Indo-American News April 5, 2019

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Friday, April 05, 2019 | Vol. 38, No. 09

Published biweekly from Houston, TX


Indo y l k e American We News

f es og m i T in with o & B d e o t h dica , Ya Syn oogle & ed , G Special Reports tner r a P lekh Community Briefs Su , a i Local Politics Ind South Asians in the News

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Grand Opening of North America’s First Zoroastrian Fire Temple The Bhandara Atash Kadeh (fire temple) is a new addition on the site of the vast ZAH grounds on West Airport near the Beltway and is a result of decades of planning and was made possible by the generous donation of Feroze and Shernaz Bhandara.


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April 05, 2019

Grand Opening of North America’s First Zoroastrian Fire Temple H ouston : The Zoroastrian Association of Houston celebrated the Grand Opening of the first fire Temple to be built outside India, Pakistan and Iran and included the Navroze (the Iranian New Year heralding the first day of Spring) in 5 days of celebrations from March 20 to 24. The Bhandara Atash Kadeh (fire temple) is a new addition on the site of the vast ZAH grounds on West Airport near the Beltway and is a result of decades of planning and was made possible by the generous donation of Feroze and Shernaz Bhandara. Vada Dasturji Khurshed Dastoor (High Priest of Iranshah in Udvada, India) traveled from India to lead the ceremonies, prayers and blessings throughout the planned events. Traditional ceremonies included the collection of sandalwood and ash for the fire, a procession lead by local Mobeds, Ervads and Naavars (priests) who carried and urn with fire and ashes from the small prayer room located in the community center to the Bhandara Atash Kadeh where the fires were mixed in new urns. The inauguration and gala celebration on Saturday, March 23 began with the American National Anthem by Chloe Choudhury and blessings by Vada Dasturji and was followed by speeches, award ceremonies, dining and dancing for all. Accompanying the opening was an exhibit “Down Memory Lane”

Generous donors Feroze and Shernaz Bhandara with high priest from Udvada, India in front of Zoarashtrian Association of Houston (ZAH) Atash Kadeh temple.

which presented vignettes of past Parsi domestic spaces in India and Pakistan in the library inside the main building. Feroze Bhandara thanked the audience of over 600 for their support. He spoke about the inspiration to build anAtash Kadeh that would meet the spiritual needs of our second and third generations in North America. He explained that he and his wife, Shernaz, felt privileged to have built this fire temple. They want the Bhandara Atash Kadeh to be a safe,

inclusive and welcoming spiritual place of worship for all in our community in the hopes that NonZoroastrian family members can share our faith and spiritual beliefs thus carrying the Zoroastrian faith onward to the next generation. He concluded by turning over ownership of the Bhandara Atash Kadeh building to the ZAH. Vada Dasturji spoke on the “Zarathushti Way of Life in Today’s World”, about the survival of the Zarathushti faith in the modern world.

He asked whether “Zarathushtis want to survive and have the will to survive?” He acknowledged the Zoroastrian core belief of “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds” which is evident throughout this community and gave a reminder to keep the fires burning. He conveyed how touched he was during the first boye ceremony, and that it is now up to the community to take care that this fire burns in perpetuity. Bhandara introduced several key guests and dignitaries including CongressmanAl Green (9th District) who presented a Certificate of Special Progression Recognition and Consul General of India, Dr. Anupam Ray. City of Houston Council Members Mike Laster (District J), Martha Castex-Tatum (District K), and Member-at-Large David Robinson to present a proclamation from the Mayor Sylvester Turner. Sarosh Collector, described how the first thought of an Atash Kadeh came to mind from discussion with Roshan and Rohinton Rivetna but that the push to move forward with this idea truly came from Mrs. Cooper (Lahore) and Shernaz Bhandara. adding “atha jamyat, yatha afrinami” (as it is, so shall it be). Other speakers included Fezana President, Homi Gandhi; NAMC President Ervad Kobad Zarolia and past President Sheroy Haveliwala. The Atash-Kadeh architect Cyrus Rivetna (of Chicago) thanked

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Aderbad Tamboli, Rohinton Deputy, Khushrav Nariman, and others for their support and contributions during construction. The celebrants raised over $100,000 for ongoing operational costs to show their commitment to the ongoing care of the Bhandara Atash Kadeh. MCs for the evening were Mitra Khumbatta and Darius Tamboli. The crowd gave standing ovations to The Children’s Choir, led by Sunday school teacher Vehishta Kaikobad, who performed a Spiritual Song to the tune of “It’s Now or Never” and by musical selections by Chloe and Tayte Choudhury. DJ Gary (Farrokh Firozgary) and the Z-band rocked the dance floor by singing everyone’s favorite tunes and brought the evening to a close. The Zoroastrian Association of Houston was established in 1977 with just over 12 families. In 1998, the Zarathushti Heritage and Cultural Center was built within the 8 acres owned by the ZAH. The Bhandara Atash Kadeh is a standalone, designed by architect Cyrus Rivetna of Chicago is easily recognizable as a Zoroastrian place of worship is located across from the Center and is now ‘must see’ for Zoroastrians, their non-Zoroastrian spouses and children throughout North America. The 7,000 sf building includes a community Prayer Hall, ceremonial rooms and two living quarters to be used for those undertaking their Navroze or first training as priests.


