SEF Dandia 2018 Enthralls the Bay Area like Never Before

The 2018 Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) Dandia season began with a resounding opening featuring the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak on October 5 and 6 and ended with a successful show featuring acclaimed singers Preetysha and Sameer on October 20. These events enthralled the attendees and lighted up not just the Bay Area, but also the world of those needlessly blind. Falguni Pathak in performance with the Ta Thaiya band was a sight to behold. Twenty-five years and counting, they showed why they make such a great team. Though folk music is the core of her performances, she is known for surprising audiences with a peppy mix of Bollywood music and folk songs, and she recreated that magic again. One after another, she sang melodious as well as high-energy songs, and the crowd grooved as if there was no tomorrow. There wasn’t a person that left without a smile and a happy heart, feeling satisfied with the non-stop dancing. After showering the organization with accolades, rave reviews, and appreciation for the flawless Dandia event with the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak, attendees turned up in huge numbers to show their support and end the festive season with the talented duo of Preetysha and Sameer.

They have performed for SEF for more than a decade, each time entertaining a sold-out crowd. Their camaraderie, connection with the audience, unmeasurable talent is a beautiful confluence with SEF’S vision, passion, and zeal to eradicate curable blindness in India. Preetysha and Sameer understand the pulse of the attendees and they made them dance to one popular number after another. Their trademark, ‘Sanedo’ usually performed at the end, left the crowd wanting more, and was a befitting end to an enthralling evening. Though the three events were in the spotlight, Bay Area was spoiled with choices, with SEF organizing five Dandia events, and ten overall across the country. The Laser Dandia at Pleasanton by DJ Precaution on October 13th and by Sangeeta and Troupe on October 20th were both sold out, and the patrons gave an overwhelming thumbs-up to the organization, entertainment factor, and the beautiful experience they had. The patrons really savored the flawless execution, minute attention to detail, and entertainment par excellence at all these events. But the SEF exclusive tradition of the Diya Aarti, really made the whole experience divine and complete, keeping the festivities in mind. At half time, at each of these events, patrons joined in the devotional aarti with the little tea light Diya in their palms and created a magically mesmerizing sight #SEFDiyaAarti is an annual ritual that has been created at SEF Dandia where a beautiful amalgamation of the devotion and the organization’s worthy cause reverberates magically throughout the venue, as everyone sings aarti in unison with lighted Diya on their palms. Thousands of people reveled in these events, appreciated the SEF exclusive perks like the free Garba/Dandia lessons, free Dandia sticks check-in, among many others, and appreciated the tradition of keeping patrons first, another trademark feature of every event organized by the organization.

Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a nonprofit organization that has been working for the SANKARA EYE FOUNDATION, USA • 1900 McCarthy BLVD #302 • MILPITAS, CA 95035 • 1-866-SANKARA • INFO@GIFTOFVISION.ORG past 20 years for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational vision of eradicating curable blindness in India, SEF currently has 9 super specialty hospitals and is working on three new hospitals- in Hyderabad, Indore, and Mumbai. By far a unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, the rural poor. These account for 80 percent—which is approximately 150,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception has enabled over 1.79 million people to receive the gift of vision, absolutely free of cost. The organization has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal health and commitment to accountability and transparency. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy –-  get your or your loved ones’ name on the Wall of Founders. Double the impact of your gift with company matching. Join the cause, volunteer, and share in the joy of bringing light to someone’s eyes.

CA Ballot Propositions On Healthcare Explained

 

Midterm elections are almost upon us and many of us are struggling with the choices we have to make, especially with the ballot propositions. Californians will vote on 11 ballot measures come November 6th. Reading the official State voting guide can still leave us with questions –  we have some difficult choices to make as responsible voters. One way to determine how to vote on the measures is to see who supports and stands to benefit from the passage of each proposition and see who is on the opposing side. Following the money trail also helps to gain perspective on how to vote.

There are three Propositions related to health-care  on this ballot. Each one poses a dilemma as both ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments seem to make sense. We at India Currents would like to provide you with detailed d insight into these three propositions that can have a huge impact on how health-care is delivered to us.

PROP 4:  Children’s Hospital Bonds initiative

What is the deal? This measure authorizes $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds to provide for the Children’s Hospital Bond Act Fund. The fund would be used for construction, expansion, renovation, and equipment projects in order to provide retrofitting and seismic upgrades to facilities that are in dire need of them.

This fund would be distributed among eight private non-profit children’s hospitals, the UC children’s hospitals and other public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.

Bear in mind:

  • Children’s hospitals provide much needed medical care for California’s most needy children.
  • Voters have approved two statewide bond measures to support children’s hospitals in the past. This money which was used for new buildings, renovations and equipment will run out this summer.
  • The state of California already has $74.2 billion in debt from bonds and Prop 4 will increase that debt.

Vote YES if you think the State should use general obligation bonds to fund improvements to children’s hospitals. These hospitals treat the majority of children who need life saving treatments like organ transplant, cancer treatments and heart surgeries.

Who benefits:

  • 72% of funds would be designated for eight private, nonprofit children’s hospitals
  • 18% allocation for five of the University of California’s children’s hospitals
  • 10% of funds to public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.

Who is sponsoring:

  • California Children’s Hospital Association.

Supporters: California Teachers Association

Total raised by sponsors: $11.28 million.

Vote NO if you think the funds should come from another source and NOT out of general obligation bonds that will need to paid back with interest. If you believe that State funds should not be used to support private facilities.

Who stands to lose if this measure passes:

  • The State of California and therefore taxpayers, as the Bond would have to be repaid with interest, potentially through higher taxes.

Who is opposing:

League of Women Voters of California and other organizations .

