Development Comes to Cupertino’s Vallco

A Press Conference was held on Monday September 24, 2018 to support Cupertino City Council’s decision on the Vallco Specific Plan, calling Cupertino residents to work collaboratively in designing a project at Vallco that is beneficial for all. “Cupertino needs to come together for the sake of our next generations, not to fall into costly referendum and lawsuits, which will deplete city resources and waste tax payers’ money,” said Savita Vaidyanathan, council member. “We need to work collaboratively to build a Vallco that Cupertino can be proud of.  We are calling for NO referendum, NO lawsuit!”

The City of Cupertino has sent a letter informing Sand Hill Property Company that its application under SB 35 has been approved.

“While the SB 35 application has been approved, the City continues to move forward with the Vallco Special Area Specific Plan, which was approved by the City Council,” said Interim City Manager Amy Chan. “The Specific Plan has been the City’s preferred path from the beginning. Unlike SB 35, that traditional planning process has allowed for community dialogue, discussion of priorities, critique of plans, and negotiation of community benefits.”

On March 27, 2018 Sand Hill Property Company filed a project application under SB 35, which allows for a streamlined, ministerial review for qualifying affordable housing projects. The project application covers the 50-plus acre former Vallco shopping center site and proposes 2,402 residential units (50% affordable to very low and low income households), 1.8 million square feet of office space, and 400,000 square feet of retail. The project proposes 50% of the total units as affordable, which qualifies it for a 35% density bonus and three concessions under the State of California’s Density Bonus Law. While the City’s General Plan would allow a “base” density of 1,779 units, the 35% density bonus results in 623 additional units.

On June 22, 2018 the City sent a letter informing Sand Hill that the application met the qualifying requirements under SB 35 and requested additional clarification information to assist the City in its continued review of the application. Since then, the City has been reviewing plans and supporting materials submitted for the proposed project.

Sand Hill Property Company may now proceed with making applications to obtain building and other permits required to construct the SB 35 project. For additional information, visit www.cupertino.org/vallcosb35. To stay up-to-date on the Vallco Special Area Specific Plan project, visit www.cupertino.org/vallco.

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
10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani - a tribute to legendary martyrs
Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani - a tribute to legendary martyrs
Delhi Haat Auditorium, New Delhi India

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: 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.

 

Sensing Home

Hmmm… Oh, yes! Aloo- matar today, yay!!

Until recently, I didn’t realize that that used to be my routine when I returned from school every afternoon in wintertime. As a young schoolgirl, intentionally I’d slow my steps to inhale the aroma before knocking on the door, trying to guess what my mother had prepared for lunch.  One whiff of the Ma-special potatoes and peas cooked in tangy mustard-oil with the bare-minimum of spices would make me smile from ear to ear. Those were also the pre-frozen-food days, when peas were available only from late October to mid-March or thereabouts; and peas in my lunch signaled wintertime. And trust me, no bag of frozen peas can compete with that heavenly fragrance of fresh peas shelled just before cooking. Or was it just the way Ma cooked it?

I would barely have the patience to take my off my bulky bag and change my clothes – yes, Ma was a stickler about this – and I would soon fall upon the shining plate of steel laden with the golden potatoes, shiny, sweet peas, and hot rotis gleaming with generous dollops of ghee. Heaven! “How often can you go on enjoying this?” Ma’s eyes shone with evident pleasure as the mound got smaller on my plate – true appreciation is definitely the speed of food disappearing from the plate after all! “Every day!” I would exclaim, chasing an errant pea across the plate. I meant it then, and I mean it now.

And then I’d go yet again  – yay, baigan-bharta tonight, as the smokey, garlicky fragrance of this dish permeated the house again at night, as I huddled under the ‘razai’* (comforter), pretending to study, waiting for Ma to call “Dinner!”

Is it just because I am a foodie or is it true for all of us  that our memories are so intricately interwoven with fragrances from our mothers’  kitchens?

Another image which my  mind never fails to conjure up is the rich, brothy fragrance of rajma, cooked during winter. On chilly dark nights, my grandpa and I were on our ‘moodhis’*, huddling around a squat, wooden stool on which stood a steaming vessel of rajma. At the other end of the small kitchen, gold bangles jingled as Ma’s  plump arms got busy over the stove, rolling, baking one after the other – soft, fat rotia, anointing them with ghee, serving them as swiftly as any seasoned chef.

