SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) is holding a free immigration forum on Saturday, August 18th. You can learn about:
– Current immigration policy in California and the U.S.
– Your immigration rights at work, at airports, at home, and with police
– Immigration Fraud
– Learn if your immigration status will be affected if you receive Cal-works, Medi-Cal, Section 8, or other public benefits
– What to do if you experience hate crimes or discrimination
This is a free community event for all; Nepali, Bangladeshi, Afghani, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, and Indian community members are welcome. In partnership with: ASATA – Alliance of South Asians Taking Action – Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus – Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN) – South Asian Americans Leading Together– Narika – Maitri Bay Area – Jakara Movement – California Immigrant Policy Center – The Sikh Coalition – Sikh Family Center – CAIR – San Francisco Bay Area
Saturday, August 18th from 3-5pm,. Comfort Inn – 5977 Mowry Ave, Newark, CA. Contact email@example.com or call 301-270-1882.
RSVP here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fremont-immigration-forum-tickets-48605159340
Go into any bar in New York City or San Francisco (or, increasingly, Mumbai and Delhi) popular with the younger crowd and you will find a curious transformation. The majority of the patrons spend at least as much time checking their phones as they do checking out potential mates, or talking to people they are with.
Why? They are on Tinder. The wildly popular dating app has changed the mating game, in ways that are toxic. A growing body of research associates Tinder use with less romantic satisfaction, less happiness and even diminished sense of self-worth — particularly among men.
Let’s be clear: online dating isn’t itself bad. This new way of finding mates has broken down plenty of barriers. We can now meet people from different parts of the country, from diverse social groups. Websites such as Shaadi.com and BharatMatrimony.com are good at doing what marriage brokers and classified ads have long done.
But Tinder brings a fundamental change to online dating. In the past, online dating was an intentional act. People logged on to a dating website to look for partners. The website was separate from other online activity and wasn’t just focused on inducing addictive behaviour.
Tinder used swiping and other clever user-interface tricks that foster the actions of rating, comparing and selecting potential mates. This made dating an omnipresent activity — swipe left, swipe right — that Tinder users could play in bars, in elevators, on the subway. Tinder’s innovation made online dating more addictive and comparative in an unhealthy way.
The effects of dating apps on happiness are complex. On the one hand, online dating exposes people to a far wider set of options and allows filtering by criteria of the user’s choosing.
On the other hand, the paradox of choice affects many by making a decision difficult. And when they do make a decision, they can be less happy with it — possibly because that style of online dating promotes a mentality that views people and relationships as commodities to shop for.
Find Me a Find
Tinder promotes a winner-take-all effect, wherein everyone seeks the most attractive people. This eliminates selection of mates by other variables that may be more predictive of compatibility, leading to frustration all around.
Evaluating choices side by side tends to encourage daters to emphasise factors and characteristics that are unlikely to determine compatibility. Whether someone is fairer or taller, is highly unlikely to reflect compatibility over time. Far less so than more innate traits such as empathy, intelligence or humour.
Particularly useless are superficial physical traits that tend to be overemphasised due to reliance on photos as the primary basis upon which to choose a date. Psychologists have long known that humans are bad at predicting compatibility.
Tinder makes that bad prediction far more common, and replaces other modes of interaction that might lead us to better matches. Scientists are coming to believe that physical attraction is not fixed.
We change what we think about people’s attractiveness based on our interaction with them. Funny, clever or extremely empathetic people may become more attractive to us after we talk or spend time with them.
Kansas University researchers documented this effect, calling it the ‘Tinder trap’. In a lab setting, they showed subjects pictures of potential mates and asked them to rate their attractiveness.
The researchers then introduced some of the subjects to the people they had rated face to face. The scientists found that potential partners they had rated as less attractive or moderately attractive were far more likely to get increased ratings after a face-to-face meeting than were potential partners they had rated as attractive.
So, evaluating a potential partner solely on visual attractiveness is a poor predictor of what you will think of that person once you meet in real life.
Perhaps, most importantly, rating people’s attractiveness prior to meeting them tends to diminish the rater’s evaluation of that person afterward, “probably because the rater is comparing their conversation partner to all the other potential partners they saw online”.
In other words, the apparently endless choice that online dating offers may cheapen and undermine our perceptions of people in real life.
Some online-dating applications have been linked with low self-esteem. In a survey of Tinder users and non-users, those who used the swiping app recorded lower levels of self-worth and, along with other negative impressions, said that they were less satisfied with their own face’s appearance. Curiously, this effect was stronger in male users.
Catch Me a Catch
In our new book, Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain — and How to Fight Back, Alex Salkever and I look at how some technologies are actually diminishing our well-being.
Tinder is one of the most troubling developments we have seen, but it is in a long line of efforts by tech companies to addict users using techniques perfected in Las Vegas casinos and fine-tuned by armies of scientists and user experience experts in Silicon Valley.
The fact is that the tech industry is working overtime to steal our happiness, and we must wrestle it back.
This article has been reprinted here with the permission of the author.
