The 2018 Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) Dandia season began with a resounding opening featuring the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak on October 5 and 6 and ended with a successful show featuring acclaimed singers Preetysha and Sameer on October 20. These events enthralled the attendees and lighted up not just the Bay Area, but also the world of those needlessly blind. Falguni Pathak in performance with the Ta Thaiya band was a sight to behold. Twenty-five years and counting, they showed why they make such a great team. Though folk music is the core of her performances, she is known for surprising audiences with a peppy mix of Bollywood music and folk songs, and she recreated that magic again. One after another, she sang melodious as well as high-energy songs, and the crowd grooved as if there was no tomorrow. There wasn’t a person that left without a smile and a happy heart, feeling satisfied with the non-stop dancing. After showering the organization with accolades, rave reviews, and appreciation for the flawless Dandia event with the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak, attendees turned up in huge numbers to show their support and end the festive season with the talented duo of Preetysha and Sameer.
They have performed for SEF for more than a decade, each time entertaining a sold-out crowd. Their camaraderie, connection with the audience, unmeasurable talent is a beautiful confluence with SEF’S vision, passion, and zeal to eradicate curable blindness in India. Preetysha and Sameer understand the pulse of the attendees and they made them dance to one popular number after another. Their trademark, ‘Sanedo’ usually performed at the end, left the crowd wanting more, and was a befitting end to an enthralling evening. Though the three events were in the spotlight, Bay Area was spoiled with choices, with SEF organizing five Dandia events, and ten overall across the country. The Laser Dandia at Pleasanton by DJ Precaution on October 13th and by Sangeeta and Troupe on October 20th were both sold out, and the patrons gave an overwhelming thumbs-up to the organization, entertainment factor, and the beautiful experience they had. The patrons really savored the flawless execution, minute attention to detail, and entertainment par excellence at all these events. But the SEF exclusive tradition of the Diya Aarti, really made the whole experience divine and complete, keeping the festivities in mind. At half time, at each of these events, patrons joined in the devotional aarti with the little tea light Diya in their palms and created a magically mesmerizing sight #SEFDiyaAarti is an annual ritual that has been created at SEF Dandia where a beautiful amalgamation of the devotion and the organization’s worthy cause reverberates magically throughout the venue, as everyone sings aarti in unison with lighted Diya on their palms. Thousands of people reveled in these events, appreciated the SEF exclusive perks like the free Garba/Dandia lessons, free Dandia sticks check-in, among many others, and appreciated the tradition of keeping patrons first, another trademark feature of every event organized by the organization.
Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a nonprofit organization that has been working for the SANKARA EYE FOUNDATION, USA • 1900 McCarthy BLVD #302 • MILPITAS, CA 95035 • 1-866-SANKARA • INFO@GIFTOFVISION.ORG past 20 years for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational vision of eradicating curable blindness in India, SEF currently has 9 super specialty hospitals and is working on three new hospitals- in Hyderabad, Indore, and Mumbai. By far a unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, the rural poor. These account for 80 percent—which is approximately 150,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception has enabled over 1.79 million people to receive the gift of vision, absolutely free of cost. The organization has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal health and commitment to accountability and transparency. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy –- get your or your loved ones’ name on the Wall of Founders. Double the impact of your gift with company matching. Join the cause, volunteer, and share in the joy of bringing light to someone’s eyes.
Midterm elections are almost upon us and many of us are struggling with the choices we have to make, especially with the ballot propositions. Californians will vote on 11 ballot measures come November 6th. Reading the official State voting guide can still leave us with questions – we have some difficult choices to make as responsible voters. One way to determine how to vote on the measures is to see who supports and stands to benefit from the passage of each proposition and see who is on the opposing side. Following the money trail also helps to gain perspective on how to vote.
There are three Propositions related to health-care on this ballot. Each one poses a dilemma as both ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments seem to make sense. We at India Currents would like to provide you with detailed d insight into these three propositions that can have a huge impact on how health-care is delivered to us.
PROP 4: Children’s Hospital Bonds initiative
What is the deal? This measure authorizes $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds to provide for the Children’s Hospital Bond Act Fund. The fund would be used for construction, expansion, renovation, and equipment projects in order to provide retrofitting and seismic upgrades to facilities that are in dire need of them.
This fund would be distributed among eight private non-profit children’s hospitals, the UC children’s hospitals and other public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.
Bear in mind:
- Children’s hospitals provide much needed medical care for California’s most needy children.
- Voters have approved two statewide bond measures to support children’s hospitals in the past. This money which was used for new buildings, renovations and equipment will run out this summer.
- The state of California already has $74.2 billion in debt from bonds and Prop 4 will increase that debt.
Vote YES if you think the State should use general obligation bonds to fund improvements to children’s hospitals. These hospitals treat the majority of children who need life saving treatments like organ transplant, cancer treatments and heart surgeries.
- 72% of funds would be designated for eight private, nonprofit children’s hospitals
- 18% allocation for five of the University of California’s children’s hospitals
- 10% of funds to public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.
Who is sponsoring:
- California Children’s Hospital Association.
Supporters: California Teachers Association
Total raised by sponsors: $11.28 million.
Vote NO if you think the funds should come from another source and NOT out of general obligation bonds that will need to paid back with interest. If you believe that State funds should not be used to support private facilities.
