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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Let Our Children Read

Your editorial (A Fistful of Sand, July 2009) reminded me of a Buddhist story of the same name, that was meant to teach about humility and human frailties to those who stubbornly behave in a know-it-all manner. Amen to your assertion that our schools should rather give our children the tools to process information, instead of attempting to block material from the classes.

Varttik, via email

Good News for Slumdog Kids

I agree with Sarita Sarvate’s concern (Slumdog’s Millionaire-makers, July 2009) for the child actors and extras of the Mumbai slums. Of course we must not forget that the Indian author whose book was adapted to make the movie, the professional Indian actors, the Indian music composer-director, and other Indians also made good money from the same poor children’s slum life portrayal.

Ms. Sarvate and all well-wishers should feel a little better to know that the Jai Ho Trust set up for benefitting the slum child actors announced that the Trust has bought a 250 sq.ft. 1-bedroom apartment worth $50,000 for one of them and the trustees are actively looking for another apartment for the second child actor.

It would also be interesting to compare the benefits accruing to the slum dwellers of Mumbai from Slumdog Millionaire, with the benefits received from Indian producer-directors of movies such as Salaam Bombay, for example. That could give us an objective comparison of foreign vs. Indian mindsets related to helping poor Indians.

 Maneck N. Bhujwala, Huntington Beach, CA

The White Man’s Burden

I love Salman Rushdie, and it is a real stretch to say he sugarcoats poverty (Slumdog’s Millionaire-makers, July 2009).
If you read his novels—even those involving partition or poverty or the emergency or the worst phases of modern India, you find his characters developed with fondness and respect. He doesn’t see them as some subpar creatures; as a consequence, his novels are unbelievably rich and widely loved. Danny Boyle’s version neither has fondness nor respect, and he isn’t interested in nuances.

That said, the source of people’s complaints (at least the well-thought ones) isn’t the portrayal of poverty—it is the fact that all Indians, including the poor, are vicious in the movie. What is particularly cruel about Danny’s depiction is that he has completely glossed over any humanity in India so that he can bring in Fagin and other Dickensian characters to Mumbai (while of course all white men give out $100 notes out of the goodness of their souls—give me a break). What Danny has done is to retell the white man’s burden story all over again—little wonder it became a hit among people desperate to see things that way again.

The difference between Rushdie and Boyle is that Rushdie sees his characters as his equals, Boyle sees them like dogs in a shelter. I don’t think it is ironic he is treating his stars so badly—his movie simply had no respect for them to begin with.

N. Prasad, via email

Misconceptions about Coconut Oil

I would like to set the record straight on coconut oil (The Skinny on Fat, July 2009). Coconuts have nourished populations world-wide for generations. Rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, coconut meat/milk/oil are extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Medical science confirms their healing properties. Coconut oil was vilified, in the late 1980s, by competing interests and misguided individuals, based on marketing concerns, not scientific evidence.

Saturated fats are not trans-fats, and all are not created equal. Palm and coconut oils, predominantly saturated, are the richest natural sources of lauric acid, a super-nutrient which comprises about 50% of their fat content. Other vegetable oils completely lack lauric acid and other MCFAs (medium chain fatty acids).

Vegetable oils tend to become rancid when exposed to heat. Unless “cold pressed” or “expeller pressed,” they contain trans-fats. Cooking accelerates oxidation and deterioration. Highly saturated coconut oil is the least vulnerable to oxidation and free-radical formation, and therefore safest for cooking.

Canola oil—which Ms. Deo recommends —was genetically engineered in Canada from rapeseed oil, in the early 1970s. The name is derived from “Canadian oil, low acid.”

Personally, I would rather ingest—and recommend—a natural, heart-healthy oil like coconut oil than a genetically engineered oil.

Malathi Ramji, Encino, CA

Fats, Ghee, and Cholesterol

Vijaya Deo’s article (The Skinny on Fats, July 2009) provides good information about fats, but it also reinforces some common misconceptions.

The author’s repeated advice to choose “low-fat alternatives whenever possible” conveys the impression that natural whole foods are less healthy than their low-fat substitutes. However, regular unsweetened yogurt may be healthier than low-fat yogurt loaded with sugar to compensate for the low-fat taste. Similarly, tea made with an ounce of whole milk may be better, and tastier, than tea made with two ounces of low-fat milk because the processing used to remove fat from milk also removes vitamins and other nutrients.

The article also implies that trans fats and saturated fats are equally bad for health. But in fact, trans fats (found in margarine) are harmful man-made products with no redeeming value. On the other hand, saturated fats are a natural part of animal foods (including mother’s milk) and have many health benefits when used in moderation. As someone once said, “When it comes to butter vs. margarine, I trust the cows more than the chemists.”

The author views fats largely through the narrow prism of the prevailing cholesterol dogma. For example, saturated fats in butter and ghee are viewed unfavorably mainly because they increase the LDL cholesterol level even though there is no evidence that LDL cholesterol causes cardiovascular disease (CVD). It is, in fact, likely that high LDL cholesterol level is merely a symptom of CVD. Moreover, very low levels of LDL cholesterol have been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Ghee has been used safely in traditional Indian cooking for a very long time. Ghee is also a better choice for frying because, unlike polyunsaturated omega-3 fats, ghee does not degrade at high temperatures. (Although fried foods are less healthy, some frying is unavoidable in Indian cooking.) In Ayurvedic cooking, ghee is a very important ingredient that balances vata and pitta doshas. Therefore, most people may be better off using ghee and butter (preferably organic) in moderation instead of the alternatives.

 Vijay Gupta,Cupertino, CA

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...