Indian cookbooks, but there are several I go back to again and again. And they are all written by Madhur Jaffrey.” Across the world, Jaffrey’s books, television programs and radio shows have made her singularly popular, never mind how many star chefs have appeared since her initial success more than three decades ago. Her BBC series — Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery (1982); Madhur Jaffrey’s Far Eastern Cookery (1989); and Madhur Jaffrey’s Flavours of India (1995) — have legions of fans across North America. ‘In liberating cookery from the studio-bound format,’ wrote Nicola Foster for The Museum of Broadcast Communications Web site, ‘these shows not only offer the viewing pleasures of a travel show, but also work to redefine popular perceptions of Eastern cultures.’ Many people have treasured copies of the shows, replaying them from time to time. Considered the world’s foremost no-frills Indian cooking authority, whose nearly two dozen cookbooks have sold in their millions — her first book alone sold over 1 million copies — and whose television shows have been viewed by many millions more in the United Kingdom, North America and Australia, Madhur Jaffrey has become an institution. Her astounding career for more than 45 years has included arresting performances in nearly two dozen films — from Shakespeare Wallah in 1965 (for which she was honored at the Berlin International Film Festival) to last year’s Aasif Mandvi directed Today’s Special — and on stage in classical productions in the United Kingdom, where she studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and on Broadway in Bombay Dreams. And then there is her much admired memoir Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India, a lyrical account of not only festivities and food in her New Delhi and Kanpur childhood, but also the story of a fractured India, shown through a Delhi severely wounded by Partition. ‘Most of our teenage friendships withered and died as soon

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From the Editors For trailblazing Indian acting talent on the world stage; for introducing millions to the wondrous delights of Indian food; for her amazing repertoire as an award- winning actress and a renowned chef, we honor Madhur Jaffrey with the India Abroad Lifetime Achievement Award 2010.

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Legend ARTHUR J PAIS on the rich legacy of MADHUR JAFFREY, winner of the INDIA ABROAD AWARD FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT 2010

PARESH GANDHI


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her a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. as talk of Partition began,’ she writes in the book She was also seen in a number of television shows: Knopf published four years ago. ‘It was as if two icy Nurses, The Jack Benny Show and Armstrong hands had descended and split our class into Circle Theater. two, Muslims on one side, fully armed with As her career on screen was taking off, her perappropriate arguments, demanding a partition sonal life was unraveling. Her husband, actor of the country, and Hindus on the other... saying Saeed Jaffrey, left her while they were in New York “Never”.’ and she had to figure out how to bring up her The book received great reviews, but the three daughters. For a few years, she sent them to memoir’s literary strength did not surprise her sister in India, but brought them back to those who admired her for elevating food writAmerica once she found the man she would spend ing to a higher level. No surprise then that she the rest of her life with, Sanford Allen, a violinist has received five James Beard Foundation at the New York Philaharmonic Orchestra. Awards, the most coveted of honors in the Saeed Jaffrey and she divorced in 1965 and both American food industry. agree it was an acrimonious parting. It took her a People who watch the many things Jaffrey long time to get rid of the bad feelings. In Allen, does are not surprised that at 77 she still conwhom she married in 1969, she discovered a great siders movie roles, writing another cookbook companion, who not only got along fabulously and is discussing a television series with her, but also became a father to her three Her admirers believe that many of her talents daughters. are not widely known: She is also a journalist, Zia Jaffrey is a writer and professor, Meera script writer, illustrator, writer of children’s Jaffrey, an innovative teacher of music movement, books, a movie director and an avid gardener and Sakina Jaffrey, an actress. (her gardens at her farmhouse in upstate New ‘I wasn’t picking up much work as an actor, so I York will make fellow gardeners see green). had a job as a tour guide at the Lincoln Center; She co-directed Cotton Mary along with Sanford was a violinist with the Philharmonic, Ismail Merchant, who gave her a break as an which is based there,’ Madhur recalled in an interactress with Shakespeare Wallah and cast her in view. ‘I remember our first date vividly. He took many films. me to a bistro nearby, and we had Trout Her illustrations for Shakti, published in the Amandine. It’s a dish that has almost disapUS by Knopf, won her an award from the peared. I don’t know why because it’s absolutely American Institute of Graphic Arts. This award delicious.’ was given to the Fifty Best Designed and As her personal life bloomed, so did her career. Illustrated Books of 1974. In 1967, she starred with Rita Tushingham and She has written articles on subjects as varied Michael York in the Merchant Ivory/20th as Bhutanese dance, Indian cave paintings and Century Fox production, The Guru. Other notable the preserved body of St Francis Xavier in Goa PARESH GANDHI films include Merchant Ivory’s Autobiography of for publications as varied as the Smithsonian, Madhur Jaffrey and musician Sanford Allen have been married for over four A Princess, a two-character film with James The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Mason, and Heat And Dust with Julie Christie and Times, London, The Observer, London, decades Shashi Kapoor. Gourmet, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Organic She did not have many scenes in Heat And Dust, with onion, garlic, ginger and spices; put in the Gardening, Art and Antiques, among others. but reviewers just could not miss her. The British fridge overnight; and shoved into a hot oven after six She was awarded the Commander of the British newspaper, The Standard said, ‘Whenever Madhur or eight hours, it browns by itself. Traditionally, she Empire honor by Queen Elizabeth II for ‘her servicJaffrey appears as the mother presiding over the has said all the spices would be ground by hand, then es to drama and promotion of appreciation for palace women, she dominates the screen.’ heated carefully, adding those that burn quickly at Indian food and culture.’ “I am very happy with the Indian roles I have the last minute. Then the meat would be browned, But that’s leaping forward. done,” she said. “But I wish my non-Indian roles got the ingredients combined. When An Invitation to Madhur Jaffrey’s story began in pre-Partition better coverage.” Indian Cooking, was published, her mother had difDelhi where she was brought up with her five sibIn 1986, she appeared as Medea in London at the ficulty to accept what had happened. lings and many cousins. After finishing college at Lyric Hammersmith, and people here may recall her ‘My mother was really amused,’ she said in an earMiranda House, she went to London to study theater extensive work on British television. lier interview. ‘She just could not understand: Here in the early 1960s. One reviewer wrote, ‘I have long been a fan of TV was a girl who knew nothing, being called some kind That is when, out of necessity, she learned to cook. cook Madhur Jaffrey… Not only can the woman creof guru of Indian food. I still can’t believe it myself. English food was bland, and the restaurants were not ate heavenly Indian cuisine and write inspirational There are many people in India who can cook fabuonly expensive for a student, but also did not serve recipe books, but she can act the socks off many lously. I just had the ability to project it, analyze it, the Indian food she loved. Writing about it came British actresses on our screens.’ explain it and pass it on.’ later — to help those who came to her saying they Hardly a year has passed since without her appearAn invitation to teach pantomime brought her to loved Indian cuisine, but were afraid to cook it at ing in a television show or in a movie. But at no point the United States in 1957. She first worked at St home because making it takes a long time. did her films discourage her from her culinary career, Michael’s Playhouse, Vermont, and traveled to New “I thought there has to be a way that you can have which took over a decade to blossom. York in search of work. Her performances offthe full flavor of Indian food and not the hundred She has said how initially her career in cooking — Broadway included a variety of plays like Shakuntala steps that are required to make the perfect curry,” she ‘completely accidental’ — was also the result of needand The King of the Dark Chamber. says. “I set out to disprove that notion and showed ing to fill the gaps between acting jobs. She was “People are surprised I did all this in New York ways to prepare a dish like people were doing it in doing bits and pieces of food writing, but an article in before the movies came along,” she says. our homes.” The New York Times to promote her film, She received outstanding notices for the play A She had been experimenting from her days in Shakespeare Wallah, and running cookery classes at Tenth of an Inch Makes The Difference several years London with the recipes her mother had been sendbefore producer Ismail Merchant and director James ing her, cutting down a step or two. Ivory cast her in Shakespeare Wallah, which brought For instance, she found if raw meat is marinated M94 X