Aug 5, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
11:00 am - 5:00 pm
The House Imaginary
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose CA
Aug 9, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
|The 5th Annual Desi Comedy Fest|
Aug 9, 2018 - Aug 19, 2018
9:00 am - 12:00 pm
|Violin Summer Workshop|
Aug 9, 2018 - Sep 23, 2018
Various, San Jose CA
Aug 18, 2018
9:00 am - 7:00 pm
Community Of Infinite Spirit, San Jose California
By Manu Shah
Houston based entrepreneur Amit Bhandari and his wife Arpita shaped their own American dream but along the way they also nurtured the aspirations of thousands of children, whether in the remote village of Rampura or the slums of Mumbai.
Ekal was one of the first charities the Bhandaris supported and they have consistently raised this support. They recently topped it by donating $50,000 dollars to outfit a bus with 10 laptops for the Ekal-on-Wheels Mobile Computer Labs program.
The Ekal movement which started in 1989 to transform India, one village at a time, today, has a school in 70,000 villages offering free schooling, vocational training, digital competence and agricultural education. It has impacted 4 million children and 10 million families to date.
The Mobile Computer Labs initiative is working to enhance digital literacy and has helped over 50,000 children become computer literate. The solar powered bus has pre-installed self-learning software developed by IIT, Mumbai and accommodates two students per computer. One dedicated trainer, assisted by the local Ekal teacher provides two and a half hours of training in one village.
The bus, which will serve the Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh near Indore, was inaugurated by Amit and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Amit was impressed by how “coachable and open to learning the children were.”
However, this isn’t the first time the Bhandaris have opened their checkbook. They support the Jain Society of Houston, donated six acres of land for the Gujarati Samaj center in Houston, wrote a quarter million dollar check to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Fund for Hurricane Harvey relief work, paid off the loans of a temple in Phoenix and raised $3 million for Magic Bus, an NGO that is deeply personal to them and aims to bring children out of poverty through a unique sports based curriculum.
Amit attributes this empathy to his modest upbringing. He is a native of Indore, Madhya Pradesh. His parents were professors but the family was always stretched financially. Despite this, his parents supported a handicapped school and were always ready to provide a helping hand.
Amit’s entrepreneurial leanings kicked in as early as middle school when he and a friend made paper bags and sold them to local vendors. At 17, he was accepted in the Rotary Student Exchange Program and attended High School in Hicksville, Ohio. America turned out to be “a tremendous experience” so much so that he got his aunt to sponsor his green card. He headed to Drexel University in Philadelphia for Chemical engineering and footed his tuition by waiting on tables. The job was a formative lesson in “time management, juggling priorities and dealing with people.”
The engineering degree landed him a job at ExxonMobil but Amit’s afterhours were spent scouting for a good business idea. He plunked his savings into a daycare, rental properties and a convenience store and in 2006, started his own company BioUrja (Urja in Hindi means energy.) The company trades in ethanol, petroleum products, crude oil, grains, metal tubing for the oil production sector and now renewable energy. It is ranked as one of the most successful companies in Texas.
There’s parental pride in his voice when he talks of his daughter and son who spent weeks as Magic Bus Youth Leaders in slums and villages engaging with the children. The experience moved Aanya, 16, to present a paper at the United Nations outlining ways of providing nutritious food and educating farmers on employing better agricultural methods. Ansh, 14, on his part, is looking forward to spending more of his summers supporting Magic Bus programs worldwide.
This is a story of a man who did not win a medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
This is a story of a man who did not marry the girl he loved.
This is a story of a man who did not give up hope.
It is 1950s India. The task of nation-building is ongoing. Sincerity is still cool. Feet-touching is encouraged. Milkha Singh recommends Hard Work, Willpower, and Dedication. His coach, Gurudev Singh intones: “Nothing is more Sacred than your Duty to the country.” His leader, Jawahar Lal Nehru cajoles: “Your Team Needs You Now.” Little Milkhu has become Milkha, and Milkha has become India, and the Sky is the Limit.
Be prepared to shed your ironic distance. It is impossible to remain snarky when so much SINCERITY is in the air, the beloved Indian tricolor is fluttering, and the hopes of a fledgling nation rest on Milkha Singh’s running speed. (No hint of doping scandals for decades to come.) Fueled by milk, pure ghee and national pride, Milkha Singh’s eyes shine with patriotic zeal, his fate shared by the whole nation.
Farhaan Akhtar, bubbling with earnestness and rippling with muscles, animates Milkha Singh’s character with all the ‘ahojees,’ of a Punjab da puttar (son of Punjab). His stoic, old-fashioned, salt-of-the-earth simplicity exemplifies that first generation of Indians, for whom the birth of a nation came at an enormous psychic price.
The price has been paid, Milkha Singh’s story tells us. Wounds must heal. Don’t look back. The nation cannot dwell on the traumas of the Partition. In an emotional scene, we see a somber Milkha Singh return to the village where his nightmarish past awaits him, and we see him make his own peace.
Other characters shine. Pavan Malhotra as coach Gurudev Singh salutes his former student as a superior and a star, but Milkha’s humility takes away any sting. Familiar Bollywood tropes include scenes of the fauji (soldier) returning home on his leave bearing gifts for the family members, and again, the heartfelt decency of the man shines through. Brief courtships remain inconsequential; love sacrificed for the sake of glory.
