The Presidio Picnic: India Cultural Day

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

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

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

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

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

For additional information check out: or call:  415-561-4323

Presidio Picnic Flyer


When Love is Theratti Paal Sweet!

“Do you remember?” started an aunt, “how he stuck his hand in the theratti paal * container when the lights went out during Krishna Jayanthi?”

*Theratti paal refers to a heady Indian sweet made of condensed milk, ghee and cardamom

*Krishna Jayanthi– Lord Krishna’s birthday

The story was being related to peals of laughter. The hero of the tale beamed and laughed heartily at his boyhood escapades – it had all happened about 70 years ago after all. We knew the story, but it did nothing to diminish the retelling of it. I already knew my father was the naughtiest of the 9 children borne by Visalam Paati and Kalyanam Thaatha. (Paati– Grandma; Thaatha– Grandpa)

I sat watching the glow on the faces around the table, like an eternal torch lit by the essence of shared times and the space of childhood. There was genuine affection, laughter and love there, and it enveloped all those around in its warm embrace. We had been to visit our aunts in Atlanta. My septuagenarian father has two sisters who live there, and I went with him to enjoy the siblings get together. I watched indulgently as their laugh lines etched over the years crinkled with every anecdote.

His sisters and nieces had lovingly charted out the menus for a whole week: A week that included all of my father’s favorite dishes. Dishes remembered from childhood, dishes acquired in far off lands, and dishes that made my paternal grandmother, Visalam paati, come alive in the retelling of the process. The delectable snacks and the satisfying compliments such as, “You have your mother’s gift with the art of cooking,” flowed graciously.  The brood of Visalam and Kalyanam were known for having a weet tongue, and every meal had a different dessert to go with it.

The sweet for this meal was theratti paal. It’s commercial cousins are called Milk Peda or Milk Kova. Theratti paal, when made on the stove with fresh milk takes hours to come to the right consistency. I can imagine how Hinduism came to have the myth of churning the milk ocean. There are so many milk based sweets in the land, and it is quite possible that that particular myth was the gift of the dreamy subconscious thoughts of some person making theratti paal hours at a time. One can go into a sort of meditative trance as the milk gathers its cream, and then folds and bubbles again, and then again and again, till the color changes, the consistency changes, and the sweet smell of condensed milk wafts through the air. In slow measures, one adds the sugar, butter or ghee and the cardamom to send those in the vicinity to realms of ecstatic waiting.


Today the same marvel can be obtained from a can of condensed milk, a stick of unsalted butter, and a microwave in under 10 minutes, and I felt the tongue dance and explode in joy as the microwave theratti paal melted on the tongue. The ghee, condensed milk, and cardamom all tickled the nostrils.

I remember listening to stories about her children from my grandmother, Visalam Paati. (Visalam means vast, and the name suited her. She was generous with her time, attention and her servings, and when one wanted to play with the jiggling oodles of arm fat, there was plenty of that too and she never once got irritated when we teased her about her bulk. )

Feeding and taking care of a brood like her makes me shudder, but Visalam paati seemed to have done it with love, competence and skill.

The tale being narrated was the one on Krishna Jayanthi. Krishna, Lord Vishnu’s avatar, is said to have loved theratti paal.

Apparently, the evening pooja was ready to start. Bowls of snacks: (mysore pak, payasam, thattai, seedai, murukku, theratti paal), butter and ghee were all placed in front of the Gods, and just before the offering to the God was complete, the electricity went out plunging the little village house in South India in the 1940s, into a darkness lit just by the flame of the small lamp near Lord Krishna’s deity. Visalam Paati  having the kind of prescience that comes from raising nine children immediately placed her hand covering the theratti paal container. True enough, within seconds, a small hand struck at the theratti paal container – Visalam paati caught the hand, and waited for the lights to come on again. Just as she thought, the malefactor was none but my father.

“I knew you will reach for the theratti paal. Little rascal! “ she said.

We all laughed heartily while spooning in some more excellent microwave theratti paal ourselves. The smells and scents of ghee, condensed milk and cardamom cut across decades and the siblings sat there giggling like school children again.