More in-depth information at KQED , Ballotpedia, Voter’s edge

PROP 8: Limits on Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative

What is the deal?  This is an initiated state statute, an initiative that seeks to cap the revenue of dialysis clinics to a maximum of 15% over the amount spent on each patient’s treatment. If passed, this measure requires that all revenue above 115% of direct patient care must be reimbursed to private insurance companies or individuals in the form of yearly rebates. The measure would also prohibit clinics from discriminating against patients based on their method of payment.

Bear in mind:

  • Nearly 80,000 Californians with afflicted kidneys need dialysis three times a week.
  • 72% of dialysis clinics in California are controlled by just two for-profit companies called DaVita and Fresenius.
  • This measure does not cap the the amount spent on direct patient care service, it only limits the revenue that companies make out of each clinic.
  • Dialysis clinics are underpaid by Medical and Medicaid and therefore try to recover costs by overcharging private insurance companies
  • Dialysis companies claim that revenue caps might force them to shut down some of their clinics and this will affect patients who critically need the service.
  • This measure, if voted in, will be a groundbreaking regulation in the healthcare industry and is being watched by interest groups all over the country.

Vote YES if you support a 15% revenue cap on dialysis companies so that the companies prioritize life saving treatments for patients– if they want to keep their profit margins.

Who benefits:  

  • Patients suffering from kidney ailments who might face lower costs and better care if the dialysis companies spend more on improving care and take in less revenues
  • The The SEIU-UHW West, a labor union which has been trying to unionize the dialysis industry and have asked for legislative regulation of the industry in the past and have failed in their attempts.

Who is sponsoring:

SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West

Supporters: Californians for Kidney Dialysis Patient Protection  

California Democratic Party, Labor Unions and many other Organizations.

Total raised by sponsors:  $18.86 million

Vote NO if you feel that the proposed revenue cap is too arbitrary and it would force dialysis companies to shut down clinics that are critical to kidney patients. Or if you agree with regulation, but strongly feel that such radical regulations should be brought about through careful legislation and not through ballot initiatives.

Who is opposing:

California Republican Party, Medical Associations, healthcare clinics and firms

Who stand to lose if measure passes:

  • DaVita and Fresenius who own and manage 72% of the dialysis industry. The average profit margin for dialysis clinics in California is 17% — nearly five times as high as an average hospital in California.
  • Kidney patients, some of whom might lose access to dialysis clinics nearby if the companies decide to shut down clinics due to reduced profit margins.

Total raised by opposition: $111.02 million

More in-depth information at KQED, Ballotpedia, Voter’s edge, Institute of Governmental Studies, UC Berkely

Proposition 11: Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative

What is the deal? This  initiated state statute is a preemptive proposition by the ambulance industry, paramedics and EMTs. If passed, ambulance companies would be exempt from 2016 labor laws passed by the California Supreme Court that mandates uninterrupted breaks for workers and also requires employers to pay workers at their regular rates during breaks. This initiative requires ambulance companies to provide additional training and some paid mental health services to EMTs and paramedics. The measure also seeks to void pending worker liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for violations (past industry practice of on-call meals and rest breaks) of labor laws passed in 2016.

Bear in mind:

  • Currently ambulance personnel do not take off-duty breaks. This measure will simply preserve the status quo and allow the ambulance industry to write its own law as opposed to following current labor laws.
  • According to current labor laws, workers are entitled to a half hour meal break and two ten minute rest breaks during their shift.
  • Providing uninterrupted breaks would mean ambulance companies have to staff 25% more ambulances to cover those on break, costing $100 million per year. These costs will trickle down eventually to health care customers.
  • However, ambulance personnel are first responders who perform in gruelling and pressure filled schedules, often dealing with life and death situations. Denying them uninterrupted breaks may not improve public safety.
  • The measure would not apply to EMTs and paramedics who work for public agencies, such as fire departments.

Vote YES if you think it should be written into law, that like police officers, (and other essential public safety personnel,) EMTs, paramedics, life flight helicopter crews and 911 dispatchers should remain reachable during their breaks and be paid to do so.

Who benefits:

  • Patients with serious emergencies who can get care fastest if the nearest crew is not on an uninterrupted break.
  • Healthcare customers avoid additional costs incurred by ambulance companies who have to hire additional staff to cover those on break.
  • EMTs and Paramedics who will get paid for being on-call during breaks. They will also receive additional training and paid mental health services.

Who is sponsoring:

Total raised by sponsors: $ 29.93 million.

Vote NO if you want private ambulance companies to follow the same labor laws as everybody else. If you feel this a highly stressful job and that EMTs and paramedics must be given breaks to eat and decompress while not being on call. If you do not want the ambulance industry to be able to write their own laws, then you will need to vote “No.”

Who is opposing:

Who stand to lose if the measure passes:

  • Ambulance employees who have liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for continuing to violate labor laws after the 2016 Supreme Court mandate for providing uninterrupted breaks for workers. These lawsuits and future ones will be voided if Prop 11 passes as this measure states that the past industry practice of on-call meal and rest breaks was allowable. .
  • EMTs and paramedics lose their chance of getting uninterrupted breaks to decompress and be at their best for the next call
  • Ambulance personnel will continue to have their breaks interrupted sometimes by less serious calls–one of the reasons why negotiations broke down between labor union and ambulance industry.