Who stands to lose if this measure passes:
- The State of California and therefore taxpayers, as the Bond would have to be repaid with interest, potentially through higher taxes.
Who is opposing:
PROP 8: Limits on Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative
What is the deal? This is an initiated state statute, an initiative that seeks to cap the revenue of dialysis clinics to a maximum of 15% over the amount spent on each patient’s treatment. If passed, this measure requires that all revenue above 115% of direct patient care must be reimbursed to private insurance companies or individuals in the form of yearly rebates. The measure would also prohibit clinics from discriminating against patients based on their method of payment.
Bear in mind:
- Nearly 80,000 Californians with afflicted kidneys need dialysis three times a week.
- 72% of dialysis clinics in California are controlled by just two for-profit companies called DaVita and Fresenius.
- This measure does not cap the the amount spent on direct patient care service, it only limits the revenue that companies make out of each clinic.
- Dialysis clinics are underpaid by Medical and Medicaid and therefore try to recover costs by overcharging private insurance companies
- Dialysis companies claim that revenue caps might force them to shut down some of their clinics and this will affect patients who critically need the service.
- This measure, if voted in, will be a groundbreaking regulation in the healthcare industry and is being watched by interest groups all over the country.
Vote YES if you support a 15% revenue cap on dialysis companies so that the companies prioritize life saving treatments for patients– if they want to keep their profit margins.
- Patients suffering from kidney ailments who might face lower costs and better care if the dialysis companies spend more on improving care and take in less revenues
- The The SEIU-UHW West, a labor union which has been trying to unionize the dialysis industry and have asked for legislative regulation of the industry in the past and have failed in their attempts.
Who is sponsoring:
Total raised by sponsors: $18.86 million
Vote NO if you feel that the proposed revenue cap is too arbitrary and it would force dialysis companies to shut down clinics that are critical to kidney patients. Or if you agree with regulation, but strongly feel that such radical regulations should be brought about through careful legislation and not through ballot initiatives.
Who is opposing:
Who stand to lose if measure passes:
- DaVita and Fresenius who own and manage 72% of the dialysis industry. The average profit margin for dialysis clinics in California is 17% — nearly five times as high as an average hospital in California.
- Kidney patients, some of whom might lose access to dialysis clinics nearby if the companies decide to shut down clinics due to reduced profit margins.
Total raised by opposition: $111.02 million
Proposition 11: Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative
What is the deal? This initiated state statute is a preemptive proposition by the ambulance industry, paramedics and EMTs. If passed, ambulance companies would be exempt from 2016 labor laws passed by the California Supreme Court that mandates uninterrupted breaks for workers and also requires employers to pay workers at their regular rates during breaks. This initiative requires ambulance companies to provide additional training and some paid mental health services to EMTs and paramedics. The measure also seeks to void pending worker liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for violations (past industry practice of on-call meals and rest breaks) of labor laws passed in 2016.
Bear in mind:
- Currently ambulance personnel do not take off-duty breaks. This measure will simply preserve the status quo and allow the ambulance industry to write its own law as opposed to following current labor laws.
- According to current labor laws, workers are entitled to a half hour meal break and two ten minute rest breaks during their shift.
- Providing uninterrupted breaks would mean ambulance companies have to staff 25% more ambulances to cover those on break, costing $100 million per year. These costs will trickle down eventually to health care customers.
- However, ambulance personnel are first responders who perform in gruelling and pressure filled schedules, often dealing with life and death situations. Denying them uninterrupted breaks may not improve public safety.
- The measure would not apply to EMTs and paramedics who work for public agencies, such as fire departments.
Vote YES if you think it should be written into law, that like police officers, (and other essential public safety personnel,) EMTs, paramedics, life flight helicopter crews and 911 dispatchers should remain reachable during their breaks and be paid to do so.
- Patients with serious emergencies who can get care fastest if the nearest crew is not on an uninterrupted break.
- Healthcare customers avoid additional costs incurred by ambulance companies who have to hire additional staff to cover those on break.
- EMTs and Paramedics who will get paid for being on-call during breaks. They will also receive additional training and paid mental health services.
Who is sponsoring:
- Californians for Emergency Preparedness and Safety
- American Medical Response. They are the country’s largest medical transportation firm.
Total raised by sponsors: $ 29.93 million.
Vote NO if you want private ambulance companies to follow the same labor laws as everybody else. If you feel this a highly stressful job and that EMTs and paramedics must be given breaks to eat and decompress while not being on call. If you do not want the ambulance industry to be able to write their own laws, then you will need to vote “No.”
Who is opposing:
Who stand to lose if the measure passes:
- Ambulance employees who have liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for continuing to violate labor laws after the 2016 Supreme Court mandate for providing uninterrupted breaks for workers. These lawsuits and future ones will be voided if Prop 11 passes as this measure states that the past industry practice of on-call meal and rest breaks was allowable. .
- EMTs and paramedics lose their chance of getting uninterrupted breaks to decompress and be at their best for the next call
- Ambulance personnel will continue to have their breaks interrupted sometimes by less serious calls–one of the reasons why negotiations broke down between labor union and ambulance industry.