Usually, we sat and had meals together at the huge oval dining table but eating  rajma was different; we ate rajma  in the kitchen with piping hot rotis coming fresh off the stove. If rotis were served with a subji that I didn’t care for, then, I was capable of feigning feeling full after eating half a roti; but with rajma, I would happily devour three fat rotis and be ready for a fourth!  Across the world, well at least all across India, rajma is almost always eaten with rice but until you’ve had it with crisp hot rotis, you don’t know what you are missing!

The special ingredient of a mother’s love aside, most of the food that we taste first comes from our mothers, and if one is especially lucky, as many in our generation were, also from our grandmas. You eat it, love it, and as your sphere of taste expands with shared or stolen bites from your friends, your extended families and of course, restaurants near and far, it recedes from your memory. But memory is funny and it’s not till you are really far from home when a stray fragrance from a window from the apartment above hits you like a ton of bricks and you are back in that kitchen from years past.

I now understand the pride a friend felt on making poori-choley in Germany. Poori-choley or chicken-rice or sambar-chawal or even the simplest aloo bhaat in a foreign land means so much more than the same dish prepared in India. And when you recreate a delicacy served during festivals, it is a major achievement all right!

Every Indian on foreign shores has felt that indescribable joy at discovering some special ingredient at the Indian store – thank goodness for them – and then, using it to recreate a special  fragrance and aroma from back home. Oh, the joy and pride of creating something which tastes just like home!

Even though cooking has never been a big passion of mine, strangely enough, it kept me anchored in this new land even as I encountered many things to be quite different – the people, their accents, and their food. Every weekend I would throw myself into cooking. In the pressure-cooker hauled across continents, I rediscovered myself. When I cook, I improvise, trying to recreate tastes from home and rediscover an inner balance. As the fragrances and the warmth from the stove fill the apartment, I feel that I am home.

Madhumita Gupta is an English Instructor in Nebraska, a freelance writer and a children’s author. 

 

Fall’n for Soups

Drawn from our archives, this set of recipes for soups is perfect for your dinner table. First published in November, 2008.

I love the fall season. The hot days of summer have given way to misty mornings and gentle afternoons, and this autumn slowly but surely eases all of us into the cold winter days ahead. The leaves begin to turn yellow and brown, and the sun goes down with pink and orange hues, as a perfect backdrop to our Fall festivals.

On a cool fall day, I crave soups. A soup is a wholesome liquid meal traditionally made with stock, vegetables, and/or meat; the origin of soups is unknown and dates back to when the first utensils were made.

An essential ingredient for any kind of soup is a good flavorful stock. Fresh vegetable stock can be made and frozen in ice cube trays and stored in the freezer for up to three months. Soups can be thickened by using cream, butter, corn flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and ground nuts.

Thickeners add texture to the soup. A garnish not only adds color but also enhances the taste and flavor of the soup. Croutons, fresh herbs, cheese, grilled bread, vegetable crisps, fried onions, shallots, crème fraiche, and sour cream are all garnishes used for soups.

There are many kinds of soups: chilled soups like gazpacho, clear soups like tom yum, creamy bisques, chunky soups like clam chowder, noodle soups, and even dessert soups like blackberry soup.
Here are some of my favorite soup recipes for your chilly evenings.

Feisty Lemongrass Soup

This clear soup gradually blossoms in your mouth as the lemongrass and galangal slowly release their flavors. You can add ½ lb of raw shrimp and substitute the vegetable stock with chicken stock for a seafood version. You can also substitute 2 teaspoons of red curry paste (Thai Time brand) for the roasted red chili paste.