More background and analysis at Legislative Analyst’s Offfice, Ballotpedia, KQED

Vaishnavi Sridhar has a Masters in English and a penchant for the written word. She is also a theater/film enthusiast and on a given day, you might catch her on stage performing in a Telugu/Tamil/English play, or waxing eloquent on socially relevant topics on her Facebook page. Vaishnavi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and you can reach her atcatchup.vaishnavi@gmail.com

Date/Time Event
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 21, 2018 - Dec 15, 2018
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Learn to Meditate Class
Learn to Meditate Class
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose CA
Nov 14, 2018
7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Book event on Kolam
Book event on Kolam
Mrs. Dalloway’s Books, Berkeley CA
Nov 14, 2018
10:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Desi Comedy Night
Desi Comedy Night
Hollywood Improv Comedy Club, Los Angeles CA

Delivering Diasporic Diwali Dreams: A Story, An Epic

 

My parents moved from the South Asian subcontinent to the North American continent in the mid-1960s, never to again celebrate Diwali in the country of their birth.  But over the past 50 + years, they’ve never failed to light diyas, do pujas, enjoy mithais, and convey Shubh Diwali to their loved ones.  

This is how Mom and Papa conveyed their sense of Diwali to me:  As detailed in the Ramayana, one of India’s two magnificent epics, a royal couple – Prince Rama and Princess Sita – are banished from their homeland, Ayodhya.  With Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, they spend 14 years in exile during which Sita was kidnapped by Lanka’s demon king, Ravana. The arc of the story is how the brothers, supported by well-wishing devotees such as the monkey God, Hanuman, rescue Sita and return home to Ayodhya.  The jubilant citizens of their homeland excitedly welcome Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana by lighting diya oil-lamps on the night of the new moon, Amavashya.  Sweets and gifts are distributed as Ayodhya celebrates with firework and dance. This is the delightful, somewhat facile story of good triumphant over evil.  There are alternative narratives, including those which privilege Sita’s perspective, Lakshmana’s role, and Hanuman’s point of view; there is even a reading which is sympathetic to Ravana’s plight.  Also quite interesting is how other goddesses and gods make their way into the celebration. As the victory of good over evil is said to bring prosperity, the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, is worshipped.  And with King Rama rightfully back on his throne, Lord Ganesha represents a new start for Ayodhya. But for the diasporic traveler that I am, the story of Diwali is ultimately about desh and pardesh – home and away – and how we reconcile the two.

Bombay Baby and Calcutta Maybe

Although my parents had a comfortable life in Bombay (not yet called Mumbai by English newspapers), Papa left for Ontario, Canada in early 1965 as a scout of sorts, to get a lay of the snowy-white new land that would pave the path to more prosperity.  Mom stayed back in Mulund, Bombay with her four children, awaiting the green light to move the family across the kala pani, the dark waters that her father insisted would result in familial fracture.  While that feared fracture never quite happened, India and Pakistan fought yet another of the subcontinent’s internecine wars which ended days before Diwali, 1965.  With our parents separated by an ocean, my brothers, sister, and I tried to make sense of our changing world: windows of our apartment flat in Mulund were darkened with brown paper to ensure that Pakistani fighter planes could not see the light inside our home; my elder brother, who was then not yet ten years old, had to fight his way home from school one day when all the trains and buses stopped, causing great worry for Mom; and my five-year-old self fought with inner demons at night as I would sleepwalk throughout our 3rd-floor flat looking out of our balcony for my absent father.

I imagine that Papa and Mom telepathically communicated all these troubles along with their more hopeful visions in the way of young people in love separated by long distances.  While it seems inconceivable to me that Papa sent any poems to Mom during festive nights away from home and family, perhaps we can do a bit of revisionist history and dream that he sent a few lines from Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” (1981):

Home. These walls, this sky

Splintered with wakes of light

These mud-lamps beaded round

The eaves, this festive night,

 

These streets, these voices…yet

The old insensate dread,

Abeyant as that love,

Once more shifts in my head.

 

After the war was over, on the eastern side of India that makes the shape of its map look like a woman holding a sari aloft on her outstretched arm, there was a girl about my age who was celebrating Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali.  While the rest of her family members in diya-lit Calcutta had their eyes closed during the Lakshmi puja, praying to the Goddess of Wealth, this bold lass saw her mother’s jewelry on a silver tray and quietly hid the jewels so as to protect them from anyone who might not be a well-wisher for the family’s prosperity.  But as open as that girl’s watchful eyes were, they could not have been as open as my own eyes when Mom prepared me for our flight to Canada.

Canadian Cold

Our stay in Chatham, Ontario was a makeshift one, with the only other South Asian family in our town being the Hasnains from Pakistan.  In those early years there were no Indian grocery stores close to home, though there was an uncle who owned a French-Indian restaurant in a nearby city.  My memories of Diwali celebrations in Chatham are blurred by the struggles of my parents making their way in the world. Both would work multiple jobs including picking tomatoes as farm hands, Mom sewing clothes as a tailor, and during an economic downturn Papa, trained to be a procurement manager, was laid off from a multinational firm and took on odd jobs as a security guard and then as an orderly at a mental hospital.  All I can really remember about India was the pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal and blue aerogrammes to and from family back home in Rajasthan.