Vaishnavi Sridhar has a Masters in English and a penchant for the written word. She is also a theater/film enthusiast and on a given day, you might catch her on stage performing in a Telugu/Tamil/English play, or waxing eloquent on socially relevant topics on her Facebook page. Vaishnavi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and you can reach her firstname.lastname@example.org
Oct 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA
Oct 21, 2018 - Dec 15, 2018
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Learn to Meditate Class
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose CA
Nov 14, 2018
7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Book event on Kolam
Mrs. Dalloway’s Books, Berkeley CA
Nov 14, 2018
10:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Desi Comedy Night
Hollywood Improv Comedy Club, Los Angeles CA
My parents moved from the South Asian subcontinent to the North American continent in the mid-1960s, never to again celebrate Diwali in the country of their birth. But over the past 50 + years, they’ve never failed to light diyas, do pujas, enjoy mithais, and convey Shubh Diwali to their loved ones.
This is how Mom and Papa conveyed their sense of Diwali to me: As detailed in the Ramayana, one of India’s two magnificent epics, a royal couple – Prince Rama and Princess Sita – are banished from their homeland, Ayodhya. With Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, they spend 14 years in exile during which Sita was kidnapped by Lanka’s demon king, Ravana. The arc of the story is how the brothers, supported by well-wishing devotees such as the monkey God, Hanuman, rescue Sita and return home to Ayodhya. The jubilant citizens of their homeland excitedly welcome Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana by lighting diya oil-lamps on the night of the new moon, Amavashya. Sweets and gifts are distributed as Ayodhya celebrates with firework and dance. This is the delightful, somewhat facile story of good triumphant over evil. There are alternative narratives, including those which privilege Sita’s perspective, Lakshmana’s role, and Hanuman’s point of view; there is even a reading which is sympathetic to Ravana’s plight. Also quite interesting is how other goddesses and gods make their way into the celebration. As the victory of good over evil is said to bring prosperity, the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, is worshipped. And with King Rama rightfully back on his throne, Lord Ganesha represents a new start for Ayodhya. But for the diasporic traveler that I am, the story of Diwali is ultimately about desh and pardesh – home and away – and how we reconcile the two.
Bombay Baby and Calcutta Maybe
Although my parents had a comfortable life in Bombay (not yet called Mumbai by English newspapers), Papa left for Ontario, Canada in early 1965 as a scout of sorts, to get a lay of the snowy-white new land that would pave the path to more prosperity. Mom stayed back in Mulund, Bombay with her four children, awaiting the green light to move the family across the kala pani, the dark waters that her father insisted would result in familial fracture. While that feared fracture never quite happened, India and Pakistan fought yet another of the subcontinent’s internecine wars which ended days before Diwali, 1965. With our parents separated by an ocean, my brothers, sister, and I tried to make sense of our changing world: windows of our apartment flat in Mulund were darkened with brown paper to ensure that Pakistani fighter planes could not see the light inside our home; my elder brother, who was then not yet ten years old, had to fight his way home from school one day when all the trains and buses stopped, causing great worry for Mom; and my five-year-old self fought with inner demons at night as I would sleepwalk throughout our 3rd-floor flat looking out of our balcony for my absent father.
I imagine that Papa and Mom telepathically communicated all these troubles along with their more hopeful visions in the way of young people in love separated by long distances. While it seems inconceivable to me that Papa sent any poems to Mom during festive nights away from home and family, perhaps we can do a bit of revisionist history and dream that he sent a few lines from Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” (1981):
Home. These walls, this sky
Splintered with wakes of light
These mud-lamps beaded round
The eaves, this festive night,
These streets, these voices…yet
The old insensate dread,
Abeyant as that love,
Once more shifts in my head.
After the war was over, on the eastern side of India that makes the shape of its map look like a woman holding a sari aloft on her outstretched arm, there was a girl about my age who was celebrating Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali. While the rest of her family members in diya-lit Calcutta had their eyes closed during the Lakshmi puja, praying to the Goddess of Wealth, this bold lass saw her mother’s jewelry on a silver tray and quietly hid the jewels so as to protect them from anyone who might not be a well-wisher for the family’s prosperity. But as open as that girl’s watchful eyes were, they could not have been as open as my own eyes when Mom prepared me for our flight to Canada.
Our stay in Chatham, Ontario was a makeshift one, with the only other South Asian family in our town being the Hasnains from Pakistan. In those early years there were no Indian grocery stores close to home, though there was an uncle who owned a French-Indian restaurant in a nearby city. My memories of Diwali celebrations in Chatham are blurred by the struggles of my parents making their way in the world. Both would work multiple jobs including picking tomatoes as farm hands, Mom sewing clothes as a tailor, and during an economic downturn Papa, trained to be a procurement manager, was laid off from a multinational firm and took on odd jobs as a security guard and then as an orderly at a mental hospital. All I can really remember about India was the pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal and blue aerogrammes to and from family back home in Rajasthan.
For those of you not old enough to know about aerogrammes, kindly follow these instructions:\
- Find a thin, lightweight piece of blue paper approximately the size of 8 ½” x 11” printer paper.
- Fold into three sections as if you were enclosing it in an envelope (if you are too young to know what an envelope is, please proceed to the Silicon Valley part of this article).
