Call For Asian American Artists

Jagah (Collective of South Asian Artists) welcome submissions from all South Asian artists (including undocumented, noncitizen, and/or 1st generation immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) who explore themes at the intersection of identity, cultural hybridity, sense of place, and the meaning of sanctuary through a diasporic lens. 

Over 200 years of colonization has resulted in our communities being continuously fractured, dispersed and reimagined. Nevertheless, there exists a collective sense of memory that flows through our culture, despite the effects of migration and displacement. We invite artists to consider the following questions as a prompt for your submissions:

How do you reimagine your South Asian identity within the future global and local context? How does geography influence your sense of belonging? Which stories connect you to the elders in your community and/or family? How do you preserve your history as an immigrant on colonized land? How does your identity serve as a form of resistance? How do you celebrate your presence despite the traumas you may carry? In what ways can we take agency and ownership of our memories and portrayals? What will happen if we choose to reclaim these narratives?

Submissions are free and all contributors will be paid. We are accepting submissions, including but not limited to:

  • Photography
  • Film
  • Performance (music, dance and conceptual, spoken word poetry)
  • Writing (short stories, interview, essays)
  • Sculpture
  • Printmaking, painting and drawing

Submissions will close on February 20th at midnight PST.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tune Slips Away

The hoot of a flute drifts by, carried by a summer breeze. A female two-part harmony follows. Before I can take in those sounds, I hear a sparkling sitar. Was there a hint of a Western drum in the mix as well?  A faint but enchanting tune beckons to me now. My ears raise their hoods and snake out to meet the melody.

I am taking a train from Ottapalam to Palakkad because I would rather wait for a ride here – under the towering tree on Platform 1 – than anywhere else in town. From this corner, I can hum and beatbox without drawing attention; the ruffling of the tree’s leaves and a caw club run by the local crows conspire to drown my adolescent voice. I could also gaze from here, beyond Platform 2 through a thicket, at the expanse over river Nila and perhaps peel a childhood memory or two  – maybe the one about gliding along a countryside stream and trying to sing I am a Disco Dancer underwater. From where I stand, I pan right and my eyes follow a railroad all the way up to that mysterious place where parallel lines meet. A grey cloud of smoke emerges there; my train is almost here. Before the train arrives, with a little luck I should be able to find the song that has captured my interest if I walk fast enough towards its source.

A swarm of sounds draws me away from my quest: I hear a group of fellow travelers argue the outcome of a football match; a scooter’s two-stroke engine fleets across the aural scene; the ever-optimistic fortune-teller (a.k.a lottery-seller) calls out the moment of change, “Naale, naale, naale” (tomorrow, the day that does come, the day that will transform your life). Amid these distractions, I nearly deduce the key of the song but a gust of wind snatches it away. Determined, I close my eyes to focus all sensory energy on the divine sound that wafts out from a nearby shop. This focus helps – I catch a Tamil phrase, vaasam illaamale (without fragrance), and a vibrant string section that skitters up and down the musical scale in the background.

As the music draws me into its spell, my train chugs onto the platform and I indulge my craving for the song by letting the train leave without me. Tranquility is restored soon, but the song has disappeared with a near sleight of hand as Eleanor Farjeon alluded to, “The night will slip away / Like sorrow or a tune.” I stand on the platform, lonely, with the foolishness of infatuation inscribed on my face.

***********

For many days after that, I grow wistful whenever I think about that song. I had once fallen in love with a guava-flavored drink that began with the letter  ‘G.’ That is all I ever discovered about it. I fear if that will be the destiny of this song too, until one day I stumble upon a familiar strain on a friend’s cassette tape. The musical arrangement evokes two contrasting images: a philharmonic orchestra playing allegro and Ravi Shankar striking the sympathetic strings of his sitar before beginning an alaap. I transfer the tape to my Walkman, rewind to the beginning of the song, put on headphones, and listen to Netru Illada Maatram (a change that wasn’t there yesterday) from the Tamil movie Pudhiya Mugam. The lottery man is a seer – tomorrow is here. It is here in AR Rahman’s avatar and it will change my worldview of music forever – beat by beat, note by note, rest by rest.

***********

When beauty permeates space the artist withdraws from, art moves us. In Netru Illada Maatram were the seeds of an avant-garde composer. Yet, Rahman was rarely in my thoughts when I listened to the song. Instead, I would lose myself in the depths of the bass line. I would eavesdrop on the tête-à-tête between sitar and veena in the first interlude. I would get curious about the surreal synth effect in the second interlude, tugging at my left ear first then right. After an iconoclastic third interlude, where the song concludes without closure, I would imagine the twists and turns it may have taken in its afterlife.