Is sincerity the secret sauce? This Bollywood film on the life of ‘The Flying Sikh’ is inspired and alive, a marked contrast to the jaded sequels Hollywood has been pushing this summer. BMB’s cinematography is commendable, with some exuberant montages of Milkha Singh’s victories – Helsinki, Nairobi, Oslo, among others. There is archival footage on Milkha’s life. There is happy music that gladdens our hearts when he wins, and sad music signaling an impending loss.
The film effectively evokes a bygone period. An Eagle flask with tea in a railway compartment might easily transport you to a different era, and beloved historical figures smile benignly in the film. The indignities of the refugee camp, too, are all too realistic, and we see glimmers of the determination and pluck that will characterize Milkha’s adult career.
But the best scene is that of Milkha Singh smiling at a younger version of himself, who looks worshipfully back at his hero.
Too many of sports heroes in our midst have proven unworthy of our adulation. The Lance Armstrongs and Tiger Woods of contemporary disgrace seem severely lacking in, well, sincerity.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
A nation turns its lonely eyes on you.
BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG. Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. Players: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Divya Dutta, Yograj Singh, Pawan Malhotra, Rebecca Breeds, Art Malik, Meesha Shafi, Dalip Tahil. Produced by: Viacom 18, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra
This article was written by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain and edited by Editor Jaya Padmanabhan.
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August 6, 2018 was a sad day for the lovers of Carnatic music and for fans of world fusion music.
Geetha Ramanathan Bennett, the torch bearer, disciple and daughter of Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. S. Ramanathan a.k.a Veenai Ramanathan, passed away in California after a silent battle with cancer for over 24 years. The music community in California lost a great vainika who delighted audiences over the last 30 years with many memorable veena performances.
I am an ardent admirer and was a friend of late Dr. S. Ramanathan whose life, when observed, gave me a glimpse of what the famed composer Saint Tyagaraja’s life must have been like (as is gleaned from the saint’s history). Singular devotion to music and the propagation of music adhering to the highest ideals dictated his life and this was evident to all that knew him. In the early 1980s, I enjoyed personal interactions with Geetha’s family on several occasions and I am deeply grateful for that link with her family.
Geetha was born on November 21, 1950, in a family of nine siblings, to Gowri and Ramanathan. She did most of her education in Madras (now Chennai) and moved to Madurai when her father became the principal of Sri Satguru Sangita Vidyalaya there. When he came back to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, Geetha joined him and started playing veena duet concerts with him in the United States. Dr. Frank Bennett, an accomplished veena player and an acclaimed percussionist met Geetha at that time, and this resulted in a great companionship and marriage that lasted for more than forty years. Dr. S. Ramanathan was proud of Geetha and his son-in-law Frank who was also his veena student (after Frank’s earlier short stint with Kalyanakrishna Bhagavatar). Frank learned the art of percussion from Ramnad V Raghavan at Wesleyan University and became an expert on Indian instruments – tavil and kanjira, and several other global instruments such as the drum set, marimba, vibraphone, tympani and xylophone. Geetha and Frank performed veena duets for several years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Later, Frank became Geetha’s mridangam accompanist and they globe trotted in their avatars as musicians for several decades
In spite of a life led in the public eye because of her involvement in music, Geetha was always down to earth and spoke about her difficulty in ‘translating’ rather than enjoying, as-it-is, ‘Tamil humor’ with her lifelong companion, Frank. Like her, I have also written short stories in Tamil and always enjoyed a clever turn of phrase and understood her mild frustration on not being able to share humor in Tamil with Frank. In every other way, however, those who knew Geetha could see quite clearly her love and adoration for Frank. He wore many hats throughout the years – that of a manager, travel planner, veena and percussion accompanist, composer of fusion music for her performances, a gracious host for her students who visited, gardener, cook and, finally, a patient nurse and at times fulfilling the role of a mother too to their son. It was this pillar of love and strength that kept Geetha, smiling, lively, chirpy and laughing in spite of the painful onslaught of countless chemotherapy sessions over the decades. While the cancer moved from breast to bone, to esophagus to lungs, she relentlessly continued to perform, teach, travel and even sang until a few weeks before her passing.
In her performing career, Geetha refused to compromise either the hoaried sampradayam or her Appa’s veritable pATAntharam (established tradition or gharana!) while performing veena concerts. She spoke on many a platform about her father before playing any piece composed by him, especially about his genius in being a celebrated musician, musicologist and guru, all rolled into one. Her father’s raga alapanas (elaborations) were measured to the compositional excellence of any chosen keertanam and thus marked by brevity, but with an unerring exemplification of the contour of the raga. This unique bani of Dr. S. Ramanathan was evident in his veena playing which he in turn imbibed from the veena maestro Devakottai Narayana Iyengar. Geetha was a proud and devoted follower of her father in all of these established traditions and her father himself shared this observation with me years earlier.