- The top fold is for parents to pay respect to elders in India, write that “all izz well” in Canada, and for special holidays wish everyone “Happy Diwali,” “Happy Holi,” or “Happy Raksha Bandhan.” Just keep things joyous, suggesting that Goddess Lakshmi is smiling upon us in this land of milk and honey. Hidden from family in India are the hardships, the hard facts of our cold Canadian Diwali; no time with an uncle who was too busy with his restaurant, no agarbati to fill our home with sandalwood incense, no exploding firecrackers to let neighbors know about “our Christmas,” no flickering diyas to guide Lakshmi to our home, no shining new jewelry or dhan except the maple-leaf pennies that my parents earned; all we had were the six of us performing the puja around a silver coin of Lakshmi safeguarded from India, our foreheads dotted with kumkum powder carried in Mom’s suitcase as a vermilion reminder of our ancestry, and our mouths sweetened with saffron-less rice pudding pretending to be kheer with wrinkled black raisins substituted for plump golden ones.
- The middle fold is for more serious matters: replying to previous requests to send more money; sharing news about children’s educational accomplishments; and deferring the visit home to Rajasthan with a “we will soon return when we have accrued enough vacation” (while never disclosing that Goddess Lakshmi’s smile has been a bit pinched, and we don’t have funds for tickets to fly back to India; the illustration of an airplane on the front of the aerogramme is as close as we’ll come to a flying machine for almost a decade).
- And squeezed into the bottom fold on the inside of the aerogramme is space for the elder two siblings to write their pranams; inevitably the respectful salutations bow down to the end of the page and climb over to the other side where the younger two siblings (my younger brother and myself) write in larger font to grandparents, uncles, and aunts whose fully-fleshed memories slip away into two-dimensional black and white photos.
- Lastly, the address section on the front has Papa’s confident upper case hand-written memory of his or Mom’s village homes, before the gummy edges of the paper are moistened with parental saliva, pressed together, and the aerogramme is dropped in a mailbox.
After Papa was laid off from his job, he explored an opportunity in Chicago. In the same year that Apollo 11 made like a powerful Diwali firecracker and rocketed the first men to the moon, our family made like Diwali phuljharis and sparkled our way to the United States. While the Windy City was as cold as Ontario, its Midwestern heart felt so much warmer. Cosmopolitan Chicago had universities with graduate students from India, had a group of Gujarati friends that reminded Papa of Pravin Parikh, his best friend in Bombay, had a Patel Brothers grocery store to cater to the growing Indian population, and even had a Hindu temple.
In Chicago, Mom found other women who wore saris everyday, just as she had in Canada and would continue to do for decades in the United States. But these were not Indian women whose jet-black hair flowed down to their waists over the saree’s pallu. They were fair-haired wannabe gopis of the ISKCON movement. But no matter, my parents had a temple, albeit a temple shared with former hippies chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” And we had a place to go on Diwali, before returning home to feast with newfound friends and dance in dandia circles.
Just as Papa and Mom built an Indian community that enabled them to recreate a semblance of what they had left behind, their children turned toward another community, playing baseball with our American friends and singing rock-and-roll songs that our parents did not appreciate. Filial piety demanded that we attend family pujas, but while Mom and Papa celebrated Diwali with their friends, we rolled our eyes during prayers and began to surreptitiously make fun of our parents’ friends’ funny clothes and oily hair, and, out of adult earshot, mimicking the thick Gujarati accents in a way that presaged Hank Azaria’s diminishing Apu character on The Simpsons by a couple of decades. We were becoming defiantly Americans while steadfastly remaining loyal to, and protective of, our parents’ core values.
As the years went by, it appeared that Yankee defiance might win out: Blue jeans left no space in our closets for kurtas and pyjamas; Hollywood pushed Bollywood into the distant background; and for a while it seemed that television families like “The Brady Bunch” were the norm that we aspired to. The so-called “boob tube” delivered cultural context and our Americanized tongues became more comfortable saying “Happy Thanksgiving” rather than “Shubh Diwali.” While my parents did not overtly show anxiety around cultural loss, it must have seemed to them that their Diwali diyas could not hold a candle to Nat King Cole’s Christmas lights accompanied by chestnuts roasting on an open fire; while the former was easily extinguished, the latter illuminated much more of our Midwestern zeitgeist. It was as if Vikram Seth’s poem about Diwali was describing the cultural conflict between my birthright and the ascendant West’s claim on my impressionable teenage years.
Macaulay the prophet of learning
Chewed at his pen: one taste
Of Western wisdom “surpasses
All the books of the East,”
And Kalidas, Shankaracharya,
Panini, Bhaskar, Kabir,
Surdas sank, and we welcomed
The reign of Shakespeare.
College was a turning point. The summer before my freshman year, our family returned to Rajasthan to celebrate the weddings of my two older siblings. I returned to the U.S. with a commitment to learn about India, to be more of an Indian, to never remove my janoi, the sacred thread with which I had been invested days before my elder brother’s wedding. At college, only the Indian graduate students seemed to know anything about our shared heritage. There were three other undergraduate Indians in my freshman class, and all of them were on the right side of the Indian-American hyphen. It was only through coursework in Indian history, political science, art, religion, and anthropology that I found my way back to my own Indian identity. And then there was Satayjit Ray’s Apu Trilogy that clinched the deal with its masterful cinematic verisimilitude. On my road to self-discovery, I discovered Pather Panchali, the Song of the Little Road. I fell in love with village India and with the Bengali aesthetic. I saw Diwali through Apu’s eyes in Aparajito (The Unvanquished), the second of these three classic films. I found a way to vanquish my years of exile from India.
