Indian Law Catches up with Indian Culture

When the Indian Supreme Court struck down the colonial-era law which criminalized consensual homosexual intercourse under Indian Penal Code Section 377, sex deemed “against the order of nature” could be punished with life imprisonment. Now, Indian law has caught up with Indian culture, leaders of the Hindu American Foundation asserted.

“There is no fundamental reason in Hindu spiritual teachings to reject or ostracize homosexuals. The core of Hindu spiritual teachings is that an individual’s essential nature is not rooted in his or her sexual orientation, or any external physical traits. What is most important is our ability to simultaneously embrace and see beyond these apparent external differences to celebrate the Divine core of our being, to transcend the body, senses, and ego.” — Swami Venkataraman, HAF National Leadership Council member and author of HAF’s brief on Hinduism and homosexuality.

With decriminalization of consensual sexual relations finally achieved, one remaining challenge for Indians, both in India and the diaspora, is fully making our families, religious centers, and organizations a welcoming space for LGBTQ individuals. That will be one more important step in shedding the Victorian-era mores that continue to influence Indic-sensibilities today.

Read HAF’s past statements and articles on Hinduism and/or homosexuality:

Advice I shouldn’t have to give you

High school is rough. For freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, every school year presents new struggles and threats to the state of our mental and physical health. The American school system, to very loosely quote my favorite Prince Ea video, is incredibly archaic. Cars and phones from 150 years ago have been completely revolutionized in the 21st century. While society and it’s needs have changed so much over the past 150 years to cause cars and phones to be completely different, do our schools still look the same? That doesn’t sound right.

Before you actually enter high school, you hear a lot about how it is really hard for many students, but  at the time, it always felt like some distant, far-off concept.

Fast-forward to junior year in which I get 4-6 hours of sleep per night, little to no physical exercise, where my days consist of either school or homework for school; breaks in between consist of time spent commuting to school and back. Add to this mix standardized tests and their implications for the future; worrying about AP tests, studying for the ACT all the while wondering about when I’can take my SAT subject tests. Now I’m not saying that’s all there is in my life––of course I spend time with friends, participate in extracurricular activities, and do community service when I can. But lately, it doesn’t feel like any of that stuff matters. It feels like I always have something school-related on my mind.

I’m not alone in this. Contrary to popular belief, this struggle is very damaging and all-too common for high school students. Pressure from peers and the Silicon Valley mentality of always achieving excellence is a huge influence on high stress levels for students.

You hear a lot about the dreaded “junior year,” how it’s the worst and hardest year of high school, and it also happens to be the year where grades are especially important. We always just take it as it is, and just accept that 11th grade is inevitably going to be tough, that it’s the cross you have to bear to eventually do well in the future. But why should we have to do that? Why do we have to accept that when you’re 14-18 years old, high school will be so tough on you that it will negatively impact your mental health, physical health, and overall happiness? Isn’t that the exact opposite of the purpose for education? Shouldn’t we be taught in school that our own wellbeing needs to come first and that, despite the importance of pursuing excellence in education, that nothing should be more valuable than us?

My point is, I shouldn’t have to tell you, that if you’re staying up late for homework and start to get sleepy, that eating a snack will keep you up for a few more hours. I shouldn’t have to tell you, that too much caffeine is bad but it can also do wonders to keep you awake throughout the week. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it’s easier to cram for a test in the morning than while you’re sleep deprived at night. I shouldn’t have to tell you all this, because you shouldn’t be in a position where you actually need this advice. But we are.

I do recognize that this is not always the case. I understand that while they are in the minority, there are some students who are (somehow) able to manage a full load of AP classes, standardized tests, and extracurriculars all in one school year. But they are, I repeat, the minority. The vast minority.

High school students are constantly being told that despite the fact that we are merely students, we have the ability to spark positive change in our world.

Well here it is. Here is me, asking you, to look up and pay attention to the high school experience that my peers and I have to face in the name of education.  

Isha Trivedi is a high school junior at Notre Dame high school in San Jose, and she interned with India Currents over the summer.

This essay was first published in December 2017.