In a Times article, Zatorre and Salimpoor posit that our brains save sound patterns – starting from our earliest musical influences – and that when we listen to a new piece we subconsciously extrapolate from those patterns and anticipate certain aspects of the music. You could get a musical high when such predictions seem correct, occasionally also when they don’t because the music is even better, and strangely enough, you may feel euphoric at the moment of prediction. They summarize these findings thus: “So each act of listening to music may be thought of as both recapitulating the past and predicting the future.” Was Netru Illada Maatram translating a notion here, or completing a feeling there, that I had most certainly experienced before but could never intuit or give expression to?

John O’Donahue suggests in Beauty: The Invisible Embrace how a creator may rouse a sense of wonder, “The poet wants to drink from the well of origin…In order to enter this level of originality, [he] must reach beyond the chorus of chattering voices that people the surface of a culture.” If you see yourself miss a train, pray for a red light in traffic, or wait without a blink or a bio-break, simply to remain with a work of art, you may be hearing a refrain that stands out from the chatter.  O’Donahue braves a definition for this indefinable feeling, “This is the sense you have when you read a true poem. You know it could not be other than it is. Its self and its form are one.” He says ‘“true.” Not “good.” Not “beautiful.” Just “true.”

It must have been truth that beckoned to me in the railway station that summer afternoon.  

Dinesh lives and works in the Bay Area. He considers himself fortunate to share the planet with AR Rahman and to have an auditory range that allows him to listen to music. Dinesh can be reached at hazel.sundial[at]gmail.com.

Date/Time Event
Feb 17, 2019 - Feb 24, 2019
5:00 am - 5:00 pm
Yoga Retreats In Rishikesh
Yoga Retreats In Rishikesh
Rishikesh Yog sansthan, Rishikesh Uttarakhand
Feb 19, 2019 - Feb 22, 2019
All Day
IHGF Delhi Fair Spring 2019
IHGF Delhi Fair Spring 2019
India Exposition Mart Ltd, Knowledge Park – II Gautam Budh Nagar Greater Noida Uttar Pradesh
Feb 22, 2019
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Understanding The Asian Century
Understanding The Asian Century
Taube Family Auditorium, San Francisco CA
Feb 23, 2019
3:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Parampara 2019
Parampara 2019
Harbeson Hall, Pasedena City College, Pasedena CA

In Conversation With Dr. Vandana Shiva

Noted environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva is in the Bay Area – she spoke at Berkeley this evening, and will be speaking at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts tomorrow evening. Details are given here: https://openspacetrust.org/wsls-vandana-shiva/?utm_campaign=wsls&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=indiacurrents

 In an exclusive interview with India Currents, she spoke about her work as an environmental activist. Listening to her speak on various interlinked topics made me ponder about the motivations of individual human beings and modern societies in their unending quest for development and the crushing costs of this onward march.The urgency with which she speaks about the threat to biodiversity, the spread of large scale industrial agriculture and the ubiquitous use of  chemical fertilizers – each environmental transgression larger and more dire than the other – makes one contemplate the very paradigm on which modern societies exist. Every aspect of promoting environmental wellness has been impacted by her work over several decades.

As a student in the 1970s, Dr. Vandana Shiva volunteered with the Chipko movement. Today, decades later, her environmental activism encompasses multiple levels – work with farmers, drafting policy at the highest levels of government, speaking out against biopiracy, fighting legal cases against big corporations, founding a seed farm to save “native” seeds, while acknowledging the often overlooked contributions of women – every one of these missions is enough to occupy a lifetime. She recognizes that the problems related to the environment are not only dire – they are also interlinked and need to be tackled at various levels. As she sees it, “the world is very different from how it was when I first started with the Chipko movement in the 1970s. Today, problems related to the environment and our continuing indifference are all around us. We cannot afford to ignore this. Speaking up is no longer enough. Action is needed at every level.”

As a graduate student in physics studying in Canada in the 1970s, she was drawn to the simple premise of the Chipko movement where women hugged trees to prevent logging in the forests surrounding their homes. From that initial foray into seeing the rewards of environmental activism, she has dedicated her life to the cause.

Dr. Shiva confessed that time and again, she had been schooled in the ways of the land by “uneducated” farmers who had not seen the inside of a college classroom; simple men and women whose lives and livelihoods depended on the environment. Sometimes, she said, “a scientist might be able to name a handful of species, whereas the women who lived close to the forested areas would easily name each and every species, while giving detailed information about which plant was good for the water, which was good for the soil along with their respective growing conditions and more. Their lives were intertwined with the environment and they were really the teachers to those who were schooled inside classrooms in schools and colleges,” she asserted.