For those of you not old enough to know about aerogrammes, kindly follow these instructions:\

  • Find a thin, lightweight piece of blue paper approximately the size of 8 ½”  x 11” printer paper.
  • Fold into three sections as if you were enclosing it in an envelope (if you are too young to know what an envelope is, please proceed to the Silicon Valley part of this article).
  • The top fold is for parents to pay respect to elders in India, write that “all izz well” in Canada, and for special holidays wish everyone “Happy Diwali,” “Happy Holi,” or “Happy Raksha Bandhan.”  Just keep things joyous, suggesting that Goddess Lakshmi is smiling upon us in this land of milk and honey. Hidden from family in India are the hardships, the hard facts of our cold Canadian Diwali;  no time with an uncle who was too busy with his restaurant, no agarbati to fill our home with sandalwood incense, no exploding firecrackers to let neighbors know about “our Christmas,” no flickering diyas to guide Lakshmi to our home, no shining new jewelry or dhan except the maple-leaf pennies that my parents earned; all we had were the six of us performing the puja around a silver coin of Lakshmi safeguarded from India,  our foreheads dotted with kumkum powder carried in Mom’s suitcase as a vermilion reminder of our ancestry, and our mouths sweetened with saffron-less rice pudding pretending to be kheer with wrinkled black raisins substituted for plump golden ones.  
  • The middle fold is for more serious matters:  replying to previous requests to send more money; sharing news about children’s educational accomplishments; and deferring the visit home to Rajasthan with a “we will soon return when we have accrued enough vacation” (while never disclosing that Goddess Lakshmi’s smile has been a bit pinched, and we don’t have funds for tickets to fly back to India; the illustration of an airplane on the front of the aerogramme is as close as we’ll come to a flying machine for almost a decade).
  • And squeezed into the bottom fold on the inside of the aerogramme is space for the elder two siblings to write their pranams; inevitably the respectful salutations bow down to the end of the page and climb over to the other side where the younger two siblings (my younger brother and myself) write in larger font to grandparents, uncles, and aunts whose fully-fleshed memories slip away into two-dimensional black and white photos.
  • Lastly, the address section on the front has Papa’s confident upper case hand-written memory of his or Mom’s village homes, before the gummy edges of the paper are moistened with parental saliva, pressed together, and the aerogramme is dropped in a mailbox.

 

Chicago Communities

After Papa was laid off from his job, he explored an opportunity in Chicago.  In the same year that Apollo 11 made like a powerful Diwali firecracker and rocketed the first men to the moon, our family made like Diwali phuljharis and sparkled our way to the United States.  While the Windy City was as cold as Ontario, its Midwestern heart felt so much warmer.  Cosmopolitan Chicago had universities with graduate students from India, had a group of Gujarati friends that reminded Papa of Pravin Parikh, his best friend in Bombay, had a Patel Brothers grocery store to cater to the growing Indian population, and even had a Hindu temple.

In Chicago, Mom found other women who wore saris everyday, just as she had in Canada and would continue to do for decades in the United States.  But these were not Indian women whose jet-black hair flowed down to their waists over the saree’s pallu.  They were fair-haired wannabe gopis of the ISKCON movement.  But no matter, my parents had a temple, albeit a temple shared with former hippies chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” And we had a place to go on Diwali, before returning home to feast with newfound friends and dance in dandia circles.

Just as Papa and Mom built an Indian community that enabled them to recreate a semblance of what they had left behind, their children turned toward another community, playing baseball with our American friends and singing rock-and-roll songs that our parents did not appreciate.  Filial piety demanded that we attend family pujas, but while Mom and Papa celebrated Diwali with their friends, we rolled our eyes during prayers and began to surreptitiously make fun of our parents’ friends’ funny clothes and oily hair, and, out of adult earshot, mimicking the thick Gujarati accents in a way that presaged Hank Azaria’s diminishing Apu character on The Simpsons by a couple of decades.  We were becoming defiantly Americans while steadfastly remaining loyal to, and protective of, our parents’ core values.  

As the years went by, it appeared that Yankee defiance might win out:  Blue jeans left no space in our closets for kurtas and pyjamas; Hollywood pushed Bollywood into the distant background; and for a while it seemed that television families like “The Brady Bunch” were the norm that we aspired to.  The so-called “boob tube” delivered cultural context and our Americanized tongues became more comfortable saying “Happy Thanksgiving” rather than “Shubh Diwali.”  While my parents did not overtly show anxiety around cultural loss, it must have seemed to them that their Diwali diyas could not hold a candle to Nat King Cole’s Christmas lights accompanied by chestnuts roasting on an open fire; while the former was easily extinguished, the latter illuminated much more of our Midwestern zeitgeist.  It was as if Vikram Seth’s poem about Diwali was describing the cultural conflict between my birthright and the ascendant West’s claim on my impressionable teenage years.

Macaulay the prophet of learning

Chewed at his pen: one taste

Of Western wisdom “surpasses

All the books of the East,”

 

And Kalidas, Shankaracharya,

Panini, Bhaskar, Kabir,

Surdas sank, and we welcomed

The reign of Shakespeare.

Silicon Valleys

College was a turning point.  The summer before my freshman year, our family returned to Rajasthan to celebrate the weddings of my two older siblings.  I returned to the U.S. with a commitment to learn about India, to be more of an Indian, to never remove my janoi, the sacred thread with which I had been invested days before my elder brother’s wedding.  At college, only the Indian graduate students seemed to know anything about our shared heritage.  There were three other undergraduate Indians in my freshman class, and all of them were on the right side of the Indian-American hyphen.  It was only through coursework in Indian history, political science, art, religion, and anthropology that I found my way back to my own Indian identity.  And then there was Satayjit Ray’s Apu Trilogy that clinched the deal with its masterful cinematic verisimilitude.  On my road to self-discovery, I discovered Pather Panchali, the Song of the Little Road.  I fell in love with village India and with the Bengali aesthetic.  I saw Diwali through Apu’s eyes in Aparajito (The Unvanquished), the second of these three classic films.  I found a way to vanquish my years of exile from India.

Upon graduation from college, I returned to India for my own wedding.  I married Mangla, that not-quite Bengali girl who in the mid-1960s had safeguarded her mother’s jewelry on Dhanteras.  Through the years, my wife has taught me more about Diwali then all the professors, books, films, and years that preceded her.  Like so many mothers before her, Mangla has safeguarded much more than shiny baubles. She has kept alive the traditions of our ancestors and passed them along to our children and their spouses like a treasure that can be held only in one’s heart.

