The 2018 Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) Dandia season began with a resounding opening featuring the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak on October 5 and 6 and ended with a successful show featuring acclaimed singers Preetysha and Sameer on October 20. These events enthralled the attendees and lighted up not just the Bay Area, but also the world of those needlessly blind. Falguni Pathak in performance with the Ta Thaiya band was a sight to behold. Twenty-five years and counting, they showed why they make such a great team. Though folk music is the core of her performances, she is known for surprising audiences with a peppy mix of Bollywood music and folk songs, and she recreated that magic again. One after another, she sang melodious as well as high-energy songs, and the crowd grooved as if there was no tomorrow. There wasn’t a person that left without a smile and a happy heart, feeling satisfied with the non-stop dancing. After showering the organization with accolades, rave reviews, and appreciation for the flawless Dandia event with the legendary Dandia Queen Falguni Pathak, attendees turned up in huge numbers to show their support and end the festive season with the talented duo of Preetysha and Sameer.
They have performed for SEF for more than a decade, each time entertaining a sold-out crowd. Their camaraderie, connection with the audience, unmeasurable talent is a beautiful confluence with SEF’S vision, passion, and zeal to eradicate curable blindness in India. Preetysha and Sameer understand the pulse of the attendees and they made them dance to one popular number after another. Their trademark, ‘Sanedo’ usually performed at the end, left the crowd wanting more, and was a befitting end to an enthralling evening. Though the three events were in the spotlight, Bay Area was spoiled with choices, with SEF organizing five Dandia events, and ten overall across the country. The Laser Dandia at Pleasanton by DJ Precaution on October 13th and by Sangeeta and Troupe on October 20th were both sold out, and the patrons gave an overwhelming thumbs-up to the organization, entertainment factor, and the beautiful experience they had. The patrons really savored the flawless execution, minute attention to detail, and entertainment par excellence at all these events. But the SEF exclusive tradition of the Diya Aarti, really made the whole experience divine and complete, keeping the festivities in mind. At half time, at each of these events, patrons joined in the devotional aarti with the little tea light Diya in their palms and created a magically mesmerizing sight #SEFDiyaAarti is an annual ritual that has been created at SEF Dandia where a beautiful amalgamation of the devotion and the organization’s worthy cause reverberates magically throughout the venue, as everyone sings aarti in unison with lighted Diya on their palms. Thousands of people reveled in these events, appreciated the SEF exclusive perks like the free Garba/Dandia lessons, free Dandia sticks check-in, among many others, and appreciated the tradition of keeping patrons first, another trademark feature of every event organized by the organization.
Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a nonprofit organization that has been working for the SANKARA EYE FOUNDATION, USA • 1900 McCarthy BLVD #302 • MILPITAS, CA 95035 • 1-866-SANKARA • INFO@GIFTOFVISION.ORG past 20 years for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational vision of eradicating curable blindness in India, SEF currently has 9 super specialty hospitals and is working on three new hospitals- in Hyderabad, Indore, and Mumbai. By far a unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, the rural poor. These account for 80 percent—which is approximately 150,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception has enabled over 1.79 million people to receive the gift of vision, absolutely free of cost. The organization has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal health and commitment to accountability and transparency. Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy –- get your or your loved ones’ name on the Wall of Founders. Double the impact of your gift with company matching. Join the cause, volunteer, and share in the joy of bringing light to someone’s eyes.
Midterm elections are almost upon us and many of us are struggling with the choices we have to make, especially with the ballot propositions. Californians will vote on 11 ballot measures come November 6th. Reading the official State voting guide can still leave us with questions – we have some difficult choices to make as responsible voters. One way to determine how to vote on the measures is to see who supports and stands to benefit from the passage of each proposition and see who is on the opposing side. Following the money trail also helps to gain perspective on how to vote.
There are three Propositions related to health-care on this ballot. Each one poses a dilemma as both ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments seem to make sense. We at India Currents would like to provide you with detailed d insight into these three propositions that can have a huge impact on how health-care is delivered to us.
PROP 4: Children’s Hospital Bonds initiative
What is the deal? This measure authorizes $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds to provide for the Children’s Hospital Bond Act Fund. The fund would be used for construction, expansion, renovation, and equipment projects in order to provide retrofitting and seismic upgrades to facilities that are in dire need of them.
This fund would be distributed among eight private non-profit children’s hospitals, the UC children’s hospitals and other public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.