Isn’t it marvelous how regaling our pleasant memories often transforms the bleak horizons of time to become as brilliant as the Milky Way studded with the shining moments of our memories?

In 2 days we will be celebrating  Krishna Jayanthi, and I will go about the joyous task of drawing tiny Krishna feet from the doorstep to the kitchen. I shall make the microwave theratti paal, and think of the children in the 1940s who shared the adventure of theratti paal, waiting the whole afternoon for the exotic taste of it in the evening. I shall regale the children in the twenty-first century with the story again, and smile indulgently at the fact that his sisters remember their naughty brother every time they eat theratti paal.

Love takes various shapes. Ours is sweet. Theratti paal sweet.

Date/Time Event
Sep 1, 2018 - Sep 30, 2018
10:00 am - 6:00 pm
The 90 Year Journey
The 90 Year Journey
Rinconada Library, Palo Alto CA
Sep 27, 2018
5:30 pm
Internetting with Amanda Hess and the New York Times
Internetting with Amanda Hess and the New York Times
Toni Rembe Rock Auditorium, San Francisco CA
Sep 27, 2018
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Science Night
Science Night
Menlo Park Main Library, Menlo Park CA
Sep 28, 2018
10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani - a tribute to legendary martyrs
Zara Yaad Karo Qurbani - a tribute to legendary martyrs
Delhi Haat Auditorium, New Delhi India

Community Seva at a Homeless Shelter

I stumble out of bed at 4 a.m. groping for my glasses and slippers. Wondering what in the world possessed me to volunteer for such an early service, I am mindful of my sleepiness as I carefully drive the 30 minutes from Palo Alto to the Orchard St. homeless shelter in San Jose. But as I near the shelter, the final wisps of sleep blow away. At five in the morning the shelter is a hive of activity. Other volunteers are already there, unloading cartons of milk, orange juice, and eggs from the trunks of cars. There are also bags of potatoes and pancake mixes, jars of syrup, and boxes of sausages to haul inside the shelter from a back door that leads into the kitchen.

I rush to help and we all set up quickly inside, donning aprons, hair nets, and gloves. There are a few familiar faces, but we are all friends, united in our desire to efficiently cook and serve a hearty breakfast for the 200 or so occupants who will be lining up in about 90 minutes.

There’s not a lot of chatter, but the set-up is done incredibly fast. How do we each know where to go and what to do? The site manager of the operation gives us a few directions, but by and large we just slot ourselves wherever needed. There is an almost spiritual air to the service, with egos discarded outside the kitchen. All we care about are the people who are looking forward to this breakfast, probably their one hot, substantial meal of the day. So we will do whatever is needed, from breaking eggs in an assembly line, to chopping and seasoning potatoes, to squeezing out an endless supply of pancakes. It is mindless work, but it puts us in a sort of meditative state. There is a sense of joy and satisfaction that pervades the small space. This is the spirit of Community Seva, a non-profit whose mission is to feed the hungry and serve the homeless in the Bay Area.

The germ of the idea of Community Seva began one day in 2009 when Nathan Ganeshan bought a pizza on an impulse for a homeless person in a park that Nathan passed every day. This small act led to many such others and when he shared his experience with others he found there was tremendous support and interest in the local Indian American community to join his efforts.

“When I shared my desire to start an organization to feed the homeless with my friend and community activist Mahesh Nihalani,” says Nathan, “His immediate reaction was, ‘Just do it, it will go well.’ He was absolutely right.”

Community Seva (Seva means “service” in Sanskrit) as a formal organization was born in 2013. It is one of the first and few Indian American non-profits to focus its entire efforts on the local community instead of fundraising for causes back in India.

Says Nathan, “I want to give back to the community where I belong today, where I am earning my bread and butter and where my children are growing up. Also, when you donate to the local community, you get to volunteer and you get to see where your donation is getting used and how well it is put into use. Most important is the instant gratification you derive out of volunteering. I do applaud the efforts of organizations supporting the need in India, but I feel we should also support our local community.”