April 05, 2019

BAPS Women’s Conference Inspires Once Again


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Over 25 years experience The keynote speaker, Dr. Aparna Kamat; Special Guest, Judge Juli Mathew and guest, Dr. Heena Thakkar (from right to left) commemorate the start of the conference in a traditional manner by lighting the divo.

Stafford: The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir hosted over 1,100 women at its 13th annual Women’s Conference on March 30, 2019. Centered on the topic of “Sādhanā: The Purpose and the Pursuit”, the conference brought together women of all different ages and backgrounds to engage in a dialogue relevant to all. Special guests in attendance included Dr. Aparna Kamat, Director of Gynecologic Oncology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Houston Methodist Hospital, as the Keynote speaker and Judge Juli Mathew, Fort Bend County Court #3 as the Guest of Honor. Also in attendance at the conference were members from over 15 fellow Indian organizations from around the Houston area. Sādhanā means the efforts towards our goals. Through discussion around hopes and goals, individual purpose and priorities, the conference presented an insightful look at the various efforts everyone partakes in while highlighting the integral Sādhanāof spirituality. Starting the conference on the right note, keynote speaker Dr. Aparna Kamat, noted the importance of hope and passion in pursuing Sādhanās in all aspects of life and the role of perseverance and humility in the process. She encouraged members of the audience to make a choice to be the best version of themselves through their Sādhanā. The definition of Sādhanā that most resonated with her was, “Sadhana is a personal process in which you bring out your best”. The opening portion of the conference focused on identifying the various Sādhanās, or efforts that are a part of everyday life. The

opening speaker, Mrs. Hiral Patel, shared through her own ambitions and goals, how she strives to achieve balance among them, while aiming to keep one Sādhanā at the forefront. Highlighting how spiritual Sādhanā can elevate a person to a new level, by building faith and perseverance, teaching self-awareness, helping understand true fulfillment from within, and creating a more compassionate spirit, she emphasized the importance of focusing time and energy in building spirituality. The second portion of the conference focused on the “how” of strengthening one’s personal spiritual Sādhanā. Ms. Anita Patel shared how making slight shifts in perspective, incorporating small changes to daily routines to include spiritual practices, and finding time in everyday tasks helps make the pursuit in building spiritual sadhana a natural part of life. She provided practical examplesand action items that the audience could walk away with to move forward on the path of spirituality, no matter their starting point. Through her talk, Ms. Patel simplified the seemingly difficult concept of spiritual Sādhanā into everyday achievable steps. Throughout the conference, audience members were encouraged to take part in an interactive reflection activity. Questions around the topic of Sadhana were presented on the screen and audience members were asked to take part first in personal reflection and then share their answers via a live polling system that was shared with the greater audience. This allowed for attendees to gain inspiration


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and learn from each other’s reflection and thoughts as well. Through this activity, attendees were able to play an active role in the dialogue presented by the speakers. At the end of the conference, Keynote Speaker, Dr. Aparna Kamat shared, “All of us have such busy lives, and one thing that I felt was, it is easy to add spirituality into our day to day life without it being a big deal. I thought that was the biggest take home point for everyone.” Another attendee, Dr. Manisha Bawa commented, “I think this topic can help anyone, no matter what their faith is, what their religion is, because spirituality is for everyone and it is to promote our humanity so it can help at any level.” Speaking to the overall experience of the conference, attendee Mrs. Kavita Bhatt stated, “The conference was very inspirational, very motivational to make you want to aim to be better.” The BAPS Women’s Conference was inspired by His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj and encouraged by His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, the current spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha. The conference highlights the influential role of women in today’s society and also empowers the younger generations by promoting a healthy dialogue around current topics. Before and after the conference, attendees had the opportunity to network with others from the greater community and share their perspective on the talks of the day. Many in attendance felt inspired by the conference and conveyed their motivation to share the word with their family and friends.