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hat was your childhood like? When I was a child, I felt I was different from others. My passions and my interests were not girlie-girlie. I wanted to do the things my father did, and my father’s friends did. I was interested in politics. I was interested in the Independence movement. I wanted to do things that were men’s professions and that is because I saw a woman actually doing it. There was one woman in the town I grew up in, Kanpur, whom I admired the most. She was a doctor. She was called a lady doctor. I said if she can do it, I can too. My desire was to somehow not to be lost in the shuffle, but to make some kind of a statement — I did not know what it was going to be. But I knew the aching, and desire and ambition — you might call it — was there from the very beginning, and it took various forms. I always needed some kind of a role model. And that is why I think female role models are very important to women because they need to know they do can do it, that someone has done it before them. Later, there was this girl who was half Muslim and Jewish. At that time we were taught to paint like the miniature painters, which I loved, but I wanted to be like her because she painted like Picasso. She painted boldly, she expressed herself boldly. And she was unafraid to break the norms. So, I thought of rebels of various Madhur Jaffrey in Rehana Mirza’s Hiding Divya sorts. A few years later, there was Marlon Brando — a I was alone when I came to America in the mid rebel in the field of acting. He was doing the kind of 1960s. I was very young, and I felt I could go to acting that was not done in the Western world. America and find my own way into the world of actI felt I was becoming a rebel and my heroes were ing. I wanted to be like Brando; that was the kind rebels who achieved things nobody thought were acting I wanted to do. possible… I never took ‘no’ for an answer. I felt if What kind of fears did you having growing up and there was something I really wanted to do, I could later in life? do it. I remember when I was in a girls’ college I certainly did not let my fears discourage me (Miranda House, New Delhi), I suggested we do from doing what I wanted to do. I certainly did not think I was very attractive; that could have been a Hamlet with, of course, me playing Hamlet. And downer. Also, I was afraid if I was going to get the they said, ‘No, no, no we can’t do it.’ We were always roles I wanted, if I was going to marry the man I used to doing Shakespearean plays in which the wanted. Maybe those kind of insecurities were male roles were played by boys from St Stephen’s there, but somehow the overriding thing was: College, a college close to us. And I said, even if it is Whatever the limitations, I will try and do as much a girl’s college, let us play the male roles ourselves. as I can, as well as I can. Why should we give the good roles to them? You were never afraid of anything as a young Were you successful? woman? Absolutely, they let me play Hamlet. I don’t know why, I had no fear of the unknown, So, my thinking was always, not let’s do it the way of being in a new country all by myself where I knew it is always been done, and when I left India and nobody. Now, when I look back, I think I am still the came to the UK to study theater when I was in my same. I like to go to new places; I like to travel; and 20s, the (rebellious) spirit stayed with me all I choose to write articles about the places I am visthrough London when I was a student and then I iting the first time. brought it with me to America.

Every time you travel, you learn so much and I have great respect for people who see the world as one. We are all simple human beings and we are connected human beings, and I think that is the aspect of the world that attracts me most. We human beings are of the same sort. I see the similarities between people, not the differences. I am an optimist; I think anything is possible. I have always thought of a glass as half full. Isn’t there an interesting story about your name? In our family, the custom was that as soon as a baby was born my grandmother would come with a jar of honey, she would dip her little finger in the jar and write ‘Om’ on the baby’s tongue. The story in the family goes that I licked my lips more (than usual). Strangely enough, my father thought I should be called Madhur, which is very close to madhu (honey). So, that food thing must have come very early in my life with the first honey I had. And from my name, I seem to have inherited the sweetness of food in some way. I come from a family that believes in eating well. Our community was known as sharabis-kababis, people who like to drink and eat. I think I had it in my system when I was little. Did you learn cooking in India? Not at all. I went to England (to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, after doing a stint with All India Radio), it was like a famine. Food did not have to be elaborate when I was growing up. It could be Aloo Puri; it could be simple, but delicious. That was what I found missing when I was in London. This was in the late 1950s; though war-time rationing was over, there was not much good food there. That was when I found myself writing to my mother because I could not cook at all. I felt there was no way out of this, but to learn to cook. I had no money to eat in expensive restaurants and, in any case, what I wanted to eat was not available anywhere, which was the simple everyday cooking of my family. To make that kind of food I had to learn from the very beginning. There was no question of I could not do it. I realized once again, if you put your mind to it, you can do it. My mother sent me these air-letters with three line recipes, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and somehow I was able to translate those recipes into real food. Sometimes the first time I tried something, it did not work out, but I kept at it till I got it right.

