The Presidio Picnic: India Cultural Day

Grab your picnic blanket and join the Presidio Picnic on September 23 and celebrate with a day of family-friendly activities, international cuisine, and entertainment. The day includes regional Indian dance performances by California Nupur Dance Academy and a live Zumba lesson led by Gigi Hill-Hopkins.

The California Nupur Dance Academy was founded in 2006 by its artistic director, Dipanwita Sengupta.  The academy teaches children and adults the beauty of Kathak, one of the six classical dances of India. The word katha, which comes from the Sanskrit meaning story or tale, can be traced back to Vedic times.The academy currently teaches more than 100 students who will showcase the stunning color and intricate grace of Indian dance.

Crowd-favorite DUM Truck will serve fresh Indian soul food classics such as chicken biryani, paneer kati rolls and mango lassis, and will do a special dish especially for this event: Chicken Tikka Masala with roasted mustard seed quinoa .

The Sunday celebration is part of the Presidio Picnic’s Cultural Dance Series which celebrates a different culture each month by showcasing ethnic dance, and highlighting international cuisine. Come gather with community, and stay to discover all that the Presidio has to offer. Presidio Picnics also offers a complimentary bike valet, lawn games, 40+ food trucks, and fun for all ages! Presidio Picnic is presented by the Presidio Trust in a partnership with Off the Grid.

The Presidio Picnic Indian Cultural Dance Day will be held at the Presidio’s Main Parade Ground on Sunday, September 23, 2018 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM, with special performances by the CA Nupur Dance Academy at 12 and 2pm.

For additional information check out: https://www.presidio.gov/presidio-picnic or call:  415-561-4323

Presidio Picnic Flyer

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Your Digital Future Is Being Built In The Lab

Twenty five years from now, the Autonomous Intelligence and deep learning created world, which is being shaped in the labs as we speak, will be one that is no longer limited by our imagination. If you can dream it, you can achieve it, we were told. Now the machines are dreaming up a world for us by aggregating behaviors, thoughts and actions of millions. A crowd-sourced world created by both man and machine working together; a world where man is becoming more machine-like and the machine is becoming more man-like. If you believe people like Kaushik Roy and Anand Raghunathan, professors at Purdue University, who are working to model it, twenty-five years from now, our flat world will be an autonomous one.

The current boom is catalyzed by breakthroughs in an area known as machine learning. It involves “training” computers to perform tasks based on examples, rather than by relying on programming by a human. Going a step further, deep learning has made this approach much more powerful. Using artificial neural networks (ANN), a layered structure of algorithms that mimics a human brain, the machine learns and corrects its own mistakes.

The future that deep learning is crafting is one in which next-generation autonomous intelligent systems will complete tasks without human intervention. Machines will study the world around them, reason, and unearth problems the human brain could not fathom, take decisions and perform actions. In this world, which is not too far away, we will be freed from daily tasks.

As senior citizens, single parents and time-strapped worker-bees, we can look forward to a world where our personal robotic assistant will not only cook and clean for us, but help us dress, bathe, and feed. As the movie Her (2013) would have us believe, they can also be our emotional companions. There will no longer be lonely evenings. Machines will play competitively with us. A constant partner, they will keep an eye on our vitals. Wearables, including smart watches and other technology will provide 24/7 monitoring. Levels of toxicity will be detected in the minutest of concentrations; retina readings by professional super radiologist machines will detect cellular malfunctions when they are barely noticeable. IBM Watson foresees “cognitive assistants” to augment physician expertise and ultimately the ability to diagnose and treat diseases well before symptoms arise. Cancer will die a natural death.

My personal robot will have a natural vegetable and fruit garden to bring farm-to-table cuisine to my table.  Oh yes, I will still have a table, albeit designed and custom 3-D printed to my size and requirements.

Like the red apple on the shelf that looks rosy and shining while quietly dying inside, our bodies too will appear ageless and go to their graves or funeral pyres wrinkle-free, with perfect eyesight and flossed and polished teeth.

The machine will guide us gently through life as we lose our minds with age. We will still send birthday and anniversary greetings to our family, if we have one. Fewer and fewer children will marry. The world of tomorrow will be one when our mates could be our machines. Intelligent dolls will realistically serve up sexual fantasies. On the plus side, this will hopefully reduce instances of rape.

Crime will reduce from fear of ease of detection. Our phone is mapping our face. It will be difficult to lie when the machine can rat on you. Cyber thievery, on the other hand, will cross all borders.