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April 05, 2019

Odissi Dance Academy of Houston Celebrates Odissi Mahotsava

By Anuranjita Nayak, MD Houston: Odissi Academy of Houston celebrated “Odissi Mahotsav” on Sunday afternoon at Houston Durgabari Society Auditorium. It was an exclusive Odissi Dance & Music festival. Odissi is one of the oldest dances originating from temples of eastern part of the India, modern Odisha state. Odissi is one of the fastest growing and most popular form of Indian

Classical dance in today’s time. Odissi Academy of Houston, a Texas not-for-profit organization, promotes Odissi teaching & performing in North America. Uniqueness of this academy, it invites talented, practicing, and experienced Odissi gurus (teachers) from Bhubaneswar, India (the epicenter of Odissi Performing Arts), and uses their expertise in coaching local young artists. The crisp spring morning started

with bansuri (bamboo flute) recital by Guru Parshuram Das, supported by Shri Govind Shetty. A befitting introduction to the academy starting Bansuri/Flute lessons in Houston. Guru Das is the first bansuri teacher of academy. Odissi Program started with traditional Mangalacharan – Ganesh Vandana. It’s a dance item salutation to mother earth, the Lord Ganesha, audience, and teacher. Series of performances, such as Pushpanjalee (an ode to





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Two hours of non-stop, awe inspiring show was enjoyed by more than 350 guests. Entire program was directed and coordinated by academy’s Guru Mr. Prashanta Kumar Behera. Savory Odia and Bengali cuisine served for lunch. Photo courtesy Mrs. Swagatika Nayak, Visit Odissi Academy at, To see performance videos, visit Odissi Academy channel at


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Lord Shiva), Mohana Pallavi (pure dance), Nava Durga (an Abhinaya – dance drama), and Konark Shree (a dance describing use of musical instruments in temples of India) were performed by students of Academy. Students of Odissi Dance Company performed group dances, Nagendra & Mokhya. The star attraction of the day was the duet called “Khamaj Pallavi” by Odissi Academy concluded the event superbly.




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A Man for All Seasons, Gitesh Desai is Honored, Here and in India By Jawahar Malhotra

Houston: It has happened so often for the local desi community that it is almost expected that someone from this area will make the final cut for the annual Parvasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Honor) awards. After four previous local Indians received the award, it was remarkable to learn that yet another – Gitesh Desai – had won this year for structural engineering. This year there were 28 recipients, of which four were from the US, and two organizations. The other three US recipients were Prakash Madhavdas Heda for medical science; Chandrashekhar Mishra for science and Gita Gopinath for academics and arts. Those honored received the award from the President of India Ram Nath Kovind at the 15th annual PBSAheld during a three-day conclave of the Indian diaspora held from January 21 to 23 in Varanasi, India, attended by 5,802 people from across the globe. It was organized by the Ministry of External Affairs in partnership with the government of Uttar Pradesh. Desai joins four past PBSA recipients from Houston:

Gitesh Desai with all the speakers, from left, Col Vipin Kumar, Hasu Patel. Swapan Dhairyawan, Gitesh Desai, Gitesh’s daughter Dr. Shuchi Desai, Dr. Kalplata Guntupalli, Subhash Gupta, Dr. Kamlesh Lulla, Curtis Stroup, and Vijay Pallod.

Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli, a pulmonologist, (2012); Dr. Renu Khator, President of the University of Houston (2014); Dr, Kamlesh Lulla, a NASAscientist (2015) and Ramesh Shah of Ekal Vidalaya (2017). This past Friday, March 29, the local community came out to fill the banquet hall in India House for a program - followed by dinner - to recognize Desai and celebrate not only his award but

also his commitment to serving the community whenever he can. He is the current president of the Houston Chapter of Sewa International, the volunteer-based non-profit which has slowly been making a name for itself for its efforts to help people Recognizing the trend, chief guest Indian Consul-General Anupam Ray quipped that “Houston has had a pretty good run with the PBSA,” adding that it is also “important to

remember the community that has produced such people.” He let in on two secrets: “I knew he was getting the award before he did. And I wasn’t surprised!” Ray was of course referring to the extraordinary efforts that Desai had made at the helm of Sewa during and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 to rescue, shelter, rebuild and rehabilitate hundreds of people who were affected by the natural disaster

despite being flooded out of his own home. “I would like to see Sewa grow in stature like Amnesty International someday,” Ray added, “”And that’s why Vande Mataram written by Bankin Chandra Chattopadhyay in captivity by British India is so important.” The soulful poem was turned into a song by India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and was performed before the program by Mukta Saxena Vijayvergia. Sewa Executive Director was the emcee of the program that brought out many other speakers who felicitate Desai on his achievement. These included Dr. Shuchi Desai, Gitesh’s daughter, who is a gynecologist and mother of two. She revealed that her dad was accomplished in the arts and humanities too as a yoga instructor in the 80’s and 90’s; versed in holistic medicine; an ardent lover of Indian classical music; an accomplished tabla player, writer of poetry and ghazals in English and Gujarati and a devoted painter who spends one evening a week painting in his home studio. In addition he loves to dance the rhumba and salsa, all news to Continued on page 11

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April 05, 2019

Isaikavi Ramananan Speaks on Bharathiyar

Sam Kannappan (left) S. Narayanan, Isaikavi Ramanan, Priya Chandru and Prabhakaran.