After distributing pizza for a while Nathan looked for ways to help the homeless and hungry in a more systematic and scalable way. He approached a shelter in San Jose at random to see if there was a way to provide hot meals to their residents. The shelter had a dinner slot available. Nathan collected 25 dollars each from 10 volunteers and Community Seva served its first meal at this shelter for underprivileged families – pasta, chicken, garlic bread, and salad.

To get a steady source of funds for future events, Nathan asked his friends and volunteers to spread the idea of sponsoring a seva. As a youngster Nathan had always felt that celebrating special occasions like birthdays was much more meaningful when shared with the less fortunate. The desi community eagerly responded. “My dad turned 75 on Sep 17th 2016. He lives in India, far away from us and we thought a great way to commemorate his 75th would be to sponsor a breakfast on his birthday,” says Varsha Dandapani. “He said it was the best gift we could have ever given him and that made me super thrilled!” Varsha was also able to volunteer for the service.

Says Shriya Shetty, “In my role as a volunteer coordinator with Community Seva, I have been amazed by the willingness of people to pitch in and volunteer on short notice and sometime multiple times in the same weekend. Our core team members are fine examples of this enthusiasm and I believe it rubs off on our volunteers as well.  It’s humbling to see how many people are so willing to give back to the community.” Community Seva has over 1600 volunteers today.

Some of the volunteers also put aside religious and personal preferences to serve. One such volunteer, Sangeeta, is a pure vegetarian. “She would not even enter her own kitchen when the family was cooking eggs,” recalls Nathan. “Yet, on her very first service she cracked dozens of eggs and served the cooked dish as well.” Today Sangeeta is a core volunteer who not only handles meat and eggs for Community Seva, she also shops and stores them in a refrigerator in her garage!

Once Community Seva got off the ground and its activities began spreading by word-of-mouth, desi parents began clamoring for service opportunities for their kids, not just for high school service hours but even for children younger than 10. Community Seva came up with the idea of a care-bag seva. Care-bag sevas involve creating little kits for the people in shelters that contain soap. shampoo, and other essentials. They are quite popular with shelter residents, as are the winter bags which contain warm clothing accessories. These sevas are done at homes and community centers with one large event, packing 1000 bags, being done at Livermore recently. “Families and friends met at the local community center to pack the 1,000 bags,” recalls Varsha Venkatram, a high school student at the Stanford met Online High School who is in charge of the youth efforts at Community Seva.

“It is due to the enthusiasm and support of the community that we have been able to serve over 69,500 meals in the last five years,” says Saras Venkatram, who is on the board of Community Seva. Saras, who is a web designer by profession, knew Nathan much before the idea of Community Seva came about. When he approached her to join the organization, she was delighted to find a way to give back to the community.

“Serving people at homeless shelters is a way for us to show them that they are also deserving of love and care,” says Saras.

Varsha Venkatram echoes these sentiments. “When I first went to distribute the winter backpacks in person I was quite nervous, never having had contact with a homeless person before. But when I met them, I realized they were just like us, only down on their luck. Someday I could be homeless and then I would be glad to have an organization like Community Seva in my life.”

“It is true that we are not able to help people who are not able to make it to shelters so in the future we would like to partner with a local organization to provide mobile shower and laundry services,” says Saras. “Maybe even a meal.”

For the moment the weekend meal services are the priority. Community Seva has recently invested in a kitchen, thanks to the support of the community, and plans are to cook and serve many more meals from this centralized location. Priya Ramdas, who is a board member as well as the VP of Operations, is excited about this new venture. “I get a lot of fulfillment from being on the ground, cooking. Now that we have this kitchen, we can dream of something like Meals on Wheels, through which we will be able to expand our reach.

Nathan has even bigger plans for Community Seva. “It’s no secret that I want Community Seva to have a shelter of its own,” he says. “We are also trying to help homeless people who are interested in finding a job.” A few companies like Shasta Foods have started hiring the homeless. The new kitchen has also hired a couple of people from the shelters to wash dishes.”