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Cooking reinforced my attitude towards life: I was a person who never took ‘no’ for an answer. How did you get to writing on food? Mainly because I wanted to show that simple Indian food can be cooked without elaborate preparation. The Indian food you got in the Indian restaurants in New York used to be quite tasteless. I was writing on food for magazines and people who worked in the movies with me were appreciating my food. When I received an award at the Berlin International Film Festival for Shakespeare Wallah in 1965, people were also loving what I was cooking. A year later, The New York Times had the article with the headline, Indian Actress Is a Star in the Kitchen, Too. But things did not happen overnight. An Invitation to Indian Cooking was published in 1973. So often I meet well-known Indian and American chefs who swear by your books. And there is a young generation that adores your new books. We surely have a third generation of people cooking from my books. It is wonderful for me to see children come up to me, and say their parents cooked from my books. And their parents say that they were brought up on my food by their parents. My first cook book is still in print. My cooking was never confined to one kind of food. I cooked all kinds of food, especially after coming to America, but there no one was interested in publishing anything with me writing, say, on Italian food or Swedish food. They accepted me as someone who wrote on Indian food, and years later on Asian food. I was put in a pigeon hole. I wanted to do a world vegetarian cook book, but for a long time it had to be just Indian food. I had to wait for over a decade before I could start writing about the food in other parts of Asia And your cooking career did not take off immediately… Not until I went to England on a visit after living in America for many years and the BBC asked me to do a cookery series on television. When I wrote my first cook book, I did not make much money on it. The prestige of it was great, but where was the money? This happened with my second cookbook, too. The books had also been published in England and people knew of me, but it was TV that changed everything. TV sells books and it was the cookery series I did in the 1980s (broadcast in America by PBS) that suddenly began making an impact. And that was

Madhur Jaffrey in Vic Sarin’s Partition

when I visualized it could be a career, and this could be a dual career. And it became (so). That is why I am glad that when I got the CBE (the honorary Commander of the British Empire award in 2004), it was for my cookery and acting. Was there a conflict between the two careers? The conflict began right away. I was offered a very good film called Lean On Me (an inner city drama starring Morgan Freeman) and it was the same summer I was going to do a cookery series for the BBC and it was amazing that there was so much money in the BBC series that I had to turn the film offer down. It probably would have been a big turning point. You were also typecast, doing only Indian roles. You know, all the roles that were being offered were terrorist’s mothers. I thought I don’t want to play these stereo-typed figures that are neither real nor truly written. So, I just stopped considering those roles. I have played Medea on the British stage, but then Medea is considered a foreigner. People marvel at and admire your marriage with Sanford Allen, which has lasted more than four decades… Luckily, we do very different things. He is a very dedicated musician. And the world comes to him a lot through his peers and his general mind and his understanding and his reading. I am very different. The world comes to me through my eyes, my palate and, of course, through my brain. So, we have that general need for tolerance for our brain and our international outlook in common, but our talents are very different. In a way that’s very good because it keeps us in very separate areas. I have great admiration for the things that he can do because I can’t do them at all; and he has admiration for the things I do because he doesn’t do those things. It’s a lovely balance. If he’s practicing his violin, he’s at one end of the house practicing and I’m at the other end of the house writing or doing what I’m doing. Our interests are different, but we carry on with the deepest passion for them and we have respect for each other’s passions.

Marriage is not an easy thing for anyone. But I think coming to an understanding and respect for each other’s talents and abilities is a very important part of it. And then letting the other person free to pursue his or her own life; and you have your life together and you have your life in your own areas of interest. So, if you can keep those two combined, I think, that’s the answer. Tell us about bringing up your three children. I was determined to give them the best education. My parents were particular about the education we were getting in India. Sanford and I were struggling financially when the girls started going to school. I sent them to public schools, but soon I realized that they were not getting the kind of education that I had received. Sanford and I felt it was important that they go to a private school and that meant extra work for us. We took up extra jobs as we were not going to compromise on their education. Several times when I interviewed Ismail Merchant, he said you were very much a part of the Merchant Ivory company even when you were not acting in their movies. When I came to know Ismail he was doing his business administration at New York University (in the early 1960s). He had just made one documentary when I met him. We were starting out. This was a period of youth in all our lives, and we all started out with the same dreams: Making films. We always stayed close because the dream has always been the same. Ismail was very good that way: He thought of us as a family. And every time there were dinner parties, the whole Merchant Ivory family gathered, was together, and we sort of reinforced each other in a way. So, I think that stayed till the very end and Ismail helped maintain that. He was amazing that way! What do you remember most about Ismail Merchant? I think there were two aspects to all of us at that time. Ismail had big ambitions and from him I