It is true that we no longer wait twelve days for our Diwali letters to cross the ocean and do the postal handshake/namaskar.   Yes, we’ve been blessed by Silicon Valley innovations like email, Skype, and WhatsApp that enable us to have our Diasporic Diwali dreams delivered to us in an instant.   And for those of us who are old-school, we now even have a Diwali stamp should we be inspired to send our loved ones Diwali greetings that consist of more than ephemeral bits and bytes.  

Of course, the number of Indians in North America has gone up exponentially through the years.  Unlike my parents and the Hasnain family of 1960s Chatham, Mangla and I have nearly a dozen Indian families living within walking distance from our Palo Alto home, each celebrating their own vision (and each other’s version) of Diwali/Deepavali; North India, South India, East India, and West India all centered around our California abode.  Despite our neighborly friendships, our past has its hold on us and we hold on to vestiges of ancestral tribalism with our RANAs (Rajasthan Association of North America), GCANAs (Gujarati Cultural Association of North America), TANAs (Telegu Association of North America), CABs (Cultural Association of Bengal), and more.

To be sure, there have been some clunker Diwali celebrations like the RANA function in the early 1990s when I read aloud  every word of Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” poem, leading almost the entire audience to head for the food before it was ready (I think Mangla was the only one who listened to me! )  But we’ve come a long way, crossing the bridge between here and there. Here might be Morgan Hill, and there might be Mt. Abu. Perhaps here is modernity, and there is tradition.  And courtesy of our multiple and virtual Silicon Valleys that are anywhere, here and there could be everywhere, facilitating the building of our own Rama setus, our own bridges to (re)discover the loves of our lives. And we merely need a diya to light the sky, to show us the way back home to make peace with our disquieted heart.

It holds me-till the strain

Of exile, here or there,

Subverts the trance, the fear

Of fear found everywhere.

 

“But freedom?” the notes would sing…

Parole is enough. Tonight

Below the fire-crossed sky

Of the Festival of Light.

 

Give your soul leave to feel

What distilled peace it can;

In lieu of joy, at least

This lapsing anodyne.

 

“The world is a bridge. Pass over it,

Building no house upon it.”

Acceptance may come with time;

Rest, then disquieted heart.

Rajesh Oza truly hopes one day soon to celebrate Diwali in India, perhaps with a grandchild in tow.  As Founder and President of OrganiZationAlignment Consulting Group, Inc., he specializes in helping senior executives better align their organizations to achieve success.

 

Rakesh Dasgupta: Rocky Road of Passion

Rakesh Dasgupta is an actor, and his own checkered life and journey through three countries and five cities has the potential to make a movie. Having lived in Kolkata, Brisbane, Townsville, and Sydney so far, currently based in Los Angeles, the 34-year-old actor and writer is focused on chasing his lifelong dream, acting. Rakesh is one among many of the Indian-heritage creatives waiting for that crucial big-entry ticket into Hollywood. He is peddling his award-winning script Shiva around and wants to play the lead role.

“There is no way they will cast me, a ‘nobody’.  When I refer to Sylvester Stallone and Rocky, I am told he was an exception. You hardly see movies with Indian characters in the lead. Those that have, star established celebrities. I have been told even if my screenplay rocks, makers would change it, mold it, I would just be given money for it and sent out the door,” says Rakesh.

Ask him what a typical day looks like for a struggler in La La Land and he says, “I wake up and go to the gym first thing, unless I have an early morning audition. The rest of my time is devoted to sustaining myself through casual work.” The actor works hard at maintaining his sexy abs and a healthy, toned body. “I have to look appealing so I work out diligently, and eat 6 times a day. Plain rice and boiled chicken is all I eat,” shares Rakesh.

Being in LA was lonely and depressing, which Rakesh turned into his strength. “Week after week, I was alone in my room. Knew no one. I needed a body of work for my visa, or I would have to return to Australia. To combat my loneliness, I started writing. I thought of a story and converted it into a 120-page screenplay,” says Rakesh. “My lead character is a South Asian movie star in Hollywood who struggles to hide his troubled family history as his advancing terminal illness threatens to destroy an unfolding romance.”

“I sent my written work to some Hollywood screenplay specialists. They said it sucked, that I am a bad writer, non-writer, that I should study screenplay writing,” he says.

Meanwhile, Rakesh also sent submissions to film festivals and won best screenplay awards at Top Indie Film Awards, New York Film Awards, Global Film Festival, Los Angeles Cinefest, and Los Angeles Film Awards. However his biggest award will be when the movie gets made, “People like the idea but when I say I want to play the lead, they back off.”

Delve into his past, and he reveals he had the lure for acting since higher secondary in Kolkata where he grew up. His dream of enrolling himself at Film Institute of India, Pune, was thwarted by his parents. “They were influential and ‘high society’ with connections to ministers and income tax commissioner. My parents thought I was crazy as I used to talk to the mirror practicing acting, and they put me on high doses of anti-psychotic medication, meant for Schizophrenia. I was 18 then, and became timid and highly dependent on them,” he shares.

Rakesh could only sign up for Bachelor of Arts at Kolkata University. “It was a start. I matured a bit, started interacting with people, going out, getting a little bit of freedom. My head was clearer.” In 2007, he convinced his parents and escaped to Australia to study. He has a double Masters in Applied Finance and Accountancy from University of Queensland, Brisbane, to show for that period.

Interestingly, despite an English Honors, his spoken English was zero. “I could write but I couldn’t understand anyone and couldn’t speak and couldn’t get a job. So I worked as a dishwasher and a cleaner, and even cleaned my own university campus,” he says.