Adds Priya, “We have grown faster than anyone expected. We are largely funded by sponsorships and I have seen that anytime we put out a call for a sponsor, we immediately get a response. People are always looking to help, they just need an avenue that they can trust.”

For their efforts, Community Seva has been recognized as Nonprofit of the Year in California’s 27th district. “I was speechless when I found out,” says Nathan humbly. “I did not know that such a recognition existed.” He adds, “I am really very happy to see the efforts of our core volunteers and the selfless service of our volunteers at large getting recognized at the state level. This recognition will allow us to do more.”

The spirit of Community Seva has spread outside the Indian American community. “I would estimate that 20-30% of our volunteers are non-Indians,” says Saras.

Says Katie Tse Cape, a volunteer, “We carved hams, cubed potatoes, cut vegetable, sliced pies and served the South Bay homeless veterans and community with a big smile while sharing laughter with new friends. We are proud to be a part of their mission and be associated with this amazing group of volunteers.”

Back at the shelter the 90-minute mark is approaching. We fill warming pans with steaming scrambled eggs, sausages, oatmeal, pancakes, and potatoes and get ready to serve. As the residents line up, we heap plates with the food of their choice, directing them to coffee, juice, and syrup nearby. The next hour passes in a blur. We can’t stop smiling, there is so much satisfaction in being able to help. Just when the last of the eggs are being scraped from the pan we hear a rhythmic drumming. It is the residents, banging the coffee cups in a beat to thank us for our efforts. Our smiles get wider and wider. Can there be a better way to begin a Saturday morning?

Community Seva is having its very first fundraiser on September 22nd 2018 to raise $175,000 to feed & serve the homeless in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Gilroy, Fremont & Hayward for one entire year. In addition, funds raised will be used to purchase amenities for their centralized kitchen to cook and serve over 25,000 meals through the year. Tickets to the gala have been sold out, but to become one of the sponsors, contact

For more information, check out

Bay Area South Asian Film Festival Comes to Town

The Bay Area South Asian Film Festival, BASAFF, inaugurates its debut season, September 21-23, with Sony Pictures International Productions French-Indian-Belgian co-production The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir starring Bérénice Béjo, Barkhad Abdi, Erin Moriarty and Abel Jafri, and Tamil superstar, Dhanush.

BASAFF is designed as a film festival and cultural event that goes beyond films to address storytelling in all performing arts forms: feature films, short films, documentaries, small screen productions, theater, music, and any other medium storytellers choose to present their creative work. BASAFF mission is to bring together all visual and performing art forms and audiences from South Asia and those interested in South Asia. The festival provides a platform for innovative films, bringing the best and established filmmakers and also independent, unique, emerging voices. BASAFF provides opportunities for the local community, film aficionados, visitors, filmmakers, and the greater South Asian film community to celebrate the power of film, art, technology and storytelling in an environment that fosters creativity and innovation.

The opening presentation The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir is based on Puértolas’ best-selling novel which sees the death of a hustler’s mother lead him from Mumbai on an extraordinary voyage in search of his estranged father. He finds love in a Swedish furniture store in Paris, danger with Somalian migrants in England in what ultimately becomes an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Dhanush plays the protagonist.

BASAFF comes together with one of the leading theater production houses of the Bay Area, ENACTE ARTS, to showcase the premiere presentation of their latest production Queen. Vinita Sud Belani directs Madhuri Shekhar’s second script after A Nice Indian Boy.

MIT, Stanford and a host of other top-notch universities are racing to be the first to discover the cause of a disturbing phenomenon. Bees are dying everywhere.Governments are worried. The significant economic losses that the world faces due to systemic Colony Collapse Disorder are just the tip of the iceberg in the impact on humanity. Deep in the heart of UC Santa Cruz, two scientists are days away from publishing a paper on the cause of bee extinction that will rock the research world. But when a 0.03% deviation shows up in the last batch of data, Sanam and Ariel must confront the ethics of scientific veracity and the consequences of their choices. The two performances will be staged at the Visual and Performing Arts Center, De Anza College, in Cupertino, California, on Friday, September 28 at 8:00 PM and Saturday, September 29, 2018 at 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM. Theater is at a different venue from film screenings.

