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Sunday Morning News Feed Stopper: Aziz Ansari

Sunday morning, I woke up to a barrage of notifications from social media and news outlets, part of my regular news feed. Receiving sobering news stories from around the world may not be the best way to wake up, but it keeps me informed and I get to know about what’s going on in the world. This morning, however, it felt different.

This morning, something new caught my eye. “Aziz Ansari accused of sexual misconduct,” said Vanity Fair, and refinery29, quoting a story from babe.net. Immediately I’m overwhelmed with feelings of nausea, disgust, and disappointment. From watching all episodes of Master of None and Ansari’s stand up comedy, I feel betrayed by the stark contrast between what Ansari usually preaches and what this news story reveals. I mean, it’s one thing for a misogynist and sexist to be exposed for sexual harassment or misconduct, but it’s something else for a figure who is widely known for his progressive views to be exposed for something that goes against his very public nature. Ansari has spent his career appealing to younger, progressive audience members and capitalizing on his views that women and men deserve to be treated equally and with respect. In a modern world full of sexism and demeaning standards for women, today’s youth has found comfort in public figures such as Ansari, who, until now, stood for the idea that 1) men can be feminists, and 2) that both genders deserve equal respect and consideration. But for those very figures to be compromised by accusations such as this one? I personally have almost lost hope that any public figure that claims to stand for these important ideals can be trusted to uphold them with dignity and honor.  

Before I continue any further––yes, I am aware that Vanity Fair and refinery29 are far from being widely accepted pillars of neutrality in terms of political bias or standing. And yes, cursory research on snopes.com and on other news outlets has shown that so far, the accusations are limited to somewhat obscure, left-leaning publications. This, along with other evidence has led me to hope that maybe the accusations aren’t true. That maybe there’s been some sort of mistake and this story is only a product of the world’s current issue with fake news and yellow journalism. Part of me doesn’t want to believe it––for me, Master of None was the epitome of progressivism in the media, and Ansari’s stand-up comedy was a source of inspiration for youth who hold liberal views today.

But if it is true? What then? Is my skepticism only contributing to the victim blaming so prevalent in the #MeToo movement? I don’t want to believe that someone so consistently aligned with my beliefs is one of the world’s biggest hypocrites, but to be honest, that’s what makes it even worse. The manipulation that Ansari had to have employed to end up in this position (if the accusations are true) makes me sick to my stomach, knowing that perpetrators of harassment have twisted the slowly progressing system to benefit their own sexist beliefs.

Even if the story isn’t true, situations like this one have been seen before. With Matt Lauer, James Franco, Louis C.K., Ben Affleck, and so many more somewhat respected and admired, liberal public figures, people have been let down constantly by those claiming to treat men and women equally. The accusations against Ansari have only brought to light the ever-growing list of hypocrites and bigots that we unintentionally idolize in society. I can only hope that the list does not continue to grow.

Isha Trivedi is a junior at Notre Dame High School in San Jose, and is an editor for the school newspaper. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, traveling and listening to music.

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OPINION

Editorial | Letters | Viewpoint

H-1Bs—The Best and the Brightest?

A relevant piece from our archives, on a topic that is still a hot-button issue. First published on March 14, 2017.

What is this notion of the best and brightest? For one, it is the most conflicted banality of the moment. The term is generously used by liberal politicians and business leaders to make the case for H-1B immigrants, but the phrase has a long history of ideological righteousness much reviled by conservative politicians.

The Wall Street Journal reported that IITs were ranked fourth behind Stanford, Harvard, and University of California for incubating the most number of students who formed billion dollar startups in America.

In 1972, David Halberstam, a Pulitzer prize winning New York Times journalist, wrote a seminal book questioning President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy decisions during the Vietnam war. He called it The Best and the Brightest. The book debunked the foreign policy credentials of the best and the brightest in Kennedy’s administration. Halberstam wrote about how this group of academics and intellectuals, “all of whom had seemed so dazzling when they had first taken office,” ended up becoming the architects of one of the worst disasters of American history.

It was just a few weeks ago that Stephen K. Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist, was spotted in an airport carrying a copy of The Best and the Brightest. In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Marc Tracy writes about Bannon’s respect for the book and quotes him as saying: “It’s great for seeing how little mistakes early on can lead to big ones later.”