Road accidents will be few and far between as disciplined, steering-wheel-devoid, self-driving cars will navigate us through smooth traffic. A train of trucks will flow through highways led by one intelligent machine.

Instant translation will ease communication. Language will no longer be a barrier.

If the trends of the last twenty years continue in their trajectory, developments in communication and travel will make the world flatter. From days when transatlantic phone calls were prohibitive, to daily good morning whatsapp messages and video phone-calls, we have come a long way. We can walk around each other’s houses in i-beams. “Beam me up Scotty” is a reality. What next? Thanksgiving dinners in virtual living rooms?

Expanding urbanscapes will have very tall smart buildings that will talk to us. By mid-century, futurologist Dr. Ian Pearson believes, buildings will be miles tall and some may be so large that their capacity enables them to function as small cities in their own right. As the buildings rise through the clouds, augmented reality virtual screens will replace windows so people can choose any view they like.  “A Spaceport is also likely at over six miles and even as much as 18.5 miles, using carbon-based materials,” said Dr. Pearson.

In the last twenty-five years, we have seen shorter and shorter travel times. Jet fuels will reduce them further. Advances in software will likely make pilots obsolete in 2045 and flying will become a hobby rather than a profession the same way we ride horses for fun rather than transport today.

Twenty-five years from now, as we age and lose our mind, technology will ensure that the quality of our life will stay fabulous and our far-flung families will have the ability to still join us for dinner.

And did I say we will all speak the same language, man and machine.

Ritu Marwah is the features editor for India Currents and stays current.

Cover photo credit: A Creative Commons image by Steve Johnson.

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

 

Date/Time Event
Sep 1, 2018 - Sep 30, 2018
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
The 90 Year Journey
The 90 Year Journey
Rinconada Library, Palo Alto CA
Sep 27, 2018
5:30 pm
Internetting with Amanda Hess and the New York Times
Internetting with Amanda Hess and the New York Times
Toni Rembe Rock Auditorium, San Francisco CA
Sep 27, 2018
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Science Night
Science Night
Menlo Park Main Library, Menlo Park CA
Sep 28, 2018 - Sep 29, 2018
2:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Queen
Queen
De Anza Visual Performing Arts Center, Cupertino California

Over 200,000 Patels on voter rolls: How does this affect you?

U.S. citizens across the country will soon vote on all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, for 35 U.S. senators and three dozen governorships. The House of Representatives and possibly the Senate are up for grabs.

Given the high stakes, voters would do well to check at least a month ahead of time with their local board of elections to see if they’re still registered to vote. This is especially true for people of color.

The reason is that millions could find their right to vote challenged or taken away under suspicion that they’re trying to vote more than once, largely due to 26 states using the Interstate Voter Crosscheck system, which compares lists of voters in different states and challenges the registration of those whose names come up more than once.

For the 1,166,000 people in the country who share the surname Garcia, this could be a problem. Likewise for the Rodriguezes (1,094,924), Jacksons (708,099), Washingtons (177,386), Kims (262,352), Patels (229,973), Lees (693,023) and Parks (106,696).

Crosscheck, developed in 2005 by Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh as a free service for participating states, promised to detect voter fraud by comparing people’s names, social security numbers and birthdates. Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri first implemented it in 2006.

During his tenure as Kansas’ secretary of state, current GOP gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach expanded Crosscheck to 15 states by 2012 and 29 by 2014 and in 2017 was appointed to a leading role in the White House’s short-lived Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

In 2017, of 98 million voting records Crosscheck analyzed, it deemed 7.2 million potential duplicates, although Crosscheck has yet to produce its first voter fraud conviction. Eight states that originally signed on have since dropped out, citing unreliable data. Nonetheless, it’s still in use in dozens more. Eight of those state have Senate seats up for a vote this year in contests that are expected to be close: Arizona, Nevada, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan. And 19 Crosscheck-using states are voting on their governor for the next four years.

In a 2015 named “The Health of State Democracies,” the Center for American Progress, a nonprofit funded in part by the Gates Foundation, Wal-Mart, Ford Foundation and many others, concluded that the voters Crosscheck tagged for review are disproportionately non-white.

“States participating in the Interstate Crosscheck system risk purging legally registered voters with a significant oversampling from communities of color,” it said, citing the work of journalist Greg Palast, who’s been studying the U.S. voting system since 2000, for the BBC, Al-Jazeera America, Rolling Stone magazine and others and produced a film about it, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

Working with data analyst Mark Swedlund, Palast found that among states using Crosscheck, one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian Americans and one in nine African Americans landed on its list of suspect voters.

