Before The Waters Rise Again – Measure T Will Get San Jose Ready

Measure T, on the Nov. 6 ballot, would put $650 million into upgrading San Jose’s aging infrastructure that puts our communities at risk.  Many of our bridges and overpasses are old and deteriorating, and at risk of collapse in earthquake. Two of our City’s fire stations are falling apart and one of them is at risk of sliding into a nearby creek. Last year we saw how many of our neighborhoods were vulnerable to flooding. We can’t prevent natural disasters, but we can do more to protect ourselves by passing Measure T.

Measure T will make us all safer by:

*Replace deteriorating, earthquake-vulnerable bridges

*Upgrade 911 communications facilities to improve emergency response

*Upgrade emergency operations centers

*Reduce flooding by rebuilding parts of our 70-year-old stormwater system

*Preserve natural open space that protects against flooding during heavy rains

*Fix potholes and repave roads to prevent accidents

*Rebuild police training facilities and repair crumbling fire stations

 

 

 

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Voting Quietly: Do You Know How To Do That? I do.

News of the migrant caravan is everywhere.

The facts are simple: around 7000 migrants from Central America are making their way on foot through Mexico and hope to seek asylum at the US border in the next few weeks. As of today, PBS NewsHour reports that they are about 1000 miles from the US Southern border.

President Trump has made outrageous claims about this caravan of migrants.

Daniel Dale, from the Toronto Star says, “Trump escalated his immigration dishonesty on Monday morning. Seizing on a groundless claim from a host on his favourite Fox News morning show, he tweeted that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” to a caravan of Latino migrants that began in Honduras.”  

Anne Gearan and Jeremy Duda in the Washington Post write – “Democrats, Trump said, want to give immigrants free livelihoods with no strings. “Next thing you know, they’ll want to buy ‘em a car,” Trump said. Maybe, he said, a “Rolls-Royce, made not in America so I hope that’s not what we do.” Vice President Mike Pence joined the chorus saying it’s inconceivable the caravan includes nobody from the Middle East. These are statements made to inflame sentiments of all Americans that there are Honduran freeloaders who want to just come here and make the American taxpayer pay for everything in their lives.

This inflammatory rhetoric has to be called as lies, not false claims said Daniel Dale emphatically on the PBS NewsHour evening news report today. On Twitter, he wrote “I’ve fact-checked every word Trump has uttered for two full years. This is one of his most dishonest weeks in political life. He’s lying about so many different things at once, and in big ways — not exaggerating or stretching, completely making stuff up.” Today’s editorial in the New York Times has a title that says it all – Donald Trump is Lyin’ Up a Storm: Is there an election or something?

Even if Dale and others are constantly calling out the lies as they seem to swarm the news cycle every day, they are working. They are working to create the narrative of the us versus them. They are working with the Republican base that pushed him into power. They are making insidious inroads into the minds of Democrats too. Comments in the New York TImes articles in the past few days from registered Democrats mirror this split, with some readers saying – “I am an avowed Democrat; but, I do not want open borders.”

In this dangerous us vs. them rhetoric fanned not by elements on the right or the left but by President Trump who stands behind the seal of the Government of the United States when he speaks, conversation based on facts is lost; historical reasoning is completely shoved aside; reasons for why this is happening don’t even figure in the conversation. When men and women leave behind all that is familiar to come to this country, there must be compelling reasons which makes life unbearable for them in their home country. Really compelling reasons, don’t you think?

Take this 2017 report on human rights abuses committed in Hondurans by their own government. A report filed by the US State Department. “There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.”

A drug czar who was working assiduously to change the stranglehold  that the drug trade had on high ranking members within political circles and law enforcement was gunned down by his country’s policemen. In 2009, according to TIme magazine, Julian Aristides Gonzalez had just dropped off his daughter at school. A ‘fake’ police block was set up and eleven shots were fired into the car by policemen. The article goes on to state – “The drug conflicts have pushed up the Honduran murder rate, which hit 53 per 100,000 last year — one of the worst rates in the world. Few homicides are solved.”

Joseph Nevins, professor at Vassar College says, “The mainstream narrative often reduces the causes of migration to factors unfolding in migrants’ home countries. In reality, migration is often a manifestation of a profoundly unequal and exploitative relationship between migrant-sending countries and countries of destination. Understanding this is vital to making immigration policy more effective and ethical.”