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ne of the warmest memories Meera Jaffrey has of childhood is that of her mother Madhur Jaffrey teaching her and her siblings how to knit. “I began to admire how she would not be distracted when she took up a task,” said Meera. “I am still amazed how she uses her time. She faced many conflicts when we were young and her husband (Saeed Jaffrey, the actor) had left her, but she would use her time efficiently.” Madhur Jaffrey has three children, all from her first husband. She has been married to violinist Sanford Allen for over four decades. Zia, her eldest child, is an author and academic. Meera, who teaches music movement and drama at a New Jersey public school, has also made a documentary film Fine Rain: Politics and Folk Songs in China. Sakina has acted in more than 20 films, including Cotton Mary, which also featured her mother and was codirected by Madhur Jaffrey and Ismail Merchant. “My mother broke many barriers,” says Meera Jaffrey. “Though she came from a liberal family, still marrying a Muslim was not an accepted. And then she married an African- American man. She did not have her family in America, but she had to make sure that his family accepted her.” Her daughters were living in India with Madhur’s sister in New Delhi when she married Allen. “Maybe you don’t know this, she sent us to live with Kamal aunty because she could not afford to have us in New York. We lived in India for more than three years. We were getting you used to the life there and then came her letter. I was about seven then. Our aunt read the letter to us, and our mother said she was going to send for us.” It was very confusing for many months, she remembers. “We had forgotten what America was like, and now we were going back and we were living with a man we did not know. The adjustment took some time, but he (Allen) was warm, right from the beginning, and he became our father. He filled a big void in our lives.” Life was tough for Madhur Jaffrey. “I knew it first hand,” says Meera. “(In India) there were servants to clean the house, cook for you and iron the

W M91 learnt that you can dream as big as you want and you keep working at it. And from him I also learnt that you can have 10 irons in the fire; and not all will work out, but you keep trying, you keep pushing. He never took no for an answer. But he was much more brazen than I was. He was much more accepting of rudeness. Well, that was his quality. Not many people can do that. And, it was an amazing quality. He was a producer and he needed to do that. I would sometimes not do that… When sometimes, his films got mediocre

Meera and Sakina Jaffrey give ARTHUR J PAIS revealing glimpses of their fearless and gifted mother

Sakina and Madhur Jaffrey in Cotton Mary, a film Madhur co-directed with Ismail Merchant

clothes, and, of course, there was the extended family. But here she was struggling to juggle careers. Both my stepfather and she were keen right from the start that they should give us very good education. We went to public schools at first, but soon they got us into private schools.” Despite the hardships, the family took a few interesting vacations in India and Europe, she adds. “My mother was always interested in travel and I am sure she has passed on that passion to us, too.” Like her sisters, Meera says she learned a lot from her mother by just observing her at work. “Her work ethic set a great example,” she adds. “Her interest in theater and acting also influenced me. But I am a shy person and I like directing kids. I teach children

from ages five to 14 and I have made a documentary. Surely, some of her passions have come to me.” She learned from Madhur Jaffrey not to be fearful. “I can travel anywhere I want, I am not afraid of new places or people,” she explains. “I am not afraid to speak politically and I will go to a demonstration to press for something I love or protest against something that I believe is not good for our society.” Sakina, Madhur Jaffrey’s youngest daughter who has acted with her mother in three films, remembers her mother asking her to surrender to the part, a lesson she recalled most when she acted with her father Saeed Jaffrey in Masala. “It was a very strange feeling and we were playing father and daughter in the film,” she says. “But I had to do justice to my role, and that was all to it.”

‘My heroes were rebels’ reviews, he could still raise money again. He could raise money; he could push a film like nobody else could. I think my contribution to the group was the quality of my work. I’m a hard worker. I’m a perfectionist. And given any role, I would work like a dog at it. I got it as perfect as I could. People cannot forget your work in the Merchant Ivory films, in Heat and Dust…. I have a very tiny part in it. I’m

hardly in the film. I cannot even get a clip of it. I wanted to be in that film because I had not worked in a Merchant Ivory film in a long time. Jim (Director James Ivory) did not want me for that film because he said, ‘Look, you played Shashi Kapoor’s mistress in Shakespeare Wallah (in 1965) and now you are playing his mother (in 1983), but I wanted to be in that film.’ What are some of the interesting memories you have from working in

Merchant Ivory films? There were so many. I have fond memories of all of them for different reasons. The first one was Shakespeare Wallah and naturally I have very, very fond memories of that because we were all young, nothing was expected, certainly of me. We had to drive uphill to Shimla. And I was throwing up. I was in jeans and I was thinner. When I arrived on the set, all the crew said SHE is going to play a movie star? And that’s what gets my gander up! I did not tell them then, but I said to myself, wait till the

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adhur Jaffrey’s three daughters Zia, Meera and Sakina grew up with a celebrity mother — a cookbook writer and an actress, and her famous friends and colleagues. But most of all they remember a hard working mother who loved to be busy and engaged in projects. Zia, who lives in New York City is Jaffrey’s oldest child, and is author, journalist, and professor in the MFA program at The New School, New York; Meera, the middle daughter, lives in Jersey City and works in the New Jersey school system; Sakina, the youngest, is an actress and resides in Nyack, NY. Do you have an early recollection of seeing your mother in a film and realizing that she was a famous actress? Zia: I remember watching Shakespeare Wallah. There’s a scene in which everyone hates my mother and I remember her telling me that she got hate mail because of the character she played. They were confused between the actress and the character she played. I remember her being just beautiful. Sakina: I have an image of my mother being young and very glamorous. We had a photo album with pictures of her doing a photo shoot for some lingerie product. There was a picture of her with PARESH GANDHI Marlon Brando. Another picture was of (Federico) Sakina Jaffrey Fellini, with his wife sitting on one side and my met. She would cook for him and give classes at the mother on the other side. This was after Shakespeare James Beard house and he was the one who encourWallah. And he’s giving my mother a total lecherous aged her to put a cook book together. eye while his wife (actress Giulietta Masina) is lookZia: She was basically teaching in our little kitchen. ing at him (she laughs loudly). So, we would be told ‘Beta there is a going to be a Meera: I also remember seeing her in Shakespeare cooking lesson, just stay quietly in your room.’ We Wallah and thinking how beautiful she was and how would sometimes come quietly and open the fridge movies were so amazing that they could transform and notice five or six distinguished looking people someone in such a way. I know she was always so chatting about the food and I passionate about acting, so would slither past. I would ask excited when she got roles. my mother who are those peoBut I also know it was so hard ple and she would say ‘One of for her to get roles in the US, them is a poet John Ashbery.’ I as an Indian. was somewhat aware of At some stage her cooking famous people. career took over. Do you have a Meera : I was amazed at how recollection of that? people were interested in IndiZia: One of the many an cooking. I remember answadmirable things about our ering the phone sometimes mother is that she wanted to and saying that the classes put her children in private were full or that she was not schools or in good schools and giving classes and there was she wanted to find a way to such disappointment. Dustin pay for things. One of the ways Hoffman called one time, becshe came up was by writing ause he wanted to take cookher cook books and giving ing classes. He and his wife cooking lessons. liked Indian cooking, but my Meera: It all naturally evolmother wasn’t giving cooking ved. She was very good friends classes at that point. with James Beard, who lived Did she experiment her down the block. I am not cooking with you all? exactly sure how they first Zia Jaffrey