“The outcome is discriminatory against minorities,” Swedlund says.

The chief explanation for the racial inequity is that ethnic communities are more likely to share a surname, such as Washington, Lee, Patel or Kim, Palast told Ethnic Media Services.

Swedlund and Palast found that the Crosscheck system seems satisfied that if two people share a common first and last name, they’re suspect. Differences in their birthdate, middle initial, Social Security numbers or suffixes such as “Jr.” and “Sr.” don’t keep registered voters off Crosscheck’s lists.

Not all 7 million people whose names appear on Crosscheck’s lists will be denied a vote, though. For one thing, only 36.4% of the people who were registered to vote even showed up at the polls in 2014. In one survey of elections between 1960 and 1995, the United States ranks dead last in the democracies of the world, with an average turnout of 48%.

Would-be voters whose names are missing from the lists of registered voters will be given what’s called a “provisional ballot,” to be tallied if the voter is ultimately found to have been wrongly left off the lists. Palast, however, skeptical that many provisional ballots are ever counted, refers to them as “placebo ballots.”

Voters eager to cast genuine ballots, then, might want to call their local board of elections well in advance of Nov. 6 to be sure that they’ll be allowed to vote.

In 2018’s highly charged political environment, individual votes may count more than ever. Take, for example, the recent special election for the vacant seat representing Ohio’s 12th congressional district.

In that still undecided Aug. 7 race, 1,200 votes separate Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O’Connor at press time.

Ohio has removed almost 200,000 voters from the rolls because they appeared on the Crosscheck lists.

The margin of victory in the state’s 12th District race may ultimately be found among the 5,048 absentee ballots not yet tallied and the still uncounted 3,435 provisional ballots.

No matter which of the candidates is awarded Ohio’s vacant 12th District Congressional seat based on the August election, voters will get another chance to decide between Balderson and O’Connor in November.

That’s why voters who want to have their voices heard Nov. 6, in Ohio and elsewhere, should call local officials ahead of time to see if any problems have come up with their registration.

This story was published through the support of Ethnic Media Services. 

Vision in Focus Showcases 40 years of Seva Foundation

Photographs that speak of compassion and love, and each photograph conveys more than a thousand words. An amazing showcase of breathtaking photography as the Seva Foundation commemorates its 40th anniversary by organizing a wonderful exhibition of photographs that capture the essence of this relentless fight against preventable blindness around the world. Started off on September 7th, the “Vision in Focus: 40 years of Restoring Sight, A Retrospective” exhibition is open to the public till September 30th at Warehouse 416, Oakland, California.

Photography has been one of the main tools of the organization in raising awareness of communities who struggle with sight. “It was one of the ideas of our staff members to curate a photography exhibition that collectively showcases our 40 years of journey and efforts to prevent blindness and restoring sight around the globe. We have been fortunate enough to have really talented photographers who have donated their work for our cause. They have understood the need and worked along with Seva in raising awareness on vision care and improving lives on a global scale,” said Julie Nestingen, Director of Development, Seva Foundation and also one of the photographers who is participating at the exhibition.

The retrospective gallery displays a beautiful collection of photographs that highlights stories of different communities, who have gained a new perspective on life through the works of Seva. The exhibition features photography from talented photographers like Ellen Crystal, Rebecca Gaal, Jon Kaplan, Julie Nestingen and Joe Raffanti.

“It’s a special kind of gratifying experience to be associated with such a wonderful cause and the Seva foundation. You get to see a different perspective of humanity and being able to capture their moments of happiness is really heartening. Photographs have a better way to convey emotions than words, they tell a story in itself. The before and after photographs of people from the communities who struggle with sight, rightfully defines the impact others can bring on the lives of needy people through their compassionate efforts,” stated Jon Kaplan, one of the photographers who traveled along with the Seva Foundation to different countries in Asia, Africa and South America to capture their admirable service to humanity.

Photography is also considered as an effective method of communication that brushes away the boundaries of language and culture. According to another participating photographer, Rebecca Gaal, “Photography is a way to connect with people especially with those who do not speak the same language. There is a story behind every photograph and it directly conveys and makes people understand the gravity of change one can bring to the lives of other people.”  She was the one who curated the photography exhibition by selecting thirty photographs from the entire collection of 40 years of Seva.

“Seva is an incredible organization that works towards this never-ending struggle and I love to capture their amazing moments. Understanding the lives of people who are struggling with sight and photographing them is a different experience. I really hope that more people get a chance to interact with such communities, create experiences and work towards making a difference in the global world for a greater need,” she added.