“I would have liked to come directly to US but at the time, this was the only option. Life caught up and I almost gave up on my dream. My brain went in a different direction. I have been through phases of high addiction: the pills my parents had got me onto, drugs, drinking and smoking. Then I thought I could lead the “regular” life. So I cleaned up my act, started training and working as a policeman, got myself a secure government job,” says Rakesh.

“However, once the effects of my various addictions wore out, my passion for acting came back. By this time, my English was perfect so I finally decided to move to Sydney in 2013,” he says.

It was an overnight decision, but he was on the right path. After a couple of meetings with other agents, he found Therese Clifford, from TCM Agency, who agreed to represent him. “She sent me to auditions, I did a few commercials and small roles, supporting roles, and built up my resume for two years. But there weren’t good roles. In 2016, my small, six-minute role in an Australian film Down Under got me some attention. It wasn’t an important role but the acting part was important; it was hard-core acting,” he says.

“In 2015, Therese took me to LA for two weeks and introduced me to agencies, managers, acting teachers, casting directors. They liked my performance but I had to come back. In 2017, I moved here to LA finally. Therese helped me with my visa, sponsor, attorney, everything.”

Although he hasn’t done any serious acting except for a short film In The Air, Rakesh is keeping his hopes up, “I still don’t have an agent and a manager. I had exhausted my savings once more, it was hard to settle into a new city yet, with shared flats, and hostels. But now, I have a place to live, and my routine.”

This time, Rakesh is set on his goal and intends to get there on his own terms. He is in control of his life, which he has kept lean and simple. Though a work of fiction, his screenplay has shades of his own life. Rakesh believes no other actor can play the role better than him. The ingredients seem right, we know how Hollywood loves the underdog to winner stories. Will the stars shine for this one?

City of stars
Are you shining just for me?
City of stars…
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?
(Song from La La Land. Songwriters: Justin Hurwitz / Benj Pasek / Justin Noble Paul)

 

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women, and social equity.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

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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.

Beware the Golu Pictures are Coming: The Surreal Wives of New Jersey

Come each autumn, armies of clay demigods in Star Ledger wraps, break hibernation and rise like a set of rudely awoken cross swarm of mummies. They rise from Rubbermaid boxes deep in the basements of South Indian homes, unleashing long-mouthed maelstroms of hysteria behind seemingly tranquil residential hedges of Jersey suburbia. They take control of the owners, suck their life force and demand human sacrifice. The jolly Dravidian festival of dolls is here!

Little did the Hindu warrior goddess know when she slayed Mahisha, the buffalo demon of yore, that she will let loose generations of neurotic Ninja Navratri Nymphs. From Mylapore to Manalapan. From Punjabi Bagh to Princeton Junction. Babes without Borders get ready for the biggest soirée of the season.

The galactic Golu gala wars begin. Just think a good ol’ fashioned Christmas Light Fight. Times 10.

Pre-battle strategies, infantry tactics, ground intelligence and stealth attacks. Surreptitious dashes to snatch the last remaining limited edition Ganesha wearing a “Fake News” cap, from the shelves of the best stocked store in Little India. Flanking maneuvers at the local Patel Cash and Carry check out lines to score fresh arrivals. Surveillance missions to Hobby Lobby to case out the latest crafting merchandise. Enhanced interrogation techniques at preceding gatherings to assess competition. Intuitive paranoia helps!

Reconnaissance complete, weeks before celebrations start, a theme is set. Dussehra can be devoid of Durga, but never of a designer dream, duh!

It’s that witching hour of the year. Men look askance and quietly despair as their year-long docile consorts morph into Kafkaesque Maha Kalis. Tyrannical Project Managers, with unrealistic deadlines, burgeoning budgets & scope creep.

Distraught, desperate Indian husbands dispatched on missions. Lost in the lonely lanes of Lowes. Looking for joist hangers, welding equipment, paint sprayers, cinder blocks and plywood to do their wives’ bidding. Other than the perfunctory mainstay of idols arranged on odd numbered steps, miniature cities need to be planned, parks designed, bridges and aqueducts built.

Golu displays across homes show off mini Epcots and Jurassic Parks; Shanghai high rises and the Stone Henge; the Pyramids and Tatooine; Mohenjadaro and Harappan civilizations. Repurposed Bratz dolls in wedding palanquins; the Death Star hovering as the Pushpa Vimanam; Captain America and Iron man dueling in the Kurukshetra war; a makeshift Paan stall on a bar cart; a Nexo knight as Bahubali, Thomas the Tank engines are now under Indian Railways Management! Cross-Franchise innovation! Papier-mâché beauty and beasts, menageries, tribal chieftains, royalty, seers, leaders and ordinary men rub shoulders with the Gods on stairways to Heaven.

Kalamkari Kanchanas, Sungudi Saraswatis and Pochampalli Padmas sashay around, blinging with recent summer purchases; air rife with scents of sandal, scandal and sundal.

Braggart parents egging on their hapless star kids to flaunt skills in front of long suffering, captive gods and guests.
Model UN debate speeches on “The Weaponization of Modern Media” and Pythagorean theorems drown out strains of Mayamalavagowla and Poorvi Kalyani.