Sakina: Oh my God that would be fantastic, until the week when suddenly there was Japanese egg custard. So, you would have the mistakes and the successes too (she laughs). I remember once she made tomato chutney with vinegar. The smell of that to this day I cannot stand. We definitely benefited from her culinary talents and her love of food. When I would go to school, people would ask, ‘What’s that sandwich you have’ and I would say ‘It is sautéed shrimp with garlic and curry patta on Italian bread.’ For us it was kind of what we had. We thought TV dinner was really exotic. Zia: The assumption always is that we grew up with excellent food and the truth is, yes we did. I was one of the people who did not want to share my sandwich at lunch, because it was much better than just tuna fish and cheese sandwich. But, of course, being a nice person I had to share. But my mother cooked for us. We wanted American food. She would make hamburgers with onion and garlic powder. She would put it on English muffin with a slice of onion. Then she and I would go down to McDonald’s and get some French fries. Everything would be so really tasty, but American. We had bologna sandwiches, Campbell soup, just as kids wanted it to be. Meera: What amazes me about my mother is that she cooks everything well, even the simplest food. She does in an interesting way and that has continued in our lives. In school I had a friend Alison who would trade her cream cheese sandwiches, which I thought was really unique, with my spiced tuna fish sandwich, which she thought was out of this world. As I grew older I began to appreciate how good a cook she was. When we would come home from school, she would have simple snacks like radishes with little salt on it. Whenever she talked about food, she would always make it sound so delicious. One of my memories is of her telling us when she came home from school and she would pluck radishes or cucumbers from the garden, peel them and add a little bit of salt on them. That would be her snack. All her memories seemed to be revolved around food. Did she teach you all how to cook? Sakina: This was an interesting household three of us grew up in. My mother writing her cookbooks, never having an assistant. Of course, our stepfather (violinist Sanford Allen) helped her. We were her sous chefs. The three of us would be deveining shrimps when we were seven or eight years old, julienning vegetables and dicing things. We were kind of a crew. Meera: My mother would have a lot of parties when we were younger. Zia, Sakina and I would always do the kitchen preparation. We were always watching what she was doing. All three of us really enjoy cook-

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cameras roll. Ruth (Prawer Jhabvala) had sent us the script many days before the shoot, and I was well prepared for the part. I was in character in no time. In Heat and Dust, there is a scene in which I am in a palanquin. The scene was created in the outdoors, near Hyderabad. It takes place in a sandstorm. Jim said I did not have to sit in the palanquin for the scene, that it would be shot later. But I said I would like to. It was extremely hot and the desert storm had been created, and that made things even worse. Yet I wanted to be involved. Tell us about performing with James Mason, one of the finest character actor of our times. Do you remember the movie Autobiography of a Princess with Mason? It was also a Merchant Ivory film and it was in planning for a long time. First they said that Laurence Olivier would play the role. They started talking about the film four, five years before it was made (in 1975). It happens a lot Madhur Jaffrey knows that physically she may be frailer now, but with Merchant Ivory films. I would mentally, she says, she is still raring to go get all excited and all ready to do it; does. But he sat on a little box and said his and then it wouldn’t happen. So, I stopped lines to me when I had my close ups. And he looking at the script and didn’t learn it. I is a mega star. That’s what he is. And he’s a said it’s never going to happen. very good actor at that. That was my humThey said one day it was Olivier, then it bling lesson. No matter what people say was John Gielgud and then nobody was about his reputation as an actor, he was doing it. Then suddenly I hear from them wonderful, absolutely wonderful! and that was two days before we were going Many times people say things about to start shooting. They said, ‘Come on, we famous people without really knowing them have got the money were going to be shootand when you know them that could be difing. ferent sometimes. And then they said Mason was going to be You are a tireless traveler… in it. It was such a drop from Olivier as far I just have come back from New Zealand as I was concerned. I thought OK, that and I am planning to go to South Africa doesn’t sound too exciting. Then I thought soon. I have been there before, but this time it’s not going to get done anyway. Yet I tried I am going to see the animals. There’s so to find out all about him and I called people much of the world I don’t know. who knew him in Hollywood, and the stoEvery time you go somewhere you learn so ries that I heard was that he’s a terrible permuch. I am simply curious about the world son. ‘You can’t even talk to him,’ I heard around me. I go for literary conferences. I go people say. I thought, ‘Oh God, who needs to food festivals. It is the intellectual curiosthat!’ ity that keeps me going. Physically, I am not Mason turned out to be absolutely wonall that strong, but mentally… (chuckles). derful. He was amazing! He had his lines When I was young I used to follow my learnt and I had not because I thought the father whenever he went into our garden. film was not going to happen. He walked For years we have had our own house in the around the set like any actor practicing a country in New York and I still love gardenrole, where he would put on his hat, where ing, and Sanford joins me. he put on his scarf, I thought he was amazI guess, as you grow older, you connect to ing! this earth more and more. The connection Usually, in close ups, if it’s a big star, he continues to be deeper. doesn’t say the lines to you, somebody else