Founded in 1978, the Seva Foundation has been working towards restoring sight and eradicating preventable blindness across the globe over the years. Supporting eye care initiatives in more than 20 countries, the Berkeley-based organization offers universal access to healthy vision care through affordable medical treatments and low-cost surgeries. It also partners with local hospitals by empowering them with efficient resources and mentoring them to improve the infrastructure and quality of eye-care services.

“Our aim is to eradicate treatable and preventable blindness across the world. Restoring sight not just helps an individual in leading a better life and achieving more from it, but also benefits the entire family, caretakers or community in having a new outlook towards life. According to the global aging population, the population of blind people is expected to triple in 2050 and we really need to work towards such an important cause,” opined Julie Nestingen.

“Photographs are so compelling and are a great way to tell a story. We expect people to understand the sentiments of different communities across the globe and the vital need through our exhibition as we continue to work towards our relentless fight against preventable blindness around the world,” added the Director.

With an aim of ‘Vision in Focus’, the exhibition not just conveys the remarkable journey of an organization but also gives insights into the lives of people, who are struggling to have at the least a clear image of the world around them. The exhibition is open to public for the whole month of September, showcasing 30 photographs in total from five great photographers.

Suchithra Pillai comes with nearly a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading publications in India and United States. In her spare time, you can find her scribbling down some thoughts on paper, trying to find a rhyme or story out of small things, or expressing her love for dance on stage.

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

Cover photo credit: Joe Raffanti

From Our Sponsors




Ragas Live Festival Returns

Ragas Live is an epic 24-hour, 24-set festival in New York featuring over 60 world-class musicians. A celebration of what The New York Times calls “the Raga Renaissance, flowering in Brooklyn,” the event features both traditional Indian classical music and contemporary cross-cultural collaborations.

As many India Currents readers may know, Indian classical music has a time cycle; certain ragas match the essence of, say, twilight, high noon, or sunrise. Inspired by that raga samay system, our original idea was to create an FM broadcast in NYC which would take the local listeners and those tuning in on the internet on a shared 24 hour/ 24 set journey of sound. Our goal has always been to expand the audience of raga and to provide a platform for those exploring new directions in the music. We have an amazing community of musicians here in New York so when we came up with the idea, over 50 musicians joined us for the first broadcast. After several years of broadcasting in the studio we took the inevitable leap into sharing the experience with a live audience. Last year, we broadcasted from the Rubin Museum of Art and now we will be at Pioneer Works. a sprawling 25,000-foot space with a manicured outdoor area. One can really feel the shift in music and light. It’s an immersive, interactive, magical experience and the music is fresh and exciting.

OUR IMPACT:

The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and New Yorker have all alluded to a musical movement dubbed Brooklyn’s “Raga Renaissance.” Of course, this embarrasses the musicians, who do not claim to be equals to the masters of Akbar’s court, but there is something going on. New diverse audiences are discovering this music, cross-cultural collaborations are creating new forms, and Indian artists born here have space to incorporate more of their full identities into their music. Our 24 track, Ragas Live Retrospective album is basically the soundtrack of this musical movement. We started documenting and nurturing what was going on 3-4 years before most of the press caught on. We never imagined it would all grow so big so quickly, but perhaps in a culture dominated by 24-hour news cycles and twitter sound-byte attention spans, a 24 hour music Raga festival is the perfect antidote.  https://www.ragaslive.org/

David Ellenbogen is founder of the Ragas Live Festival, host of the podcast NYC Radio Live and an Artistic Director and guitarist with Brooklyn Raga Massive.

 

On Feminism

It has been eight months since I started my MFA at Bennington College. In the last eight months I have cooked half a dozen meals. I pack my children lunches and I clean up the kitchen after my husband when he makes dinner for the family after he comes home from working in a Silicon Valley tech company. Cooking has never moved me. Motherhood has—but not the baggage of social dos and donts that accompanied it. I have done fewer play dates than the meals I have cooked in the past few months, and I rarely go to a birthday party. My husband takes the children to their social engagements. “But is this fair?” you might ask and I answer, “It is not about fairness, it is about what moves you as a person and how to keep that flame of what keeps you alive, burning within you, while negotiating roles in an adult world that still largely favors men over women.” My husband has always wanted to be a father—he is a good father. He can play endless rounds of knock knock jokes with our four year old and he helps the older ones with their science projects. I spend a lot of my time reading and writing, finally able to legitimize my interests because I am in graduate school. In the summer I traveled to Yale for a conference, and then to my residency in Bennington. In total, my children saw me for ten days in June. “How can you do it?” some have asked me explicitly and some with judgment in their eyes. “I must do it,” I say, “to stay alive and be the mother I want to be to my children.” Eyebrows are raised, eyes widen in concern for my choices and their possible harmful effects on my children. “What about home cooked meals? And what about clean houses and laundry and the home and the hearth?” I turn to look at my children when I am asked these questions and they see me staring into space and ask me why I am not studying. “Study, mama,” they tell me.