Bear in mind:
- Children’s hospitals provide much needed medical care for California’s most needy children.
- Voters have approved two statewide bond measures to support children’s hospitals in the past. This money which was used for new buildings, renovations and equipment will run out this summer.
- The state of California already has $74.2 billion in debt from bonds and Prop 4 will increase that debt.
Vote YES if you think the State should use general obligation bonds to fund improvements to children’s hospitals. These hospitals treat the majority of children who need life saving treatments like organ transplant, cancer treatments and heart surgeries.
- 72% of funds would be designated for eight private, nonprofit children’s hospitals
- 18% allocation for five of the University of California’s children’s hospitals
- 10% of funds to public and private nonprofit hospitals providing services to children eligible for the California Children’s Services program.
Who is sponsoring:
- California Children’s Hospital Association.
Supporters: California Teachers Association
Total raised by sponsors: $11.28 million.
Vote NO if you think the funds should come from another source and NOT out of general obligation bonds that will need to paid back with interest. If you believe that State funds should not be used to support private facilities.
Who stands to lose if this measure passes:
- The State of California and therefore taxpayers, as the Bond would have to be repaid with interest, potentially through higher taxes.
Who is opposing:
PROP 8: Limits on Dialysis Clinics’ Revenue and Required Refunds Initiative
What is the deal? This is an initiated state statute, an initiative that seeks to cap the revenue of dialysis clinics to a maximum of 15% over the amount spent on each patient’s treatment. If passed, this measure requires that all revenue above 115% of direct patient care must be reimbursed to private insurance companies or individuals in the form of yearly rebates. The measure would also prohibit clinics from discriminating against patients based on their method of payment.
Bear in mind:
- Nearly 80,000 Californians with afflicted kidneys need dialysis three times a week.
- 72% of dialysis clinics in California are controlled by just two for-profit companies called DaVita and Fresenius.
- This measure does not cap the the amount spent on direct patient care service, it only limits the revenue that companies make out of each clinic.
- Dialysis clinics are underpaid by Medical and Medicaid and therefore try to recover costs by overcharging private insurance companies
- Dialysis companies claim that revenue caps might force them to shut down some of their clinics and this will affect patients who critically need the service.
- This measure, if voted in, will be a groundbreaking regulation in the healthcare industry and is being watched by interest groups all over the country.
Vote YES if you support a 15% revenue cap on dialysis companies so that the companies prioritize life saving treatments for patients– if they want to keep their profit margins.
- Patients suffering from kidney ailments who might face lower costs and better care if the dialysis companies spend more on improving care and take in less revenues
- The The SEIU-UHW West, a labor union which has been trying to unionize the dialysis industry and have asked for legislative regulation of the industry in the past and have failed in their attempts.
Who is sponsoring:
Total raised by sponsors: $18.86 million
Vote NO if you feel that the proposed revenue cap is too arbitrary and it would force dialysis companies to shut down clinics that are critical to kidney patients. Or if you agree with regulation, but strongly feel that such radical regulations should be brought about through careful legislation and not through ballot initiatives.
Who is opposing:
Who stand to lose if measure passes:
- DaVita and Fresenius who own and manage 72% of the dialysis industry. The average profit margin for dialysis clinics in California is 17% — nearly five times as high as an average hospital in California.
- Kidney patients, some of whom might lose access to dialysis clinics nearby if the companies decide to shut down clinics due to reduced profit margins.
Total raised by opposition: $111.02 million
Proposition 11: Ambulance Employees Paid On-Call Breaks, Training, and Mental Health Services Initiative
What is the deal? This initiated state statute is a preemptive proposition by the ambulance industry, paramedics and EMTs. If passed, ambulance companies would be exempt from 2016 labor laws passed by the California Supreme Court that mandates uninterrupted breaks for workers and also requires employers to pay workers at their regular rates during breaks. This initiative requires ambulance companies to provide additional training and some paid mental health services to EMTs and paramedics. The measure also seeks to void pending worker liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for violations (past industry practice of on-call meals and rest breaks) of labor laws passed in 2016.
Bear in mind:
- Currently ambulance personnel do not take off-duty breaks. This measure will simply preserve the status quo and allow the ambulance industry to write its own law as opposed to following current labor laws.
- According to current labor laws, workers are entitled to a half hour meal break and two ten minute rest breaks during their shift.
- Providing uninterrupted breaks would mean ambulance companies have to staff 25% more ambulances to cover those on break, costing $100 million per year. These costs will trickle down eventually to health care customers.