Houston: Kalaimamani isaikavi Ramanan, visiting from Chennai, delivered impressive speech on Bharathiyar for Houston Tamil Studies Chair and Bharathi Kalai Manram at Sri Meenakshi Temple on Friday March 29th, 2019. Sri Ramanan spoke eloquently about Bharathiyar’s knowledge in eight languages including French. His desire for Independence for India is not forgotten. Sri Ramanan requested community’s

support for Houston Tamil Studies Chair at the University of Houston. Sam Kannappan welcomed the gathering followed by introduction of the speaker by Ganesh Raghu. Priest Sri Manickka Sundara Bhattar honored the speaker with shawl. K.R. Thiagarajan presented the presadam from Sri Meenakshi Temple. Arumugam Thiruvengadam took video and still pictures. Naa. Ganesan invited the speaker to Houston.

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April 05, 2019

Rishi Oberoi Joins Ekal Houston By Manu Shah New Delhi: Rish Oberoi is excited about joining Ekal Vidyalaya Houston as Zonal Development Director since it involves two of his favorite things. Making a difference and flexing his fundraising skills. As Development Director, Rish’s job involves rallying support from Corporations, strengthening donor base, coordinating with other Ekal Chapters on projects and events and tapping young professionals who want to give back. The young 27 year old has joined Ekal to promote the organization’s work of uplifting India’s rural and tribal areas through literacy and vocational skills. This “wanting to make a difference” here or in India was always important to him, Rish says, of his motivation to work with Ekal. He is highly inspired by Past President Barack Obama and like him, Rish too wanted to do something to better the world. In 2016, after graduating with a Bachelors in History and a minor in PoliSci from the University of Houston, Rish joined HISD as an Associate Teacher while working for his Teacher’s Certification. It proved to be a short stint as he soon grew disillusioned with the state’s handling of the public school system and its failure to be effective for marginalized communities. It was evident to Rish that several things were wrong in society and he believes that “it goes back to who’s running the Government.” Perturbed, he called up the office of Mark Gibson who was running for the 22nd District Congressional seat and volunteered for the election campaign. It was totally new territory for Rish and a formative learning curve for him. Gibson didn’t win but Rish got his first taste of politics and a possible career. Over the next few years, Rish worked as a Policy Aide in Speaker Straus’s office and crisscrossed Texas as Director of Operations and Travel Aide in Mike Colliers Lt. Governor campaign. However it was with Congressional candidate Sri Kulkarni that Rish truly got in the thick of campaigning and fundraising. As Kulkarni’s Finance Director, their campaign

Rishi Oberoi has joined Ekal Vidyalaya in Houston as Zonal Development Director.

raised over $1 million in four months – a record and double the initial goal. Rish also picked up some useful skills from summers spent behind the cash counter as his father, Ricki Oberoi, owns several franchises of fast food chain Wendy’s. It was an excellent training ground for tangible lessons such as keeping “a cool head with less-than-reasonable customers” to connecting with people. More importantly, he realized that business wasn’t his cup of tea and said as much to his parents. They were understandably taken aback at first, but were always supportive of his decision to carve out his own path. Rish plans to visit a few Ekal schools in India to see for himself how the organization runs 83,000 schools and touches the lives of two million children. He is drawn to Ekal’s concept of not only providing free schooling but also vocational training, digital competence and agricultural education to farmers. As a millennial himself, he’s partial to the Ekal on Wheels – a program that uses mobile buses with computer stations to impart digital skills to children and young adults. During his me-time, Rish enjoys going for music festivals and cheering for the Houston Rockets. He’s also a major history buff and travels to Canada to see his girlfriend Alysha whenever he can.

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April 05, 2019

Bright Hues and Cool Games Warm Hearts at Chinmaya Prabha

The celebration started with the Holi puja. The Holi fire was lit by Acharya Gaurang Nanavaty. The day ended with a splash, of course! Colors filled the air as they got thrown and smeared in this happy celebration of the advent of spring. Photos by Rajesh Thatte.

By Ruchi Verma & Jaya Chitale Houston: The Holi celebration at Chinmaya Mission Houston on Sunday, March 24th, gave joy to adults and was immense fun to children. Over 700 members participated with amazing zeal, making it a truly memorable day. Rain or shine, the event was to go on as planned. Volunteers were seen working enthusiatically in the courtyard of the Saumyakasi Sivalaya temple since that morning. The volunteers of the food team started to cook the festive

lunch early in the day. The courtyard was decorated with beautiful strings of colorful pennants. The holi fire was set in the middle of the courtyard. The sound system amped up the joyous mood. Piles of vibrant colors were set up to be distributed to all participants. As if to reward all devotees, the Gods too seemed to shower their love gifting all with a beautiful day – the perfect weather for all to sing, dance, and play with colors to their hearts’ desire! At 1.00 PM, all participants gathered in the courtyard. The celebration started with the Holi puja.