 

Date/Time Event
Aug 9, 2018 - Sep 23, 2018
11:00 am
Circus Vargas
Circus Vargas
Various, San Jose CA
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 19, 2018
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Helping Your Teen Transition to High School
Helping Your Teen Transition to High School
Menlo Park Main Library, Menlo Park California
Sep 21, 2018 - Sep 23, 2018
12:00 am
Bay Area South Asian Film Festival
Bay Area South Asian Film Festival
Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, Mountain View CA

Should Banks Be Raising the Citizenship Question?

By Ethnic Media Services, San Francisco.

Candidate Donald Trump rode his anti-immigrant rhetoric straight to the White House. Since then, he’s banned people from heavily Muslim-populated countries, taken children from their parents upon arrival at the Mexico border, is attempting to make citizenship status a  question on the 2020 Census, and one hot day in late July, blocked a fourth-generation American mom from buying her kids tacos at her local swimming pool in Roeland Park, Kansas.

Jessica Salazar Collins, a Bank of America customer for nearly 20 years, called Bank of America to ask why her debit card had been declined. Eventually, she learned that her account had been frozen because her husband had not responded to a bank postcard inquiring about his citizenship status. Josh Collins was born in Wichita.

Neither of the Collinses has ever left the United States except for a first-anniversary, belated honeymoon trip to Mexico in 2005. They had been Bank of America customers before that.

In time not as quickly as promised, and not in time to buy movie tickets for the family the next day the couple regained access to their earnings. But by early August, they’d taken their banking to a local credit union. “This happened to the wrong people,” Jessica Collins told Ethnic Media Services.

Bank of America isn’t alone in asking customers their citizenship status. Checking account applications from Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, US Bank and even the credit union where the Collinses now do their banking – Mainstreet, all ask about it, and so do San Francisco’s Fire and Golden1 credit unions.

Bank of America declined to say why it targeted Josh Collins but not his wife, how often it performs such “routine updates” of client accounts, or how many postcards it sent out like the one the Collinses ultimately threw away in fear it was actually a scam, or how many more people experienced the bank’s “last resort,” as spokesman Christopher Feeney described it, of having their accounts frozen for failing to respond.

Banks and American Bankers Association spokeswoman Blair Bernstein generally explain the citizenship question as being a part of their effort to combat money-laundering and terrorism funding, but in every case, the decision to ask customers about their citizenship status is the bank’s own choice. Federal rules do not require it.

“We have many customers who aren’t U.S. citizens,” Feeney told Ethnic Media Services. He also said the citizenship question is nothing new for them and probably has been in place at least a decade. The Collinses, he said, just got caught up in one of the bank’s periodic updates of client information.

Treasury Department regulations require that banks know customers’ names, date of birth, Social Security numbers and addresses.

“Banks may be tightening up their due diligence,” said lawyer Alma Angotti, who specializes in money laundering and terror funding enforcement for the consulting firm Navigant in Washington, D.C. She previously worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury Department.

“The current political climate has cast doubt on why financial institutions are doing this. There are lots of things banks will ask you that aren’t required,” she said.

Bank of America spokesman Feeney described the government’s various sanctions against other countries as the root of an array of regulations that led the bank to ask about citizenship. Knowledge of a customer’s dual citizenship, for instance, Angotti said, might keep a bank from questioning why a customer is sending money out of the country.

The more information a bank has up front, the fewer questions it will have as it routinely monitors customers’ accounts and transactions.

But for those without citizenship status, immigrant advocates say, any requirement that they divulge their circumstances is going to deter them from doing business with that bank.

“It’s something we’ve been hearing about for a while,” said Paulina Gonzalez of the California Reinvestment Coalition said. “It seems to correlate with … the anti-immigrant stance of the administration.

“That’s what’s so concerning. People are afraid to sign papers,” she said, referring to a 2017 survey done by some of the 300 members of the nonprofit California Reinvestment Coalition. Her 32-year-old organization aims to ensure financial institutions reinvest in their communities and “do no harm,” she said. Some members in the course of their work will try to gather rudimentary information from the people they provide financial counseling and small business support.

“People are afraid to sign even for nonprofits in this political climate,” she said.

In San Francisco, the treasurer and tax collector’s Office of Financial Empowerment reports that from 2011 through 2015, the percentage of “unbanked” city residents dropped from 5.9% to 2.1%.