- However, ambulance personnel are first responders who perform in gruelling and pressure filled schedules, often dealing with life and death situations. Denying them uninterrupted breaks may not improve public safety.
- The measure would not apply to EMTs and paramedics who work for public agencies, such as fire departments.
Vote YES if you think it should be written into law, that like police officers, (and other essential public safety personnel,) EMTs, paramedics, life flight helicopter crews and 911 dispatchers should remain reachable during their breaks and be paid to do so.
- Patients with serious emergencies who can get care fastest if the nearest crew is not on an uninterrupted break.
- Healthcare customers avoid additional costs incurred by ambulance companies who have to hire additional staff to cover those on break.
- EMTs and Paramedics who will get paid for being on-call during breaks. They will also receive additional training and paid mental health services.
Who is sponsoring:
- Californians for Emergency Preparedness and Safety
- American Medical Response. They are the country’s largest medical transportation firm.
Total raised by sponsors: $ 29.93 million.
Vote NO if you want private ambulance companies to follow the same labor laws as everybody else. If you feel this a highly stressful job and that EMTs and paramedics must be given breaks to eat and decompress while not being on call. If you do not want the ambulance industry to be able to write their own laws, then you will need to vote “No.”
Who is opposing:
Who stand to lose if the measure passes:
- Ambulance employees who have liability lawsuits against ambulance companies for continuing to violate labor laws after the 2016 Supreme Court mandate for providing uninterrupted breaks for workers. These lawsuits and future ones will be voided if Prop 11 passes as this measure states that the past industry practice of on-call meal and rest breaks was allowable. .
- EMTs and paramedics lose their chance of getting uninterrupted breaks to decompress and be at their best for the next call
- Ambulance personnel will continue to have their breaks interrupted sometimes by less serious calls–one of the reasons why negotiations broke down between labor union and ambulance industry.
Vaishnavi Sridhar has a Masters in English and a penchant for the written word. She is also a theater/film enthusiast and on a given day, you might catch her on stage performing in a Telugu/Tamil/English play, or waxing eloquent on socially relevant topics on her Facebook page. Vaishnavi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and you can reach her email@example.com
Oct 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA
Oct 21, 2018 - Dec 15, 2018
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Learn to Meditate Class
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose CA
Nov 16, 2018 - Nov 18, 2018
Xavier Institute of Management Bhubaneswar, Bhubaneswar
Nov 16, 2018
8:15 pm - 11:15 pm
Community Of Infinite Spirit, San Jose CA
Imagine you are a green card holder traveling frequently between the U.S. and your native country. Perhaps you seek cheaper medical treatment in your native country and return for medical visits. Or perhaps you are elderly and have relatives still living in your birth country, but the travel exhausts you, so you stay overseas for longer periods of time. But you’ve traveled this way without incident for years.
On one routine trip back, you arrive at the passport counter and an official from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) tells you to follow him to a holding area in another part of the airport. You are instructed to hand over your immigration documents. You are prohibited from using your cell phone to inform family members that, at the very least, you will be a late arrival. You are prohibited from talking to the other people in the room. You are denied food and water.
You have lived in the U.S. nearly your entire adult life and paid taxes for decades.
You have contributed to the U.S. with your labor.
Under the immigration code and case law, legal permanent residents (LPRs) should not remain outside the U.S. for more than six months at a time or they are presumed to have abandoned their permanent residence. Stays abroad for one year or more automatically result in the loss of lawful permanent residence. The LPR should intend to return to the U.S. within a short period of time. If an LPR has some claim to return to her resident status, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the burden of proving abandonment of permanent residence. DHS reviews factors such as family ties in the U.S. i.e. property holdings, and business affiliations in both countries to determine the LPR’s intention to maintain permanent residence in the U.S.
Past administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have enforced this rule more leniently, particularly where a green card holder has shown an ongoing and routine pattern of travel. But the current administration enforces this rule with greater rigidity, and, taken with this administration’s wholesale assault on immigrants, the effect is to further erode the norms of life in our country and to intimidate immigrants—both new and old.
This practice of holding green card holders in a room in the airport without access to an attorney or family member is considered a “secondary inspection” not a detention, and therefore no constitutional protections attach. But the experience for the green card holders is clearly stressful and often traumatizing.