Dr. S. Ramanathan was particular about the length of the improvisational aspects i.e. kalpanaswarams that were sung at the end of compositions soaked in emotion. He explained that a rasika will remember the compositional excellence only if the alapana and kalpanaswarams were utilized in a measured and ornamental fashion. He was one of the very few musicians who could be deemed to follow the lineages of the Sangita-trimurthi (Syama Sastri, Tyagaraja, Muthuuswamy Dikshitar). He was eloquent in both English and Tamil, while explaining sangita sastram, lakshanam, lakshiyam and other performing requirements. More about his uniqueness and greatness can be found in the YouTube talk on him at this link: https://youtu.be/ZlyFBkqwgxw
Geetha followed her father’s style of teaching in that her lessons in music were systematic. She would incorporate simple exercises to instill ascending and descending grammar exercises at various speeds for every raga taught as a prelude to explaining the beauty of the composition. As a worthy disciple of her father, she believed, that anyone aspiring to become an expert on a musical instrument should have a solid foundation in vocal singing and should “‘attempt singing first and playing next.”
Of all of Geetha’s veena concerts that I had the pleasure of witnessing – as a member of the audience, the more recent ones were highly emotional and, at times heart-wrenching; the first was held in October 2016 at the University of La Verne where she gave explanations in English before playing. The second concert was held in April 2017 at the IFAA inaugural ceremony honoring her father during his centenary celebrations. She was undergoing experimental medical treatments which were draining her, with her bones hurting while bending, but she insisted on following her conventional sitting posture on the floor for her veena performances. Whenever she played her father’s well-known composition ‘Bhavapriye Bhavani,’ she sang and played the song on the veena to highlight the emotive undercurrent and reminisced as to how she enjoyed playing that particular song with her father many a time. Another composition held dear by her father was one of her favorites too – ‘Mokshamu galada.’” She played this magnum opus of Tyagaraja in Saramati ragam in both concerts, offering the song with explanations along with her reminiscences. She lived her father’s music and played veena in his memory and in obeisance; she sang often in later performances while she played many of her father’s favorites and her own compositions on the veena. She concluded the last two concerts with ‘Va velava’ in Shivaranjani, another composition of her father’s in Tamil; she was visibly emotional while concluding the concert with that song in La Verne.
In 2011, The Indian Fine Arts Academy (IFAA) of San Diego honored her with the title of Sangeeta Kala Mani. Chennai-based organization Narada Gana Sabha bestowed upon her the title of ‘Best Veena Player,’ in December 2017, and Geetha won a similar title from the Indian Fine Arts Society there. Her veena performance will soon be featured in the upcoming movie Road to Happiness directed by Santosh Sivan with a musical score composed by Mark Kilian. She also sang for the Hollywood feature The Guru and her veena can be heard in the Imax film The Everest. Geetha was an A-graded Veena-Vidwan artist in All India Radio and Doordarshan in India and performed for Indian Radio/TV, Singapore Broadcasting system and Malaysian Television.
In 2017, IFAA San Diego organized a grand centenary felicitation celebrating the life of her father the legendary Dr. S Ramanathan, as the inaugural event of their annual festival, alongside the 250th birth centenary of Saint Tyagaraja. Geetha was felicitated as the legend’s distinguished disciple and torch bearer. The special homage paid to Dr. S. Ramanathan and the felicitation to Geetha can be seen at these links:
Geetha was a fighter and a karma-yogi who lived cheerfully, despite facing daunting medical challenges, until she was forced to rest. Even when conventional and experimental medical treatments were failing, and even though traveling and squatting on stage became an ordeal, she accepted IFAA’s invitation for a music appreciation talk in San Diego for their 11th annual festival in March 2018; she also attended a few music concerts until a month before her hospitalization. She reiterated in her lectures on music and in her classes to her students the famous maxim from her father – “a good musician is one who has the heart to spend valuable time attending the concerts of others and who is willing to learn from those stage appearances like a good student.”
Geetha’s only regret was that she could not complete her self-imposed deadline of posting 100 songs of Dr. S. Ramanathan on YouTube in her own voice and veena. However, she managed to post a dozen of these compositions.
My last conversation with her was after my closing remarks following her lecture demonstration at IFAA in March 2018. In the course of that personal conversation, I witnessed her welling up, which shook me up; her question to me was rhetoric in nature and rather long-winded; “Krishnan sir, I have had a nice innings; I have no complaints and am ready to go; I wonder now – why did I agree to go through these medical procedures which seem experimental and futile; all of this continues to put Frank through greater agony, as he silently helps me go through these painful steps!’ Aside from a futile philosophic reply that seemed to offer little, I had no meaningful answer or consolation to offer. But, as always, she concluded with a compliment that conversing with me was like chatting with her father, as I too held uncompromising views on good music and musicians. In her view, I also always had several anecdotes about her appa which she loved to hear over and over again. She summed up her conversation with the profound statement – “I must have done a lot of punyam (good deeds) to have Frank as my companion; I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
Geetha’s passing has left a void in the hearts of her many friends and admirers who knew her as a musician and as a writer. We are now also witness to the silent pain suffered by her beloved companion Frank and their doting son Anand on losing Geetha. We pray for their speedy reconciliation with the harsh truth and for their tranquility from this grief.
[For the Soul there is never birth nor any death. Nor, having once been, does it ever cease to be. ‘IT’ is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. It is not slain, when the body is slain].
I can only think of this profound Gita-Vaakyam to refer to Geetha’s passing away. Her music will live forever in the hearts of her family and friends around the globe.