Upon graduation from college, I returned to India for my own wedding. I married Mangla, that not-quite Bengali girl who in the mid-1960s had safeguarded her mother’s jewelry on Dhanteras. Through the years, my wife has taught me more about Diwali then all the professors, books, films, and years that preceded her. Like so many mothers before her, Mangla has safeguarded much more than shiny baubles. She has kept alive the traditions of our ancestors and passed them along to our children and their spouses like a treasure that can be held only in one’s heart.
It is true that we no longer wait twelve days for our Diwali letters to cross the ocean and do the postal handshake/namaskar. Yes, we’ve been blessed by Silicon Valley innovations like email, Skype, and WhatsApp that enable us to have our Diasporic Diwali dreams delivered to us in an instant. And for those of us who are old-school, we now even have a Diwali stamp should we be inspired to send our loved ones Diwali greetings that consist of more than ephemeral bits and bytes.
Of course, the number of Indians in North America has gone up exponentially through the years. Unlike my parents and the Hasnain family of 1960s Chatham, Mangla and I have nearly a dozen Indian families living within walking distance from our Palo Alto home, each celebrating their own vision (and each other’s version) of Diwali/Deepavali; North India, South India, East India, and West India all centered around our California abode. Despite our neighborly friendships, our past has its hold on us and we hold on to vestiges of ancestral tribalism with our RANAs (Rajasthan Association of North America), GCANAs (Gujarati Cultural Association of North America), TANAs (Telegu Association of North America), CABs (Cultural Association of Bengal), and more.
To be sure, there have been some clunker Diwali celebrations like the RANA function in the early 1990s when I read aloud every word of Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” poem, leading almost the entire audience to head for the food before it was ready (I think Mangla was the only one who listened to me! ) But we’ve come a long way, crossing the bridge between here and there. Here might be Morgan Hill, and there might be Mt. Abu. Perhaps here is modernity, and there is tradition. And courtesy of our multiple and virtual Silicon Valleys that are anywhere, here and there could be everywhere, facilitating the building of our own Rama setus, our own bridges to (re)discover the loves of our lives. And we merely need a diya to light the sky, to show us the way back home to make peace with our disquieted heart.
It holds me-till the strain
Of exile, here or there,
Subverts the trance, the fear
Of fear found everywhere.
“But freedom?” the notes would sing…
Parole is enough. Tonight
Below the fire-crossed sky
Of the Festival of Light.
Give your soul leave to feel
What distilled peace it can;
In lieu of joy, at least
This lapsing anodyne.
“The world is a bridge. Pass over it,
Building no house upon it.”
Acceptance may come with time;
Rest, then disquieted heart.
Rajesh Oza truly hopes one day soon to celebrate Diwali in India, perhaps with a grandchild in tow. As Founder and President of OrganiZationAlignment Consulting Group, Inc., he specializes in helping senior executives better align their organizations to achieve success.
With the approach of Diwali, I tried to spring clean my house, as is customary. This year, some home repairs had been completed, and I was moving the contents back to my room. I smiled as I found a book that I had read many years ago. I remembered it with pleasure so naturally I put my spring cleaning aside and read it again. This tendency explains why my room is rarely very tidy. I admit it — I don’t get around to pruning or paring my book treasures very often. This tendency also explains why Marie Kondo and her tidiness advice does not work for a book hoarder like me. In fact, I feel like a chipko movement activist where my books are concerned. This Diwali, as I found new gladness in an old book, I rejoiced in the fickleness of memory, so that prose that had delighted years ago still yielded rich rewards.
Rather than read my review of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth (2008), I recommend getting on with your Diwali cleaning, but I know some of you will ignore this excellent advice. This one’s for you.
Several themes run through Unaccustomed Earth, most of them tales of ivy-league educated Bengali children of immigrant parents. The uneasy blend of East and West, the inter-generational expectations and pressures, the love for erudition and consequent upward mobility are all larger themes, but underlying these, are the complexities of people trying to understand each other and cope in the ‘unaccustomed Earth’ of their adopted homeland.
Hema is one of the Bengali kids who has lived up to her parents’ lofty aspirations, becoming an academic after completing a Ph.D. Other characters buckle under the weight of expectations that have become unbearably onerous. Amit has dropped out of Columbia med school, Sang out of Harvard, and Rahul has become an alcoholic. Ruma has ‘opted out,’ leaving her legal job to raise her kids, a decision that her father warns Ruma she might come to regret.