The unequal relationship extends all the way to the beginning of the 20th century where the name of the game has always been to exploit. Nevins says, “U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.” By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.”

Fast forward to the 1980s. Nevins writes, “As part of its effort to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua and “roll back” the region’s leftist movements, the Reagan administration “temporarily” stationed several hundred U.S. soldiers in Honduras. Moreover, it trained and sustained Nicaragua’s “contra” rebels on Honduran soil, while greatly increasing military aid and arm sales to the country. The Reagan years also saw the construction of numerous joint Honduran-U.S. military bases and installations. Such moves greatly strengthened the militarization of Honduran society. In turn, political repression rose. There was a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, “disappearances” and illegal detentions.”

In 2006, Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist came to power hoping to change his country’s destiny and its entanglement with the military establishment.  Nevins says, “He tried to organize a plebiscite to allow for a constituent assembly to replace the country’s constitution, which had been written during a military government. However, these efforts incurred the ire of the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.” He goes on to say, “The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration has played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country.”

This is why men, women and children are walking. Not because the Democrats are ready to hand them the keys to a Rolls Royce – let’s get some historical perspective about this migrant caravan.

Most importantly, let’s get some truth into the national conversation on the caravan to counter the lies of the President. His lies dominate the news cycles. He’s loud and brash. He cares about the midterm results – we do too. We don’t have to speak lies. We should not support them.

We just need to walk into that voting booth and vote, quietly.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing Editor of India Currents magazine.

 

Date/Time Event
Oct 4, 2018 - Oct 24, 2018
All Day
Satyajit Ray: Intimate Universes
Satyajit Ray: Intimate Universes
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco CA
Oct 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019
All Day
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA
Oct 18, 2018 - Oct 28, 2018
6:15 pm
United Nation Association Film Festival
United Nation Association Film Festival
Aquaris Theater, Palo Alto CA
Oct 19, 2018 - Oct 26, 2018
8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Dandier Nights at ICC
Dandier Nights at ICC
India Community Center, Milpitas CA

A Race To Admissions: The Harvard Story

Her fingers flitted across the paper seal, trembling around the hallowed crest. She stuck her finger in and tore. Hard. The consequence of this letter would be the culmination of 18 years of hard work; academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, and careful self-reflection. Here lies the initial gatekeeper- admission to a “top” school in America.

But who is she? Her identity, her story, and her family circumstances determine the path of this narrative.

College admissions. For some, this is a moment of fear, nervousness, indeed of competition: a desire to boast of their accomplishments, and a means of increasing their personal brand. For others, these papers quite literally would serve as the step stools to a future in a world where the barrier to educational entry is as high as the ivory tower itself. Who is she? An Indian-American teenager who grew up in an affluent suburb in the Silicon Valley with a contrived desire to prove something to her community?  Or a diligent Latina young woman, who is relying on this admission to open the gateway for her to support her financially struggling family?

The recent movement against affirmative action by a coalition of Asian American students has taken the news by storm. Students for Fair Admissions, a conglomerate of several anonymous Asian-American students rejected by Harvard, claim that they are being discriminated against on the basis of race. They cite evidence that Asian American students face penalties solely because of their race, and that candidates with near perfect profiles are rejected in favor of less accomplished peers from other racial groups. They find in an analysis of over 150,000 student documents that Asian-American students are rated lower in terms of personality qualities like leadership, courage, and kindness. This racial stereotyping and dialogue surrounding Asian-Americans and their work ethic is considered dangerous, even by affirmative action supporters.

However, scholars say much of this fanfare is unfounded. The population of Asian-American students is significantly higher in elite colleges when you compare their overall national population. Schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley, which have done away with race-based affirmative action, have skyrocketing numbers of Asian students at the expense of Black and Latin-X ones. Critics argue that SFFA chair Richard Blum, a conservative strategist, is using Asian-Americans as his project to achieve ulterior motives. By pitting racial minorities against each other, there is a vested attempt to topple all race-based admissions.