Although it also notes that 16.5% of city residents continue to rely on payday-loan and check-cashing companies rather than traditional banks, some of its success in getting people bank accounts may be due to its program BankOn San Francisco, which refers citizens to banks that have met its “very specific standards,” program director Sean Kline told Ethnic Media Services. Among those standards is the requirement that they accept non-U.S. identification.

Among its banking partners is the Self-Help Credit Union, formed in 2008. That institution requires knowing a person’s citizenship status for loan applications, but not for checking accounts. Its website includes links to information on such topics as “You Don’t Need to Be a Citizen to Have a US Bank Account” (https://tinyurl.com/noncitizenbanking) and “How undocumented immigrants can get bank accounts” (https://tinyurl.com/whatdocumentswork) as well as testimonials to the reasons why people should use banking to establish credit history, safety in not carrying cash, earn interest and the bill-paying convenience.

It also lists Latino credit unions across the country (https://tinyurl.com/Latinocreditunions). Gonzalez is quoted on the laws protecting customers’ personal information from governmental prying.

Banking, Gonzalez said, “is such a necessity of everyday life. Here we are, creating a situation where they’re not going to have access to this important function, or they’re going to freeze your account or make you feel like you’re not welcome there.”

There’s “a lack of trust in financial institutions,” she said. “To have to answer such a private question in this political climate … there are privacy rules in place. I know the bank can’t turn that information over without a subpoena, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t afraid that’s going to happen.”

“We need this citizenship information to determine the eligibility and suitability of our products and to comply with the USA PATRIOT Act,” reads Wells Fargo’s online checking account application, in an explainer popup accompanying the online form’s citizenship question. Feeney, also, had cited the 2001 Patriot Act and the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act and Treasury Department regulations, but ultimately could not cite specific requirements that banks collect clients’ citizenship.

Neither could Blair Bernstein, spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, who cited the 1970 legislation, “Know Your Customer” standards, and “strict regulatory requirements steadily expanded since 9/11,” along with regulators’ routine examinations of banks for compliance.

Legalizing Gay Sex in India Does Not Mean Getting Rid of Discrimination

This revolution was televised.
I watched on TV as friends of mine huddled together in a café in Kolkata as the verdict on Section 377 came out. They had come with rainbow flags and hope but until the last minute, there was an air of nervous expectation as if they were waiting for board examination results to come out.

 

Sandip Roy’s article first appeared on Firstpost.

This article was curated by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

Cover photo credit: Creative Commons Image by Vinayak Das

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. kussummahotsav@gmail.com. www.kussummahotsav.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/kussummahotsav

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Festival profile by The Heritage Arts Initiative

Technology is as Addictive as a Casino

Many of us are addicted to social media. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter, the technologies’ creators have found ways to keep us coming back for more. Google design ethicist Tristan Harris has called the smartphone a “slot machine in our pocket”: one carrying a litany of addictive applications and fostering harmful behaviors.

Now, that same slot machine is becoming entrenched at work. And it is making our lives more disconnected, more disjointed, less productive, and less satisfying.

This is a relatively new development. Over the past decade, technology adoption flows have reversed, driven by the smartphone and the widespread popularity of consumer technologies such as social networks and chat. The copy machine, fax, mobile phone and personal computer and even the Internet started as work tools and then moved into the consumer realm. But, with the advent of the smartphone, employees began to insist on bringing their own devices to work, for personal purposes. They then won the battle with IT teams to allow them to use these to conduct work business such as making phone calls and sending e-mails, and a wave of companies emerged that built work tools that took social networks and chat systems as their models for inciting addiction and overuse.

Employers these days are all too happy to have their employees addicted to the tools of their trade if it means more time immersed in their jobs.

To take one of the most popular new business applications as an example: Slack uses numerous techniques that encourage workers to pay attention to it as much as possible. The most aggressive of them is a series of strong warnings to turn on desktop notifications, allowing Slack to pound them with notifications regardless of whether they are actively using the application. The company’s tagline, after all, is “Where Work Happens”: that is, “Don’t leave Slack; you will miss something and fail at your job”.