Famous Writer-Director Mike Reiss is likely to deliver the keynote speech for the festival. Among the numerous celebrities at the festival, well-known actress from film-television and theater, Ms. Ashvini Bhave, will open and Actor-Director Parambrata Chatterjee will close the festival. A prominent personality, actor and director, of the Kolkata Tollywood film community, Parambrata’s film Sonar Pahar will be screened on Sunday, September 23. Sonar Pahar, is a critically acclaimed film about the relationship between an aging mother and her son and the rift that comes about between the two after he marries a woman of whom she disapproves. The film stars Tanuja.

The filmmakers and scriptwriter panel on “Enter Tech and Script-to-Screen” has panelists Ken Scott, Vikram Chandra, Saskia Vischer, Ajay Jain Bhutoria and Kireet Khurana. Saturday 22, 3:00 PM.

Opening night performance “Kaleidoscope – A Journey through India” blends traditional folk music with popular Bollywood songs and dance by Xpressions artistic director Srividya Eashwar. Performance will feature a special dance tribute to Sridevi superstar of Bollywood who passed away this year. The closing night performance features a classical dance performance by Samhara.

The documentary section includes Bird of Dusk, a fascinating look by director Sangeeta Datta at the life of Rituparno Ghosh. Rituparno Ghosh, with one of the most creative and fascinating body of work in recent Bengali film industry. He also was extremely controversial in his personal life. He came out as not only gay but also very publicly attempted to surgically change his gender. He died of complications from the surgery, its after effects and his attempts to reverse the procedure. Dutta’s documentary is based on Rituparno’s memoirs and interviews with those who knew him well in Tollywood. The film will be screened on Sunday 23, 3:45 PM.

Also featured will be the world premiere of Director Sriram Dalton’s Spring Thunder. A hard-hitting film on Uranium Mafia, Spring Thunder narrates the story of a Uranium mining tender at the highest plateau of India, enriched with thick forests where various native communities are living, Showcasing the tussle between sustainability and development in the context of rural India. Sunday 23, 11:00 AM

Closing night screening features the US premiere of T For Taj Mahal. Six time President’s award winner director Kireet Khurana’s film is about an illiterate man’s journey to bring literacy to his village through a unique social enterprise. The protagonist starts a wayside dhaba in his village where there are no schools. He asks the customers in the dhaba to teach the village children instead of paying for the food. Sunday 23, 8:45 PM

The sport focus feature film 22 Yards shows the rise and fall of a sports agent amid the backdrop of a professional league. The film is directed by sports journalist Mitali Ghosh who has made a documentary on India’s crickets icon Saurav Ganguly. Saturday 22, 9:30 PM.

Director Anup Singh casts Irrfan Khan, Waheeda Rehman, and Golshifteh Farahani in the Song of Scorpions. According to an ancient Rajasthani myth, sure death from the sting of a scorpion can be cured by the song sung by a scorpion singer. A tribal woman Nooran takes lessons from her grandmother Zubaida. Nooran marries Aadam, a camel trader but soon after receives a setback which sets her on a path of vengeance. Saturday 22, 6:45 PM.

Kunal Kapoor, Ali Haji star in Director Vandana Kataria’s Noblemen, a thematic representation of The Merchant of Venice. A young student Shay is picked on by other kids at a boarding house when he lands a coveted role in a play. The bullies brutally victimize Shay hoping to break him so he willingly relents his role. Events take a sinister turn when Murali notices Shay’s condition and intervenes to help him out. Saturday 22, 11:00 AM.

Short films (see program details for screening venues and times):

Pashi, Director Siddharth Chauhan. A young boy Chetan who learns about the hunting technique from his old grandmother Savitri. The film was an Oscar finalist in the short film section.