Doing away with race as a factor in college admissions scares me. Higher education is the gatekeeper of a path towards racial equity, for many historically and systematically oppressed groups. While I can’t speak to the backgrounds of each of the students filing the case, I can say that growing up in the Silicon Valley painted a narrative of college admissions to me, similar to the plaintiffs in the case. Dinner party conversation would center around children’s educational ambitions, talk would quickly turn to how these hidden “quota systems” discriminated against us. Indian-American families living in posh neighborhoods with the money to hire private essay editors discussed these issues, quick to self-victimize.

It would be disingenuous for me to taut my “wokeness” without acknowledging that I, too, bought into the narrative that the cards were stacked against me. As an Indian-American woman from California, I thought the model minority myth would override my personal story. I readily argued that I had to try harder solely because of my race. Reflecting back on my views then, I am appalled and disgusted by my thoughts, actions, and discourse.

Affirmative action serves a role in our society to empower the disempowered. These laws are gatekeepers that serve to attempt to rectify the state of racial affairs in our country. Co-opting the narrative and failing to acknowledge the institutionalized discrimination that manifests through the exploitation of minorities, stagnant economic mobility, and opportunity barriers is the most insidious and horrifying part of this debate. Minority students, by large, suffer from educational inequality, with two-thirds of minority Americans attending high schools that are predominantly minority. These schools face a significant lack of funding, teacher shortages, and lower-quality curricula. How can students from these school-districts compete with wealthy students? They don’t have the funding to do cancer research, they can’t volunteer at a Congressman’s office if it’s two hours away, they can’t win speech and debate championships without the funding for a coach. We have to understand that the competiveness of college applications ultimately comes down to a question of access. Race is largely determinative of the access and privilege one has.

And Asian-Americans are by no means excluded from a dialogue about racial discrimination. The danger of this argument is the idea that all Asian-Americans come from culturally privileged backgrounds. While Asian-Americans are the wealthiest ethnic minority, they also have the highest rising level of income inequality. These low income Asian- American students are impacted by the affirmative action conversation, and they are the least likely to get into universities like Harvard of any other low-income racial minority. However, the narrative spun by students who are party to this lawsuit is one of embittered, wealthy Asian-Americans. Studies show that getting rid of affirmative action wouldn’t actually help Asian students in the admissions process and would hurt other minorities at large. We must recognize who has access and who needs a platform, even within racial minority groups. Affirmative action, while not perfect, is important to recognize the unique challenges that students face on account of their identity.  

I am not a victim. I cannot speak for the rest of my race, my ethnic group, or my gender. But I, growing up with abundant educational opportunities, would have been successful regardless of the college I went to. My privilege afforded me that. Let’s talk about the real issues, not just college admissions, but the institutional barriers underneath that. And let’s use this time of conversation to create a platform for those who really do need it.

Swathi Ramprasad is a sophomore at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.

Lovesick in San Jose: the Event

On the screen, a couple was getting married. A North Indian bride and South Indian groom. But the match-makers were absent. Dr. Suniti Solomon explained how her presence would raise questions. People would be uncomfortable, and ask why an AIDS doctor was at the wedding? It was best that she stay away to avoid stigma for the couple.

The notion of stigma came up a lot in the San Jose premiere screening of Lovesick (2018), which occurred at the Student Union Theater at the San Jose State University campus on Saturday, October 20 and was filled with the hubbub of a friends-and-family gathering. Posters of the microbiologist Dr. Suniti Solomon, on whose work the film was based, were emblazoned with the tagline: “In India, where marriage is a must but AIDS is unspeakable, how do you find love if you’re HIV+?” The screening of the film was an answer to this question. We learned that like other Indian matchmakers, Dr. Solomon would match by religion, education, and income; but she also matched by white blood cell counts (CD4) and viral loads.

(R to L): Ann Kim and Priya Giri Desai, co-editors of Lovesick.

The evening began with Vandana Kumar, publisher of India Currents, introducing the directors Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai prior to the screening. India Currents Editor Nirupama Vaidyanathan and Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain facilitated a Q&A session with directors Ann S. Kim and Priya Giri Desai. To answer questions from the audience, Dr. Sunil Solomon, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University and the son of the late Dr. Solomon skyped in to talk about his mother.

Lovesick co-director Ann Kim in conversation with IC editor Nirupama Vaidyanathan and former editor Jaya Padmanabhan.