Reshma Shamasunder of Advancing Justice in L.A., the largest legal/civil rights organization for Asian/Pacific Island/Native Hawaiian communities, confirms the uptick in green card-related holdings. According to Shamasunder, the current administration may be “trying to see if people who have green cards may be reconsidered as public charge.” By this, Shamasunder indicates that the administration may be using secondary inspections as opportunities to examine their use of public benefits. Her organization, as well as the Asian Law Caucus and other Asian American/Pacific Islander organizations are particularly interested in hearing of green card holders’ experiences with CBP, as CBP provides no data on secondary inspections and release.
How can our community of green card holding Indians protect themselves? According to immigration attorney Nadia Yakoob, green card holders who travel frequently between their birth country and the U.S. should consider naturalization to obtain U.S. citizenship. The process takes about a year and requires fingerprinting and an interview that includes questions about various aspects of American civics. Yakoob, who has nearly two decades of experience in immigration law, recommends applying for a U.S. passport immediately following naturalization. And for those who are taken under “secondary inspection” by CBP, Yakoob recommends remaining calm and cooperative. If an officer believes there is a problem, the green card holder is usually allowed to enter the U.S. and told to visit the closest CBP office to establish residence. If CBP initiates removal proceedings, the green card holder will be required to appear before an immigration judge.
In addition to losing one’s right to stay in the U.S. for long periods of time as a green card holder,those who lose their status for failure to maintain their permanent residence in the U.S. and return to their native countries may lose their Medicare eligibility and even Social Security funds. Yakoob recommends that green card holders weighing this decision consult with an immigration attorney and tax/finance specialists.
Some may argue that these “secondary inspections” make sense; that the rules are in the books for a reason and should be enforced. But such thinking denies the more pernicious nature of such detentions—to make green card holders and other immigrants who live and work in the U.S. feel like their status is provisional and subject to change. We have already seen evidence of this shift in this administration’s permissive and even inflammatory attitude toward violence and harassment directed toward immigrants in the past two years. A study by the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, corroborated by the NAACP, indicates that hate crimes in America’s ten largest cities amounted to the highest total in over a decade. Rather than embracing the spirit of those words inscribed on the Statute of Liberty—“give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” we have wrested those huddled masses from their children and detained them in far-flung and isolated privatized prisons. Further, the President’s Executive Order 13767 established a higher standard for establishing key factors in obtaining asylum, including ending asylum for victims of domestic violence and gang violence. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, in 2017, the U.S. resettled fewer refugees than any other country in the world.
Yale professor Jason Stanley warned in a New York Times Opinion piece that the U.S. is tilting closer toward fascism and that normalizing the behavior of the current President is exactly what we must not do. Indeed, in the past two years, we have come to normalize the impetuous, ranting tweets of this President. And perhaps our own coping mechanisms require us to normalize what would seem utterly wrong just two years ago—we confront our own fragility in the specter of power, shrug our shoulders, and try to carry on with platitudes extolling a more positive mindset.
First green card holders. But then who? Reports indicate that naturalized citizens are next on the list. And recent news reports indicate that this President is currently considering an Executive Order that would entirely eliminate U.S. citizenship for children born to immigrants.
Further, while naturalization seems like a logical option, such a decision negates the importance of this change in policy with respect to green card holders and a shift in immigration norms. That green card holders could retain their national citizenship even as they lived and paid taxes and raised children here underscores America’s freedom of identity, and an implicit understanding that many of us straddle two or more cultures.
We must remind ourselves that this is not normal. We must vote against a political party that rubber-stamps such xenophobic policies. This is not the country that embraced my parents in the 1970s. This is not the country that welcomes immigrants seeking relief from autocracies and violent regimes. I have often arrived back to the U.S. from foreign travels with a sense of gratitude and welcome when I arrive at U.S. Customs. Now, I feel uneasy. And I am a U.S.-born American citizen. So if I feel this way, how must those without such protections feel?
Samantha Rajaram is a mother, community college professor of English, writer, and attorney. She lives in the Bay Area.
With the approach of Diwali, I tried to spring clean my house, as is customary. This year, some home repairs had been completed, and I was moving the contents back to my room. I smiled as I found a book that I had read many years ago. I remembered it with pleasure so naturally I put my spring cleaning aside and read it again. This tendency explains why my room is rarely very tidy. I admit it — I don’t get around to pruning or paring my book treasures very often. This tendency also explains why Marie Kondo and her tidiness advice does not work for a book hoarder like me. In fact, I feel like a chipko movement activist where my books are concerned. This Diwali, as I found new gladness in an old book, I rejoiced in the fickleness of memory, so that prose that had delighted years ago still yielded rich rewards.