Using her scientific training, Dr. Vandana Shiva used two other languages that she was familiar with – “English and graphing,” to make a case for environmental causes at the highest levels of policy making and government. Judging by how articulate she is, there is no doubt in my mind that her methods could effectively change policy at the highest levels of government.

Vasudaiva kutumbhakam: (the world is one family) is something that is part of our culture,” she says and “so is plurality.” “For Devi, we do not have one name – instead we have a thousand. We pray to the tulsi plant – we hold as sacred the cow and the bull. We have not come from an anthropocentric perspective, believing in the superiority of our species over others. We have always understood the interdependence of the human species with every other species. Now, with the new global economic paradigm, this interdependence is all the more pronounced. When a large percentage of goods for the American market are produced in China, China just becomes an extension of the American economy. And, environmental impact is also global.”

The Green Revolution is widely credited with ridding India and several other developing  countries from starvation. But, Dr. Vandana Shiva has a different take on this phenomenon that revolutionized farming – the rice varieties might have contributed to higher yields, but each of these rice varieties required more water to grow and they were also dependent on chemicals for survival. “For instance, in the Kavery delta,” she says, “I often tell farmers that the removal of indigenous rice varieties during the Green revolution led in great measure to the current dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. They lost the low-water using rice varieties earlier and over time, the waters of the Kavery were not sufficient to take care of rice crops in both states.” She also introduces an innovative concept – she says rice and other grains should not just be measured on the scale for weight but their nutritional value should be the guiding unit of measurement. “What is the point of having a grain of rice that weighs well, is grown with chemicals and has low nutritional value?”

Dr. Vandana Shiva talks of her farm – Navdanya (www.navdanya.org) where they have saved over 6000 seed varieties. Prior to the Green Revolution, India had 200,000 varieties of rice, she declares. The origin of the name for her farm has an interesting anecdote behind it – in the border between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, she was working with farmers at a time when the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan lived in the jungles there. She came across a piece of land where multiple crops were being grown simultaneously – stunned by the diversity in front of her, she quizzed the farmer who said,”of course, this is navdanya. Just like the nine planets (navagraha) that move in the cosmos in unity, these crops and the food within me will have the same balance.” She was struck by the beauty of the concept – of the sense of balance that he was referring to and named her organization located in the hilly Garhwal region after this.

Indian-American readers can visit the website to learn more about the work done on the farm. The whole month of September is devoted to various activities on the farm, and a program christened as Earth Journeys allows visitors to explore growing regions in the area.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.

Read an earlier article on Dr. Vandana Shiva from our archives below.

The World is Not “Phat”

Manikarnika of Jhansi: Kangana Ranaut Claims Her Throne

Jhansi aap bhi chaahte hai aur main bhi. Farq sirf itna hai ke aap raaj karna chaahte hai aur main apnon ki sewa.” (You want Jhansi and so do I. The only difference is that you want to rule and I want to serve my people.)

This defiant line delivered by Kangana Ranaut sets the stage and tone for Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (Manikarnika) as well the kind of values Rani Laxmibai stood for. As a bonus, Kangana plays the role of the Rani, etching herself once more into the history of Hindi cinema with a refined, fiery and visceral performance. She also makes her debut as the co-director of the movie.

The legend of Rani Laxmibai dwells on the fact that she was mardaani or brave. Yet how many of us understand the woman beneath and why the warrior princess chose to pick up the sword and fight? What drove her to violence? How did she become one of the iconic faces of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also called the First War of Indian Independence) who charged up the common people enough for them to fight and gain independence less than a hundred years after that?

Freedom fighter and poet Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote these immortal lines describing Laxmibai which became a war cry for India’s Independence Movement.

“Chamak uthi san sattavan mein, yeh talwar purani thi,
Bundeley Harbolon ke munh hamney suni kahani thi,
Khoob ladi mardaani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi…”

(The ancient sword that caught the light in 1857, the story goes, belonged to one who fought like a man —  the valiant Queen of Jhansi.)

Hugh Rose said, of her: “She was the bravest and best military leader of the rebels. A man among mutineers.”

“The Rani is remarkable for her bravery, cleverness and perseverance; her generosity to her subordinates was unbounded. These qualities, combined with her rank, rendered her the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders,” said Lord Cumberland when describing Laxmibai.