The Holi fire was lit by Acharya Gaurang Nanavaty. Worship was then followed with food. The blue skies and soft spring-green lawns called for picnicking on freshly made traditional delights – tasty chole-bhature, sweet jalebi, and crispy bhel. A flash mob dance set to rocking songs got the whole crowd moving. This set the mood for the “Gokul” games, specially crafted to convert the whole temple courtyard into Gokul-Vrindavan, the childhood home of Lord Krishna. Children found the “Gokul” or “Go-Cool”- namely the “naughty

little Krishna” games - absolutely enjoyable and funny. It was an experience also that revolved around bonding with their mothers. “Bruj ki Lathmaar,”again a tradition during Holi, where the better halves got a chance to ‘beat’ their spouses with laathis or clubs (kindly redesigned with soft, spongy pool noodles) was surely delightful. “Going to River Yamuna” and “Balance the Water Pots,” walking with water (balloons) in a container on their heads followed. Every child and adult alike wanted to participate in these games. The day ended with a splash, of

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course! Colors filled the air as they got thrown and smeared in this happy celebration of the advent of spring. With beaming smiles on colored faces, and with warmed hearts, all families drove back to their homes looking forward to next year when they can do this all over again! For more information about Chinmaya Mission Houston, Sri Saumyakasi Sivalaya and its activities visit, or call temple 281 568 1690 or Jay Deshmukh 832 541 0059 or Bharati Sutaria 281-933-0233


April 05, 2019


Manasi Joshi-Bedekar Gitesh Desai is Honored, Here and in India Houston’s Wins Award for US Film: “DNA”

In late January, Gitesh Desai received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award for 2019 from President Ram Nath Kovind as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj looks on.

Continued from page 7 many in the audience. Others who honored Desai’s accomplishmentswereVipinKumar, Executive Director of India House; Subhash Gupta, representing Hindu Swayam Sangh; Curtis Stroup of the Wood Group and Desai’s longtime manager at his consulting office; Swapan Dhairyawan, President of the Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston; Nisha Mirani President of the India

Culture Center; Hasu Patel President of Indo American Political action Committee; Vijay Pallod of Hindus of Greater Houston; and past PBSA recipients Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli and Dr, Kamlesh Lulla. Desai also received proclamations of his achievement from Jay Guerrero of Sen. John Cornyn’s office; Sam Merchant from Congressman Al Green’s office and the City of Houston presented by Hasu Patel. Overcome by the outpouring of

accolades; when it was his turn to speak, Gitesh Desai opened with a short lyric “mere dil ke malik, mere dil per haath rakhna; kahin aaj is kushi mein, mera dil rukh na jaye” (Lord, please hold onto my heart lest it stop with all this happiness). Desai thanked the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Aurobindo and Vivekananda for instilling in him the values of selflessness, sacrifice and service and to seek truth.

Los Angeles: Houston-based actress has won the Award for Best Supporting Actress in the March 2019 edition of the Los Angeles Film Awards. Joshi-Bedekar won the award for her role in the US production of a Marathi film titled DNA. Two production companies, “Not Just Entertainment (NJE)” and “7 Steps” have joined hands to make their first feature film called DNA. A film gives a simple but forgotten message about relationships and parenthood through a compelling story and visuals. Produced by Deepa Limaye, the film stars Prajakta Karandikar and Rishikesh Sane. At the Los Angeles Film Awards, DNA won the Honorable Mention: Drama Feature. Karandikar won Best Actress, Rushikesh Sane won Best Actor award for Feature Film. Most recently, Joshi-Bedekar and her husband Shreyas Bedekar recently produced a play titled “Marathi Astitva”, which was

staged in Houston as well as other cities in the US and India.

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April 05, 2019

Sikhs in Canada Worried about Quebec’s Secularism Bill


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Montreal: Sikhs living in Canada have expressed concern over secularism bill tabled by Quebec government, which if passed, would prohibit wearing of religious symbols in public sector. President of World Sikh Organization of Canada, Mukhbir Singh told TOI on Friday “we are deeply disappointed that the Coalition Avenir Québec government has introduced legislation banning the wearing of religious clothing and symbols in Quebec. “ “The proposed legislation is a solution to a problem that does not exist- there is no evidence to suggest that individuals wearing items of religious clothing are negatively impacting anyone in society”. Sikhs living in Canada have mainly objected on the section of bill that outlaws wearing of religious symbols by public workers .