Women, especially those from more traditional societies, are taught many things in childhood. When I was young, I watched the men in my family as they got more opportunities and freedom, and dominated decision-making. Even though my mother did not insist on household duties, I had to get married when I was not ready so that my younger sister could marry, surely as outdated a custom as any. As an immigrant in America without a work visa, I had to stay at home, watch over my children, fold endless mounds of laundry, cook meals while being pregnant or nursing—and lived  entire days with no adult conversation. “What is the big deal?” you might ask again. Millions of women around the world are subjected to conditions that are far worse. And because the world has subjugated women forever, and because women have stifled their voices, wishes and desires, does that mean that it must continue?

Every single day in my life in America, I have missed India but what I have not missed in my American life is freedom. The freedom to be a divorcee without social approbation, the freedom to wear a pair of shorts and run down the street, the freedom to not have to cook, especially when my partner is a better cook than me and a more willing volunteer for the position, to be able to prioritize my studies because that is what calls to me. This is what I want my daughters to learn, to reach out to what calls to them, to work towards that relentlessly, and to find happiness out of prescribed norms. As a parent, we say many things to our children —how to live, how to be, what to do or not to do—but surely nothing must be as real to them as watching how their parents live and struggle. This is what I tell myself when I tire sometimes of waking early to find time for my workouts or assignments; this is what I hope the girls see and will remember when they are women in a world where men largely still get paid more than their women counterparts, where a walk in the night alone in almost every country in the world can still be fraught with danger.

Feminism is a buzzword now. Everywhere one hears it and it is spoken with ferocious pride by those who consider themselves upholding it. But I say, let us just be.  Let us women define for ourselves what it means to be free and if that be to wear a burka, to cook, to write, to be a mother, to not be a mother, to stay married or not to stay married—let us decide, because we women, we have a voice and we are nobody’s fool.

First published in November 2016.

Chandra Ganguly is a MFA student at Bennington College. She writes about the meaning and loss of identity and issues around gender and culture. She lives with her family in Palo Alto, California.

10 Tips for Healthy Eating

Food is one of the sources of prana, our vital energy. When we eat wholesome food, it is digested and metabolized to form the bodily tissues and gives us strength, immunity, and luster. But if the food is not properly digested, it disturbs all the doshas, and ultimately causes disease.

The Three Doshas and Their Role in Health and Disease

Notes from Charaka Samhita

Understanding ‘dosha’ is an integral part of making healthy choices and avoiding disease.

Dosha is a key concept of ayurveda, underpinning a holistic understanding of health and disease.

Good health is the result of a balance of three doshas in the body: vata, pitta, and kapha. They are physiological entities that maintain the proper functioning of the body. Vata actuates all movement and helps with communication and control; pitta carries out digestion and all the metabolic processes;  kapha provides structure, stability, and lubrication. When their balance is disturbed, these same doshas cause disease. The ayurvedic approach to health therefore is to maintain homeostasis of these three dynamic entities.

By choosing healthy foods we can keep doshas in balance. But even the healthiest of foods will not be beneficial if not digested properly. How we eat, and how much, determines whether that food is properly digested to yield its benefits.

Eating Guidelines
Guidelines for proper eating are discussed most lucidly in Charaka Samhita, a 3,000-year-old treatise of ayurveda.

1. Eat warm food because it tastes better; it enhances agni, the digestive fire, and thereby digestion proceeds faster. The warmth of the food helps to regulate vata and kapha, thus facilitating movement of the food down the digestive tract through peristalsis and lubrication.

2. Eat unctuous food (that contains a sufficient amount of fats and oils). This tastes better while also fueling the digestive fire, so the food gets digested quickly. The unctuousness of the food helps in the downward movement of vata. Fats help to build body mass and strength, promote sensory perception, and improve skin complexion.