Slack’s designers have tapped into addictive techniques developed by companies such as Facebook and Twitter— with desktop and e-mail notifications of every mention of our name, and shortcuts to post GIFs in chat channels. There is no malice on their part; the company truly believes that all work should happen inside Slack and that we should all know just about everything happening on its platform and be notified instantly.

Unfortunately, humans can’t easily deal with such flows of information. The barrage of notifications crushes efforts to perform thoughtful work requiring quiet, space, and uninterrupted mental effort.

The average worker checks e-mail 77 times a day — and sends 4.73 messages, texts, or e-mails during an in-person meeting

Slack is not unique: most providers of work technologies, from human resources to document-sharing to systems for customer-relationship management, emphasize some style of interruptive notifications systems to alert us to a new message or other event. And the result is a blizzard of notifications, and intense pressure (sometimes from bosses) to keep these notification turned on, because ignoring a notification could mean you miss something that someone considers important.

We all know that this is happening, but usually we are powerless to stop it. And it is our managers who are all too often now bringing in new tools for us to use without thinking through their impact on our time and attention.

This new reality of notification insanity obstructs not only our concentration on individual work but also our communication with one another in person and in virtual conference. In a study of 1,200 office employees in 2015, videoconferencing company Highfive found that, on average, 4.73 messages, texts, or e-mails are sent by each person during a normal in-person meeting. Of millennial respondents, 73% acknowledged checking their phones during conference calls, and 45% acknowledged checking them during in-person meetings. Ironically, the greatest problem that 47% of respondents had with meetings was that co-workers were not paying attention.

And that is on top of the well-known problem of checking for messages far too often.

University of California Irvine researcher Gloria Mark and colleagues found that workers check e-mail an average of 77 times a day — and that checking e-mail constantly tends to increase worker frustration and stress. Additionally she found that interruptions can increase the total time necessary for completing a task, often significantly. It usually takes 23 minutes to return to a task after an unrelated interruption — but many workers must switch their attention every 10 minutes.

Statistics on reading texts, chat, and other forms of notifications at the office are harder to come by, but it is clear that the use of these is growing. Slack, for example, has 9 million global active users, who, in 2016, used it for an average of 140 minutes per work day. Add that to the 4.1 hours that, on average, workers spend checking their business e-mail per day, and you get the sense that the job has become mostly about responding to chat and e-mail, with a diminishing portion available to do actual work.

A further irony is that even though Slack claims that its technology helps workers reduce the number of e-mails, studies have shown that both e-mail volume and time spent on it continue to grow — and notification madness along with them.

This creates a cycle of increasing disaffection and disengagement. We spend more and more time doing busy work and less and less time doing the substance of what we really want or need to be doing. Work has become a series of unwanted addictions and useless actions that, at the end of the day, leave workers with nothing to show for the time and energy they have committed to it. It’s no wonder that surveys show a disturbing increase in the feeling that our jobs are meaningless: increasingly, they are.

This article has been reprinted with permission of the author.

Euphoric Delights: Virtual hangout for foodie buddies

Cooking is a life skill. You have to do it whether you like it or not. But, if you are a member of the popular Facebook Group Euphoric Delights, you are probably clicking pictures of your freshly cooked meal to post it. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Even a regular Daal chawal has a place in here. Not only are you flooded with compliments and requests for recipes, but you begin to stir up new friendships. The warmth of a companionship across the glass screens of your computers /phones breezes into your life like the aroma of ghee when you prepare your favorite Indian dessert. It feels like these unknown faces suddenly have a place in your life.

This virtual group discusses everyday cooking, and becomes a wonderful resource to receive tips specially if you have moved out of your home country and are looking for how to make rotis on a glass top stove or how to ferment idli /dosa batter when you live in a place with freezing temperatures. You can also see the work of immensely talented home chefs who post pictures and recipes of beautifully decorated cakes, dishes for parties and a whole lot more.

Started in June 29, 2011 geared to attract those with a love to cook and love to eat, Euphoric Delights is now a virtual home away from home for members. Members not only share meal ideas and kitchen tips but also feel a sense of belonging.

To learn more about the evolution of this Facebook group, join me in conversation with Shalini Ramachandran, founder of Euphoric Delights.