Everything is Fine, Director Mansi Jain. A 58 year-old oppressed housewife from a small town in India wants to leave her deeply patriarchal marriage but is met with knee jerk reaction of shock and anger from her daughter.

Soundproof, Director Aditya Kelgaonkar and starring Soha Ali Khan. In a society filled with noise, the only way to live is in silence.

Doitto, Director Tathagata Ghosh. Psychological thriller about a morally flawed homicide detective who must interrogate a suspect before a serial killer takes down his next victim.

Majaal Hai, Director Umang Vyas. One night events of Pandey, a diligent and earnest security guard and a series of multiple events lead that land him in an unpredictable, precarious situation

7 Rounds, Director George Savvidis. During the Muslim ban in 2017, two young Indian engineers go to their local bar only to encounter a series of challenges related to perceptions of their ethnicity.

Films will be screened at the following venues:

Day 1: 4:30 PM – 12 midnight: Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303

Day 2: 11:00 am to 12 midnight: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

Day 3: 11 am to 12 midnight: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041


Festival and Press Contact:

Aniruddha Dasgupta: (650) 740-8463

Aparna Dasgupta: (650) 534-4502

For Programs and Ticket Information:

From Our Sponsors

Kussum Mahotsav 2018 Brings Masters Closer to Emerging Classical Artists

Kussum Mahotsav, TSA, is set to be the largest classical Indian music and dance festival in the USA. Kussum Mahotsav 2018 is a seven-days festival featuring around 80 musicians and dancers, both visiting and local artists. The ambitious program aims to present a collection of 60 concerts, 15 student concerts, as well as time for networking, conversations, connections and hospitality. It is the largest classical Indian music and dance festival in the USA and certainly puts TSA on the international cultural map.

This unique celebration of Indian music and dance is conceived, organised and realised by Achyut Tope, a supporter of emerging artists, an agent of change, a thought leader and a dedicated community leader.

Achyut Tope has certainly lit a burning incense for the classical arts vibe. He has been a dedicated arts advocate over the years, attending events and guiding students. The festival will highlight the significance of traditional arts for presenters and attendees alike. The authenticity of this festival reflects the very essence of this sacred offering.  

We asked Achyut Tope what motivated him to produce Kussum Mahotsav:

Over 30 years of living in Long Island and Connecticut, I observed that while there are hundreds of thousands of affluent Indians who claim to admire the arts and call North America home, I do not see collective effort for major festivals which provide a platform for these amazing artists. There are very few events which transcend limited interests and celebrate the talents and hard work of home artists.

There are literally hundreds of great North and South Indian musicians and dancers in TSA, but I noticed that their talent, commitment, dedication, and hard work is not properly valued. Some of them are just as good as, or even better than some artists from India who tour the USA and Canada. It is time to bring them all together; show them our affection.’’

Kussum Mahotsav strives to answer the call for a non-partial, non-political and non-religious platform for artistic expression. It is a festival that measures the merit of the practice rather than any particular following or group. Clearly, the award for all artists in this festival, is the regard and attention of learned, interested and committed audience members. Achyut Tope expressed this hope“that more international and home classical arts students will aspire to perform next year, and so will their teachers.”

Along with artists such as Anindo Chatterjee, Sanhita Nandi, Krishna Bhatt and Samar Saha, some of the most exceptional musicians and dancers from the Tri-State area (NJ, NY, CT), USA, Canada and India will also take the stage.

KUSSUM MAHOTSAV: 7th – 9th September and 13th – 16th September 2018. Sri Venkateswara Temple (Bridgewater Temple), 1 Balaji Temple Dr., Bridgewater, NJ 08807. Contact Achyut Tope (631) 645 1438.


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Festival profile by The Heritage Arts Initiative

On Feminism

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

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

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

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

First published in November 2016.

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

10 Tips for Healthy Eating

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

The Three Doshas and Their Role in Health and Disease

Notes from Charaka Samhita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Don’t eat too fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was first published in July 2017.


Ten Trips Up Tirumala Hills in 10 days!

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

This was first published in June of 2015.


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