The inexorable deterioration of the flawed project of marriage is another theme. Children are time-consuming marriage deadeners in “A Choice of Accommodations.” The impossibility of being able to ultimately understand a spouse, and the resentment of being the sole care provider for offsprings feature prominently in this narrative. Loyalty to a dead parent suffuses another tale in the Hema-Kaushik trilogy. The protagonists in the short stories try to do the right thing, whether to support an alcoholic brother or to accept a younger step-mother, but ultimately the emotional tsunami that ensues from these perceived betrayals threatens to obliterate these relations
Lahiri is a writer of uncommon insight into the psyche of the Bengali diaspora. Her scope is very narrow; somewhat claustrophic, but I do think her writing is beautiful in its subtlety. Several of her characters’ observations are stunning, such as this depiction of the musings of an old man looking back at his lifetime:
“He didn’t want to live again in an enormous house that would only fill up with things over the years as the children grew, all the things he’d recently gotten rid of, all the books and papers and clothes and objects one felt compelled to possess, to save. Life grew and grew till a certain point. The point he had reached now.“
I realize at this point that Ruma’s Baba was much better than me at spring cleaning. Oh, and Diwali spring cleaning awaits. So, you can stop reading this, and go clean your house. Or you could read something else. Either way, you have learned how not to spring clean this Diwali.
Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. A domestic goddess, she is not.
Photo credit: a Creative Commons image by jvoves
Cover photo credit: a Creative Commons image by Soumyadeep Paul
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The great cellist Yo-Yo Ma has said, “There’s a moment where you can go into nature — always, at any moment, and figure out some parallel to what is happening in a sound-centric world.” Beyond Oceans was reminiscent of fall colors – it brought together the classicism of the Nadalaya School of Music, founded and directed by Shanthi Shriram and Shriram Brahmanandam, and the richness of Around the World, a global music ensemble founded by their son Arun Shriram. This fusion music concert benefited Inclusive World, an organization dedicated to developing the skills and abilities of differently abled individuals. Inclusive World is based in San Jose, California, and their vision is to help these individuals find avenues for continued professional development and social immersion. The event was organized on Saturday, September 8th, at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale.
The musicians included Wei Wang on Chinese percussion, Aditya Satyadeep on Indian violin, Alex Henshall on trumpet, Arun Shriram on mridangam, A.V. Krishnan on ghatam, Harini Krishnan on Indian keyboard, Morgan Swanson on guitar, Rob Goebel on cajon, Nandhan Natarajan on saxophone, Priyanka Chary on veena, Vijayakumar on keyboard, Kavya Iyer and Anivartin Anand on western violin, and vocal music was provided by the South Indian classical music students of Nadalaya School. The very sight of such variety on stage – of musical systems, of instruments, of musicians ranging from grade schoolers to accomplished artists, held together and swayed by music, was awe-inspiring.
The ensemble offered a twelve-course musical feast to a full house at Shannon theatre. They made an auspicious beginning with a mallari (traditional temple music) in the raga Gambhira Nattai, originally composed by the violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman.
Eastern and Western musical influences were tightly braided throughout the concert. For instance, when they performed an improvisation of Saint Thyagaraja’s Nagumomu in raga Abheri and John Coltrane’s Blue Train, the group seamlessly blended the two influences to create a whole new sound – a true hallmark of any good fusion music collaboration. At the same time, they played pieces where each style was preserved in all its glory, such as the Chinese drum (dagu) performance, Laya Vinyasam (improvised exposition of rhythmic patterns) on the mridangam, and a group rendition of chittaiswaram (improvisation in solfege) in the rare raga Pasupathipriya. This interplay made the performance pleasurable for the puritan in the audience and the casual listener alike. The music was interwoven with a slideshow which featured trivia about musical styles, instruments, artists, and composers.
In the end, they performed a medley, including One Day by Matisyahu from the famed “Kindness Boomerang“ video (a must watch clip that portrays the power of simple acts of kindness). Shanthi Shriram, who has been a Carnatic music teacher in the Bay Area for several years and who was one of the artistic directors for the show, recalls orchestrating the finale as an unforgettable experience – “A Tibetan song set to Indian Madhyamavathi raga flowed right after Brindavani thillana and then into an English song in major scale, then finally into a Spanish song which represented our Mohanam scale. The most interesting aspect of the whole concert was how the Chinese drum dagu flowed so well with Indian percussion instruments like mridangam and ghatam. This was something I had never imagined possible.”
Arun Shriram, the talented mridangam player, cherishes rehearsing with the artists of Beyond Oceans for months on end. One can imagine the camaraderie that develops as a result when he says “Performing with these musicians on stage was also a different experience from most stage performances I’ve been in. Although we were determined and felt the pressure of providing an entertaining performance to the whole audience, it felt as though it was just another rehearsal- we smiled at each other, we used visual contact as cues to play some particular section of music, and we had fun!”
Shriram Brahmanandam, a mridangam artist and co-artistic director at the Nadalaya School, reflected on the unique musical scene here, which allowed this kind of experimentation to come to fruition.
“We are indeed very lucky to live in a multicultural society like the Bay area. This truly gives us the opportunity to expose our students to various enriching experiences of working with and learning from artists of diverse musical systems. This learning involves different dimensions – learning to appreciate the beauty of instruments and musical systems different from ours, working with artists of different nationalities, the process of focusing and bringing out the synergies between various musical systems, and of course experiencing the final outcome – beautiful fusion music that brings out the best from all systems.”
He is right about the most admirable aspect of the concert, “The icing on the cake was the fact that all these efforts raised significant funds to help a noble cause such as Inclusive world.” With a noble gesture, these good samaritan musicians have set in flight a kindness-boomerang.
Dinesh Rabindran is a rasika who lives and works in the Bay area.