Manikarnika methodically unravels the mardaani perception by focusing on the woman within, through some effective long shots, well-written scenes, sequences and often minimal dialogue. It steers clear of ostentatious drama and emotion, striking a fine balance between fiction and facts and retaining Rani Laxmibai’s identity as well as the fervor of freedom movement. The narrative is simple and stays with her journey. I also loved that it is called Manikarnika, her maiden name. Even though it is part fiction, her spirit remains true to the Queen of Jhansi and effectively shows her contribution in lighting the fire of independence in 1857 mutiny.

Kangana took over the direction because of creative differences with the director Krish (born Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi), as she felt the movie was more about the 1857 Rebellion and less about Rani Laxmibai. It was the right call, and the movie is subtle and gentle despite its violent content. I cannot wait for her solo directorial debut, if her introduction scene is any indication.

The stunningly shot sequence shows Manikarnika aiming an arrow at an errant tiger ferociously attacking villagers. She pats the tiger softly in the neck even as she renders him unconscious. Jhansi’s minister Dixitji watches her and is impressed by this gentle warrior. Swords and arrows were her allies since childhood — she has been fostered by Peshwa Bajirao II (Suresh Oberoi, sublime) despite being born to commoner Moropant (Manish Wadhwa, effective). Soon after, a hesitant princess finds her way into the palace with her prince Gangadhar Rao (Jisshu Sengupta, outstanding).

Her initiation into her grand new home is a contrast between her disapproving mother-in-law Raajmata and liberal husband Gangadhar. Bangles are not her forte, and while her husband understands that, the Rajmaata doesn’t. Her relationship with Gangadhar is beautifully slow and steady; he woos her with a library of books and prides in his wife’s sword skills. Their romantic sequences are stunning and languid.

When the time is right, Gangadhar hands her the baton of Jhansi, leaving the sorrowed widow saddled with a mission. I found this part well done, and was surprised that even though one expects a woman wielding swords and aiming arrows to be confident of assuming the throne, she is not. She takes on the mantle reluctantly.

Great care has been taken to make sure people around her lift her potential up. Peshwa doesn’t confirm her Jhansi proposal until after a chat. Right before he changes her name, as per the tradition during their wedding, Gangadhar seeks her approval. Jhalkaribai (Ankita Lokhande, sterling), Tatya Tope (Atul Kulkarni, solid), and Ghulam Ghaus Khan (Danny Denzongpa, excellent), her pillars of support are spot on as the supporting leads.

Her character traits are displayed through her actions and dynamics with people around. In a quiet moment, Gangadhar tells her, “You never asked why I wear bangles. Thank you.” She refuses to accept food from Jhalkaribai unless she places it on her hand. In a defiant moment, she declares to her mother-in-law, “I am still married to my land and will not dress like a widow.” She stands with her head held high against the British even when her husband chooses to bow. The scene when Gangadhar seats her on the throne, her bathing ceremony after his death, the confrontation scenes with the British officers, her fight training scene with women, and her speeches, the war scenes, the sword fights… are all evocative.

Considering the modest budget given to a period film of this stature and the double shooting, the production values are excellently toned, with taut direction, robust cinematography, crisp editing, authentic set designs, and elegant costumes. K V Vijayendra Prasad and Prasoon Joshi do a fine job with the script. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Prasoon Joshi rock and roll with the rousing songs.

The special effects are not as smoldering, however. Kangana’s erect spine more than makes up for it. She is a joy to watch in every frame, and all woman in her sword and glory. Be it romancing her husband, taming a horse, giving birth, holding her child, mourning, igniting rebellion, sitting hesitatingly or confidently on throne, cutting a soldier’s head with all her strength, or finally and defiantly perishing in flames.

Right from the first frame to the blazing end, Kangana is glorious. Her eyes, face, gait, spine, and her body language are superbly controlled and in tandem with Jhansi Ki Rani. She proves without a doubt that she is the best among current and past generations. The kitty of her expressions is unbelievable, comparable to Nargis in Mother India. Credit or no credit, the Queen has claimed her throne.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019). Directors: Kangana Ranaut, Krish. Writers: K. V. Vijayendra Prasad, Prasoon Joshi. Players: Kangana Ranaut, Jisshu Sengupta, Danny Denzongpa, Atul Kulkarni, Ankita Lokhande, Suresh Oberoi, Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. Theatrical release: Zee Studios.

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

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

From Our Sponsors




Grammy Award Nominee Falguni Shah

Talent has no boundaries and it flourishes on its own, wherever it lands. It rightly describes the remarkable journey of Falguni Shah, the only Indian nominated for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. Bewildered at the turn of the events, Falguni is still in search of words to express her joy and embrace the success that has come her way.