The stigma that continues to be associated with HIV came up several times in the evening. In 1986, when Dr. Solomon documented the first case of HIV in India among sex workers, AIDS was seen as a ‘dirty disease,’ associated with sex workers, drug addicts and homosexuals. Her work was questioned. Yet, she persevered, and is regarded as a pioneer in the field. In 2015, Dr. Solomon was posthumously awarded the Padma Shri medal by the Government for her contribution to science.

In April, Urvashi Pathania reviewed the film for India Currents and mentioned that “both Manu and Karthik are sweet and lovable, but there is a certain emphasis placed on the fact that neither was “to blame” for contracted HIV.” When posed with this question at the event, the film-makers related that those who come to the clinic are preponderantly housewives who have contracted AIDs. As the evening progressed, the knowledge of the audience continued to grow, as did the admiration for the unconventional and fearless doctor.

Our review had praised the film as “humorous, poignant and tender.” “The film is an homage to the remarkable Dr. Solomon, who passed away before the film was released… She understood the interconnectivity between human wellbeing and love — and all of its accoutrements, like desire and compassion — and her own love for others will always be remembered.”

India Currents is a media partner for Lovesick.

Geetika Pathania Jain is the Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

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Unsung Heroine: Bridging Generations And Continents

 

Today, I lost my guru. And today, along with her, the world lost a deivam.

Smt. Ranganayaki Rajagopalan was more than a guru to me. She was a caretaker and a soldier, a giver and a fighter, a pillar in the fortress of Carnatic music.

As a disciple of the legendary Karaikkudi Sri. Sambasiva Iyer, her name stood tall. But as a musician herself? Her name remained cloaked, known to a select few. A sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. What happened?

She would lovingly tell me stories of how she first started learning veena. As a particularly rambunctious child, she was constantly getting into trouble. Her parents, exasperated and not knowing what to do, took her to the legend himself, Karaikkudi Sambasiva Iyer. He lived nearby, and they believed he would give her something to focus her energies on besides causing trouble.

Ranganayaki Paatti’s eyes sparkled as the not-so-fond memory came back to her. The first meeting with him was nothing short of disaster. Sambasiva Iyer, in a deep depression after the death of his brother, Subbarama Iyer, apparently did not want to teach anyone music. After much coaxing, however, from “Veena Periamma” (as Ranganayaki Paatti referred to Sambasiva Iyer’s wife), Sambasiva Iyer agreed to let the little girl try learning from him.

Shortly after teaching her the saralivarisai, he asked her to sing it back. She was a three year old at the time. She stared blankly for a minute, then attempted something. Finding her maiden attempt not to his satisfaction, he promptly took the little girl and angrily dumped her in a freezing-cold tub of water at the back of the house. Veena Periamma fished her out and dried her off.

Apparently, this traumatic experience, which she recollected even 80+ years after the fact with stunning detail, didn’t stop little Ranganayaki Paatti from doing more veshamam (trouble). Her parents were so desperate that they tried again with Sambasiva Iyer – this time, he was slightly less moody. With much coaxing, he said “yes” to becoming her guru.

This did not come without a price, for all parties concerned. This was full-on gurukulavasam, with no loose ends. Little Ranganayaki would not be able to see her parents again; even when they came to check on her progress, he would shut her away from them. She needed to believe that Sambasiva Iyer was her family, and indeed, he did eventually become family – her own “Veena Periappa.” But, as with all family members, duty came first, and in this case, that duty was the role of a guru. I would listen in rapt attention as Paatti described the years of intense training with Sambasiva Iyer in exquisite detail:

For the first few years, they didn’t even touch the instrument. Everything was done through vocal music, since Paatti was so tiny. She learned her saralivarisai, jantavarisai, alankArams and other basic exercises in an unusual manner. Sambasiva Iyer would use his angavastram (upper waist cloth) to tether Ranganayaki paatti to his own waist, making sure she didn’t run away. He would even take her into the bathroom, closing the curtain and tying the angavastram to a nearby pole. This system was implemented with great discipline, since she had escaped bolting down the road laughing after the first time he attempted to teach her.