The Legend W M88 her apartment brought her quite a bit of recognition. She waited nearly a decade after the 1973 release of her first book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, before the BBC chose her to demonstrate cooking Indian food on television. “Having appeared in films and having taught classes in my apartment in New York, not to mention sharing my cooking with the actors and technicians working in Merchant Ivory films, I felt very natural with BBC television shows,” she said. She was doing other kind of writing. In 1985, she published Seasons of Splendour, a children’s book of mythological tales, illustrated by Michael Foreman. It was named one of the year’s best children’s books by The New York Times and Newsweek. Barbara Thompson of the Times noted, ‘The resonances of this magical and profound book will sing on in the heart and mind long after the hundredth bedtime.’ One of her most successful cookbooks is A Taste of India published about 20 years ago, demonstrating her mastery over regional Indian cooking. It was serialized by London’s Observer over eight weeks and the hardcover edition went on to become a bestseller in the UK. Harper’s and Queen felt the book had ‘filled a gaping hole in the market for an authoritative look at the specifically regional cuisines of the sub-continent.’ By the end of the 1980s she was savoring cuisines from other Asian countries. Her three-year project for the BBC, Madhur Jaffrey’s Far Eastern Cookery, became a big hit. A cookbook and video of the same name accompanied the series. The book, in its very first week, jumped on to the best-seller lists. Harper and Row published the book in America late in 1989. The television series followed on PBS and later on the Food Network. “What I loved about the series was that I got to travel widely and you know how much I love traveling,” she said. “And I got to eat and experiment with food, which I love too.” She followed this up in 1990 with writing and presenting Listening To Volcanoes, a documentary on colonialism and its aftermath in the Spice Islands of Indonesia, for PBS’s Travels series. The same year, she also received praise for her six-part series on the history of food, From Manna to Microwave, on BBC’s Radio 4. Among her most popular books is Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, published about a decade ago with 650 recipes. It won her the The Guild of Food Writers’ Cookbook of the Year award. When the same book, in a slightly different version, was published in America, Publishers Weekly named it one of the hundred best books published in the US in 1999. Only three cookbooks feature on this list. The book was also nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals award and the James Beard Foundation Award for Best International Cookbook. As a master chef, Madhur is often asked about her favorite recipes. One year she cited a recipe from Curry Easy, which calls for cooking salmon in a Bengali mustard sauce. ‘Bengali fish curries I adore,’ she has said. ‘Very often there’s a mustard sauce that calls for grinding mustard seeds, but I started using mustard powder and turmeric to make a paste to steam the fish in.’ Ismail Merchant, who was inspired to produce his own cook books by Jaffrey, said many years ago that she could cook a banquet from a handful of straw. ‘She is unbelievably resourceful and quick on her feet,’ he had said. ‘And she can stun you by her on screen work too. Give her a few minutes, she would cook a wonderful dish, and give her a few moments, she will light up the big screen, never mind how many big name artists are around her. Someone who can steal a scene from James Mason is not an ordinary actress.’


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James Ivory and Madhur Jaffrey have been friends for over 50 years

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ames Ivory has known Madhur Jaffrey since the late 1950s. Their friendship also became a professional relationship. She acted in five films for Merchant Ivory Productions, the company run by film director Ivory and his late partner, producer Ismail Merchant. Madhur has mentioned that it was she and her former husband Saeed Jaffrey who introduced you to Ismail Merchant. Is that correct? Well in a way, they did. Ismail actually introduced himself, being Ismail. He learned about a film I had made, The Sword and the Flute, and Saeed had narrated it. I wanted an Indian voice. I had seen him (Saeed) in a play — Blood Wedding by (Federico Garcia) Lorca. The film was being shown at the India House (the building that now houses the Indian consulate in New York). They

told Ismail about the film and also me. He came after the film and introduced himself. I became friends with Saeed and I met Madhur, although I didn’t see a lot of her then. Did Madhur and Saeed introduce you to the Indian film industry? No, neither of them had worked in the Indian film industry. And I hadn’t seen Madhur act. But I was pretty convinced that she could. I took the risk. She may remember that I had seen her on stage, but I don’t remember. When you went to India to shoot The Householder, you did not consider casting Madhur in the film? That was completely different. By then I saw a lot of them. And there was an idea that we were discussing that became the background of Shakespeare Wallah. I don’t think I would have made that film without this

friendship with them. Also, I met the Kendals (Indian actor Shashi Kapoor’s in-laws) in India. It was a long collaboration with her and Merchant Ivory Productions… She first did Shakespeare Wallah, followed by The Guru. Bit later we made Autobiography of a Princess, then Heat and Dust. She was also in Cotton Mary. One of the great things about Merchant Ivory Productions was that you worked with the same people like (novelist and scenarist) Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. What did Madhur bring to this friendship and the company? Once you worked with Madhur you could see she was a very good actress. She could play all kinds of parts. So, when something good came along we

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Shakespeare Wallah, below, and Heat And Dust, bottom, are evidence of Madhur Jaffrey’s range as an actress. While the former saw her essay the role of Shashi Kapoor’s lover, the latter saw her slip effortlessly into the role of the actor’s mother

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would cast her. She could do all sorts of things. She had been trained in the West. She spoke English well. And she could act in English, easily and freely. It’s one thing to be able to speak English. It’s quite a different thing for an actor when English is not their first language, to act in English. In Autobiography of a Princess, she had to act opposite James Mason. We didn’t have much time to shoot. It was a television production. They both had very long soliloquies. Both of them were perfect. I was very worried, that perhaps he wouldn’t be able to do it. He was 72 and actors are not so good with memory. But they were smashing, both of them together. Any memories of working with her in Shakespeare Wallah? In Shakespeare Wallah, she was playing a traditional Hindi film star who sings and dances. Physically, as type, she was far, far away from those actresses. The first day on the set in Shimla she had to do a dance and the crew was thinking… we had cast a wrong person (laughs). As far as they were concerned, she was not buxom and bouncy. But being Madhur she knew exactly what to do. She won the best actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival. You worked with other Indian actors, but you also kept revisiting Madhur and Shashi Kapoor. Madhur wanted to play the Begum in Heat and Dust. I thought I couldn’t let her play Shashi’s mother — they were the same age. She insisted that I give her the part. She was fabulous in it. We had a special wig made in London of her hennaed hair in Heat and Dust and it cost a hell of a lot of money. We got to Hyderabad, shot a few scenes and the wig was stolen. We had to get another one. That second one was watched over like it were the crown jewels. Why would someone want a wig like that? In Heat and Dust she really transformed herself and I was wondering what kind of directions you gave her. My directions didn’t have to be translated because she spoke English. As with any film when the language is not your own, you need a lot of help from people because there can be tiny little things that are wrong and you don’t know. She would correct herself, or ask someone else. What are her qualities as an actress? She has a lot of intelligence and taste, basic actor’s flair and talent. She has a mixture of talent and personality. She really impressed Satyajit Ray when he saw her in Shakespeare Wallah. He liked her very much. It’s a pity that he never found something for her to do. In Shakespeare Wallah she was totally new. Did you