Sangeeta AchArya ‘Thiruvaiyaru Krishnan’, also known as Srinivasaraghava Krishnan, is a vAggeyakara, Vedic scholar, poet, lyricist, composer, journalist, a story writer in Tamizh and English and an operatic playwright. Disciple and son of Ganabhooshanam Kumaramangalam Srinivasa Raghavan (KSR), he also learned music from Sangita Kalanidhis Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, G N Balasubramaniam and Madurai Mani Iyer. He is an exponent of Nama-Sankirtanam and Hari Katha traditions having trained under Brahmasri Nathamuni Narayana Iyengar (Nanaji), Brahmasri Pudukkottai Narayana Sastry and Swami Haridoss Giri (known as ‘Guruji’). For a more detailed account of his background, please click on this link: http://sankeertanam.com/Thiruvai-Bio.htm
Mythili Prakash, known nationwide as the Indian dancer on NBC Superstars of Dance and in classical Rasika circles as perhaps the only American dancer who has made her mark in Bharatanatyam, will be performing in Palo Alto for the IDIA- I Dance, hence I Am- festival of BharataNatyam.
Indeed,Mythili has her own brand of dancing, one that is traditional while at the same time infused with timeless energy and emotion. She is continuously deconstructing Bharatanatyam while at the same time raising the bar on technical mastery. Her dream is to form a dance company so trained dancers can have a platform to pursue dance as full-time professionals. She believes that Bharatanatyam is so rich, complex, and nuanced that sometimes it becomes overwhelming for an uninitiated audience, and has (to some extent) become restricted to a niche audience. Her goal is to create work that retains the depth and aesthetic of the classical form, while having a universal connection. Her solo and ensemble work is proof of this- Watch Prakash’s “Jwala” here.
Mythili speaks candidly about her approach, working with family, and being an NRI dancer here:
What are you working on, currently?
For IDIA, I will be presenting a traditional “Margam” at the request of the organizers. Though the pieces and my choreography of them are driven by structure and composition, I have selected pieces that I feel a personal connection with.
I’m working on two other solo pieces that are extremely challenging, and because of that – stimulating and exciting. The first piece is on the dichotomy of “femininity” specifically between the worship and glorification of the Goddess, and the treatment and degradation of women in our culture(s). The second piece that I’m working on is about Time – that time is illusion. The creation process has involved a lot of creating structures and then deconstructing them completely, as linearity is totally contradictory to the concept. The piece also reflects the constant struggle to be in the present. I’m incredibly lucky to be working on this piece under the mentorship of Akram Khan (the internationally acclaimed Kathak and contemporary dance master).
Are you ever in conflict, being an NRI in India and “Indian” dancer in the US?
Not conflict as such. Dance has always been such a part of my identity, and because it has been in my life since I was born (Mythili is well-known dancer Viji Prakash’s daughter), there is a natural sense of ownership and belonging. So even though I may technically qualify as an “NRI” in India, I have always felt that I belong. I do sometimes feel a bit marginalized as an “Indian” dancer in the US. There are more schools and (Bharatanatyam) dance students in the US than there are professional dancers, and that reflects in the overall standard of performance. The standard of a “company” in genres such as contemporary dance are far different from a “company” in Bharatanatyam, which usually consists of well-trained students from a dance school, but not full-time professional dancers.
You’ve said that much of choreography depends on where you are as a person at that time…where would you say you were when “Mara,” your production, came to be?
Meditation became a very active and integral part of my life starting in 2009. Since then, there has been a transformation in the way I view and interpret my artistic content. The esoteric became (and continues to be) a fascination. My brother Aditya was going through something similar. In 2012, we had both read a book by Deepak Chopra, called The Buddha. The character Mara, as delineated by Chopra, immediately became apparent to both of us as a representation of our own mind. As meditators, the mind becomes a point of focus and observation; As artists, the mind became an interesting point of creative exploration. (Watch glimpses of Mara here.)
What were some of the discoveries you’ve made in your own choreographic journey?
Recently, the topics and pieces I am moving towards are things that require me to be a bit more inventive with my knowledge and use of the Bharatanatyam vocabulary. In “Sanctuaries” for example, exploring an elephant character was not as much a challenge as exploring the “Scientist.” Also, when something is an allegory, how does one find the balance between specificity and universality? What does my scientist represent and how can I bring that out through abstraction, while also using a gestural language that is universally recognizable as associated with a scientist, but also within the aesthetics of the form. These are some of the challenges.
Why did you choose the pieces you did for NBC Superstars?
My choices were dictated largely by time restriction. We had 2 mins in the first round (from what I remember), and 1.5 mins in the second round. It’s virtually impossible to do anything of substance that represents the depth of the form within that short time frame. I chose nritta for the first round to keep things simple. For the second round, I chose Shiva as the subject because I feel He is one of the most important symbols in terms of the cosmic and spiritual aspects of the form. (Watch it here.)
Was your experience of growing up similar to what many other kids experience? – Public school, school orchestra? Participation in sports?