He would also do things like sing alapana phrases for her to decode into swarams (from behind the bathroom curtain, sometimes), and teach her to put two taalams simultaneously. She didn’t understand what the fuss was all about when people came over and marveled at the six year old putting simultaneous taalams nonchalantly – at least, not until she was much older.

Then came the initiation onto the veena itself. This was the most intense part – she would wake up at four and practice till seven, bathe and eat some idlis, then practice for another three hours until 1 in the afternoon, when lunch would happen. A four-hour nightly learning session would also take place, after which she would go to bed. There was no time for learning anything else – she lived and breathed music.

Sambasiva Iyer would make her practice each line of everything 100 times, even when she was learning the sarali varisai. If on the 99th time she made a mistake, he would make her start again, maybe even involve a perambu (bamboo stick) to do the talking! She told me, her eyes winking, that she would purposefully make mistakes on the 99th time just to anger him. What a woman! She would also have to put thoppukaranam (ukki) in three speeds, chanting “nAn thappu paNNa mATTEn” (“I will not make mistakes”). I like to think that this drilled layam (sense of rhythm) into her body. Not once in any of her concerts or classes did I ever see her lift her head to look at where she was in the taalam cycle. At this pace, she learned over 400 songs from him, with songs taking as long as a month each to complete.

He even taught her all of his chittaswarams. These contain extremely fast gamakas and are notoriously difficult to play, composed seemingly with the goal to mess vainikas up!  Before she taught me the chittaswaram in Kalyani raagam, she chuckled and said, “you know how many times I got sharp raps on the fingers for making mistakes in this chittaswaram?” Needless to say, we spent a lot of time together that day.

Her first performance was shortly after her sixth birthday. Scared to death, she ran off stage, only to be greeted by an irate Sambasiva Iyer who scooped her up and put her back onto the stage. He must have had a guilty conscience, because after every time he berated her, he’d lift her up and say to her, “You know why I did that, right? I want you to play well, that’s all.” And then he’d pamper her with balloons, chocolates, lush silk skirts, and everything else a child could want. This performance was followed by many more, with her performing alongside him everywhere he went, with nothing but rave reviews coming her way.

By the time she was thirteen, she was married and moved off to Chennai, but that didn’t stop Sambasiva Iyer from traveling to her home every time she had All India Radio solo concerts. She’d come back home and he used to shower her with praise and gifts. He was so proud of her.

Family duties, however, took over as the years progressed. And thus started a slow fade into oblivion for all but the most knowledgable of musicians. With children and grandchildren by the time she was in her early thirties, and with the death of Sambasiva Iyer, my guru was so busy with family duties, that music became less of a focus for her. She went on a few tours and played numerous recordings for All India Radio, but other than that, her name faded. Eventually, health issues took over, and before I came to her, she had all but stopped playing.

Again, I am so very thankful that my mother learned from this stalwart, because if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had the bhagyam (good fortune) of doing so myself. I had learned from my mother, who was a student of hers, for around 4 years. When we approached Ranganayaki Paatti for classes, she declined initially, citing her various ailments. My grandfather eventually played a recording of my first concert to her, and she said “Wait, is this me? It sounds like me, but it’s not me. Who is this?” That’s the highest praise I could have gotten from her. And she agreed to teach me that day!

And what a condition – at that point, she was on a walker, barely getting up from her bed. As the years passed, she was eventually bedridden. The Parkinson’s took its toll, as her jaw and hands wavered uncontrollably even when sitting idly. Even then, despite the difficulties of her everyday life, she agreed to teach me. The pure joy I felt when she agreed to teach me, and the pure joy I got every day with her afterward, is bittersweet now.

On the first day, we went, lifted her up to a sitting position and then handed her a veena from her closet, untouched for years on end. She assigned one veena for me too. After cleaning the two, I started learning my first song from her – Padavini. But in the middle, she stopped, and asked to try again the next day. The first year was hard, as she was unsure if she could continue to teach me. But by the end of that summer, in 2007, she told me to come back from America the following year.

From then on, it seemed that I would be fated to have a completely different training style from her – where she had  taken months to master a song, I would learn a couple of songs every day. And, of course, I made mistakes, Whereas she had received physical reinforcement in the form of raps on her wrist when she made mistakes, I received a “Mm?” And a sweet, toothless smile. How I miss that smile today.