Come each autumn, armies of clay demigods in Star Ledger wraps, break hibernation and rise like a set of rudely awoken cross swarm of mummies. They rise from Rubbermaid boxes deep in the basements of South Indian homes, unleashing long-mouthed maelstroms of hysteria behind seemingly tranquil residential hedges of Jersey suburbia. They take control of the owners, suck their life force and demand human sacrifice. The jolly Dravidian festival of dolls is here!
Little did the Hindu warrior goddess know when she slayed Mahisha, the buffalo demon of yore, that she will let loose generations of neurotic Ninja Navratri Nymphs. From Mylapore to Manalapan. From Punjabi Bagh to Princeton Junction. Babes without Borders get ready for the biggest soirée of the season.
The galactic Golu gala wars begin. Just think a good ol’ fashioned Christmas Light Fight. Times 10.
Pre-battle strategies, infantry tactics, ground intelligence and stealth attacks. Surreptitious dashes to snatch the last remaining limited edition Ganesha wearing a “Fake News” cap, from the shelves of the best stocked store in Little India. Flanking maneuvers at the local Patel Cash and Carry check out lines to score fresh arrivals. Surveillance missions to Hobby Lobby to case out the latest crafting merchandise. Enhanced interrogation techniques at preceding gatherings to assess competition. Intuitive paranoia helps!
Reconnaissance complete, weeks before celebrations start, a theme is set. Dussehra can be devoid of Durga, but never of a designer dream, duh!
It’s that witching hour of the year. Men look askance and quietly despair as their year-long docile consorts morph into Kafkaesque Maha Kalis. Tyrannical Project Managers, with unrealistic deadlines, burgeoning budgets & scope creep.
Distraught, desperate Indian husbands dispatched on missions. Lost in the lonely lanes of Lowes. Looking for joist hangers, welding equipment, paint sprayers, cinder blocks and plywood to do their wives’ bidding. Other than the perfunctory mainstay of idols arranged on odd numbered steps, miniature cities need to be planned, parks designed, bridges and aqueducts built.
Golu displays across homes show off mini Epcots and Jurassic Parks; Shanghai high rises and the Stone Henge; the Pyramids and Tatooine; Mohenjadaro and Harappan civilizations. Repurposed Bratz dolls in wedding palanquins; the Death Star hovering as the Pushpa Vimanam; Captain America and Iron man dueling in the Kurukshetra war; a makeshift Paan stall on a bar cart; a Nexo knight as Bahubali, Thomas the Tank engines are now under Indian Railways Management! Cross-Franchise innovation! Papier-mâché beauty and beasts, menageries, tribal chieftains, royalty, seers, leaders and ordinary men rub shoulders with the Gods on stairways to Heaven.
Kalamkari Kanchanas, Sungudi Saraswatis and Pochampalli Padmas sashay around, blinging with recent summer purchases; air rife with scents of sandal, scandal and sundal.
Braggart parents egging on their hapless star kids to flaunt skills in front of long suffering, captive gods and guests.
Model UN debate speeches on “The Weaponization of Modern Media” and Pythagorean theorems drown out strains of Mayamalavagowla and Poorvi Kalyani.
Chauffeured by spouses cooling their wheels on gridlocked driveways, golu-hopping ladies compare charities, ailments and dysfunctional in-laws; show off new babies and their latest Model S Teslas; their boutique vacations and oh we were in the same resort as Ashton Kutcher gossip! Not for the faint of heart, when the lionesses prowl free, timid men take refuge in underground bunkers, surfacing gingerly, like subs, only in friendly waters. For some love and lentils.
I remember when my dad, brother and I used to help my mom set up modest Golu steps balanced on saved stacks of The Hindu, cardboard boxes & biscuit tins from the pantry. Her only stock of Bombay Rava trapped beneath the gods for nine whole days. The formulaic “park” with powdered-coal roads skirting match-stick fences on freshly sprouted fenugreek fields. A mandatory sand dune hill with a hollowed out tunnel glowing crimson with an oil lamp. Newspaper-wrapped spicy steamed legume favors – stained with tradition’s indelible ink.
Gone are those halcyon days. Now, healthy one-upmanship carries on to the dining table. These are the times of Chundal Bruschetta, Chili and Chaat. Favors wrapped in recycled Etsy cinch sacks. Non-Stepfordian hostesses, nostalgia traps and product placements. Quirky juxtapositions of creativity and camp; glamor and gleeful bad taste. FB events, Whatsapp snubs and online jilts.
Gotta go..I have 32 Interested and 88 Going. A guest of a guest wants to know if my buffet will be vegan and peanut free! For her Alaskan malamute
Usha Srinivasan is a FB blogger (Flogger©), IT professional, artist, home decor and not-so-haute cuisine enthusiast. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her loving husband and their heiress and spares.
First printed in October 2017.
By Dani Antman Growing up, I had an ambivalent relationship to Judaism. The religious services I attended never inspired me, and when I started my search for a spiritual path, I turned to the teachings of Yoga. Later, when I discovered Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical...read more
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Presidio Trust launched the planning and public engagement process for a multi-year effort to revitalize the Crissy Field area of the Presidio. With a growing urban...read more
In the SF Bay Area, sometimes the only clear signal that the season is changing is the arrival of new fruits and vegetables in the market. Sweet summer produce such as corn and stone fruits are replaced by root vegetables and big squashes such as bright orange pumpkins—as if nature is preparing us for autumn’s cooler temperatures and reduced daylight by offering vegetables with an abundance of vitamin A for eyesight, and the nutrients and fiber needed to support the immune system.