In the book, Halberstam describes an incident between a “dazzled” Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his mentor, Sam Rayburn, after the Vice President’s first Cabinet meeting, when Lyndon Johnson exclaims enthusiastically to Rayburn: “how extraordinary they were, each brighter than the next,” referring to the intellectually attuned Cabinet staff. To which, Rayburn responds “you may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.” That story, according to Halberstam goes to show “the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract facility and verbal facility which the team exuded, and true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience.”

Hobbled by this narrative, it is no wonder that when the same term came to be applied to those poor, unsuspecting foreign nationals who came to America armed with H-1B visas to connect the wires of innovation in the Silicon Valley, it became baggage that they either had to live up to or confront.

As the number of H-1Bs increased, the labor bottleneck eased somewhat, and those who began to lose jobs because of incompetence, lack of knowledge, incomplete education, insufficient application or a combination of these factors found a bogeyman they could easily identify. Today, “the best and the brightest” is used as both an invective as well as an invocation. It depends on one’s political bent.

As a reader recently commented in response to one of my immigration columns: “The education system [in] India [is] far worse, but they are able to infest the United States with mediocre engineers, disguised as the best and brightest engineers. The problem is the dumping of inferior tech workers from India displacing American workers.”

The commenter is only partially wrong. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that India’s Indian Institute of Technology schools were ranked fourth behind Stanford, Harvard, and University of California for incubating the most number of students who went on to form billion dollar startups in America. But not all engineers who are hired in the H-1B program are from the IITs or from top notch institutions. And not all engineers hired from top notch schools are necessarily the best or brightest.

The issue is about volume and displacement, stupid! Elementary science terms have become yardsticks of aggravation.

People who enter the pool tend to displace others from the same pool and the more this happens, the more there is a pervading sense of affliction. In 2016, there were 236,000 H-1B applications received, an increase of 3,000 from the previous year.

We may argue that these jobs that H-1Bs are hired for are not always replacements, but merely the right fit for the right job at the right price. Even so, grievance is a perceptive state and given voice to even by those who are not really good fits for those same jobs.

Many folks I talk to tend to provide anecdotal evidence of at least one H-1B engineer they know, or they’ve heard of, who performed sub-par at his/her job—who had poor communication skills, did not speak up at meetings, was behind schedule, delivered an inadequately thought-through product, required more training, or had deplorable personal hygiene habits. It’s about the impact of numbers. The pervasiveness of an idea begins to take hold, if enough people have enough anecdotal evidence.

It’s a time of crisis for H-1B visa holders and applicants. This cannot be about working longer and harder anymore. That alone, unfortunately, may not be sufficient to stave off the perils of imminent White House policies.

Writing about Robert Kennedy, Halberstam recounts how “toughness fascinated him; he was not at ease with an America which had flabby waistlines.” That frame of reference has not changed much since Kennedy’s time. As America’s H-1B policy heads to the chopping block, it is time to cinch those smart belts. America has no patience for even a hint of slackness.

Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.

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EVENTS

A Complete List of Community Events

Date/Time Event
Jan 3, 2018 - Jan 31, 2018
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Yoga 1 - Beginners Course Yoga 1 - Beginners Course
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, San Francisco CA
Jan 6, 2018 - Feb 3, 2018
9:00 am - 10:30 am
Cultural Event NCal Meditation 1 Course
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, San Francisco CA
Jan 6, 2018 - Feb 3, 2018
11:45 am - 12:15 pm
Yoga 1 - Beginners Course Yoga 1 - Beginners Course
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, San Francisco CA
Jan 14, 2018 - Feb 11, 2018
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
Yoga 1 - Beginners Course Yoga 1 - Beginners Course
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, San Francisco CA
Jan 18, 2018 - Feb 18, 2018
12:00 am - 1:00 pm
Sri MahaMritunjaya (Sri Rudra Homa) Sri MahaMritunjaya (Sri Rudra Homa)
Badarikashrama 15602 Maubert Avenue, San Leandro, CA, United States, San Leandro CA