Chauffeured by spouses cooling their wheels on gridlocked driveways, golu-hopping ladies compare charities, ailments and dysfunctional in-laws; show off new babies and their latest Model S Teslas; their boutique vacations and oh we were in the same resort as Ashton Kutcher gossip! Not for the faint of heart, when the lionesses prowl free, timid men take refuge in underground bunkers, surfacing gingerly, like subs, only in friendly waters. For some love and lentils.
I remember when my dad, brother and I used to help my mom set up modest Golu steps balanced on saved stacks of The Hindu, cardboard boxes & biscuit tins from the pantry. Her only stock of Bombay Rava trapped beneath the gods for nine whole days. The formulaic “park” with powdered-coal roads skirting match-stick fences on freshly sprouted fenugreek fields. A mandatory sand dune hill with a hollowed out tunnel glowing crimson with an oil lamp. Newspaper-wrapped spicy steamed legume favors – stained with tradition’s indelible ink.

Gone are those halcyon days. Now, healthy one-upmanship carries on to the dining table. These are the times of Chundal Bruschetta, Chili and Chaat. Favors wrapped in recycled Etsy cinch sacks. Non-Stepfordian hostesses, nostalgia traps and product placements. Quirky juxtapositions of creativity and camp; glamor and gleeful bad taste. FB events, Whatsapp snubs and online jilts.

Gotta go..I have 32 Interested and 88 Going. A guest of a guest wants to know if my buffet will be vegan and peanut free! For her Alaskan malamute

Usha Srinivasan is a FB blogger (Flogger©), IT professional, artist, home decor and not-so-haute cuisine enthusiast. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her loving husband and their heiress and spares. 

First printed in October 2017.

 

 

 

Gujarathi Kadhi With Pumpkin

In the SF Bay Area, sometimes the only clear signal that the season is changing is the arrival of new fruits and vegetables in the market. Sweet summer produce such as corn and stone fruits are replaced by root vegetables and big squashes such as bright orange pumpkins—as if nature is preparing us for autumn’s cooler temperatures and reduced daylight by offering vegetables with an abundance of vitamin A for eyesight, and the nutrients and fiber needed to support the immune system.

recipes_pumpkin

Pumpkins have a history as an edible fruit in many ancient cultures. They are native to Central America and Mexico, but have spread all over the world. Pumpkins come in all different colors and sizes. The familiar color is orange, but some varieties of pumpkin are even green, white, or even pale blue!  While we associate pumpkins with massive sizes, (the current record holder for the biggest pumpkin weighed almost a ton!) there are some tiny varieties too.

Perhaps due to their large and colorful appearance, pumpkins have been woven into fairy tales of almost every continent. In fact there is even a variety known as the fairy tale pumpkin.

In the United States, pumpkins are used as carved decorations for Halloween, but these pumpkins are not ideal to cook with. For soup, pies, bread, or a stew the sugar pie pumpkin works best. It is less stringy than larger varieties and its meat is sweet and fine grained. For a soup recipe, select a medium-sized pie pumpkin with a bright orange skin that weighs about 2 to 3 pounds.

In addition to being easy and gratifying to cultivate, pumpkin is also very nutritious. It is low in fat and sodium and high in other important nutrients.

Pumpkins are easy to cook. They can be either baked or steamed. To bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the pumpkin lengthwise into two halves. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and strings. (Seeds can be saved, roasted, and served as a healthy snack.) Oil the surfaces inside and outside the pumpkin and set the halves on a baking sheet with the cut side down. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the meat is soft when a fork is inserted, but still firm enough to be cut into chunks.

To steam, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove seeds and strings. Steam the two halves in a steamer for about 20 minutes. Cook them just enough to loosen the skin while keeping the flesh firm and intact. Cool, peel, and cut into chunks.

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


Gujarati Kadhi with Pumpkin

Some food historians believe that the word “curry” came from a British mispronunciation of the name of a yogurt soup called kadhi. In Gujarat in northwestern India, kadhi is considered a comfort food. It can clear the sinuses and relieve other symptoms of the common cold. It is easy to digest and can lift your spirits when you are feeling down. Kadhi is a simple, light soup with a sauce-like consistency that is made with lots of water, some yogurt or coconut milk, and a bit of garbanzo flour. Other ingredients such as peanuts, green beans, okra, yams, or pumpkin can be added to embellish the soup.

    Ingredients   
2 cups cooked pumpkin, cut into
small cubes
6 to 7 cups water
1 ½ to 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons besan (garbanzo flour)
¼ teaspoon each turmeric and
coriander powder
2 cloves of minced garlic mixed
with ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
and made into a paste using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mild cooking oil such as
corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, or
peanut oil
¼ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 whole red chilies
A large pinch of asafetida
A few fresh curry leaves and/or 1 table spoon of chopped cilantro
Whisk together water, yogurt, garbanzo flour, powdered spices, and salt until smooth. Add the garlic/cayenne paste. Bring the mixture to a boil in a pot, then turn the heat down. Cook for 15 minutes stirring constantly until the soup has a creamy texture. Add the pumpkin and continue to cook for a few minutes.

For the final step, in a separate small pot, heat the oil and then add the mustard and cumin seeds. After the seeds start to pop, add the chilies and the asafetida. Stir, and then add this smoking mixture to the pot of kadhi. Cover immediately, and keep it covered for five minutes.

Taste, correct for saltiness, and top with fresh curry leaves and/or cilantro. Serve hot with rice and/or bread. Instruct the diners to remove the whole chilies and curry leaves, or you can take them out as you are serving.

Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk

Thai food can be very similar to Indian food in flavor. This recipe was modified with a memory of a soup I had in South India and by mixing a few Thai recipes until I came up with a version which is especially quick to prepare. If you are using canned pumpkin or previously prepared steamed or baked pumpkin, it can be ready in 25 minutes!