‘Madhur has a mixture of talent and personality’

sense the rawness in her acting? It wasn’t raw… I meant raw in a good way. It was something new and that is what Ray responded to. She played a very different part in The Guru. Do you know that film? I haven’t seen it. That is not surprising, since it is one of our most mysterious films; very few people have seen it. She played not a sophisticated type. She played the Ustad’s elder wife, who could not produce any sons. So, he got a younger wife. And there was rivalry between the two. She was very good. Then Madhur became a cookbook writer. Do you have any memories of that? She was always doing something. She got a home very close to here. It’s quite a layout there. She’s in her elements there. It’s funny — it’s a great big house, but

except when she’s on television cooking she’s never had a great big kitchen that a chef like Madhur deserves. It’s almost like in India, where these fantastic dishes come out of very small kitchens (laughs). It’s the same in New York, where she has a regular New York-size kitchen from where she produces amazing meals. Was there a competition between Ismail and Madhur; who was a better cook? Well, not really. He always took his hat off to her. But he was a tremendous cook himself. Do you cook Indian food? A little bit. You learned from Ismail I suppose, but did you ever follow Madhur’s recipes? Her recipes are very complicated. I never have the spices for them. If I have the spices, they have long since gone flat. That was the exact opposite of Ismail’s cooking. Sometimes he would invite people and nothing would have been done. He would come in the last minute, go to the kitchen and this very good meal would come out. But it was completely different from Madhur. Hers would be absolutely exact and perfect, whereas Ismail’s would be different in style, but equally tasty. Your next film is a Shakespeare adaptation, but do you see yourself doing another film in India with Madhur? I don’t think I will do a film in India. I haven’t been there enough lately. It’s such a different place than when I made my films. In the 50 plus years you have known Madhur, how do you look at her career? I always saw her primarily as an actress and a very dependable one. I didn’t think of her as a television personality doing cooking shows and writing books.


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The only dish I cooked for my father was Madhur’s recipe and for that I will always be grateful to her, says ASEEM CHHABRA who hails a magnificent actress and an amazing cook

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She said the following to me in an interview in adhur Jaffrey taught me how to cook 2000: “We have had Scorsese with the ItalianIndian food. She made it appear American experiences and we have had Jewishsimple, with less complicated steps, Americans writing for films. Where are our writusing ingredients that were available ers doing the Indian immigrant experiences? in New York City. Her dishes surHere they are. They are just starting now. It’s this prised me and gave me a sense of achievement. generation that grew up in America. They are just I owned a copy of Madhur’s Indian Cooking, coming out of colleges and writing for films. I love but it took me a long time to open the book. The that.” thought of attempting to cook Indian food terriAnd who can forget Madhur’s remarkable fied me. When I did finally open the book, I Broadway debut as Shanti — the suffering grandlooked for the easiest recipe. That is when I mother in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of found the recipe for dry potatoes with ginger, Bombay Dreams inspired by melodramatic Hindi garlic and fennel seeds. It turned out to be a very films. In the show Madhur played the quintessensimple dish, yet so elegant in appearance — potatial Bollywood grandmother – making one laugh toes yellowed with turmeric and crunchy on the and cry – the two hallmarks of popular Hindi cinedges. The potatoes were soft and had absorbed ema. the spices. And it was rich in aroma and taste. My most favorite interview with Madhur I cooked the dish for my father when he once Jaffrey was when we met at the Dawat restaurant visited me in New York City. My father is always to talk about her cookbook From Curries to hard to please, and I do not remember him sayKebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail. ing anything complementary. But he knew I had In between talking about the book and her cooked the dish all by myself. It was the only time career, Jaffrey ordered lunch for the two of us. I cooked for my father and for that I will always First she ordered the appetizers without looking be grateful to Madhur. at the menu (she was the food consultant at the But my love affair with Madhur started long restaurant). before that. I was a teenager when I watched “Tell me what you want to eat?” Jaffrey turned Shakespeare Wallah on Doordarshan in India. It and asked me. But she did not wait for my must have been in the early 1970s. Shakespeare response. In fact, I never got a chance to order any Wallah is a richly textured film about a traveling dish, which in a way was good. British theater company that performs Shakes“We will have some Bhel Puri, a small portion, pearean plays for students, former maharajas or you want Dahi Aloo Puri – chota chota,” she and others, in parts of India, but their art form is PARESH GANDHI said talking to the waiter and to me. “Uske losing its audience to the more popular Hindi baad…Aloo Tikkis are very good – give us one cinema. The author’s love affair with Madhur Jaffrey began when he saw Shakespeare each and then, uske baad we will see. We will take Madhur played Manjula, a temperamental Wallah as a teenager. Her books just intensified that adoration a break.” Hindi film star, in love with a playboy Sanju Later she ordered a basic lunch for us. “I am going these years. A bored Manjula watches a Shakesp(Shashi Kapoor) who is drawn to a young British to have plain Roti from the tandoor and a little plain earean performance from a box seat, her elbows on actress in the Shakespearean company. peeli Dal and a little Gosht,” she told the waiter. “Ek the balcony, her hands and fingers locked together, Shakespeare Wallah is the second feature film Rogan Josh and give some pyaaz, haree mirch making a space for her to place her chin. She shows directed by James Ivory. It is a must see film for so (onions, green chilies) – we will be happy. No makhan her impatience with the performance by moving her many reasons — Satyajit Ray’s haunting score, (butter) on the Rotis for me.” She laughed when I told fingers under her chin. It is a funny and yet a very Subrata Mitra’s vibrant black and white cinematograthe waiter that I can take makhan on the Rotis. telling moment. Later that evening Sanju has an arguphy, and the stunning beauty of Madhur and a very At the end of the interview I told Jaffrey about the ment with Manjula. “I am Manjula,” she screams back handsome Shashi. The film is almost a homage to dry potato dish that I had cooked for my father. She at Sanju with the confidence of a big movie star. their youthful good looks. asked if I cooked regularly and I responded by saying “Where I go, hundreds, thousands follow me.” For her role as Manjula, Madhur won the Silver that I could make a neat Rajma dish. But I confessed After I moved to the United States in the early 1980s Bear for Best Actress at the 1965 Berlin International that I followed a short cut, using canned red kidney I discovered Madhur’s other films with Ivory and his Film Festival. I have seen Shakespeare Wallah a few beans. partner Ismail Merchant. I remember standing in the times on DVD. The Criterion Collection released a Her parting word of advice to me: Never to make line outside Manhattan’s Paris Theater on a cold fall wonderful set in 2004. But I remember Madhur’s the Rajma dish with canned kidney beans. “No, no, evening to see Heat and Dust. Madhur was fantastic Manjula from the first time I watched the film. no, no,” she said, with a smile, but in a tone, as if she as Shashi’s mother, the hookah smoking royal. She was somewhat mean, insecure, hatching plots was almost scolding me. “It is so much nicer when Later I saw Madhur in a number of Diaspora films to win over Sanju. Madhur played the role with great you cook it from scratch – usme mushkil hai hee kya directed by young South Asians — ABCD, Chutney finesse. When you see Meryl Streep act in one of her (what is so difficult)? Take my World Vegetarian cookPopcorn, Cosmopolitan, Hiding Divya and Today’s Oscar nominated films, you can tell how much fun she book and you will also get a simple recipe on how to Special. Madhur has been a huge supporter for these is having playing the character. You get the same sense cook Dal from scratch.” young filmmakers. Her contribution to Indianwatching Madhur in Shakespeare Wallah. This was a I have followed her advice and have since realized American cinema — from the early Merchant Ivory role she was born to play. that she is right. Production days until today is invaluable. Two scenes of Manjula have stayed with me after all