Yes, I went to public school. I learned modern dance in High School and was in my school’s Dance Company. In high school, I got progressively more obsessed with doing well academically (until the second semester of senior year!). It was a pressure that was completely self-imposed, I’m not sure why. I’d wake up, study or do homework, go to school, stay for dance company practice after, come home and either practice or be rehearsing for something, and then stay up late doing more homework.
What was your first time on stage like?
At three years old, sort of an accident though! I was quite insistent on dancing with my idol who was my mother’s student, Anjali Tata. To keep me quiet, my mom allowed me to dance behind Anjali during all the rehearsals for an upcoming show. Long story short, I was tricked into believing that I was truly in the show, but I was locked in a dressing room during the show itself so that I could not come out. I cried (tantrum-cried) myself to sleep, and woke up, broke out of the dressing room and made an entrance on stage! It was quite a memorable experience for all!
Your brother, Aditya singing for you – was that always the plan?
It was never really a plan for him to sing for me. He has a lot going on with his own career. The working together just sort-of happened naturally. I like having him compose music for me because I like his blend of classicism and out-of-the-box ideas. But getting him to do it is sometimes a bit like pulling teeth! We are close, though you may never be able to tell by the way we act. (More on Aditya Prakash here.)
How has the relationship with your mother changed over the years?
She was my first role model. I idolized her and wanted to be a dancer just like her. It’s actually really sweet because I see my 3-year-old daughter saying the same thing. She was a strict teacher and tough on me. And because I was her daughter, I took liberties that any other student wouldn’t, so we fought a lot. I’m glad for her firm and rigorous teaching style though, it has shaped me so that I am never complacent but always looking to be better. As I have grown as a dancer and choreographer, my style has developed and continues to. We are very different in our approach to the dance and you can see that reflected in our choreography. Very often there is a (spirited!) difference of opinion, but she is my teacher and I look to her for her critical eye.
What is your guiding philosophy for yourself as a person and as a dancer?
As a dancer and as a person, I want to continue to grow, to find depth, to move inward. Learning and discovery inspire and excite me tremendously!
(Mythili Prakash will be performing at IDIA, festival of BharataNatyam: August 19 2018, Cubberly Auditorium, Palo Alto, CA. Tickets here.)
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.
As I stood there, and watched him walk those last steps of high school, time just froze and our journey together flashed in front of my eyes. It was a bittersweet moment as he proudly walked up to receive his high school diploma. He was a little less than three, full of curiosity and a twinkle in his eye when I landed on the shores of America 15 years ago, expecting nothing, but hoping for everything.
He was my partner as we discovered this land together. We started our journey with inhibitions but with hope in our hearts. He must have missed the attention and love he got from those that surrounded him when he had been in India. I, on the other hand, missed the chance to have any kind of adult social contact. Absolutely lonely, with no work visa, I had suddenly transformed from a busy working woman in India to being a full-time mother in America deprived of all adult interaction till my husband returned home at the end of each work day.
From discovering how a dishwasher was operated to the marvel of tasting sweet yogurt, he was my confidant and partner. We squatted on the kitchen floor to create figurines made of play dough and we squealed in delight as we created buildings with all kinds of blocks. His passion for cars came alive in that 2-bedroom small apartment, which overlooked green well-kept gardens, with not a soul as far as our eyes could go. We walked to the balcony each morning, clapping whenever we saw someone walk by. We created daily routines around one another, since we had no friends or family for company. We started to unravel the mysteries of America slowly through the lens of a mother and son.
As I struggled with the idea of leaving my social structure behind, with my family and home of several years thousands of miles away, he was my hope and my distraction from always wondering about whether things would work out for us in this country. His unbridled sense of curiosity and his ability to start conversations with complete strangers got me acquainted, over time, with many new people. We started to make friends soon, outside our circle of two. He would strike up conversations with people at Walmart and I would soon make new friends. We were good together. Very soon for his first birthday in America, we found ourselves celebrating with several other families. His first mommy and me classes taught me about the value of building communities and taught him his first lessons in sharing, making friends and learning consequences for ill actions. I don’t know when “good job” and “high five” became part of my lingo.
They say that parents teach their children language, life skills, and social norms helping them grow and learn new things, but a lot of that is actually a two-way street. As I look back, he made it so much easier for me to assimilate into this new life. I can’t even imagine how lonely I would have been had it not been for the company of my first born when I first came to this country. We shared not just happy moments but also anger, frustrations and growing pains.
He led the path for us as he took his first journey in his new elementary school. I held his hand as he walked to his first classroom, without mommy. He turned around and I remember his first look of disappointment as he saw me leave him. Those small droplets of tears in his eyes pleaded with me. The teacher’s assurances that he would be okay seemed dishonest. After being with him and only him for many months, this seemed like the hardest thing to do. He had become the friend that I liked sharing big and small things with.
Years later, today as he stands tall with his friends, in a cap and gown, talking with confidence and assurance, he is looking ahead. His journey has just begun and there is a lot to discover, and look forward to. Memories of us starting out together in America will always hold me close to my first born. While those wondrous days will never come back, I hope that I continue to be a small part of the big world he is going to create for himself. They call out his name and he starts to walk up those steps and suddenly, just like that, he turns around, looks at me and smiles. In that small moment I cherish the friend that I discovered years ago. With pride, nostalgia and tears in my eyes, my truest blessings involuntarily go his way, as they invite the Westview High graduating class of 2018.