Q) What inspired you to start Euphoric delights?

I am an unabashed foodie! I love to cook, and I love to eat. But you get bored with your own food very soon. The desire to connect over food, make new friends and mingle over food was the reason that prompted me to start the group.

Q) What’s been the best part of starting this group?

The best part has been connecting with people. Moreover, when I moved to the United States in the year 2001, Facebook was non-existent. It was not this easy to connect virtually. It was hard to make friends in a new country. Facebook opened this window for me and I welcomed it with open arms. Now the group has grown tremendously in size and my husband Mahesh Venugopala is also an admin as I need help managing it.

Q) Do you have formal culinary training?

No, I do not have any formal training. I have been trained by life. I am like a mad scientist in the kitchen. I would’ve never made it to culinary school.

Q) What are the challenges you have faced as the moderator/admin of this group?

This group is now huge, and it is an effort to maintain it. My husband is closely involved in monitoring the group and the content posted in it. However, there are many challenges that we face on a regular basis. The biggest challenge is that if a member’s post gets deleted, they take it personally. But I am a part of the power admin groups on Facebook where we discuss problems /glitches and work on solutions to deal with them. Another challenge relates to keeping the content of the group clean. For instance, I need to maintain resources that I can tap into and have volunteers who work in all earnest to regulate/block the members who post inappropriate /profane content.

Q) Tell us a little about ED Anonymous.

We have a special section in our group where abused women share their grievances. Sometimes it is just that they need someone to talk to. Sometimes their issues are serious. The identities of troubled women are kept anonymous and their posts are deleted soon to protect their identity. However, we do not offer any legal /medical advice. We only offer emotional support and reassurance.

Q) The engagement on your page has been excellent. What do you feel about it? Does it overwhelm you sometimes?

Absolutely! I had no idea that it would grow this big. But I believe that the engagement on the page is because the community wants it. People want to help each other out with cooking tips, easy methods of cooking a seemingly difficult recipe and so on. I owe the popularity of this group to the members, and the volunteers in the admin. team who are always working hard to keep this a clean, safe group.

Q) When you try a new recipe and it does not turn out well, what do you do?

Not every recipe is perfect. If a recipe fails, I will try something different next time.

Q) Do you plan to do something new/different in the group? For example, going live or asking the members to go live?

No, I am happy with the way things are going now. I am happy that I have been able to build a strong community through Facebook, a venture I started in order to connect with other foodies like me.

You do not necessarily have to be as talented as someone on the TV show –  to be a part of this group. Euphoric Delights is the perfect place to be if you are looking for a quick fix recipe, a question on how to organize your fridge, where to buy a specific Indian vegetable or just about anything else that concerns cooking good food. Even if you do not want to post anything, there is always something that you can learn by just being a part of it. So, if you use Facebook, take a peep into this group and you’ll always be surprised to see what’s cooking!

Euphoric delights

Surabhi Kaushik is an Indian writer, based in Charlotte North Carolina.
Her works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and parenting essays have been published in various websites such as yourstoryclub, halfbakedbeans, writer’scafe, perfection pending, herviewfromhome and India Currents. She is part of various writing groups and is closely associated with “Write Like You Mean It”, a writer’s group in Main library, Charlotte. She also leads a monthly Fiction Writing workshop and conducts writing workshops at various libraries across Charlotte, North Carolina. 

 

 

 

 

India’s Celebrity Authorpreneur: Chetan Bhagat

I have to confess that I became familiar with Chetan Bhagat only after seeing the movie Three Idiots in 2009, although his first novel Five Point Someone had been published in 2004. After watching the movie, I proceeded to read many of his books on my trips to India because many family members read his books regularly.  

 Though Chetan Bhagat was present at the 2018 Jaipur Literary Festival which I attended, I could not meet him there. When I came to know that he was coming to Atlanta, Georgia, I packed my bags and drove for five hours to hear him speak there. To my delight, I heard him twice, once in Alpharetta, at an event organized by the non-profit organization Pratham, and in the evening again at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth at a Heart Notes concert featuring the legendary singer Pandit Jasraj, where he delivered the keynote address.

Chetan has an engaging conversational style. He grew up in Dhaula Kuan, Delhi and studied at the Army Public School there.