Rather than read my review of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth (2008), I recommend getting on with your Diwali cleaning, but I know some of you will ignore this excellent advice. This one’s for you.
Several themes run through Unaccustomed Earth, most of them tales of ivy-league educated Bengali children of immigrant parents. The uneasy blend of East and West, the inter-generational expectations and pressures, the love for erudition and consequent upward mobility are all larger themes, but underlying these, are the complexities of people trying to understand each other and cope in the ‘unaccustomed Earth’ of their adopted homeland.
Hema is one of the Bengali kids who has lived up to her parents’ lofty aspirations, becoming an academic after completing a Ph.D. Other characters buckle under the weight of expectations that have become unbearably onerous. Amit has dropped out of Columbia med school, Sang out of Harvard, and Rahul has become an alcoholic. Ruma has ‘opted out,’ leaving her legal job to raise her kids, a decision that her father warns Ruma she might come to regret.
The inexorable deterioration of the flawed project of marriage is another theme. Children are time-consuming marriage deadeners in “A Choice of Accommodations.” The impossibility of being able to ultimately understand a spouse, and the resentment of being the sole care provider for offsprings feature prominently in this narrative. Loyalty to a dead parent suffuses another tale in the Hema-Kaushik trilogy. The protagonists in the short stories try to do the right thing, whether to support an alcoholic brother or to accept a younger step-mother, but ultimately the emotional tsunami that ensues from these perceived betrayals threatens to obliterate these relations
Lahiri is a writer of uncommon insight into the psyche of the Bengali diaspora. Her scope is very narrow; somewhat claustrophic, but I do think her writing is beautiful in its subtlety. Several of her characters’ observations are stunning, such as this depiction of the musings of an old man looking back at his lifetime:
“He didn’t want to live again in an enormous house that would only fill up with things over the years as the children grew, all the things he’d recently gotten rid of, all the books and papers and clothes and objects one felt compelled to possess, to save. Life grew and grew till a certain point. The point he had reached now.“
I realize at this point that Ruma’s Baba was much better than me at spring cleaning. Oh, and Diwali spring cleaning awaits. So, you can stop reading this, and go clean your house. Or you could read something else. Either way, you have learned how not to spring clean this Diwali.
Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. A domestic goddess, she is not.
Photo credit: a Creative Commons image by jvoves
Cover photo credit: a Creative Commons image by Soumyadeep Paul
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The great cellist Yo-Yo Ma has said, “There’s a moment where you can go into nature — always, at any moment, and figure out some parallel to what is happening in a sound-centric world.” Beyond Oceans was reminiscent of fall colors – it brought together the classicism of the Nadalaya School of Music, founded and directed by Shanthi Shriram and Shriram Brahmanandam, and the richness of Around the World, a global music ensemble founded by their son Arun Shriram. This fusion music concert benefited Inclusive World, an organization dedicated to developing the skills and abilities of differently abled individuals. Inclusive World is based in San Jose, California, and their vision is to help these individuals find avenues for continued professional development and social immersion. The event was organized on Saturday, September 8th, at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale.
The musicians included Wei Wang on Chinese percussion, Aditya Satyadeep on Indian violin, Alex Henshall on trumpet, Arun Shriram on mridangam, A.V. Krishnan on ghatam, Harini Krishnan on Indian keyboard, Morgan Swanson on guitar, Rob Goebel on cajon, Nandhan Natarajan on saxophone, Priyanka Chary on veena, Vijayakumar on keyboard, Kavya Iyer and Anivartin Anand on western violin, and vocal music was provided by the South Indian classical music students of Nadalaya School. The very sight of such variety on stage – of musical systems, of instruments, of musicians ranging from grade schoolers to accomplished artists, held together and swayed by music, was awe-inspiring.
The ensemble offered a twelve-course musical feast to a full house at Shannon theatre. They made an auspicious beginning with a mallari (traditional temple music) in the raga Gambhira Nattai, originally composed by the violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman.