“I was completely shocked when I heard about the nominations at the Grammys. The album was a creation out of a mother’s love for her child and I never expected it to reach such heights,” said Falguni Shah, who has her album, Falu’s Bazaar nominated for the Best Children’s album category at the Grammys, which will be held on February 10, 2019.

Unlike other conventional albums made for children, what makes Falu’s Bazaar unique is the wonderful compositional quality and distinct thought process that went into its creation. It was the inquisitiveness of a four year old Indian-American boy to know about his own cultural roots, differences in language, foods and spices that led to this album.

“My son always had these interesting questions about how we Indians spoke different languages at home, how our food smelt different and why our curries were yellow in color. So, I just wanted to give him a sense of identity and to tell him about our beautiful culture. It was very important for me to make him aware that being different is nothing to be ashamed of. On the other hand I feel that we should actually be proud of our incredible heritage. And I found music as the best option to communicate my thoughts to him,” adds Falguni. She moved to America in 2000 and has been actively involved in the music industry since then.

Addressing the concerns of her four year old son, Falguni compiled the songs in the form of different stories that would educate as well as engage the kids. Not just in English, the album has songs in Hindi and Gujarati as well. The album unfolds the story of a mother-son duo, who visit the Bazaar and each song represents the various entities and incidents that they witness during the journey to and fro from the market.

The album Falu’s Bazaar starts off with a song sung by her son Nishaad where he recites his name, age and address in Hindi. Following this, there are songs on how to cross the road and about the different shapes of the traffic lights. It continues with a song that portrays American diversity and includes the word ‘hello’ in five different languages including Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Hindi and English. But, it is the song about the rainbow, that stands apart as the singer’s favorite.

“Classical music is my muse and hence I have tried to include the different rhythms in one of the songs that describes the rainbow, colors and numbers. I feel it’s essential for kids to know about taals and how music is part of everything around them. Music is universal and it has the power to connect amidst diversity and it’s a great medium to communicate too,” added the singer.

The album has also included fascinating details about how pots and pans are called kadai  and belan in Hindi, how different spices are used to cook Indian food with their names being jeera, haldi, etc. It even includes a song that names all the tropical Indian fruits and vegetables that kids growing up in America are unaware of.

“Through each and every song I have tried to make the kids understand about the unique aspects of Indian culture. And it feels great to get reviews from other parents that these songs really helped them in making their kids learn Indian languages. I have also included an activity book which can be downloaded for free along with the album that describes the story and helps kids to learn each and every word both in English and Hindi,” said the Grammy award nominee.

Adding a personal touch to the album, Falguni has also included a lullaby sung in Gujarati by her mother, Kishori Dalal, which has been passed on from one generation to another in the family. With a total of 10 songs, the album familiarizes kids with knowledge on languages, diversity and culture through the medium of music. Produced by Danny Blume and Deep Singh, the album is composed by Falguni Shah with Bryan Vargas being the lyricist. Other singers include her students – Saara and Lekha Wood, and husband Gaurav Shah, who is also one of the musicians for the album along with Bryan Vargas, Deep Singh, Soumya Chatterjee and Danny Blume.

Unique themes for albums has always been Falguni’s forte, who believes that music should invariably have a meaning and enrich others. Her previous album Foras Road was inspired by the stories of women belonging to the infamous red-light area in Mumbai’s Foras Road. The amazing singer has also recorded and performed alongside a wide array of famous artists including Ricky Martin, Wyclef Jean, Blues Traveler and she has also performed a duet with A R Rahman at the Time Gala Event in front of the Obamas and Oprah Winfrey.

Though many accolades have come her way now, her journey was not easy when she entered the music industry here in 2000. Having learnt music since the age of three under eminent gurus Kaumudi Munshi, Uday Mazumdar, Ustad Sultan Khan, and Kishori Amonkar, Falguni was keen on making her career in music and it was always a matter of working twice as hard to catch up with musicians here in America.

“I was in the minority and it was a culture shock. Everything was different, the way we learnt, the memorization and even the work ethic. I had to learn the American way while holding on to everything that I learnt in India. It was a struggle with lots of rejections but I have learnt from my mistakes. As is rightly said, pursuing music – it is all about the journey and not the destination,” affirmed Falguni.

Her experiences are also one of the prime reasons behind the inception of Falu’s Bazaar, through which she wants to give an identity to her son so that he can draw the best from both cultures – one which is ancient and rich in heritage and other that is very modern and driven by technology.