Expressing concern, WSO president said that there were approximately 15,000 Sikhs in Quebec who would be disproportionately impacted by the ban on religious clothing and symbols . Public servants in positions of authority such as police officers, judges, prosecutors and also school teachers will be included in the ban. Manveer Singh, president of SAD (A) Quebec said that Quebec Bill was not acceptable. “The Sikh community of Quebec would challenge this bill before it become a law. “ “Quebec was our home and the government of Quebec could not over ride Canadian Charter,” he added. Legal counsel of WSO, Balpreet Singh said the ban would have a deeply negative impact on Sikhs in Quebec. The wearing of the tur-

ban and the Sikh articles of faith is not optional for Sikhs and a ban on these articles of faith was, in effect, a ban on Sikhs in positions of authority. “We fear that this ban will have a trickle-down effect into the private sector and young Sikhs who are born and raised in Quebec will find it even more difficult to find jobs in the province” he said. He pointed out that the term “religious symbols” remained undefined in the law- leaving it unclear as to how particular items of jewelry or clothing would be classified and who will make that determination. He also added that the practicing Sikhs, both men and women, wear the Sikh articles of faith such as the turban at all times as reminders of the principles of equality, service and spirituality.

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April 05, 2019


Daya Houston’s 2019 Gala Shines the Light on Survivors

Left: Daya Executive Director Rachna Khare welcomed two Daya clients and Daya counselor, Hareema Mela to the stage for an open discussion about the clients’ experiences and the role that Daya played in the recovery. Right: Daya board members gathered around President Sheela Rao (center) for a group photo. Credit: Slyworks Photography

Houston: Chaired by Daya Board Members, Aparna Asthana, Annu Naik, and Shamza Matin on March 31, 2019, Daya held Shine – Celebrating the Light of Survivors to raise funds to support South Asian victims of domestic and sexual violence in Houston. As a result of outreach by Honorary Event Chairs Salma and Riaz Siddiqi, and Sandhya and Naresh Sabhnani, this year’s sold out gala welcomed over 600 community members. The program was led by emcee, Vikas Shah, MBE, an entrepreneur and professor who traveled for the event from Manchester. Against

a stunning backdrop of twinkling lights, Daya Board President, Sheela Rao welcomed the audience and acknowledged the many staff, board members, and volunteers that make up the Daya Family. She gave special thanks to Daya’s partners and funders that allow Daya to do their work. Mr. Shah then read an official proclamation from the Mayor’s Office, naming March 31, 2019 “Daya Day” in the City of Houston. Executive Director, Rachna Khare spoke of the complex challenges and barriers that South Asian survivors face when seeking help. She welcomed two Daya

clients and Daya counselor, Hareema Mela to the stage for an open discussion about the clients’ experiences and the role that Daya played in the recovery. One client discussed the barriers she faced in shelter and mainstream agencies. A year of rental assistance from Daya has allowed the client to rebuild her life. She now has a fulltime job and can independently take care of her four children. The second client spoke of the in-law abuse she experienced and the impact the abuse had on her own family in India. Through mental health counseling at Daya, she was able to rebuild her self-confidence and

is now living independently and is finishing dental school. Ms. Khare challenged the audience to take ownership of domestic violence as a public health crisis. Mr. Shah then took the stage to illustrate how community donations impact in the life of a survivor. A donation of $1000 provides six months of trauma-based professional counseling, $2500 gives a legal retainer fee for immigration and family law cases, and $10,000 provides an entire year of rental assistance for a client and her children. After dinner, filmmaker and activist, Leslee Udwin, took the stage. Ms. Udwin spoke passionately about the mak-

ing of her film, India’s Daughter. Ms. Udwin introduced the audience to Think Equal, her initiative to teach empathy and equality to children in the formative, developmental years. Ms. Udwin ended her inspirational speech with a call to action, urging the audience to shine the light on domestic violence in our community. Daya is aiming to raise $400,000 for the gala. To donate, please go to what-your-dollars-can-do. Daya empowers south Asian survivors who are trying to break the cycle of domestic and sexual violence and reclaim their lives.

Kamna Sharma Remembered as a Jovial Spirit with a Smile By Jawahar Malhotra H ouston : Her younger son Mayoor, 35, remembered her as the adoring mom whose loving arms he could jump into from the school bus after a particularly traumatic incident in school. This Major in the US Army Reserve with two tours in Iraq fought to hold back the tears even though the dark swollen circles under his eyes told the story of many a sleepless night crying out his pain during the final days of his mom, Kamna Sharma. His older brother Rajat, 40, tall and broad shouldered, too had to compose himself several times as he eulogized his mother and remembered moments that showed the close relationships that she built, like the time she was having an afternoon aperitif with hils girlfriend and they both shooed him away so that they could have some private

time together. He recalled how his mom wanted the two brothers to become what they wanted and be happy. Rajat’s biggest revelation came from a story about her compassion. He revealed that his parents, seeing great potential in one of his friends,

paid for a year of his college, because he didn’t come from the same circumstances as they were being able to provide their son. For Kamna Sharma, 64, was a jovial spirit with a keen sense of humor who could find a silver lining in any cloud and become the life of the party. Several other friends came up to the podium to remember moments of their lives when Kamna made a comment or shared some news that made the others sit up and notice. One recalled how Kamna’s inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge would lead them to ask for her recommendations spanning politics, current events, travel or even the trendiest places to eat. The jovial spirit with a ready smile passed away on Monday, March 25 after a short four-month battle with cancer of the uterus, with her loving family by her side. Even in her fading days, she was remembered for her