Chetan told me that he graduated at the top of his class at IIM Ahmedabad. When I asked him if his management training had helped him launch the successful phenomenon that has since transformed the sale of English books within India. “Phenomenon, what phenomenon?” he asked innocently. “The phenomenon that is Chetan Bhagat, indeed,” I replied with a smile. “No,” he said with deep conviction, “I always had a natural ability to market myself, not all management graduates like marketing.” “So the innate branding ability is in your genes?” I quizzed with a smile. He nodded. He claimed to have not spent a single rupee of his own on marketing his books. And yet, he has almost single-handedly transformed the sale of English language novels penned by Indian authors from a few thousands to several million books in sales every year. That’s quite an achievement!

Chetan drew from his IIT Delhi Engineering background when he illustrated his presentation to the large audience with graphs and Venn diagrams.  He held the audience enthralled with anecdotes about his many avatarts – journalist, blogger, motivational speaker and sought after author. His popular novels like Half Girlfriend, One Indian Girl and What Young India Wants, appeal to working millennials in India, who carry his books in their backpacks. That Indians read like they used to read before the invasion of screens is truly a wonderful sight! His popularity is endorsed by his devoted followers online – he has over 12 million followers on Twitter and over 6 million on Facebook. His tweets are read and quoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his columns in Dainik Bhaskar are followed by rickshaw-pullers. All of this clearly demonstrates the ways in which he has captured the country’s imagination across levels of social strata.

“Mr. Bhagat, you write on diverse topics but tell me did you read a lot as a kid?” I asked him with curiosity. “I did read but I did not think that I would become an author one day. Had I known that, I would have read more as a child,” he quipped. With memories of childhood reading pursuits, his face lit up. That expression of joy immediately won me over, and I could see that this accidental author and more of an authorpreneur as he likes to call himself is indeed a kid at heart, with a great love for words who is actively engaged in his craft, delighting in being in touch with the pulse of his readers.

In his own way, he encourages all Indians to be engaged in their lives and to shun the inertia which has defined us for too long.  “Let’s not shrug our shoulders and hide behind the apathetic “chalta hai” attitude or take refuge in hurling blame at others,” he said. “India needs change in terms of meaningful education, real secular beliefs, unification of diverse identities, women’s rights at home and in the workplace.” He feels that there is an urgent need to promote a healthy attitude towards sex. Dating and sex should not be swept under the carpet as taboo subjects within the home, if we want to make the country safe for women of all ages he feels – a theme he addressed in his book – One Indian Girl.

Not becoming complacent or settling for anything at any age is his mantra and he poses this challenge of being willing to adapt to change to his readers. “To settle  is to be like the sediment at the bottom of a still lake. If you want to stay alive, be engaged and adapt to change, that comes your way.” As an example to illustrate the importance of being adaptive, he mentioned how obnoxious cockroaches achieved a survival advantage over extinct dinosaurs because of their resilience.

“As a successful novelist, how do you decide which idea is suitable to eventually become a book?” I asked. He liked that line of questioning and responded that if an idea kept coming back to him and if he felt that it could be explored in depth, he eventually worked on fashioning a novel.

I asked him about his favorite leisure activity. Without batting an eyelid he said, “Sleeping.” I liked him – here was an author with an honest, straightforward style of speaking. He did not feign a literary style akin to great English authors like Dickens or Hemingway. I might not read his books over and over again but his books are indeed easy to read and his subject matter is always very relevant to current events.

“Can you speak in Punjabi?” I asked hoping I could share a joke or two in my mother tongue. “No,” he said, “my mother is from Lahore but I grew up in Delhi, I can understand the language, but I can’t speak Punjabi.”Well I am a Punjabi, born in Chandigarh – I grew up in Bombay but ran away from home after marriage,” I said softly under my breath. He immediately perked up. “What happened?” the curious story teller in him wanted more details. “Oh, that’s a story for another day,” I said thanking him for the interview and placing a copy of my My Light Reflections in his palm.

Monita Soni is a pathologist and diagnoses cancer. Her writing style weaves eastern and western cultures. You can hear her commentaries on WLRH-Sundial Writers corner and on “All Things Considered.”    

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