“My wish is that my son maintains his incredible Indian cultural identity while learning to assimilate into American society. He should learn about both the cultures and should be proud of his Indian roots,” added Falguni.

https://soundcloud.com/falushah/sets/falus-bazaar

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel-Palestine Conflict: A New Understanding

Traveling to Israel changed me. In the span of eight days, I toured holy sites in Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee, took part in Hanukkah festivities, and spoke to government leaders. My journey to Israel came about when I was invited to take part in an eight-day educational tour sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a group affiliated with the American pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).

The intensive educational tour helped me gain an in-depth understanding of modern Israel, its politics, society, culture and the current state of the U.S-Israel relationship. This was a very important time to visit as the United States and Israel confront growing uncertainty in the region and are both seeking ways to advance the peace process. Through on-site visits, I learnt about innovative Israeli approaches to international and domestic issues. I was able to tour religious sites in Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee, and I also participated in strategic surveys of Jerusalem and the Israeli borders with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. The program also included discussions with current and former Israeli government officials, Palestinian Authority representatives and leading academics and journalists. While my time in Israel was short, my experiences and interactions from that week have given me a brand-new understanding of the country, as well as the issues it faces today.

Many of you are already aware of the major issues surrounding Israel, most notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In no way do I condone the use of violence to resolve a dispute, especially one that has caused so much anger, controversy, and pain around the globe. I believe that the majority of people living in this area—the people who are in no way representative of actions carried out by ruling parties or by their ancestors—are united in their desire for one thing – Peace.

While in Israel, I met leaders on both side of the conflict in order to gain a more balanced and nuanced view of the challenges and dangers that both groups face in achieving this common goal. Besides learning more about the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through daily experiences, I also realized that Israel is not the dangerous place that many of my friends and acquaintances imagine it to be. The issues that Israel deals with are, in many ways, like those faced by other modern-day nations such as the United States. Among these issues are racism, social problems, and security. In terms of day-to-day safety, Israel is as safe as most American cities, albeit with occasional exceptions.

My first destination was Jerusalem. Walking through a city that is considered holy to three of the world’s largest religions was a humbling and awe-inspiring experience.  While in Jerusalem, I had the chance to visit sites that were revered by Judaism (King David’s Tomb, the Western Wall, the remains of the ancient temple), Islam (the site of Muhammad’s ascension to heaven, the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Buraq Wall—the Islamic name for the Western Wall), and Christianity (the road which Christ walked to his crucifixion, the site of the Last Supper, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

In Jerusalem, I spoke with members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament)  on various issues. In particular, Brig. Gen. (Res) Former Chief of Counter Terrorism Nitzan Nuriel gave a very insightful overview of the interests and roles of Israel, other Middle Eastern and Western nations, as well as ongoing conflicts between these countries. He also spoke about the various options of one-state, two-state and  three-state solution involving Gaza, Israel, and Palestine.

Ten kilometers north, in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, I met with Dr. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian diplomat who negotiated the Oslo accord with Israel (which created the self-governing Palestinian Authority) in the 1990s. The mood in Palestine was pessimistic after the actions taken by Trump Administration to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem .He discussed his support for a two-state solution, which he said will ensure freedom for the Palestinian people to build their own future, while also allowing Israel to flourish.

I visited one of the communities known as a kibbutz barely a mile away from the Gaza strip. This kibbutz is under the constant threat of rockets being fired by the Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization known as Hamas from Gaza. The deadliest day of the protests was May 14, 2018 when the new American embassy held its opening ceremony. It fell on a symbolic date for both sides – the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel. That is a joyous day for Israelis, but an event regarded by Palestinians as their “Nakba” or catastrophe when they lost their homeland. Life in this kibbutz could often be described as “normal,” except for when Hamas rockets and mortar shells rain down. This happens monthly, and sometimes daily. The people here have, at best, fifteen seconds to find shelter from the rockets and shells when the warning sirens sound. And then there are the flaming kites that have destroyed thousands of square kilometers of crops, houses, and nature reserves over the past two months. When the chaos dies down, the people of this kibbutz try to return to some measure of normalcy in their daily lives.

I met Mr. Saed, chief negotiator of the Palestinian Liberation Organization  Mr. Saed told me about the violence carried out by Hamas and Israeli forces, as well as Palestine’s recent diplomatic relations with the US—support from Obama, followed by failed talks with Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Saed mentioned that since the plan to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was announced, Palestinian officials have refused to meet with their American counterparts  I gained a deeper understanding of the challenges that Palestine faced. I offered to speak to American lawmakers about their cause and act as a voice for freedom.