considerate nature asking if her caregivers had eaten and cracking jokes with her friends and sons, even though she did not feel well. Kamna Sharma was born on September 7, 1954 and named after her mother Kamni Pandya in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, a small town about 116 km from Shimla, where her father Shanker Ram Upadhaya was posted and later retired as the director of Agriculture for the Government of India. She graduated from Shimla University with a degree in Biology and also joined the MA program for English. In June 1974, Bal Sharma, a young mechanical engineer who came to Houston in 1972, went on a 2-week vacation to his hometown ofAmritsar, Punjab and, as was the tradition back then, was introduced to Kamna, they were married within days and the young couple settled in Houston. Kamna went to the University of

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Houston to get her MBA in 1976, became a CPA and started her own accounting practice in 1985, which she ran until recently Bal and Kamna owned a gas station on Voss and the Katy Freeway for 15 years, though he continued to work as Senior Mechanical Consulting engineer at the Wood Group. She was the president of the Indo American Charity Foundation and later of Club 24, both non-profits and spent many hours working on community projects. She was active in military support groups and army family readiness support groups. Kamna worked diligently to get the home repaired after it was flooded out from Hurricane Harvey and then moved back into in March 2018. Besides her sons and Bal, Kamna is survived by her grand daughter Aubrey, 4. A pooja is planned on the thervan (13th day) at the Sharma residence.


April 05, 2019


Super Deluxe: Gutsy, Strikingly Different and Devoid of Cliches By S. Subhakirthana Cast: Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Samantha, Ramya Krishnan, Mysskin Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja Rating: 4 stars I can’t say enough about how glad I am to have caught Super Deluxe because I missed Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s awardwinning film when it was in cinemas. Aaranya Kaandam was a cult classic. But why was it not celebrated then? It’s a grouse that I have had in my mind for a long time. Kumararaja is back with his second film, Super Deluxe, after eight years. Believe me, it’s simply superb and worth all the hype. I am too tempted to say with this film, he offers a never-seen-before experience to the Tamil audience. “What is Super Deluxe all about?” I have just two words for those who ask me. “Devour it.” There is one thing that most friends who watched the film agreed on—that it was hypnotic. There are multiple stories and the protagonists in each one hold on to their own set of values and beliefs. Say, the first story revolves around Vembu (Samantha), who is married to Mugil (Fahadh Faasil). Though Mugil likes Vembu, she is not in a happy relationship. She invites her ex-boyfriend home. Something quite amusing happens in between. (You got to watch the

Super Deluxe is an intellectually stimulating experience. Watching it once won’t be enough.

film to know what it is). The second one involves Jyoti (Gayathrie), whose husband is a transwoman, Shilpa (Vijay Sethupathi). The third story is about a group of guys and one of their parents is a former porn star, Leela (Ramya Krishnan), who is away from her husband Arputham/Dhanasekar (Mysskin), an evangelist. These story threads intersect at some point in time. In three hours, Kumararaja’s film almost touches up on some of the fine aspects of life—sex, marriage, religion, philosophy, faith, gender inequality, moral ambiguity and even aliens. You are shown how one incident leads to the other like a chain reaction as one of the characters rightly points out, “namba engeyo panra oru vishayam innoruthara baadhikkum.” (Something that you do

may affect someone in some way or the other). All characters in Super Deluxe are somewhat complex, layered and flawed. But you don’t judge them for what they do. You simply enjoy their journey with no complaints. Though it’s an anthology film, nowhere you feel the narration is uneven or patchy. I am imagining how laborious it must have been to set up each premise and every character. The writing is so effective, and this is what happens when you have four writers (Nalan Kumarasamy, Neelan K Sekar, Mysskin & Kumararaja himself) collaborate on a script. No, it is hard to guess who wrote what. Sigh. Anthologies don’t allow flexible writing always as it needs a lot of skill to put things into perspec-

tive. They are tricky because if one segment doesn’t entertain, it risks being cut out. Typically, an average filmmaker would present multiple narratives after chopping them into pieces, but Kumararaja doesn’t do that. He serves a wellfinished product. In a lot of places, you expect you would be given an explanation to certain philosophies, but you don’t get one. That makes the film more interesting. In an interview, Kumararaja had mentioned he was inspired by Jafar Panahi’s Circle, which has no single protagonist but consists of several interlinking stories. Each story has its own share of surprises and merits, complementing the film on the whole. Super Deluxe, high on detailing, packs a punch and has umpteen twists that you can remember. After all, each story has the same DNA linked thematically—there is nothing ultimately right or wrong. Originally, the film was supposed to be titled, Aneedhi Kadhaigal (Amoral tales), and I am sure it would have been better if the makers had retained the same. But hey, that’s all right. Super Deluxe sounds equally swag and fancy. It’s hard to categorise this film, which has got everything—wholesome entertainment, humour, noir and a bit of sci-fi. Super Deluxe, undoubtedly, is one step higher than Aaranya Kaandam—in terms