4 cups vegetable stock
3 stalks lemon grass, cut into 2-inch pieces and crushed
3 thin rounds 1/8 inch fresh galangal (Thai young ginger)
10 kaffir lime leaves, torn into strips
3-4 Thai green chilies (optional)
1 tablespoon roasted chili paste (see recipe)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 8oz can of straw mushrooms
½ cup baby corn
3 green onions, sliced diagonally
juice of 1 lime
 

Garnish:
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

Heat the vegetable stock in a soup pot along with the lemon grass stalks, galangal lime leaves, and Thai chilies. Let simmer for 5-7 minutes. Now add the roasted chili paste and brown sugar. Let it simmer for a few more minutes. Then add straw mushrooms, green onions, and baby corn, and let simmer. Add lime juice to taste. Garnish with cilantro and serve warm.

Roasted Chili Paste

4-5 whole shallots
4-5 cloves garlic
3-4 dry red chilies
¼ cup oil

Heat a teaspoon of oil and roast the shallots and garlic on low heat along with the dry chilies for about 5 minutes until they are soft. Blend to a smooth paste in a blender.

Heat the rest of the oil in a pan; place the blended shallot mixture into the pan and cook for about 5 minutes until it is a deep brownish red sauce. Remove and keep along with the oil in an airtight container. The shelf-life for this paste is about 1 month.

Mamma’s Minestrone Soup

This is my all-time favorite chunky soup. It’s hearty, healthy, nutritious, and a wholesome meal.

4 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1 medium sized red onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, peeled and chopped fine
1 small zucchini, diced
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
3 fresh sage leaves
3 cups fresh vine ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (place 6-7 vine ripe tomatoes in hot boiling water for 10 seconds, remove and peel off the skin, squeeze out the seeds, and then puree in a blender)
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 cup garbanzo beans, cooked and rinsed
1 cup red kidney beans cooked and rinsed
½ cup small elbow pasta, cooked
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:
1 tablespoon fresh pesto sauce or 1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a stock pot and sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic, carrots, and zucchini, and sauté for a few minutes. Now add the bay leaf, fresh oregano, sage, and basil leaves, and sauté for a few seconds. Then add the tomatoes, garbanzo beans, red kidney beans, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Let it simmer for at least 15 minutes. Now add the cooked pasta. Garnish with pesto and parmesan cheese and serve.

Simply Sweet Corn Soup

This soup is very popular in Indo-Chinese restaurants. To make it a little hardy, I use the starch water left over after I cook rice for this recipe. If using starch water, there is no need for a corn flour thickener.

4 cups of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon oil
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 cup canned corn, ground into a paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 cup frozen peas and carrots, diced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper powder
1 teaspoon corn flour, mixed in water (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped fine

Heat oil in a stock pot. Then add garlic, fresh corn, carrots, and peas, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the ground corn, vegetable stock, soy sauce, white pepper, and salt. Thicken with corn flour, only if the soup is watery. Check seasonings, and let the soup simmer for 10 minute until it is well blended.

 

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She was Associate Chef at Green’s Restaurant, San Francisco. She also blogs about cooking at www.rocketbites.com 

In Top 20 Kindle Bestsellers: The Storyteller’s Secret

An excerpt from the novel – The Storyteller’s Secret – by Sejal Badami – has debuted to being in the TOP 20 among Amazon Kindle bestsellers. When you read the excerpt below, you will know why – fluid narrative that draws you in.

“‘Mankind errs here.’” After letting us into my mother’s childhood home, Ravi lights the oil lamps one by one. “‘By folly, darkening knowledge. But, for whom that darkness of the soul is chased by light, splendid and clear shines manifest the truth. As if a sun of wisdom sprang to shed its beams of dawn.’”

“That’s beautiful. I’ve never heard it before.” Though I yearn to ask him about my grandfather’s death, I bide my time until he’s ready.

“From the Gita. Some call it a book of poetry.” He points to the lamps. “Used in time of celebration and mourning.”

“My uncles—did they come?” I ask, though I know Paresh’s letter said they wouldn’t.

His face gives me the answer before he does. “No one.”

“I’m sorry.” The apology sounds hollow to my own ears. “My mother—she said she couldn’t.” Since he is a stranger, I don’t confide in him what my mother told me.

“Your grandfather knew this, but he hoped nonetheless. I think it kept him alive until his body accepted what his mind couldn’t.”