My journey to Israel showed me the pressures and challenges that both sides face. I learned more about the serious threats that Israel faces directly outside its borders. I am acutely aware of the discrimination and oppression that the Jewish people have experienced for centuries; my visit to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem was an acute reminder of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people only several generations ago. On the other hand, many Palestinians face human rights abuses on a daily basis and live in refugee camps in a crushing state of poverty. When I visited the West Bank, my heart broke for the Palestinians that I saw there, who were struggling to obtain basic necessities such as food and water.

No single side is to blame for this. In addition to the Israelis and Palestinians, parties such as the US, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have all played roles in bringing the conflict to its current state. In the end, the Israelis and Palestinians suffer.

Looking back on my conversations with Israeli and Palestinian figures, I did not get the impression that a two-state solution will happen anytime during the next five or ten years. However, that does not mean that ongoing peace efforts are for naught.

Older Jews and Arabs bear the heavy weight of history in their hearts and minds. Looking forward is difficult for them, since their thoughts of the future are often tainted by the past. But many among the younger generations of Israelis and Palestinians are different. They want to work together. To live together. Most importantly, they want to build a future together.

The history of Israel stretches back thousands of years to the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This land is home to a wealth of history, culture, and conflict—far too much lives there—information that cannot be gleaned during a visit of eight days. However, my trip to Israel opened my eyes in a way that no book, documentary, or conversation could have done.

Israel is a rising ,growing, flourishing country with people full of hope and pessimism at the same time since the people there live under a constant security threat from neighboring countries and terrorist groups. It showed me that the reality of Israel, or any country for that matter, is infinitely more nuanced than the way it is presented in the news.

As I walked through various places in Israel, I threw away my preconceptions and opened myself up to new ideas and experiences.

Ajay Bhutoria is a tech entrepreneur, and Democratic Party National Finance Committee Member. Ajay worked on the National AAPI Leadership council for the Hillary Clinton Campaign and worked with Joe Biden on free Community College initiatives. Ajay  is based out of Fremont, California.

Why Is Coconut Oil Good For You?

Let’s understand why we do what we do – you cannot walk in a grocery store these days without seeing a jar of coconut oil – it’s everywhere. In India, many have always used coconut oil in their cooking, probably without stopping to think about the health benefits or the reasons why.

IC reached out to Ayurvedic doctor Ashok Jethanandani to understand the benefits of using coconut oil.

“Coconut oil is cooling, and balances vata and pitta doshas. In excess it increases kapha dosha. However, because it is heavy to digest like other fats, it provides satiety for a longer time, and helps to curb sugar cravings and reduce blood sugar. Coconut oil contains mainly saturated fat, which remains stable at higher temperatures. So it is a good medium for higher temperature cooking – for example, tadka or the tempering of spices in Indian cooking.  It is also used to massage the scalp because it strengthens hair roots.”

Now you know why Indians have always used coconut oil!

Ashok Jethanandani practices Ayurvedic medicine through his clinic at Classical Ayurveda.

Heart Healthy Recipes For Your Valentine

There are various legends about the origin of Valentine’s Day. One such story goes: There was a Roman Emperor who thought that single men made better soldiers than married. men, so he outlawed marriage. Valentine was a priest who thought that this law was unfair and so married young couples secretly. The Emperor discovered what Valentine was doing, and had him put to death. Since then, Valentine has been made immortal by lovers all over the world.

recipes_hearthealthy

Valentine’s Day is about love, not about gifts or rich food. In the United States, heart disease, including coronary artery disease, arteriosclerosis and stroke, is the major cause of death. Many factors contribute to cardiovascular disease including genetics and family history, and diets rich in saturated fat, cholesterol and refined foods. Genetically linked factors are difficult to control, but one can choose a healthy diet. The saturated fat and dietary cholesterol found in animal products are harmful, while whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and seeds and their oils provide anti-oxidants that are beneficial to your cardiac health.

Although this would suggest that most Indian people who are vegetarians must have a heart-healthy diet, this is only partly true. Even a meatless diet can be unhealthy if it is high in saturated fat, refined foods and trans fats. Here is a partial list of foods that are good and those that are bad for the heart.

Heart-Friendly Foods

*All fresh fruits particularly citrus fruits, berries and pomegranates
*Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, chard, collard and parsley *Fresh garlic and onion
*Whole grains, their bran and other foods with soluble fibers
*Beans and lentils (also daals)
*Nuts and seeds containing good fatty oils
*Unsaturated fats, olive and sunflower seed oils
*Oils rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as flax seed and hemp seed oils

The Villains

*Eggs, red meats, cream, cheese, butter, ice cream
*Saturated fats from milk, eggs, and most meats
*Trans fats hidden in many snacks and in hydrogenated margarines (read the label!)
*Deep fried foods
*Refined sugars, refined grains (such as white flour, white bread and white rice)
*Refined juices, sodas

Nothing is lovelier than making a heart-healthy meal for your loved one on Valentine’s Day.  