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‘She was a complete diva’ Actor Aasif Mandvi tells ASEEM CHHABRA about working with Madhur Jaffrey SPONSORED BY

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n the late 1990s Aasif Mandvi took his Obie Award-winning one-man show Sakina’s Restaurant and fleshed it out, making it into a full screenplay for a film he called Today’s Special. And then he took the screenplay around New York City, every so often organizing readings at people’s homes and in theaters. At all times Mandvi played the lead role in the reading and he cast Madhur Jaffrey as his mother. “Madhur was always someone we wanted to have in the film from the beginning,” Mandvi, a ‘correspondent’ on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, said. “I always invited her for the readings and the poor woman would show up, and spend an afternoon reading and go home. Then she would not hear from me for six, eight months until I wanted her for another reading. But she was a great sport about it.” Mandvi had a good working relationship with Jaffrey since the two had acted in the 1999 Indian-American film ABCD. Today’s Special — a charming film about a young man who takes over his Aasif Mandvi and Madhur Jaffrey in Today’s Special. Mandvi never considered anyone but Jaffrey for the role of his mother father’s restaurant in Jackson Heights diva. She required a lot of attention. We had a 24laughing. — opened to critical acclaim last year. hour masseuse on the set for her. She required spe“Hire her, because she’s really good, but try and “There was a real elegance and maternal nurturkeep her happy, because if you don’t, she will have cial food. She’s a tremendous actress, but a pain to ing element in her,” Mandvi said about Jaffrey’s peryour head,” he said with a wide grin. work with. That’s all I would say.” And he burst out formance in the film. “And she was really funny. She It was nice coincidence that Today’s Special is brought all these nuances to the charabout food and Jaffrey is a cookbook writer and acter. There was a lost romance to the has had long career giving cooking lessons. But character.” during the shoot Jaffrey never had the chance to Jaffrey’s character in Today’s Special cook for Mandvi and his team. was inspired by Mandvi’s mother. “She Then Mandvi recalled a funny moment about a actually met with my mom and that I green spice that features in the film. According to was really impressed by, since most him, Jaffrey was so focused on her character in the actors wouldn’t feel the need to do film that she did not notice anything odd about that,” Mandvi said. “Madhur kind of the green spice. Later, when she watched the film interviewed her to get her manner of for the first time she commented to Mandvi, speaking and other nuances. There are “There’s no spice like that (Mandvi laughed as he some things that my mother does that imitated Jaffrey). There is no green spice. What is are just her. Madhur wanted to know that? It’s just green paint.” those specificities of that character. “I wish she had told us earlier on the set because She did her homework. She is a hard then we would have changed it,” Mandvi said. worker.” “She was probably working on her craft as an Today’s Special may have had some actress. Later, I think she was a little upset about serious moments, but Mandvi loves that.” being a comedian. His comic role on He admitted he would work with her again. The Daily Show has won him many “She’s tremendous,” he said. “There is a kind of fans. So, it was no surprise that he specificity that she brings to her work that I could not stay serious in an interview admire. She brings all the things that an actor about Jaffrey. needs to bring to a role, including attention to When asked what Jaffrey was like on details. She’s very intuitive about things. I have the set of Today’s Special, Mandvi always been a fan.” laughed and said, “She was a complete PARESH GANDHI

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