Pumpkins have a history as an edible fruit in many ancient cultures. They are native to Central America and Mexico, but have spread all over the world. Pumpkins come in all different colors and sizes. The familiar color is orange, but some varieties of pumpkin are even green, white, or even pale blue! While we associate pumpkins with massive sizes, (the current record holder for the biggest pumpkin weighed almost a ton!) there are some tiny varieties too.
Perhaps due to their large and colorful appearance, pumpkins have been woven into fairy tales of almost every continent. In fact there is even a variety known as the fairy tale pumpkin.
In the United States, pumpkins are used as carved decorations for Halloween, but these pumpkins are not ideal to cook with. For soup, pies, bread, or a stew the sugar pie pumpkin works best. It is less stringy than larger varieties and its meat is sweet and fine grained. For a soup recipe, select a medium-sized pie pumpkin with a bright orange skin that weighs about 2 to 3 pounds.
In addition to being easy and gratifying to cultivate, pumpkin is also very nutritious. It is low in fat and sodium and high in other important nutrients.
Pumpkins are easy to cook. They can be either baked or steamed. To bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the pumpkin lengthwise into two halves. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and strings. (Seeds can be saved, roasted, and served as a healthy snack.) Oil the surfaces inside and outside the pumpkin and set the halves on a baking sheet with the cut side down. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the meat is soft when a fork is inserted, but still firm enough to be cut into chunks.
To steam, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove seeds and strings. Steam the two halves in a steamer for about 20 minutes. Cook them just enough to loosen the skin while keeping the flesh firm and intact. Cool, peel, and cut into chunks.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.
Gujarati Kadhi with Pumpkin
Some food historians believe that the word “curry” came from a British mispronunciation of the name of a yogurt soup called kadhi. In Gujarat in northwestern India, kadhi is considered a comfort food. It can clear the sinuses and relieve other symptoms of the common cold. It is easy to digest and can lift your spirits when you are feeling down. Kadhi is a simple, light soup with a sauce-like consistency that is made with lots of water, some yogurt or coconut milk, and a bit of garbanzo flour. Other ingredients such as peanuts, green beans, okra, yams, or pumpkin can be added to embellish the soup.
2 cups cooked pumpkin, cut into
6 to 7 cups water
1 ½ to 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons besan (garbanzo flour)
¼ teaspoon each turmeric and
2 cloves of minced garlic mixed
with ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
and made into a paste using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mild cooking oil such as
corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, or
¼ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 whole red chilies
A large pinch of asafetida
A few fresh curry leaves and/or 1 table spoon of chopped cilantro
Whisk together water, yogurt, garbanzo flour, powdered spices, and salt until smooth. Add the garlic/cayenne paste. Bring the mixture to a boil in a pot, then turn the heat down. Cook for 15 minutes stirring constantly until the soup has a creamy texture. Add the pumpkin and continue to cook for a few minutes.
For the final step, in a separate small pot, heat the oil and then add the mustard and cumin seeds. After the seeds start to pop, add the chilies and the asafetida. Stir, and then add this smoking mixture to the pot of kadhi. Cover immediately, and keep it covered for five minutes.
Taste, correct for saltiness, and top with fresh curry leaves and/or cilantro. Serve hot with rice and/or bread. Instruct the diners to remove the whole chilies and curry leaves, or you can take them out as you are serving.
Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk
Thai food can be very similar to Indian food in flavor. This recipe was modified with a memory of a soup I had in South India and by mixing a few Thai recipes until I came up with a version which is especially quick to prepare. If you are using canned pumpkin or previously prepared steamed or baked pumpkin, it can be ready in 25 minutes!
2 cups freshly made pumpkin puree
or 1 15 oz can of puree
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, any type
2 cups water
2 cups or one 15 oz can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons of prepared Thai
red curry paste (found in specialty
or health food stores)
or prepare your own curry paste
with the following ingredients
Thai red curry paste
1 or 2 red dry chilies or 1 teaspoon
1 stalk of lemon grass chopped into
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
or white parts of green onion
3 cloves of chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon chopped lime peel (skin)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves with
1 teaspoon each powdered
coriander and powdered cumin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
To prepare the Thai curry paste, place all the above ingredients in the jar of a food processor or a blender and puree into a coarse paste. Store in a glass jar. For this recipe you will need only half of the amount you have made. The remainder can be saved in the refrigerator for upto a week.
Heat the vegetable oil in a pot and add 3 tablespoons of the Thai curry paste you have prepared. (Store-bought paste is denser so you may need less.) Stir-fry for 2 minutes, and add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove any rough fibers of the homemade paste that rise to the surface.
Lower the heat and add the coconut milk. Cook over a moderate heat for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the salt and pumpkin puree. Lower the heat again and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently until the soup thickens to a cream-like consistency. Adjust seasoning, adding more paste if desired. Serve with bread and/or rice.
First printed in October 2011. Original Title – A Sure Sign of Autumn
Toward the end of September of each year, the South Indian community enters a frenzy of chaos and excitement in preparation for Golu, the exhibition of dolls in honor of Navratri. Golu has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Despite living in the...read more