IN-DEPTH FEATURES

Impactful Insightful Coverage

The Audacity of a Joke

Comedians, like clowns, have a special license to help us enter a liminal area where the boundary between reality and imagination is blurred. We can think of them as the “no man’s land” of political critique. While satire can occasionally cut too deep, with unfortunate consequences, as Salman Rushdie found after Satanic Verses earned him a fatwa from the Khomeini of Iran, the wise “fool” is to be let off for his witty upending of his social superiors. My children enjoyed the Amar Chitra Katha stories of Birbal in Akbar’s court, or Tenali Raman in the court of Krishnadevaraya. It is within this context of entertainment that dissent can be most effective, as we saw in the 2017 White House Correspondents’ dinner.

Hasan Minhaj

Hasan Minhaj

One of the differences between Muslims and Hindus, says Hasan Minhaj, bouncing around the stage in Davis, is that “we Muslims hate cartoons.”
Gasp. Did he really say that?

The Davis, California audience of Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King (2017) is shocked into silence, and then, what I fervently hope is cathartic laughter.

A joke about the infamous “clash of civilizations:” the Danish cartoons, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. A risky joke indeed. Perhaps it is too early to laugh? But the laughter is rolling in, and we have witnessed that moment when a difficult topic has been pulled out from under the carpet into the spotlight.

The narrative starts with Minhaj being jilted on prom night by his “white princess,” whose parents were as worried about log kya kahenge (what will people say?) as his own. It is a story that can cause an unexpected lump in your throat. It then moves to a critique of world events, as the personal becomes political. “I am the cure for racism,” he offers simply.


Kumail Nanjiani

Kumail Nanjiani

Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Dinesh Chugtai in Silicon Valley, also weaves between the personal and the political. In his 2017 film The Big Sick, responding to a question by his movie in-laws about how he felt about 9-11, he deadpans: “it was terrible. We lost 19 of our best guys.” (Just kidding!)

Gasp. The audience is shocked into silence, and then there is laughter.

A joke about 9/11?

Get used to it.

Desi comedians are having a moment.

But at whose expense is the joke being made? There is an implied power inequality in all humor, and it is worth exploring this question. Clearly, Minhaj is roasting religious intolerance. Bigotry and racism seem like other favorite targets.

“Be a better racist,” urges Nanjiani, looking impish. “Get your facts straight.”


To express dissent, some people go on fasts (think Gandhi). Others organize protest marches. Kondabolu, a former immigrant rights organizer, and now a stand-up comic, has made a documentary film, The Problem with Apu (2017).

We are talking here not about the Apu from Satyajit Ray’s realist trilogy, but animated cartoon character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Kwik-E-Mart owner on The Simpsons (1989-present). Apu was created by Matt Groening and voiced by Hank Azaria. Apu has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from CalTech (Calcutta Technical Institute). His character seems loosely based on the brownface Peter Sellers character Hrundi V. Bakshi from The Party (1968).

Kondobolu claims that Apu’s trademark “thank you, come again,” delivered in a singsong accent was repeated by schoolyard bullies and ruined many a childhood. In the film, he discusses his ambivalence about Apu’s caricature with Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Aparna Nancherla. There is some discussion with Whoopi Goldberg about whether Apu can be called a minstrel character. Despite The Simpson’s equal opportunity offensiveness, Kondobolu has called the Apu caricature stereotypical and hurtful.

Hank Azaria as Apu, he said, was like “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.” While accents in general are problematic, Kondabulu has become more woke about his comedy and issues of representation. In “Yes, we can,” a 2009 article by Shruti Swamy in India Currents, he states: “I used to talk about my family much more. I realized after awhile that a lot of those jokes were ‘my family is different from your family.’ I want there to be some depth to their stories and lives. They are not just immigrants with thick accents who say goofy things. They are not caricatures.”