3. Eat the right amount.
What is the right amount? If you visualize that your stomach has three parts, one part should be filled with solid food, one with liquid, and the third left empty so that the contents can be churned easily. This meal then moves down the gastro-intestinal tract, and gets digested easily and comfortably.

4. Eat only after the previous meal is digested.
This is a guideline that is most often flouted in today’s world of abundance. Temptations lurk everywhere; in refrigerators, pantries, cafes, and parties, beckoning us to indulge. We fool ourselves into thinking that a small snack will not cause any harm because it is a healthy food, or that since it is only a few calories it won’t bust our daily budget. What we don’t check is—Am I feeling hungry at this time? So while the previous meal is still half-digested in the stomach, and we are not really hungry, we eat some more. Now the half-digested previous meal gets mixed with the undigested snack in the stomach. Unable to process these two separately, the stomach empties before digestion is complete. Incompletely digested food quickly increases all the doshas. If our digestive fire is strong, it will help us recover from this abuse. But if this kind of snacking is habitual it is likely to result in an imbalance of doshas that leads to disease. The Charaka Samhita asks us to eat only after the previous meal is digested. Then the food is properly metabolized to form bodily tissues and promotes a long, healthy life.

5. Eat foods that are not incompatible. Foods that increase the doshas are called viruddha, or incompatible. They cause many ailments like skin diseases, boils, abscesses, emaciation of the body, loss of tejas (luster), fever, piles, fistula, and urinary disorders. Some examples of incompatible combinations are: milk with fish, milk with sour foods, milk with salt, yogurt with chicken, heated yogurt, radish with urad dal, radish or other raw vegetable followed by milk, honey in hot season or with hot water, honey and ghee and oil in equal proportions, and honey or alcohol with heating foods.

6. Eat in a pleasing environment with pleasing accessories. Calm surroundings and a clean table setting bring a tranquility of mind that helps us enjoy the food. If our mind is distracted by anger, grief, disgust, or other disturbing emotions, we lose our appetite and if we eat then, that meal does not get digested properly.

7. Don’t eat too fast.

8. Don’t eat too slowly. If you eat slowly,  then you don’t feel satiated and there is a tendency to overeat. Also, if you spend more than half an hour on a meal, partly digested food mixes with undigested food in the stomach, upsetting your digestion.

9. Avoid talking or laughing, and focus on the food. Talking or laughing pose some of the same hazards as eating too fast. Food may enter the windpipe. Or we end up eating without paying attention to the qualities or the defects in the food.

10. Knowing yourself, eat what is beneficial for you. From personal experience you may already know which foods suit you and which don’t. Some people have lactose intolerance; some have gluten sensitivity, while others are extremely allergic to nuts. Often, we adapt well to foods we have eaten since childhood.

Keeping all this in mind, choose foods that you know are beneficial for you. So, the next time you feel tempted to indulge in candy, crackers, or even a few harmless nuts, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry right now?” Perhaps you are not, and the snack fulfills some other need. Perhaps you are thirsty, and a light beverage like herbal tea or water will satisfy the urge. Or you may just need a quiet moment to observe how you are feeling. Eventually, when you do feel strong pangs of hunger, you will know that it is true hunger. That is a good time to eat, and not just a snack but a full meal.

This discipline alone will regulate your appetite, strengthen your agni and will help prevent most digestive disorders.

Reference: Charaka Samhita, English translation by R.K. Sharma and Bhagwan Dash. Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office. Vimanasthana 1:24

Ashok Jethanandani, B.A.M.S. and Silvia Müller, B.A.M.S. are graduates of Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar. Jethanandani now practices ayurveda in San Jose. The illustration is an original work by Silvia Müller. The concepts presented here are based on the classical texts of ayurveda. www.classical-ayurveda.com.

This article was first published in July 2017.

 

Ten Trips Up Tirumala Hills in 10 days!

Venkateswara, Yedu Kondala Wada, Govinda! … Venkateswara, Lord of the Seven Hills, Govinda!” These are the only words I’ve allowed myself to utter as I climb the hills on the path from Tirupati to Tirumala. I’m finally fulfilling a promise I made thirty years ago. I promised to walk up the 9 kms (which includes 3,350 stairway steps) thirty times. About seven years ago I managed to complete ten of those walks. Now it was time to complete the remaining twenty.

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“Venkateswara … ” I start from Alipiri, at the base of the first hill and the start of the a seemingly endless series of steps—2,083 of them—to the Namala Gopuram or Galli Gopuram as it is commonly known. This is where your resolve is tested. It is said that when you climb this first section of steps, the effort drives your sins out of you. My sins must have been many, because the first few days were certainly hard going.