Eastern and Western musical influences were tightly braided throughout the concert. For instance, when they performed an improvisation of Saint Thyagaraja’s Nagumomu in raga Abheri and John Coltrane’s Blue Train, the group seamlessly blended the two influences to create a whole new sound – a true hallmark of any good fusion music collaboration. At the same time, they played pieces where each style was preserved in all its glory, such as the Chinese drum (dagu) performance, Laya Vinyasam (improvised exposition of rhythmic patterns) on the mridangam, and a group rendition of chittaiswaram (improvisation in solfege) in the rare raga Pasupathipriya. This interplay made the performance pleasurable for the puritan in the audience and the casual listener alike. The music was interwoven with a slideshow which featured trivia about musical styles, instruments, artists, and composers.
In the end, they performed a medley, including One Day by Matisyahu from the famed “Kindness Boomerang“ video (a must watch clip that portrays the power of simple acts of kindness). Shanthi Shriram, who has been a Carnatic music teacher in the Bay Area for several years and who was one of the artistic directors for the show, recalls orchestrating the finale as an unforgettable experience – “A Tibetan song set to Indian Madhyamavathi raga flowed right after Brindavani thillana and then into an English song in major scale, then finally into a Spanish song which represented our Mohanam scale. The most interesting aspect of the whole concert was how the Chinese drum dagu flowed so well with Indian percussion instruments like mridangam and ghatam. This was something I had never imagined possible.”
Arun Shriram, the talented mridangam player, cherishes rehearsing with the artists of Beyond Oceans for months on end. One can imagine the camaraderie that develops as a result when he says “Performing with these musicians on stage was also a different experience from most stage performances I’ve been in. Although we were determined and felt the pressure of providing an entertaining performance to the whole audience, it felt as though it was just another rehearsal- we smiled at each other, we used visual contact as cues to play some particular section of music, and we had fun!”
Shriram Brahmanandam, a mridangam artist and co-artistic director at the Nadalaya School, reflected on the unique musical scene here, which allowed this kind of experimentation to come to fruition.
“We are indeed very lucky to live in a multicultural society like the Bay area. This truly gives us the opportunity to expose our students to various enriching experiences of working with and learning from artists of diverse musical systems. This learning involves different dimensions – learning to appreciate the beauty of instruments and musical systems different from ours, working with artists of different nationalities, the process of focusing and bringing out the synergies between various musical systems, and of course experiencing the final outcome – beautiful fusion music that brings out the best from all systems.”
He is right about the most admirable aspect of the concert, “The icing on the cake was the fact that all these efforts raised significant funds to help a noble cause such as Inclusive world.” With a noble gesture, these good samaritan musicians have set in flight a kindness-boomerang.
Dinesh Rabindran is a rasika who lives and works in the Bay area.
Come each autumn, armies of clay demigods in Star Ledger wraps, break hibernation and rise like a set of rudely awoken cross swarm of mummies. They rise from Rubbermaid boxes deep in the basements of South Indian homes, unleashing long-mouthed maelstroms of hysteria behind seemingly tranquil residential hedges of Jersey suburbia. They take control of the owners, suck their life force and demand human sacrifice. The jolly Dravidian festival of dolls is here!
Little did the Hindu warrior goddess know when she slayed Mahisha, the buffalo demon of yore, that she will let loose generations of neurotic Ninja Navratri Nymphs. From Mylapore to Manalapan. From Punjabi Bagh to Princeton Junction. Babes without Borders get ready for the biggest soirée of the season.
The galactic Golu gala wars begin. Just think a good ol’ fashioned Christmas Light Fight. Times 10.
Pre-battle strategies, infantry tactics, ground intelligence and stealth attacks. Surreptitious dashes to snatch the last remaining limited edition Ganesha wearing a “Fake News” cap, from the shelves of the best stocked store in Little India. Flanking maneuvers at the local Patel Cash and Carry check out lines to score fresh arrivals. Surveillance missions to Hobby Lobby to case out the latest crafting merchandise. Enhanced interrogation techniques at preceding gatherings to assess competition. Intuitive paranoia helps!
Reconnaissance complete, weeks before celebrations start, a theme is set. Dussehra can be devoid of Durga, but never of a designer dream, duh!
It’s that witching hour of the year. Men look askance and quietly despair as their year-long docile consorts morph into Kafkaesque Maha Kalis. Tyrannical Project Managers, with unrealistic deadlines, burgeoning budgets & scope creep.
Distraught, desperate Indian husbands dispatched on missions. Lost in the lonely lanes of Lowes. Looking for joist hangers, welding equipment, paint sprayers, cinder blocks and plywood to do their wives’ bidding. Other than the perfunctory mainstay of idols arranged on odd numbered steps, miniature cities need to be planned, parks designed, bridges and aqueducts built.