As he continues to light the lamps, I walk around the small room, running my hand gingerly over the antique furniture. An intricately carved, dark marble chair sits in the corner of the room, alongside a gold-painted urn. The walls are painted a warm ivory color, and the floor is covered with an expensive rug. Ravi’s dog follows him loyally as he finishes the last lamp.

“What’s his name?” I ask.

“I call him Rokie. He seems to like it, so we are in agreement.” He matches my smile, then motions me toward a large Rajasthan swing adorned with precious stones that sits in the middle of the room. “Please, sit.”

“Thank you.” I settle into the soft velvet cushions, tired after the long trip. “You speak English well.”

“I grew up in a time when the British insisted we learn their language. It seemed a waste, but now”—he motions toward me—“I am grateful.”

“How did he die?” I finally ask. I don’t mourn a man I never knew, but given the long line of losses, it feels unfair to have another one. And now, with his death, I will never find the answer I came searching for.

“Peacefully.” He rubs the top of Rokie’s head, and the dog barks in approval before settling down.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t in time.”

“Maybe you still are.”

I start to ask him what he means, when he grabs a larger cushion from a sofa and lays it on the floor before settling atop it. Ashamed by his being on the floor while I’m on the settee, I quickly jump up. “No, please, you sit here.”

“Your grandmother, Amisha, always said to me, ‘Ravi, when you are next to the earth, you can hear her secrets.’ Then she would laugh, climb onto the very seat you are on, and say, ‘So please tell me what you find out.’” He signals for me to take my seat again as he settles comfortably into his own.

“You knew my grandmother?” She was a woman rarely mentioned. She died young, so her mention felt like a dark cloud that was always threatening. When my uncles spoke of her on their visits, it was in hushed tones and with few specifics. A veil would fall over my mother’s face, and they would immediately change the subject. Soon enough she was never spoken of again. “I know she died many years ago.”

“She did, though at times it feels like yesterday.” Ravi fumbles for a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket and then cleans the lenses with his shirttail. “My grandson insists they are superior to the eyes that have served me for more than eighty years.” He slips them on and blinks to get focus. “When suddenly I am able to see clearly, I fear he may be right.”

“What was she like?” He had called for her earlier, as if she were still alive instead of a memory. “Amisha?”

“Her face was kind, and her heart was strong. When I heard you, I thought it was her voice carried by the wind.” He closes his eyes. “I was sure she was standing behind me, but when you called again, I knew I was mistaken.” He opens his eyes and winks at me. “I began to follow for fear you would lose your voice with the bellowing.”

“I’ve only seen one picture of her,” I admit.

I found the photo as a child. It was stored in a shoe box, buried beneath old receipts and clipped coupons. The image showed a woman seeking something in the distance, her eyes guarded against the glare of the flash. When I asked my mother about it, she took it without a word and returned to her room. I never saw the picture again.

“Your grandmother believed photographs hid the truth about a person, offering only an illusion instead.” He pauses before adding, “I am sure she would have thought differently if she had known a picture was all that would be left to remember her by.” Rokie growls at a passing bird outside the dust-laden window. We watch as he rushes out the open door. “How is your mother?”

There is desperation in his question that I don’t understand. Unwilling to share too much with someone unfamiliar, I give him the answer that he seems to want. “Happy.”

Joy flashes across Ravi’s face. “Your grandmother would be pleased to know that.”

“You were a friend of hers?” I ask, curious.

“I was a servant in the home, but your grandmother’s heart was benevolent enough to call me a friend.” His voice cracks like a man tormented. He averts his eyes, refusing to meet my stare. He swallows repeatedly and curls his fingers inward. The blood seems to drain from his face, leaving it haunted.

“Is everything all right?” He is hiding something, I am sure, but when I search his gaze, a mask falls over his face.

“Yes,” he whispers. He gathers his emotions and finds his voice. “It was one of her many gifts, seeing past the circumstances of one’s life and embracing the person.” His body tightens as he lowers his head in shame. “I am a Dalit.” He says it as if it were a sentence he is asking to be commuted.

“An untouchable?”

He nods. “We are often believed to be less than human in the Hindu caste system. Many times beaten or abused for minor reasons.” I swallow my gasp, the journalist in me trained to listen without reaction. “Often conceived by accident, many of my people die before passing through childhood.”