None of us spoke about it openly, but every year was a race against time, to soak up everything she had before the inevitable happened. In between those intense summers of lessons in Chennai, I listened to her old recordings, trying to imbibe her style. Some things struck me

Every note and every line of every song in every recording rings true – that’s her mark. Purity of sound, “Gundu” (fat) notes in every strum, pure music. A bani focused on quality over everything, even at the highest of speeds; veena at its finest. And the thanam – oh, what a thanam! At 86, with Parkinson’s, tumors in her stomach, bedridden, with stiff legs, uncontrollably shaking hands, her fingers would still dish out the most amazing thanam! Pure magic!

I miss everything about her. I remember the stiffness of her legs, her quivering mouth, her shaking hands, her long, bony, beautiful, yet uncontrolled finger movements, her every sigh, and her quiet chuckle. I owe her so much and it’s impossible to put into words what I have received from her.

This is but a sliver of the story I have crafted with her, and it’s sad that the story could not have been longer. Had I started earlier, had she continued playing, this story could have been much different. But stories are written in Indian ink, not pencil. They are as permanent as the inevitable itself, and I have to live with that.

As her student, and as a student of her student, I hold a responsibility to her – my guru – and her bani to see to it that the slow decline of the veena is turned around; to make it my life’s work to be a torchbearer for the incredible blessing that is my musical training, the instillation of the Karaikkudi bani in me.

I will do it for her – she who gave me everything when her body and mind didn’t cooperate, she who affectionately made a student into a musician, a mere boy into something more. I am indebted to her, as is the world for her music. I will always remember her as the kindest, gentlest soul to have graced the earth with her presence.

I love you, Ranganayaki paatti. I always will.

Ranganayaki Rajagopalan (3 May 1932-20 September 2018).

Guhan Venkataraman, a second year Ph.D. student at Stanford University, USA, is a vainika of the Karaikudi parampara. He started learning veena from his mother Smt. Lakshmi Venkataraman at age 8, and continued his discipleship under Kalaimamani Smt. Ranganayaki Rajagopalan (herself a direct disciple of the legendary Karaikudi Sri. Sambasiva Iyer). He continues to enlarge and refine his scholarship and repertoire under the tutelage of Sri R. K. Shriramkumar and Delhi Sri P. Sunder Rajan.

The Turmeric Is Gone

Air India flight 101 touches down at 6:07 am. She enters your Queens apartment and rushes into the 10 x 1 ½ foot kitchen, still wearing her sneakers. In search for something specific, she rummages through your pre-war, knob-less wooden kitchen cabinets. Finally, she spots a bottle full of the bright, saffron-colored powder she’s been looking for. She opens the cap, takes a whiff, and places a pinch-full on her tongue. When the bitter-tasting, pungent-smelling, known to be antiseptic spice is deemed to be fresh, she takes off her shoes and rests her tired, swollen feet on the Ikea coffee table. She takes a short nap.

Despite the time difference, her eyes crack open exactly one hour before 1 pm. One hour is all she needs in the kitchen. She changes into her cooking gown and begins the preparation. Fifteen minutes pass. You stand outside and peep into the kitchen, just like you did when you were little. You hear a crackling sound. Within seconds, your eyes start watering from the intense chili, onion, ginger, garlic infusion. Then, she adds teaspoons full of the ground spice, and that does it! Like magic, it gives rise to an invisible cloud that envelops you.

You run towards the living room, but the overpowering cloud follows you till you can’t hide anymore. When you eat your mother’s food, you can no longer taste nor smell the bitter, pungent spice. It either assimilates or hides, you’re not sure which. You enter the kitchen to clean the dishes. You see that the cooking vessels are slightly burnt from all the frying; the stove, the counter, and the refrigerator handle have been dyed a deep yellow.

Twenty days of cooking, dodging the fog, eating, and a kitchen growing more and more saffron, and it is time for Air India flight 101 to take off. You hug her and wave many goodbyes. Back in the Queens apartment, you enter the kitchen. It is noon and you are hungry. You open the refrigerator, and see a plate of food she left for you. You smile.