Veenu Puri Vermani – An Analytics professional, a freelance writer and a full-time mother who lives in San Diego California with her two sons and her husband.
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The characterization of stress as a “silent killer,” and of yoga as an antidote to stress rests on solid scientific research. And just as prolonged stress can literally shorten one’s life, yoga as an antidote to stress can be seen as enhancing wellness.
One of the earliest definitions of yoga refers to the power of yoga to soothe mental agitation. In Patanjali’s Yogasutra, we find a definition of yoga as “the suppression of the modifications of mind.” (Yogah chitta vritti nirodha.)
In his book, Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar believes that the modifications of the mind disturb peace. “As a breeze ruffles the surface of a lake and distorts the images reflected therein, so also the chitta vrtti disturb the peace of the mind. When the mind is still, the beauty of the self is seen reflected in it.”
In 1957 Basu Kumar Bagchi from the University of Michigan conducted research for the first time that showed that yoga brings about “deep relaxation of the autonomic nervous system.” Advanced yogis can control both sympathetic as well as parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic nervous system exhibits the “flight or fight” response. The adrenal glands produce adrenalin, which inhibits digestion and makes blood available to the muscles for quick action. The parasympathetic system serves to calm the nerves, promotes the absorption of food, and curbs the flow of adrenaline. The sympathetic system thus serves as an accelerator, and the parasympathetic system as a brake. Prolonged exposure to stress can have deleterious health ramifications on the nervous system.
Harvard physician, Herbert Benson, who examined the effects of yoga and meditiaton wrote a 1975 book The Relaxation Response, which became a modern classic on undoing stress.’ Benson and his colleagues studied the phenomenon they referred to as hypometabolism—a “wakeful cousin of sleep that exhibits low energy expenditures.” He called the relaxation response “an inducible physiologic state of quietude” that healed and revitalized.
While the ancient yoga sutras of Patanjali outline the meditative traditions of yoga emphasizing concentration, contemplation and self-realization, a more modern version has become popular under the umbrella of “mindfulness.” Kabat-Zinn, a professor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has popularized the notion of mindfulness that he learned from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. “Mindfulness means paying attention, in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, ” he says in a video on Youtube.
My own experience has borne out much of these research findings. Though I had practiced yoga as a child, I felt what has been referred to as the “mind-body connection,” only as an adult practicing in America. Yoga became a peaceful oasis in the middle of a stressful week. Whereas aerobics classes left me energized, the sense of quietude that followed a yoga session was as if I was flooded with wellbeing and bliss. As class sizes grew, the YMCA in the Dallas suburbs where I lived offered one, and eventually, three yoga classes.
When I moved to California, I eagerly sought out the yoga offerings at the local YMCA. A “traditional” yoga class that I signed up for was different than what I had encountered. Rather than focusing on energetic asanas, it proceeded at a meditative and slow pace. My younger self found this a bit irritating, as I mentally tapped my foot restlessly, waiting for the action to happen. Focused as I was on burning calories and weight reduction, I avoided this slow pace for several years, focusing instead on the more energetic asana-based yoga styles. Eventually, I began to appreciate the restorative yoga classes more.
By this time, I had mastered the warrior poses as well as the sun salutations, but the crow pose still presented a challenge for me. Only recently have I begun to feel comfortable in these poses—crow, tripod headstand, and wheel, which prove that I am still making progress along this path. The adage that we learn something new everyday has been an accurate portrayal of my yoga experience. Without fail, though, the shavasana at the end of the class has quite consistently been the most rewarding part of the class for me.
While discussion of one’s meditation “phenomenon” is discouraged among yoga practitioners, I was quite drawn to the descriptions of other meditators, who discussed colors and lights and sounds during meditations. In my own meditation experiences, there are some distinct experiences that I can recall. One such meditation experience was when our family was faced with a very stressful decision of whether to move our family away from California. My daughter, who was then in high school, was reacting very negatively to this possibility. During one of my meditation sessions, I focused on a wish to free my daughter of her pain. During my meditation, I had a sensation of energy streaming through my body. A few weeks later, we made a decision not to move from California. The sheer intensity of my meditative experience has made this an unforgettable memory.
Another intense meditation I experienced was during a visit to the Tibetan monastery in Dharamsala. I was in a room with a large statue of the avalokiteswara, and began to meditate. Again, I felt a very strong cathartic emotion, as if the pain that I had been experiencing was being dissolved and tears began to flow from my eyes. This is the closest first hand experience I had to the melting of toxic emotions in a meditative state.
More recently, I have found that at the end of a yoga class, during the shavasana, I might experience meditative bliss. Waves of pure joy seem to course through my closed eyes and I am filled with ananda (joy). It is a disappointment when the shavasana comes to an end.
This inner sanctuary of peace can become a refuge during life’s ups and downs. It is a sanctuary to which one returns time and again. Though alcohol and drugs can induce a state of artificial happiness for a little while, ancient yogis had discovered a natural mood and creativity enhancer in meditation and it is no wonder that today many more are literally paying attention.
First published in December 2016.