First, I must tell you about the ground rules I had set for myself. I had only ten days of vacation to spare, so I would climb the path twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. I would walk barefoot and while I could stop for a sip of water and catch my breath, I would not sit down. I had to be on my feet from the start of the climb until I reached Tirumala. My daily routine, with minor variations, went as follows. I’d have breakfast and then head to Alipiri to start the day’s first climb around 8.30 a.m. It usually took me around 2.5 hours to get to Tirumala. Once there, I would head to the temple for a short prayer from near the Coconut Hundi and then be driven back down the hill in a hired car. Once down in Tirupati I’d grab a quick shower, some lunch and take a short nap before heading out around 2.30 p.m. for the second climb of the day.

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The staff at the Hotel Regalia at Ramanujam Circle in Tirupati made my stay very comfortable and looked after me like I was family. The staff was ever attentive and their care and attention helped me focus on the purpose of my visit. The food was fresh and very well prepared and the service was excellent.

I had hired a car for the duration and Seenu, the driver, knew my routine. He had driven me around seven years ago when I did my first lot of ten climbs and I was fortunate that he was available to help me this time. Twice a day, he would drive me to Alipiri so I could start my climb and then head up the hills to wait for me at the end of the climb. He would then drive me to the temple so I could say my prayers and then drive me back down to the hotel where I was staying. The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) authorities mandate a minimum time of 40 minutes for cars to drive down the hill on the ghat road, which boasts 60 hairpin bends. Originally inaugurated in 1944 by the then Governor of Madras, Sir Arthur Hope, and used for traffic in both directions, the road is now used only for traffic coming down from Tirumala to Tirupati. A more recent, and less twisty road laid in 1974 caters to traffic going up.

The steps and the path up the hills are made up of large, wide gray stone slabs anchored with cement. They are slightly pitted, smoothed over the years by countless devout feet. They are not uncomfortable to my unshod feet, unaccustomed though they are to walking without shoes. The rises on the steps are covered with daubs of sandal and vermillion paste applied by devotees as they climb. For most of its length, the path has a metal railing dividing the path in two. There are little burnt patches in the middle of each step where the faithful have lit camphor tablets. The steps are covered with cement roofs for almost the entire length, except one section, just before the last 1,000 steps, where the path runs along the downhill ghat road for a short distance.

There are worshipers who have made different vows going up and down the stairs. There are those, like me, who have made a promise to walk up to Tirumala. Some have made a promise to not only walk up, but also walk down on their return. While some people use footwear, most of the devotees walk barefoot. Some promise to daub every step with sandal and vermillion on their way up while others promise to light a camphor tablet on every step. There was a devotee I encountered on several mornings whose devotion made me feel very humble. I always saw him coming down the steps on hands and knees! I wondered how many times he had promised to do that.92

I am surrounded by a multitude of sounds along the way. There are the staff picking up rubbish and sweeping the stairs. The back and forth swishes of their brooms provides a beat to my steps and the rhythmic jingle of anklets of passing women provides a melodic counterpoint. Frequently some passing devotee will raise a chant—“Venkateswara, GOVINDA!” and most of the others within earshot will take up the chant. The TTD has fixed loudspeakers all along the route and there is a constant stream of devotional songs, chants, and anxious messages for lost relatives or friends and announcements about darshan queue wait times. On one occasion, the wait time in the queue was 36 hours! Thankfully, I was spared that long a wait.

My fellow path climbers are a diverse lot. There are college students, families, newlyweds and young couples, older couples and groups of friends or colleagues. There are also the pilgrims who have visited other temples or holy sites and have included Tirumala in their itinerary. The most noticeable are the pilgrims who have visited the Krishna Temple at Guruvayoor. Dressed all in black and barefoot, they stand out from the others. The conversations I pass through are in varied tongues—Telegu and Kannada and Tamil are most prominent, but there are liberal sprinklings of Hindi, Marathi, Bhojpuri and Bengali, and of course English.

Various aromas and odors waft over as I pass. From the numerous shops perched alongside the steps, the smell of fresh idlis, dosas, sambhar and coffee drift down the stairs. There are vendors selling bananas, watermelon wedges and mango slices. Bhel puri vendors are sprinkled along the way, their baskets laden with puffed rice, tomatoes, onions, and other mysterious ingredients in jars and bottles. There are a dozen eateries just beyond the Gali Gopuram serving various tiffins. They provide a welcome respite for pilgrims who have climbed over 2,000 steps to get there.