In history class via textbook pages and photos, I learned how the caste system defined generations of Hindus. Each person was slotted into a predetermined position of value based on his birth. The untouchables were on the lowest rung and were often considered worthless.

Furious at a system I didn’t understand, I questioned first my teacher and then my father. He gave me the only answer he could—that history proved time and again it was difficult to change what people believed as truth. I argued in theory about the unfairness of it. Now, hearing Ravi’s words, I am shamed by my naïveté and for not fully understanding the truth behind the practice.

“I’m sorry.” The words sound inadequate even as I speak them.

“Do not be,” he returns, surprising me. “It was because I was unwanted, dismissed as a burden on society, that I met your grandmother.” His face softens at the mention of her. “For that I would live a hundred times as an untouchable.” He sees the compassion in my eyes and smiles. “Your grandmother was a woman ahead of her time. Head of this house, she brought in my family members to work. She was a savior to us.”

He speaks of her with reverence, with warmth that turns cold when he mentions my grandfather. I notice the contrast and wonder at the reason behind the difference. Before I can ask him to elaborate, he rises off the pillow and motions for me to follow.

“Come, I will show you her palace.”

Ravi gives me a tour of the remainder of the house, proudly exclaiming that it was one of the first fitted for electricity—a luxury I have always taken for granted. The home is barely the equivalent of a large cottage in America. With every step, I try to imagine my mother playing in the halls, eating in the kitchen, and sleeping in the house. I wonder how she felt the night before her marriage, and if she mourned leaving her childhood home. I try to visualize and fail to understand how my mother would have felt when her father demanded she never return home after her wedding.

In the last room, Ravi presents the bed—a thin mattress atop metal springs—like a king’s ransom. He hands me a set of rusted keys and promises to return in the morning. Though I booked a hotel in the neighboring town, I’m glad to be staying in my mother’s childhood home to get a glimpse of the part of her she refuses to share.

As exhaustion creeps in, I lie in bed and stare through the protective mosquito net at the four bare walls, but thoughts of my mother keep me tossing and turning into the night. My gaze locked on the darkness, I wait for the mystery of her childhood to reveal itself. Minutes turn to hours, and I fall asleep with my questions unanswered.

At the first hint of sunrise, a rooster begins to crow. I slip one hand out from beneath the cover and search fruitlessly for an alarm clock before realizing the noise comes from a live animal. With a pained whimper, I cover my head with a thin pillow, but the rooster is relentless.

Ravi enters the room after a quick knock. “You do not care for the songs of our animals?” The rooster continues to crow in the background—insistent on waking even the dead. Ravi balances a tray with a cup and plate of food. “I could hear your protests from the living room.” He toes the door open for Rokie. “I would ask if you are clothed, but since I am nearly blind, I believe it does not matter.”

“I was too tired to change.” I slip through the opening in the mosquito netting and reach for the tray. I inhale the fragrance wafting off the food. “You didn’t have to bring me anything, but it smells wonderful. Thank you.”

“You are her granddaughter,” Ravi says as if no further explanation were necessary. “Chai and ghatiya—a proper breakfast.” Yellow twists of fried flour lie next to a cup of foam-covered chai.

“I’ve never had it before.” I cautiously take a sip. The rich concoction of fresh ginger and milk warms my mouth. “It’s delicious.” I nearly hum my approval.

“You may thank our goat for the milk.” Ravi smiles when I raise an eyebrow in question. “In the field behind the house. She delivered it early this morning.”

I glance curiously at the frothy mixture before taking another sip. “I look forward to the introductions.”

“Your grandmother insisted it was the only way to start the morning.” Ravi rests a hand on the old stone chair that matches the desk. “Finish your breakfast, and then I will show you where to shower. You don’t want to frighten the goat when you make her acquaintance,” he teases. “Later, we will talk.”

I watch him leave before taking a small bite of food. The rooster finally stops crowing. In the stillness, I imagine telling Patrick about what I’ve seen so far. When we first met, I was quiet and reserved—a habit I learned from my mother. Patrick helped to bring me out, listening with interest when I spoke. He was the person I told everything to—good or bad—until there was nothing good left to tell. We were brutally tossed around in a cyclone of hope and hurt. To share my sorrow meant reliving the past with the one person who had already experienced it. I was too weak to carry his grief atop mine, so it seemed safer to stop sharing.