Geetika Pathania Jain is a yoga practitioner. She has been teaching hatha yoga in the Bay Area for several years.
MAGIC SEEDS by V.S. Naipaul. Knopf, 2004. Hardcover, 288 pages. $25.00.
Magic Seeds is the second half of Half a Life, V.S. Naipaul’s novel written just before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. Although the two books together do not stitch together an entire life, they do weave a wholly satisfying evolution of a modern worldview—that of Willie Chandran, born in India of a Brahmin father and a low caste mother, spottily educated in England, married and lost in Africa, redirected by his sister, Sarojini, from the relative comfort of Germany to a doomed social revolution in India, and finally rescued from an Indian jail back to London.
Because of Willie’s wide-ranging and seemingly aimless travels, he does not possess a rooted voice. “It’s the one thing I have worked at all my life: not being at home anywhere, but looking at home.” Increasingly he is aware of his place in the world, but it is always as a seeker who has not yet found what it is he is looking for. To be sure, Willie changes and grows. In a stretch of writing that feels almost religious, with Willie, Buddha-like, setting out on the Indian road to see the world anew, Naipaul transports the reader to places never seen, or visited and long-forgotten. He helps Willie, and thus the reader, to see what has always been there—dust, old dust—but has gone unnoticed and unremarked upon. Naipaul makes the unremarkable remarkable: “At every halt there was dust and the smell of old tobacco and old cloth and old sweat … Willie thought in the beginning, ‘I am going to have a shower at the end of this.’ Then he thought that he wouldn’t: that wish for hour-to-hour comfort and cleanliness belonged to another kind of life, another way of experiencing. Better to let the dust and dirt and smells settle on him.”
But in the end, even though Naipaul bestows upon Willie this yogic discipline as well as a Naipaulian certainty about the world, Willie remains both an unreliable and unsympathetic character. This makes the fiction less a pleasure and more a vehicle for understanding Naipaul’s worldview and his way to that view, not unlike reading Orwell for his politics of power and powerlessness or the Mahabharata for its commentaries on virtuous behavior in a just society.
Some liberal critics have always found much to dislike in Naipaul’s politics, finding him to be a defender of imperialism. While they will take similar issue with Magic Seeds, they will again be wrong. Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (he was knighted by the Queen of England in 1990) is not sympathetic to the politics of the oppressor; but neither is this diasporic descendent of indentured servants sympathetic to the politics of the oppressed. Naipaul only claims allegiance to truth, his truth as he sees it.
Although Naipaul does have an expansive worldview, he certainly does not take everything into this expansiveness. There is little, if any, room for love or optimism. Magic Seeds has no sustained belief in the possibility of love and optimism. It is sad, and it is perhaps a reason to not read him. But it is a far better reason than the unfair politics of the left that have demonized Naipaul as some kind of coconut with a pen—all brown and hairy on the outside, but pure white inside. A more accurate metaphor would be an unopened but achingly dry coconut: the exterior shell hardened by, and to, a hard world; the interior unseen and unseeable because the protective brittleness of the shell penetrates to the core.
Naipaul gives small glimpses into this vulnerability in a letter from Willie to Sarojini about his late-in-life desire to be an architect. Upon returning to London after his stint in an Indian jail, Willie writes: “The difficulty there is that to any logical mind it is absurd for a man of fifty to start learning a profession. The main difficulty is that to carry it out I would need an injection of optimism … The only optimism I had was when I was a child and had a child’s view of the world. I thought for two or three years with that child’s view that I wanted to be a missionary. This was only a wish for escape. That was all my optimism amounted to. The day I understood the real world the optimism leaked out of me. I was born at the wrong time.”
Just as optimism leaked out of Willie, somewhere on Naipaul’s life journey, optimism also leaked out of him. But unlike Willie, Naipaul was not born at the wrong time. Over the past three quarters of a century, he has been witness to a changing world. He has used the written word to translate what he has seen and make sense of it all. Born in Trinidad, he left that island as a scholarship boy and observed the final gasps of British imperialism. As Naipaul matter-of-factly, but with a hint of the pride of a self-made man, claims in the publisher’s Note About the Author that accompanies all his books, “After four years at University College, Oxford, he began to write, and since then has followed no other profession.”
In Dublin, not faraway from Naipaul’s adoptive England, there is an exhibit at the Trinity College Library called “Turning Darkness Into Light.” The exhibit takes its title from “Pangur Ban,” a poem written about the writer’s life by a 9th century Irish monk.
’Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
’Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try,
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
While Naipaul has always been full and fierce and sharp and sly, for me he turns light onto darkness, shining his particular brilliance on the world’s darkness. He dourly demands that we see the shadows. As with Magic Seeds, I usually leave his books shaken and troubled, my sunny optimism braced for the challenges of our changing and unchanging world.
Rajesh C. Oza is an organization alignment and change management consultant. He seeks to align that calling with a change back toward a writer’s life.
This article was originally published in 2005.
Panelists: Stacie Shih, District Director for California State Assemblymember Ash Kalra Raj Salwan, Councilmember of Fremont Shao Yang, President of Fremont Unified School District Moderator: Shanti Balaraman – President and CEO, Children’s Innovation Center After...read more