of treatment, writing and presentation. No wonder, filmmakers, including Anurag Kashyap, were raving about it. The tone of the film is also a major highlight, and I liked the colour palette used by cinematographers Nirav Shah and PS Vinod. Vijay Sethupathi is brilliant as Shilpa, and it’s one of the most honest transwoman characters in the history of Tamil cinema. Throughout the film, you only see Shilpa. Fahadh Faasil pulls off his role with subtleties and you could say Vembu, perhaps, is Samantha’s best in her career so far. Watch out for Bhagavathi Perumal’s role, and whenever he appears on the screen, you feel like dragging his shirt and slap him. There are no songs in Super Deluxe, but Yuvan Shankar Raja reignites the magic by using his father Ilaiyaraaja’s iconic songs in bits and pieces. As I walked out of the film, I started muttering—life isn’t a chance of random meetings and coincidences, but we are all connected. Also, life is way too real, and if you delve deeper into it, there’s just no purpose or meaning. ‘Real’ is good and you live it. I knew that was all I needed. Honestly, I don’t mind waiting for another eight years if I am going to get another Super Deluxe or even a better masterpiece from Kumararaja. -Indian Express

Kalank: Alia-Varun Film to be a Heart-wrenching Costume Drama

The trailer of Kalank, starring Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur, Madhuri Dixit and Sanjay Dutt, is out and it continues to maintain the same tone that was established in the teaser. From what we can gather, Kalank revolves around Roop (Alia Bhatt) and Zafar (Varun Dhawan). The two come from different worlds and those worlds collide at the brink of independence. Sonakshi Sinha and Aditya Roy

Kapur’s characters are shown to be married but their world isn’t as peaceful as they would like. Madhuri Dixit plays the woman who will probably deliver ‘shayrana’ lines throughout the course of the film championing true love. Sanjay Dutt plays a ‘zamindar’-like figure who is fighting to keep his family together. Kunal Kemmu also plays a pivotal role in Kalank. Through the course of the trailer, we see many shots of hundreds of people dancing on lavish sets. The film certainly has the hangover

of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali costume drama but it is yet to be seen how this inspiration translates on screen. Overall, Kalank is a film with quite a lot of characters and it looks like they will all have a pivotal part in taking the story forward. Madhuri Dixit plays Bahaar Beg um in the film and the role was initially supposed to be played by Sridevi. After her untimely demise in February 2018, Madhuri Dixit stepped in. Directed by Abhishek Varman, Kalank releases on April 17.

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April 05, 2019


South Asians for America Hosts Forum on South Asian Activism in 2019 New York, NY: South Asians For America (SAFA) held a community forum and panel to discuss issues affecting the South Asian community in various fields, and what community members can do to become more involved. The forum was held at Thoughtworks in New York City on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. The panelists included South Asian community and advocacy leaders, including Anjalee Khemlani, Managing Editor, ROI-NJ as moderator; Anouska Cheddie, Co-Chair of Chhaya CDC; Sadaf Jaffer, Mayor of Montgomery Township (New Jersey); Naveen Mehrotra, Founder & President of

the SKN Foundation; and Kavita Mehra, Executive Director of Sakhi for South Asian Women with New York Assembly District 25 District Leader Dr. Neeta Jain providing opening remarks. “Given the great turnout and conversations folks were having, it’s clear that the South Asian community is hungry to take on issues affecting their local communities,” said South Asians For America Co-chair Neha Dewan. “Many times, the challenge is that focusing on just one issue area may limit the folks that come to attend and educate themselves on how to better advocate for their community, so we decided to add

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Anjalee Khemlani, Managing Editor, ROI-NJ as moderator; Dr. Naveen Mehrotra, Founder & President of the SKN Foundation; Anouska Cheddie, Co-Chair of Chhaya CDC; Sadaf Jaffer, Mayor of Montgomery Township (New Jersey); and Kavita Mehra, Executive Director of Sakhi for South Asian Women.

a whole range of issues to attract a larger constituency.” Issues discussed ranged from diseases such as diabetes affecting the South Asian community, domestic violence against women in the community, housing discrimination and economic development. Mayor Jaffer spoke about her experience being one of the

Earth day And the Kumbh Mela

first South Asian women to serve as mayor in New Jersey, and what the community can do to get more involved politically to help progress the issues discussed during the panel. “Many people came into the event knowing which issue they were passionate about and how to drive that issue forward,” said

South Asians For America Cochair Amit Jani. “However the point of this community forum was to learn more about the issues they cared for more deeply as well as potentially new issue areas, and then using grassroots organizing to start creating change in their communities.”

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April 05, 2019

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