After the Gali Gopuram, the path becomes relatively easy. The first few days were hard, but after the fifth day, I was able to keep a quick, steady pace. During the afternoon, there are relatively fewer people on the stairs. Many monkeys live close to the path. They feed off the detritus left by passing pilgrims and have no fear of humans. Some of them can be quite aggressive and may attack an unsuspecting pilgrim. The little ones chatter and play in the afternoon sun. Their screeches add to the general background noise.

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The steps have their own scam artists. I came across two different types of scams. The first goes something like this: a family, usually a couple and their two children, sit on the side of the steps. They accost me asking if I speak Telegu. I pause to catch my breath. I do not answer, but glance in their direction. One of them, usually the woman, immediately launches into her spiel. “We are pilgrims,” she says. “We lost our purse in the bus stand and now do not have money to return home.” She looks sad and briefly casts her eyes down and then swiftly raises them to cast a sly look at me. “Can you please give us some money so we can buy tickets to go home?” There is a calm calculating tone to her voice.  I wipe my brow, murmur “Govinda,” and move on. Over the course of my trip, I encountered the same family on six separate climbs. Each time the spiel was the same. On the sixth occasion, the woman realized that I had heard the story before. Halfway into her “We lost our purse” plea her voice trailed off and she turned away.

The second scam preys on people’s religious sentiment. A couple, dressed in white, their foreheads and arms daubed with sandal paste and vermillion would come up to walk alongside. One of them would carry a steel pot wrapped in a yellow cloth daubed with vermillion. “We are collecting money to put into the Hundi. Would you like to add your contribution?” Some of the passing pilgrims would reach into their bags or purses and pull out some notes and stuff them into the pot. Sinu, my driver told me that the police caught one couple. They admitted that they earned over 6,000 rupees (about $100) on most days. On “slow” days, when there were fewer pilgrims on the stairs, they still managed about Rs. 3,000 (about $50) a day.

Ten days and twenty treks later, I was ready to go into the temple to report to Lord Venkateswara that I had fulfilled the promise made all those years ago. The queue for the Rs. 300 ticket also allows NRIs (Non Resident Indians) like me to show their passports and enter the queue complex.  I was assured that from this point, it would take only about an hour before I was in the inner sanctum. I bought my ticket and joined the queue.

The crush of people was unbelievable. With my palms pressed together in front of me, I moved forward, almost carried by the pressing bodies around me. At times, I almost lose my footing, but the grip of the crowd around me kept me upright. There was eagerness, a sense of anticipation, at the prospect of shortly being able to catch a glimpse of the Lord. We were herded through a metal detector, similar to the ones used at airports, before being squeezed into a narrower passage. Govinda!

A sense of calm descended over me. In the midst of a jostling, heaving crowd, it’s as if my churning mind had been soothed by a gentle touch. It’s as if I was moving forward in a soundproof cocoon. I fleetingly saw people around me, talking, chanting, shouting even, but I was oblivious to them as I passed them.

I climbed the last few steps into the golden enclosure, steps away from the inner sanctum. There were temple staff and volunteers on both side of the flow of pilgrims. Their only role was to pull pilgrims along and push them forward. Otherwise, the flow of the queue would come to a complete stop as devotees stood to pray to the Lord. I could see the image of the Lord. I took a deep breath and stopped. The volunteer who was pulling and pushing people until then suddenly dropped his arms in fatigue. The entire queue stopped for about ten seconds. Everything went still for a moment, but it seemed like an eternity. I said my prayers.

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Just as I raised my head and opened my eyes the volunteer in front of me gently pointed and asked me to move forward. I thanked him and took a few steps. Suddenly, I was out of the sanctum and it was as if the crush had melted. There was no more pushing and pulling. Everyone was more relaxed. The sense of peace stayed with me. Almost in a daze, I walked out of the temple, through the queue to collect the prasadam and on to the adjacent building to collect my allotment of two laddus.

I made my way slowly out of the temple complex back to Seenu and the car. With each step, it was as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders. I had not realized how much the unfulfilled promise had been weighing on my mind. I felt light.

K.P. Naidu is Director of IT Operations at Santa Clara County. Technology veteran living in the Bay Area for almost 20 years. I have traveled to 70 cities in 20 countries. I love baking and cooking for family and friends and riding my Can-Am Spyder motorcycle. I’m on LinkedIn athttps://www.linkedin.com/in/kpnaidu.

This was first published in June of 2015.

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