Peter Russell

Russell Peters

While Russell Peters built his career on jokes such as his Dad’s accented promise of punishment: “Somebody gonna get hurt a real bad,” some comics resist the easy laugh about stereotypes. Aziz Ansari dedicated a whole episode to this subject on Master of None (2015). On the one hand, such humor offers opportunities for critique within the community, much like Meet the Patels (2015), which lampooned desi dismay at non-arranged and inter-racial marriage. The art of the mischievous dig at the conservative relatives is perfected by Nanjiani, who looks quite pleased on Saturday Night Live at the scorecard so far: “Nanjianis: 0; White Women: 2.” His wife Emily is the second gori woman married to a Nanjiani, forty years after an uncle moved to Scotland and married a white woman.

But it’s clearly an in-joke, like gently roasting your beloved mamaji (uncle) at his birthday party that you helped arrange. There is affection even through the eyerolls.

On her sassy cartoons, full of Roy Lichtenstein style desi tropes of jhumka and bindi wearing women, Maria Qamar, in Trust No Aunty offers: “It’s all for brown people. I don’t care to speak to anybody else because this is a conversation between us,” she says. “Lord knows if I see a person who isn’t desi trying to say, ‘Oh, aunties, aren’t they crazy?’ I’ll be like, ‘Shut the hell up.’” The desi words remain untranslated in badtameez gems like “Your daughter’s getting a little moti in the arms, no?” (fat-shaming) and “Pitaji don’t know shit!” (um, patriarchy?)

There is plentiful millennial sass: “What does your roti shape say about you? Match your rolling skills below and find out just how disappointed your in-laws will be;” “How to dodge the chappal;” “What would society say?” There are helpful tidbits for young desi girls as well: “Recipes for the desi campus girl on a budget” and “how to stay focused in school when all of your friends are getting married” and “how to ignore bakwaas criticism.” In response to the question “when was the last time you waxed?” for instance, Qamar’s advice is “Reply with “Never!” And then run out the door, with the wind caressing your silky soft mustache strands. Facial hair is nothing to be embarrassed of. We all have it. Its natural… facial hair is a beautiful characteristic of our people and it looks adorable.”

I shared Maria Qamar’s book with my daughter Sagaree, who was delighted at all the irreverence. “In comedy, it’s ok to punch up but not down.” Pointing out the times that I have praised the sanskaari kids in our neighborhood, she challenged me. “Mom, are you identifying with the desi girl or the aunty?” My response was one that sounded Qamar-esque: “Eventually, beti, we all become aunties.”

How Rudy the Zebra had to wait for a green card
Rudy the Zebra has The Wrong Stripes. They zag instead of zig. Much like the comics who talk about existing in American immigrant third cultures (or in Qamar’s case, a fifth culture in Canada in a home of “half Gujarat and half Bihari, by way of Bangladesh but located in Pakistan”), anthromorphized Rudy feels all alone in a roomful of zebras. He sets off on an adventure, leaving his home much like an immigrant, and discovers a world full of animals with vibrant spots, dazzling points, and other mesmerizing patterns.

Arjun Rihan, a layout artist at Pixar Animation Studios, left home in Pune at sixteen to attend school in Singapore and later moved to the United States. He spent years exploring what it means to fit in and be yourself. He drew on these experiences to write and illustrate his children’s book The Wrong Stripes. Rihan shared his familiar story of waiting for legal status in America. “I got a book contract many years ago, and I was very excited about that. Sadly, at the time, I was on an H-1 visa and the rules did not allow me to accept this offer. That was really disappointing, and also ironic because you’re writing a book about being an outsider, and your own outsider status has prevented the story from being told.”

Rihan’s previous works have also touched on similar themes. His 2014 collage piece “Passport-size Portraits” was featured in the Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project for the H-1B visa, where artists depicted “the anxiety, dignity, isolation and opportunity associated with the H-1B visa.” The exhibit consists of twenty-three photographs taken in the process of applying for various required immigration documents such as passports, visas and work authorization. They span school, college, graduate school, jobs and travel. “These photos are tiny windows into one immigrant’s journey.”

Rihan’s 2009 student film Topi, about a young boy’s experience during the turbulent days of the Partition of India is based on true events. Yes, it can be referred to as a cartoon film, but it can make you cry.