The memories of the past circle around me—a reminder of a time when my marriage was stronger than circumstance. I pass through the years like snippets of a film reel until I am moments away from the day he told me about Stacey. With the recollection, the pain comes flooding back.

I push away the plate of food and walk toward the window, where the sound of children starting a game wafts through the opening. After wiping the dust off the ledge, I push against the latch until it loosens. I slide it open and gaze at the children as they kick a barely inflated ball in a dirt field. Around them are fields with scattered vegetation and homes similar to this one. Their small voices become large with laughter.

I quickly shut the window and latch it closed. My back against the wall, I breathe deeply. For all of my surety about coming, I now wonder what I was thinking. I am all alone in a place that holds nothing for me and no one to care.

“This is the shower?” I ask, staring at the archaic bath.

Red clay bricks are stacked atop one another, forming makeshift walls. The branches of a broad-leafed tree provide camouflage as a roof. A small drain sits in the middle of the outdoor bath. From corner to corner, there’s barely enough room for one person.

“Here are your three buckets of water.” Ravi points to the two buckets on the far end of the wall. “They are for soaping but are very hot, so take caution.” The third, he explains, is lukewarm for rinsing off. He hands me a small bar of soap. “It’s sandalwood. Good for body and hair.” Ravi starts to take his leave before pausing. “I nearly forgot. The geckos can be curious, so watch for them.”

“Wait, what? Geckos?”

“Yes.” He shields his eyes and scans the tree above the bath. “We have many here, and they seem to lose their fear when someone is bathing.” He smiles at my astonishment. “Some have fallen on this old head, though they may think it is a nest. Enjoy.”

I keep an eye out for wayward reptiles while I bathe quickly. I run the soap over my arms and then my stomach, tracing the faint stretch lines that formed with the last pregnancy. I never imagined one broken track could lead to an entire train falling off. Now I feel foolish for having believed otherwise.

Instead of washing my hair, I let warm water run through it to help relax the tension in my neck. Once finished, I dry myself with the thin towel. I slip on my flowered sundress and pull my wet hair up into a ponytail.

“There’s a hotel in the next village that I booked before my trip.” I swing idly on the hammock tied to the porch, while sipping the lemon sherbet Ravi made from fresh-squeezed lemons for me. The ice cubes start to melt in the heat.

Ravi uses a metal knife to carve the edge of a small twig. He whittles the wood with the edge of a knife until the ends are shaved into fine bristles. Once finished, he hands me the stick. “To clean your teeth.”

I turn the piece of wood over in my hand as I inspect it. It’s as long and wide as a straw, and the bristles at the end look like the end of a broom. There is no way I am putting it in my mouth. “Thank you, but I have a toothbrush with me.”

He refuses when I try to hand it back to him. “This is much better. You will see.” When I continue to hold it out, he says, “I made it myself for you, and I am nearly blind.”

Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I lay it down next to me. His lips curl into a small smile, and I know I’ve been played. “What’s the best way to call a rickshaw?” I ask, hoping to get to the hotel by the afternoon.

“There is no need.” He picks up another twig and starts the process again. “This is your home.”

“I can’t impose.”

“This was her home, and now, for as long as you wish, this is your home.” Ravi’s choked voice falls low. He faces me and starts to speak, when something behind me catches his eye. I turn to see, but there’s only the wall.

“Ravi?” I prompt when I see his mouth turn down. Sadness fills his eyes. “Is everything all right?”

“There are times when I am sure I see her,” he says quietly. “She’s standing on the porch, teasing me for not having done the chores properly. Of course, many were her chores, but she was always busy writing. She had a unique light in her eyes when she told a story. She came alive.” He raises his hands and demonstrates. “She would gesture wildly as she spun her tales. Made you listen even if you had no time.” He shakes his head and seems to pull himself back to the present. “You came very far for the mutterings of an old man.”

“She was a storyteller?” In an instant, I feel a connection to her I’ve never felt with my mother. I always wondered where my love of words came from.