You run your hands along the contours of the stubborn yellow splotches, where her tireless hands had been. You place your thumb and index finger where hers had left many a dull golden print. You think about her and you try to retrace how each of these impressions was possibly created. You look at the culprit bottle, and find that it is devoid of any turmeric. You search for the turmeric, just as you search for her.

Ratna Goradia is a writer who lives and works in Southern California. She was raised in Mumbai and is currently working on her first short story collection about growing up in India, reimagining childhood memories of innocence, adventure and joy. 

Three Ethnic Soups for Autumn

The changing of the seasons is often difficult to notice in the Bay Area, compared to other regions of the United States, but the arrival of autumn is definitely marked by shorter days and cooler temperatures.

Appetites increase with the colder weather, and working people, who may have discovered easy short-cuts for light, summer menus now find it difficult to prepare warm, satisfying, and nourishing food after a busy fall day.

Soups are among the simplest of food preparations, yet they can also be creative, attractive, tasty, and nutritious. And soups can act as entrees or even whole meals. On a chilly evening there is nothing as welcoming to come home to as the smell of hot soup simmering on the stove! After working in a stuffy office, or a long commute, soups can satisfy and hydrate our bodies.

Soups can be made using almost anything you find in the kitchen. Soup recipes are flexible and versatile, enabling adjustments to meet all kinds of individual preferences or dietary requirements. Vegetarians and vegans can easily omit meat from a soup recipe without compromise. Tofu, soymilk, or soy yogurt can be substituted for meat, cream, sour cream, or yogurt to lower cholesterol. Bean or lentil-based soups contribute significantly to a healthy vegetarian diet. Served with rice or bread, soups can provide a complete protein-rich meal.

Here are three soup recipes from three countries. Each of these soups can be prepared quickly, especially if you have their common denominator, the chopped and sautéed vegetables made ahead of time. So prepare the vegetables in your spare time and refrigerate them. When ready, use them to make a hearty soup in minutes. Enjoy!

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of  Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student.


Make Ahead Vegetable Preparation

A few days or even a week in advance, prepare the vegetables for the soups as follows. Other vegetables can be added or substituted, depending on availability and preference.
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Ingredients:
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup cauliflower or broccoli florets, cut  small
2 cups each carrot, celery, and zucchini, cut into ¼” cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons of canola, corn, safflower or olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons, freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and saute the chopped onion briefly until limp. Add the bell pepper and garlic. Stir fry for a few minutes. Then add rest of the vegetables.
Saute the vegetables for several minutes until they begin to soften and are coated with oil. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, and sprinkle them with the lemon or lime juice.
The above list of ingredients makes approximately 9 cups of vegetables.
Refrigerate the vegetables in a covered container until you are ready to make the soup.

Greek Lentil Soup with Red Wine or  Vinegar

Ingredients:
6 cups water
¾ cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
3 to 4 cups of the prepared vegetables
¼ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
½ teaspoon minced fresh or dried oregano
a few tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
cup red wine or vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the lentils. Cook the lentils over moderate heat until just soft, about 20 minutes. Add the prepared vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more until all of the ingredients are well blended. Then add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, and wine or vinegar.

Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Check seasoning and serve with rice or bread.

Sambar

Sambar is a type of South Indian dal (an Indian lentil-based soup) that can use many vegetables to create a substantial one-pot meal.
Ingredients:
8 cups of water
1 cup toor dal (yellow lentils)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 fresh hot chili such as jalapeno,minced after removing core and seeds
½ teaspoon each coriander and turmeric powders
2 whole dried tamarind pods (with their shells intact)
or 1 tablespoon unsweetened tamarind concentrate
or juice of 1 lemon mixed with a tea spoon of sugar (a sweet and sour substi tute)
3 cups or more of the prepared vegetables
1 tablespoon dry, shredded coconut
1 cup fresh or canned chopped tomatoes
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon peanut, corn, or safflower oil

For tempering:
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 or 3 whole dried hot chilis
a pinch of asafetida

Rinse the lentils in very hot water a few times to remove dust and any oil they may have been coated with. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot and add the lentils. Simmer briskly for 15 minutes. Add the salt, powdered spices, ginger, and minced chili. Cover and cook the lentils for about 30 minutes on a moderate flame while preparing the other ingredients.