Golu displays across homes show off mini Epcots and Jurassic Parks; Shanghai high rises and the Stone Henge; the Pyramids and Tatooine; Mohenjadaro and Harappan civilizations. Repurposed Bratz dolls in wedding palanquins; the Death Star hovering as the Pushpa Vimanam; Captain America and Iron man dueling in the Kurukshetra war; a makeshift Paan stall on a bar cart; a Nexo knight as Bahubali, Thomas the Tank engines are now under Indian Railways Management! Cross-Franchise innovation! Papier-mâché beauty and beasts, menageries, tribal chieftains, royalty, seers, leaders and ordinary men rub shoulders with the Gods on stairways to Heaven.
Kalamkari Kanchanas, Sungudi Saraswatis and Pochampalli Padmas sashay around, blinging with recent summer purchases; air rife with scents of sandal, scandal and sundal.
Braggart parents egging on their hapless star kids to flaunt skills in front of long suffering, captive gods and guests.
Model UN debate speeches on “The Weaponization of Modern Media” and Pythagorean theorems drown out strains of Mayamalavagowla and Poorvi Kalyani.
Chauffeured by spouses cooling their wheels on gridlocked driveways, golu-hopping ladies compare charities, ailments and dysfunctional in-laws; show off new babies and their latest Model S Teslas; their boutique vacations and oh we were in the same resort as Ashton Kutcher gossip! Not for the faint of heart, when the lionesses prowl free, timid men take refuge in underground bunkers, surfacing gingerly, like subs, only in friendly waters. For some love and lentils.
I remember when my dad, brother and I used to help my mom set up modest Golu steps balanced on saved stacks of The Hindu, cardboard boxes & biscuit tins from the pantry. Her only stock of Bombay Rava trapped beneath the gods for nine whole days. The formulaic “park” with powdered-coal roads skirting match-stick fences on freshly sprouted fenugreek fields. A mandatory sand dune hill with a hollowed out tunnel glowing crimson with an oil lamp. Newspaper-wrapped spicy steamed legume favors – stained with tradition’s indelible ink.
Gone are those halcyon days. Now, healthy one-upmanship carries on to the dining table. These are the times of Chundal Bruschetta, Chili and Chaat. Favors wrapped in recycled Etsy cinch sacks. Non-Stepfordian hostesses, nostalgia traps and product placements. Quirky juxtapositions of creativity and camp; glamor and gleeful bad taste. FB events, Whatsapp snubs and online jilts.
Gotta go..I have 32 Interested and 88 Going. A guest of a guest wants to know if my buffet will be vegan and peanut free! For her Alaskan malamute
Usha Srinivasan is a FB blogger (Flogger©), IT professional, artist, home decor and not-so-haute cuisine enthusiast. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey with her loving husband and their heiress and spares.
First printed in October 2017.
By Dani Antman Growing up, I had an ambivalent relationship to Judaism. The religious services I attended never inspired me, and when I started my search for a spiritual path, I turned to the teachings of Yoga. Later, when I discovered Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical...read more
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Presidio Trust launched the planning and public engagement process for a multi-year effort to revitalize the Crissy Field area of the Presidio. With a growing urban...read more
In the SF Bay Area, sometimes the only clear signal that the season is changing is the arrival of new fruits and vegetables in the market. Sweet summer produce such as corn and stone fruits are replaced by root vegetables and big squashes such as bright orange pumpkins—as if nature is preparing us for autumn’s cooler temperatures and reduced daylight by offering vegetables with an abundance of vitamin A for eyesight, and the nutrients and fiber needed to support the immune system.
Pumpkins have a history as an edible fruit in many ancient cultures. They are native to Central America and Mexico, but have spread all over the world. Pumpkins come in all different colors and sizes. The familiar color is orange, but some varieties of pumpkin are even green, white, or even pale blue! While we associate pumpkins with massive sizes, (the current record holder for the biggest pumpkin weighed almost a ton!) there are some tiny varieties too.
Perhaps due to their large and colorful appearance, pumpkins have been woven into fairy tales of almost every continent. In fact there is even a variety known as the fairy tale pumpkin.
In the United States, pumpkins are used as carved decorations for Halloween, but these pumpkins are not ideal to cook with. For soup, pies, bread, or a stew the sugar pie pumpkin works best. It is less stringy than larger varieties and its meat is sweet and fine grained. For a soup recipe, select a medium-sized pie pumpkin with a bright orange skin that weighs about 2 to 3 pounds.