Ingredients
2 cups freshly made pumpkin puree
or 1 15 oz can of puree
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, any type
2 cups water
2 cups or one 15 oz can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons of prepared Thai
red curry paste (found in specialty
or health food stores)
or prepare your own curry paste
with the following ingredients

Thai red curry paste

1 or 2 red dry chilies or 1 teaspoon
cayenne
1 stalk of lemon grass chopped into
small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
or white parts of green onion
3 cloves of chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon chopped lime peel (skin)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves with
their stems
1 teaspoon each powdered
coriander and powdered cumin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

To prepare the Thai curry paste, place all the above ingredients in the jar of a food processor or a blender and puree into a coarse paste. Store in a glass jar. For this recipe you will need only half of the amount you have made. The remainder can be saved in the refrigerator for upto a week.

Heat the vegetable oil in a pot and add 3 tablespoons of the Thai curry paste you have prepared. (Store-bought paste is denser so you may need less.) Stir-fry for 2 minutes, and add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove any rough fibers of the homemade paste that rise to the surface.
Lower the heat and add the coconut milk. Cook over a moderate heat for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the salt and pumpkin puree. Lower the heat again and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently until the soup thickens to a cream-like consistency. Adjust seasoning, adding more paste if desired. Serve with bread and/or rice.

First printed in October 2011. Original Title – A Sure Sign of Autumn

Kolkata Chicken Biryani

 

Taste of Eastern India by Kankana Saxena, food blogger and photographer.

Biryani is a labor of love. It needs time and attention, which is why I consider it a weekend meal. When you finally open the tight lid and the aroma releases, you will find it worth all the effort.

There are numerous versions of chicken biryani found in Indian cuisine. Kolkata chicken biryani is probably the only one that has big chunks of potatoes in it. Clearly, this shows the Bengalis’ love for potatoes. The story goes that several years back, when biryani was prepared for the king and his friends, the cook ran short of chicken and he added potatoes to increase the volume. Although the chef was worried, it turns out that everybody really liked the extra carb and the new twist. Since then, adding potatoes in biryani became a norm in Kolkata. Whether the story is true or not, meat and potato is always a great combination.

Key Notes: I prefer to prepare biryani with bone-in chicken pieces, because it keeps the meat moist without the risk of overcooking and drying out the chicken. However, you can always go for boneless too. If you choose boneless, then you have to be careful of the cooking time, as it will cook much faster than the time I call for in the recipe directions.

Serves 4

1 tbsp (10 g) cumin seeds

1 tbsp (10 g) coriander seeds

½ tsp black peppercorns

2 cinnamon sticks, divided

5 green cardamom pods, divided

3 bay leaves, divided

1 mace

1 lb (500 g) chicken pieces

1 tbsp (10 g) grated garlic

1 tbsp (8 g) grated ginger

⅓ cup (82 g) thick yogurt

1 tbsp (15 g) salt, divided

⅓ cup (79 ml) milk

½ tsp saffron threads

1 cup (211 g) long-grain basmati rice

2 red onions

Oil, for deep-frying

2 tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

2 tbsp (29 g) ghee, divided

4 cloves

1 star anise

1½ cups (355 ml) water

1 tbsp (15 ml) rosewater (optional)

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced 

Place a pan over medium heat and add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black pepper, 1 of the cinnamon sticks, 3 of the green cardamom pods, 2 of the bay leaves and the mace. Dry roast for a few seconds, and then let the spices cool for a while before grinding to a fine powder.

Place the chicken pieces in a bowl and add half of the ground spice mix, then add the garlic, ginger, yogurt and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Mix everything together and let the chicken marinate for at least 4 hours. Keeping it overnight will enhance the flavor even more.

Pour the milk into a bowl and crush the saffron threads into it. Stir and let the milk infuse for 5 minutes.

Wash the rice several times under running water. This will remove the excess starch. Then leave the washed rice in the colander for about 15 minutes for any excess water to drain out.

Peel the onions and thinly slice them. Half of the sliced onions will be deep-fried and the other half will be used in cooking the chicken.

Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and pour in enough oil to reach a depth of

2 inches (5 cm). Place a kitchen towel on a plate and keep it ready for the fried onions. Once the oil reaches between 325°F and 350°F (163°C and 177°C), add the sliced onion carefully and stir every now and then so the onion gets golden brown evenly. Once the onions turn light golden brown, remove from the hot oil and place on the kitchen towel.

To prepare the chicken, place another heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat and add in the

vegetable oil. When the oil heats up, add the quartered potatoes and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt. Fry for 5 minutes, tossing and turning. Transfer the potatoes to a separate bowl.

To the same pan, add the remaining sliced onion, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and cook the onion for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Then add the marinated chicken and cook for 10 minutes, tossing and turning every now and then. Turn off the heat once the chicken is partially cooked.

Place another heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the ghee. Once it heats up, add the remaining 1 cinnamon stick, remaining 1 bay leaf, remaining 2 cardamom pods, cloves and star anise. Allow the spices to sizzle for a while and then add the washed rice. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and stir the rice. Let the rice roast for a couple of minutes, then pour in the water. Let the rice cook for 15 minutes or until it’s half cooked.

Now finally, to prepare the biryani, preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a large ceramic ovenproof bowl with some ghee. Layer half of the partially cooked chicken, and top it with half of the partially cooked rice. Arrange half of the fried potatoes by pushing them down a little. Add half of the fried onions evenly on top and add ½ tablespoon (7 g) of the ghee, half of the rosewater and half of the saffron milk. Repeat with the remaining chicken, rice, potato, fried onion, ghee, rosewater and saffron milk.

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes or until the rice and chicken are cooked through. Just before serving, top it with the sliced egg and enjoy while it is still warm.

Reprinted with permission from Taste of Eastern India by Kankana Saxena, Page Street Publishing Co. 2018. Photo credit: Kankana Saxena.

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