Funny Memories
I tried to remember the funny Bollywood comics of my childhood. In Sholay (1975) alone, we had laughed at jailer Asrani (Govardhan Asrani), spy Keshto Mukherjee, as well as merchant Jagdeep (Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed Jafri). Before that, there was the moti TunTun (Uma Devi Khatra), for some casual fat-shaming. Pairing TunTun with sharaabi Johnny Walker (teetotalling Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi) got some additional laughs. I remembered Mehmood, (Mehmood Ali), and also a Charlie Chaplinesque Raj Kapoor in Mera Naam Joker (1970), and the waterfalls of tears that sprang out of Kapoor’s clownish eyes came to mind.

A memory surfaced. I met a film-maker at a friend’s house some years ago, and he had handed me a copy of his film, Loins of Punjab Presents (2007). In the film, a New Jersey town catches Bollywood fever when five Indian-Americans and one Jewish Indophile compete in an amateur Indian Idol-style singing contest. Loins of Punjab Presents satirizes non-resident Indians and Bollywood fans as they vie for the title of “Desi Idol.” Ajay Naidu had been in the film, and so had Anuvab Pal. A few years later, I learned that the film-maker, the late Manish Acharya, had died in a tragic accident.

A rewatching of the film Loins of Punjab Presents lit up my brain with dopamine and filled my eyes with tears. Watching Manish Acharya in the film, I marveled at yet another comic who had managed to make me laugh, think and cry.

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Critic at India Currents.


Who would have thought, with everything going on in the country, that a Muslim would be standing on this stage—for the ninth year in a row, baby.

We had eight years of Barack. What’s another year? I would like to thank Jeff Mason and the White House Correspondents’ Association for having me. I would say it is an honor to be here, but that would be alternative fact. It is not. Uh, no one wanted to do this. So, of course, it lands in the hands of an immigrant.

That’s how it always goes down. No one wanted this gig. No one.
—Hasan Minhaj, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

This event is about celebrating the First Amendment and free speech. Free speech is the foundation of an open and liberal democracy, from college campuses to the White House.

Only in America can a first-generation, Indian American Muslim kid get on the stage and make fun of the president. The orange man behind the Muslim ban. And it’s a sign to the rest of the world. It’s this amazing tradition that shows the entire world that even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment.
—Hasan Minhaj, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Keeping up with politics is easy now. But the president didn’t show up. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech. The man who tweets that everything that enters his head refuses to acknowledge the amendment that allows him to do it. Think about it. It’s almost—what is it? It’s 11? It’s 11 p.m. right now. In four hours, Donald Trump will be tweeting about how bad Nicki Minaj bombed at this dinner.

And he’ll be doing that completely sober. And that’s his right. And I’m proud that all of us are here tonight to defend that right, even if the man in the White House never would.
—Hasan Minhaj, White House Correspondents’ Dinner

On why he doesn’t do accents in his comedy anymore
It’s hard having an accent in this country and you are judged based on it. I can imagine that it must be hard for my folks to work twice as hard to communicate and also the idea that when maybe my father says something and he walks away, the idea that people are laughing because what he said is funny to them because of how he sounds crushed me when I thought about it. And the idea that I was contributing to that was hard.

I’ve been saying this onstage, but, my father should be judged based on the content of his words and not the accent that comes with it, because he does a lot of ridiculous things that have nothing to do with his accent.
—Hari Kondabulu. NPR Interview

You classify aunties into various types—there’s the CEO Aunty, the Bollywood Aunty, and the Aunty in Training. What’s your favorite kind of aunty?

The Soft Aunty. That’s what my mom is. She used to be a Bollywood Aunty. She was always having dramatic reactions to things, and she’d quote dialogue from movies to express her feelings. We kids would be like, “Uh, we saw those movies too—we know where you’re getting that from.” But now she’s more laid back. She’s learning to accept things more. And I love her home cooked meals. I love my mom.
—Maria Qamar. NPR Interview

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REVIEWS

Books | Films I Events

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

From the award-winning author of An Obedient Father (2001 Hemingway Foundation PEN Award) and Family Life (2014 New York Times Best Books of the Year; 2015 Folio Prize; and 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award), comes a collection of short stories that entertains and spares no one. In Akhil Sharma’s A Life of Adventure and Delight, eight stories explore the quest for perceptible love, the life and liberty of relationships, and the perpetual pursuit of happiness.