“Yes.” His fingers curl into a fist. “She was young, and death seemed powerless to touch her. She would write for hours and days. In her tales, she found happiness.” He rubs his thumb over the palm of his other hand. He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “My apologies. In my old age, I seem to prefer the days of the past to those of the present.”

“Do you have any of her writing?” I think about the letter that brought me here. “My uncle wrote that my grandfather had something for my mother. Was it the stories?” I hold my breath, waiting for him to say yes. To tell me he can give me something of the woman I will never know. When he shakes his head, I swallow my disappointment.

“They are all gone.” He releases the knife he was using. It clatters to his feet and then onto the next step. Rokie barks at the sound. “She gave them all away. After that, she promised to never write again.”

“Why?”

“They were her prized possessions and all she had left to give.” He talks in riddles without explanation.

“Then do you know what my grandfather wanted to give my mother?”

“Yes.” His face clouds over, and the warmth is replaced with detachment. “I do. But for me to tell you, first you must listen to a story.”

“A story?”

“One your grandmother repeated to me in detail in the months before her death. It is the story of her, your grandfather, and your mother.” He takes a deep breath, and his eyes fill with pain. “It is the story I have had to keep secret until now.”

“Why now?” I ask, confused by his reaction.

“Because your grandfather has died.” He hesitates, careful with his words. His bowed body leans back, making distance between him and his pronouncement.

“He made my mother promise never to return to India,” I reveal, alert to his reaction. Ravi’s eyes widen in shock and then lower with despair. “She said it was the price she had to pay for being born.”

“I did not know.” Ravi goes cold, and his lips flatten with fury. “Though it was best for her to never return to the place that hurt her, it was not his promise to exact.”

“Hurt her how?” I ask quietly. The ache in his words is a warning to me. My instincts caution me to run, to refuse his offer, and let my mother’s secrets stay safe. But the part of me that is broken, that yearns for something other than my relentless pain, demands the truth.

“The story will answer all of your questions,” he says slowly. “But you must stay to hear it.”

I remember what I left back home—pieces of a life that lay in ruin. “I will stay.”

Relief covers his face. “Good. This was her home and your mother’s. It is your birthright.”

Ravi stands and motions for me to follow. We walk slowly past some mud houses mixed between bungalows similar to my grandmother’s. The road shifts from dirt to asphalt. Large swaths of land are filled with vegetation, while others lie brown and unproductive. Burned leaves on trees lie still in the dry air. Fruit riddled with bird bites hangs off the lower branches. We pass a defunct windmill, and then the town becomes more modern with shops and open markets brimming with customers.

Ravi is quiet except for a few murmurs to Rokie, who follows loyally at his feet. I linger behind as my nervousness wars with anticipation about finally hearing my mother’s story. In hopes of tempering both, I focus on the sights and sounds of this village where the villagers watch me warily, seeing me for the stranger that I am.

Ravi leads us toward an abandoned low-rise brownstone building that stands in the far distance. A smaller cottage, similar in design, sits to the side. With a key, he unlocks a gate and signals for me to follow. Once inside, he watches, waiting for my reaction.

Just inside the threshold, I stop and stare. “A garden?” Awed by the beauty, I stroll between the rows of diverse and fragrant flowers. I bend down and inhale the scent from a white flower with a yellow halo around a black center. “It’s breathtaking.”

“White alders, I believe,” Ravi says. “Your grandmother was relentless in teaching me. After so many years, my mind is fearful of forgetting.”

I point to a cluster of flowers next to the row of alders. “Red cassias in early bloom.”

“You know your flowers,” Ravi says as I inhale the powerful fragrance the pink blossoms exude.

“Mom liked to garden, and sometimes I helped her.” They were some of the few times she allowed me in. We would work silently side by side, planting and trimming plants and bushes. “This is amazing.” I gesture toward the array of plants and flowers, some still budding. The dusty village we walked through would give few allowances for such a garden to exist within its boundaries.

“It is your grandmother’s from another time,” Ravi says. “Come.” He leads us to a bench beneath a beech tree. The leafy branches hover over us, providing shade from the relentless sun.

“Sit, and I shall tell you her story.”

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