In addition to being easy and gratifying to cultivate, pumpkin is also very nutritious. It is low in fat and sodium and high in other important nutrients.
Pumpkins are easy to cook. They can be either baked or steamed. To bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the pumpkin lengthwise into two halves. Using a spoon, remove the seeds and strings. (Seeds can be saved, roasted, and served as a healthy snack.) Oil the surfaces inside and outside the pumpkin and set the halves on a baking sheet with the cut side down. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the meat is soft when a fork is inserted, but still firm enough to be cut into chunks.
To steam, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove seeds and strings. Steam the two halves in a steamer for about 20 minutes. Cook them just enough to loosen the skin while keeping the flesh firm and intact. Cool, peel, and cut into chunks.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.
Gujarati Kadhi with Pumpkin
Some food historians believe that the word “curry” came from a British mispronunciation of the name of a yogurt soup called kadhi. In Gujarat in northwestern India, kadhi is considered a comfort food. It can clear the sinuses and relieve other symptoms of the common cold. It is easy to digest and can lift your spirits when you are feeling down. Kadhi is a simple, light soup with a sauce-like consistency that is made with lots of water, some yogurt or coconut milk, and a bit of garbanzo flour. Other ingredients such as peanuts, green beans, okra, yams, or pumpkin can be added to embellish the soup.
2 cups cooked pumpkin, cut into
6 to 7 cups water
1 ½ to 2 cups plain low-fat yogurt
3 tablespoons besan (garbanzo flour)
¼ teaspoon each turmeric and
2 cloves of minced garlic mixed
with ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
and made into a paste using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mild cooking oil such as
corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, or
¼ teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 whole red chilies
A large pinch of asafetida
A few fresh curry leaves and/or 1 table spoon of chopped cilantro
Whisk together water, yogurt, garbanzo flour, powdered spices, and salt until smooth. Add the garlic/cayenne paste. Bring the mixture to a boil in a pot, then turn the heat down. Cook for 15 minutes stirring constantly until the soup has a creamy texture. Add the pumpkin and continue to cook for a few minutes.
For the final step, in a separate small pot, heat the oil and then add the mustard and cumin seeds. After the seeds start to pop, add the chilies and the asafetida. Stir, and then add this smoking mixture to the pot of kadhi. Cover immediately, and keep it covered for five minutes.
Taste, correct for saltiness, and top with fresh curry leaves and/or cilantro. Serve hot with rice and/or bread. Instruct the diners to remove the whole chilies and curry leaves, or you can take them out as you are serving.
Thai Pumpkin Soup with Coconut Milk
Thai food can be very similar to Indian food in flavor. This recipe was modified with a memory of a soup I had in South India and by mixing a few Thai recipes until I came up with a version which is especially quick to prepare. If you are using canned pumpkin or previously prepared steamed or baked pumpkin, it can be ready in 25 minutes!
2 cups freshly made pumpkin puree
or 1 15 oz can of puree
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, any type
2 cups water
2 cups or one 15 oz can of coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons of prepared Thai
red curry paste (found in specialty
or health food stores)
or prepare your own curry paste
with the following ingredients
Thai red curry paste
1 or 2 red dry chilies or 1 teaspoon
1 stalk of lemon grass chopped into
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
or white parts of green onion
3 cloves of chopped garlic
¼ teaspoon chopped lime peel (skin)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves with
1 teaspoon each powdered
coriander and powdered cumin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
To prepare the Thai curry paste, place all the above ingredients in the jar of a food processor or a blender and puree into a coarse paste. Store in a glass jar. For this recipe you will need only half of the amount you have made. The remainder can be saved in the refrigerator for upto a week.
Heat the vegetable oil in a pot and add 3 tablespoons of the Thai curry paste you have prepared. (Store-bought paste is denser so you may need less.) Stir-fry for 2 minutes, and add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove any rough fibers of the homemade paste that rise to the surface.
Lower the heat and add the coconut milk. Cook over a moderate heat for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the salt and pumpkin puree. Lower the heat again and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently until the soup thickens to a cream-like consistency. Adjust seasoning, adding more paste if desired. Serve with bread and/or rice.
First printed in October 2011. Original Title – A Sure Sign of Autumn
Toward the end of September of each year, the South Indian community enters a frenzy of chaos and excitement in preparation for Golu, the exhibition of dolls in honor of Navratri. Golu has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Despite living in the...read more