Each story is built on profiles of characters old and young, flawed and beautiful, traditional and modern, all searching for a sense of love or at the very least belonging. However, whether they learn from their mistakes is at the core of each protagonist.

At times Sharma employs short, sharp sentences that reflect a Hemingway-esque clarity and precision. His writing is neither pedantic nor oratory, leaving the grist in the details proficiently enough to evoke varying levels of humor in despair.

The collection is built on missteps, selfishness, lack of communication, and unshakeable tradition. Yet there is wit, and there is hope—two things without which these stories would be far less powerful. The collection’s title is ironic, for there is little adventure in the stories and even less one would call delight. They are stories that have no conventional beginning, middle, or end. They are, separate and together, slices of life, glimpses into the human condition.

The opening story, “Cosmopolitan” and the title story, “A Life of Adventure and Delight” are possibly the two most sadly humorous of all. Both speak to a sexual naiveté and a desire to be more than one’s former self.

In “Cosmopolitan,” a retired man, alone after his wife and grown daughter have left him, decides to create a new life for himself by instigating a friendship with his neighbor, Mrs. Shaw. This leads to a more intimate relationship, while Gopal studies every woman’s magazine he can get his hands on. His mission is to become the perfect man and perfect partner.

In “A Life of Adventure and Delight,” a graduate student who craves the juxtaposed excitement and unease of setting up meetings with prostitutes does a complete reversal and looks for a virtuous Indian woman for a wife. Just when he feels his past is history, he becomes irritated with his girlfriend’s sexual reserve.

The eight stories address issues from the innocence of youth to the perceived chance for love to the hopelessness and despair that may have been dormant in the characters’ lives all along. Sharma looks at the roles of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, spouses and lovers, the world outside and inside the intimate confines of one’s home. This collection runs the gamut from tender to dark, from sweet to cruel, and all without the sentimentality that would render it toothless.

“Surrounded by Sleep” is an abbreviated version of the novel Family Life—the story of how Sharma’s family changed and functioned when the his older brother sustained a severe brain injury after diving into a public pool. Told in the third person limited (compared to the novel, which is first person), love for family clashes with the younger brother’s desperate attempts to bargain with God—whom he sees as Superman and Clark Kent—to make things right for everyone. This is Ajay’s reality in the face of his father’s growing alcoholism and his mother’s all-consuming need to care for her brain-damaged son. Grief is pervasive, yet there is hope in abundance, for without it, the Sharma family would have disintegrated.

Of the stories, only three feature a first person point of view (“We Didn’t Like Him,” “If You Sing Like That for Me,” and “The Well”). “If You Sing Like That for Me” is the only story that has a female protagonist. In it Anita, constantly reminded that she’s not as educated as her sister, fights against love and marriage only to find herself arranged to marry a man who didn’t particularly interest her but who might cure her loneliness. One day, seven months into their marriage, she wakes up and realizes that she feels love for this man in their misarranged union.

As with his two novels, Sharma’s writing is clean, simple on the surface but overflowing with complexities. One can almost imagine him toiling over each word to convey just the right tone, meaning, and nuance. The result is the easy exposure of the hearts and bones of those who come under his literary microscope. The emotions that drive the characters are relatable and familiar, if not in one story then certainly in another.
The darkest and saddest story, “You Are Happy?” takes a serious look at arranged marriages borne as a business connection and the most horrible of consequences that can occur because of family pride and personal actions. Young Lakshman watches his parents torture each other with shouting and sarcasm. The unhappier his mother is with her life, the deeper she sinks into alcoholism—not an altogether uncommon theme in the collection. Eventually, Lakshman’s father returns his mother to her family in India, and only later does he understand what horrible event prevents her from ever returning to him.

Sharma’s characters are unwaveringly-flawed creatures, but imperfections reflect society. There are men who are lonely, who cry, who drink to feel better, and who can feel nothing when they discard a supposed loved one.

Sharma’s style carries an abundance of narrative with little dialogue. “Show, don’t tell” is a cardinal rule of fiction writing, but rules are meant to be broken once the rules are mastered. As he breaks that rule, he does it with confidence and grace in the creation of a cohesive collection.