If using whole tamarind pods, remove the outer shell. Then take out the pits from the pulp and discard. Soak the pulp in ½ cup of warm water for 15 minutes to obtain a sweet and sour sauce.

Add the previously prepared vegetables, shredded coconut, tomatoes and the soaked tamarind sauce, tamarind concentrate, or the sweet and sour substitute to the soup. Simmer the soup while preparing for the last, important step, tempering—which sets the dal apart from other soups.

For tempering, heat the oil in a small saucepan. (A stainless steel measuring cup works fine for this step.) Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds and dry chilies. Add the asafetida, and then quickly pour all of this smoky oil mixture into the pot of soup. Dip the small pan right into the dal to get it all off quickly, then immediately cover the pot. Turn off heat and keep the pot covered for five minutes. Uncover, retrieve the small saucepan and stir to mix.

Garnish the sambar with chopped fresh cilantro. Check seasoning and serve. Instruct your diners to remove the whole chilies from sambar before they eat.

Minestrone Con Pesto

Ingredients:
½ cup kidney or pinto beans soaked in 3 cups of water overnight or for 6 hours, then drained
Or l 12 oz. can of beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups of water
2 to 3 tablespoons of pesto, a basil paste (recipe below)
3 cups of the prepared vegetables
1/3 cup uncooked pasta noodles (any type) or rice
½ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

For pesto:

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, thick stems removed
3 tablespoons parsley, thick stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
a few pinches of salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the drained beans. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
To prepare the pesto, place the pesto ingredients listed above in the jar of a blender or food processor and puree thoroughly. (As you will need only a small portion of the pesto, store the rest in a jar and freeze for the future use.)

Add the prepared vegetables, pasta noodles or rice, tomatoes and a few tablespoons of pesto to the cooking beans. Cook for 20 minutes more until all the flavors are well blended. Taste for spiciness, adding salt, pepper and/or more pesto to taste. Pass around parmesan cheese for garnish.

First published in October 2010.

The Turmeric Is Gone

Air India flight 101 touches down at 6:07 am. She enters your Queens apartment and rushes into the 10 x 1 ½ foot kitchen, still wearing her sneakers. In search for something specific, she rummages through your pre-war, knob-less wooden kitchen cabinets. Finally, she spots a bottle full of the bright, saffron-colored powder she’s been looking for. She opens the cap, takes a whiff, and places a pinch-full on her tongue. When the bitter-tasting, pungent-smelling, known to be antiseptic spice is deemed to be fresh, she takes off her shoes and rests her tired, swollen feet on the Ikea coffee table. She takes a short nap.

Despite the time difference, her eyes crack open exactly one hour before 1 pm. One hour is all she needs in the kitchen. She changes into her cooking gown and begins the preparation. Fifteen minutes pass. You stand outside and peep into the kitchen, just like you did when you were little. You hear a crackling sound. Within seconds, your eyes start watering from the intense chili, onion, ginger, garlic infusion. Then, she adds teaspoons full of the ground spice, and that does it! Like magic, it gives rise to an invisible cloud that envelops you.

You run towards the living room, but the overpowering cloud follows you till you can’t hide anymore. When you eat your mother’s food, you can no longer taste nor smell the bitter, pungent spice. It either assimilates or hides, you’re not sure which. You enter the kitchen to clean the dishes. You see that the cooking vessels are slightly burnt from all the frying; the stove, the counter, and the refrigerator handle have been dyed a deep yellow.

Twenty days of cooking, dodging the fog, eating, and a kitchen growing more and more saffron, and it is time for Air India flight 101 to take off. You hug her and wave many goodbyes. Back in the Queens apartment, you enter the kitchen. It is noon and you are hungry. You open the refrigerator, and see a plate of food she left for you. You smile.

You run your hands along the contours of the stubborn yellow splotches, where her tireless hands had been. You place your thumb and index finger where hers had left many a dull golden print. You think about her and you try to retrace how each of these impressions was possibly created. You look at the culprit bottle, and find that it is devoid of any turmeric. You search for the turmeric, just as you search for her.

Ratna Goradia is a writer who lives and works in Southern California. She was raised in Mumbai and is currently working on her first short story collection about growing up in India, reimagining childhood memories of innocence, adventure and joy. 

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