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


Malabari Beet Curry

Ingredients
3 medium sized red beets
1 cup of beet greens or any leafy greens such as spinach or chard
1 big or two small red potatoes, scrubbed cleaned and cut in half
2 carrots, cleaned and cut into thin slices
3 tablespoons freshly made tamarind sauce using three pods of tamarind or juice of ½ lemon combined with a table spoon of water and a teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of minced or shredded fresh ginger root
1 fresh green chili, chopped small
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cup coconut milk, fresh or canned
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Method
Cut the stems from the beets, reserving one cup of beet greens. Rinse, drain and chop the greens, and set them aside. Discard the stems and the rest of the greens, or save them for soup stock. Rinse the beets and scrub them to remove any dirt but not too much of the exterior. Cut the beets in half. Clean and cut the potatoes as described above.

Place the beets in a saucepan with 2 quarts of water. Boil them for 15 minutes and then add the potatoes. Boiling them together for another 10 to 15 minutes until cooked but not too soft. Add the sliced carrots and boil for 5 more minutes. Drain and set aside on a platter.

While the roots are boiling, prepare the tamarind sauce (also available in your local grocery store). Remove and discard the crackly skin of the tamarind and the inner strings. Soak the pods in ½ cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Rubbing with your fingers, extract the meat and grit into the water. Strain the mixture using a colander with large holes or a vegetable steamer basket. The seeds and the membranes will remain in the sieve, and can be discarded. Set the tamarind sauce aside.

If you do not have tamarind, simply mix the lemon juice with sugar and set aside.

Cut the beets and potatoes into bite size chunks. Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan or wok over a moderate flame and sauté the onion for five minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for another minute until fragrant. Add the chili and stir fry for 2 minutes more. Then sprinkle the cumin seeds over the mixture and roast them for a minute. Next add the chopped beet greens and stir-fry for another minute or two until wilted. Now add the boiled roots, lower the heat, and stir-fry the mixture for five minutes. Add the coconut milk, the tamarind sauce (or lemon juice mixture), turmeric and salt. Gently stir all the ingredients while they simmer. Taste and adjust for saltiness and spiciness. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with red rice.

Himalayan Red Rice

Many unusual varieties of rice, other than the usual white or brown, are available in health food stores. One such rice that is getting attention is Red Himalayan rice which contains proanthocyanidins, antioxidants which have been shown to reduce cholesterol and hyperglycemia in animals. Red rice contains fair amount of protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus which are all important nutrients for good health. Red rice is a whole grain that contains germ and bran. The germ has vitamin E good for the cardiovascular health and the bran is a good source of dietary fiber which is essential for healthy digestion. In addition to its high nutritional profile, red rice has become popular for its nutty texture and fragrant aroma.

recipes_arugula

Ingredients
2½ cups of water
1 cup raw Himalayan (or Bhutanese) red rice, rinsed and thoroughly drained
1 teaspoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon salt

Method
In a heavy saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the rice. When the mixture returns to boiling, add the oil and salt and turn the heat down to medium. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and test to see if the rice is done by pressing a single grain between your fingers. The grains should be soft and the water evaporated. If not, cover the pot again and cook for five more minutes, adding a few tablespoons of water if necessary. When the rice appears done, turn off the heat and keep the pot covered for a few minutes before serving.

Arugula, Baby Spinach and Carrot Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Both arugula and spinach are nutritious, with an abundance of vitamin A and iron. In addition, arugula leaves have a pungent, spicy flavor which complements this tart dressing.

Ingredients
2 cups of arugula leaves, rinsed and drained
4 cups of baby spinach leaves, washed and drained
1 cup shredded carrots

For dressing
3 tablespoons pomegranate juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
3 tablespoons orange juice (freshly squeezed preferred)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh herbs such as oregano and/or marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
Prepare the dressing by first extracting the juice from both fruits. Cut the pomegranate in half and using a manual citrus juicer, juice it in same way as you would an orange. You will obtain only a few tablespoons of juice as much of the crushed pits will remain on top, but you only need a few tablespoons.

Juice the orange.

Place all dressing ingredients in a covered jar and shake well.

Toss the salad greens with the carrots. Drizzle the desired amount of dressing onto the salad just before serving. The rest of the dressing can be refrigerated for future use.

First published in February 2013.

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