A LIFE OF ADVENTURE AND DELIGHT by Akhil Sharma. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York. 202 pages. wwnorton.com $24.95 hardcover.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in North Carolina where she is the Managing Editor of a newspaper, a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association, and Publicity Director for WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund.

 

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From Our Sponsors

CULTURE

Fiction | Music | Recipes

A Concert for Vision

Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) in their continued efforts to eradicate curable blindness in India organized a fundraising musical night with popular Bollywood singers Kumar Sanu and Sadhana Sargam on December 17, 2017 in San Jose.

Funds from the concert fed into SEF’s ambitious plans for further expansion in India and build eye hospitals in different cities. Balaji Entertainment was the national promoter of this event. Dedicated volunteers handled many aspects of the
musical concert, from ticket sales to ushering the concert goers. Such efforts from Sankara Eye Foundation volunteers have been the backbone of SEF’s success, along with generous donors.

SEF was also in a celebratory mood, having opened their ninth hospital in Jaipur, India on December 7, 2017. This hospital is 225 bed super speciality hospital that has the capacity to potentially perform 25,000 free eye surgeries a year.

Murali Krishnamurthy, founder and SEF executive chairman, displayed a video of SEF and its efforts. Krishnamurthy said that in the near future SEF will also facilitate and aid other Indian NGOs, like Akhand Jyoti in Bihar, Trilochan Netralaya in Orissa, and Shri Ranchhoddas Ashram in Gujarat to provide large-scale eye care services. “Aap Aankh band kar ke donate kijiye, hum aankhen kholenge”.

From one clinic in Coimbatore to nine super speciality hospitals, 8,000 surgeries to 1.6 million free eye surgeries, the SEF journey continues. The Gift of Vision program has made Sankara one of the largest free eye care community providers in the world.  At the free eye camps organized by the hospital, patients diagnosed with defects are transferred to the base hospital for treatment, provided food, and transported back home after surgery. A regular follow up is also done at their homes. They also run the Rainbow program exclusively for children, the Vision Care Technicians Program to train women for free, and many others.
The uniqueness of Sankara’s social enterprise lies in its replicable and sustainable model of 80/20, wherein 20 percent of patients pay for the free treatment that the 80 percent poor receive.

Three new hospitals are coming up in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Indore. All the three hospitals are expected to be inaugurated in 2019. For more information, visit www.giftofvision.org.

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ADVICE

Legal | Doctor | Relationships | Taxes

Changes To Immigration Law

Ever since President Trump signed the “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order on April 18th, 2017, there have been a number of changes in the employment-based immigration law arena that have taken place in a very subtle manner. There has been no change in the law concerning H-1B visas. However, there has been a significant increase in the number of Requests for Evidence (RFEs) that have been issued by the USCIS. Typically, an RFE is issued after an application is submitted and if the immigration officer concludes that the information provided is insufficient. Since June 2017, we have seen about 70-80% increase in the number of RFEs that are being issued pursuant to this executive order. The increase of RFEs in the H-1B visa context is illustrative of the “Buy American and Hire American” era. Employers file H-1B petitions on behalf of foreign national employees whom they seek to employ in “specialty occupations” which are defined as occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific field, such as doctors, lawyers, and software/hardware engineers.

The RFEs are primarily issued on the basis that the USCIS does not accept that the specific position qualifies as a specialty occupation, or on the basis that the wages paid to the individual does not qualify the position as an H-1B specialty occupation. Similar queries had not been raised by USCIS in previous years.

The number of RFEs and subsequent denials have resulted in many H-1Bs returning to their home country after being in America for a number of years which, in my opinion, will have a detrimental impact on the economy in the long term.

The above change is not the only change that we see. There have been many other subtle changes that are taking place under this administration and the interesting part is that the changes are being made without the formal rule making process, avoiding the legislative process.

Useful Tip:
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that establishes the public’s right to obtain information from federal government agencies. So for instance, if an individual does not have copies of their prior filing, or if they have lost documents that they have previously submitted to the USCIS, they can use FOIA request to obtain copies of their records.

Immigration and business attorney Indu Liladhar-Hathi has an office in San Jose. (408) 453-5335.

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