SEF Dandia 2018 Enthralls the Bay Area like Never Before

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.

Voting Quietly: Do You Know How To Do That? I do.

News of the migrant caravan is everywhere.

The facts are simple: around 7000 migrants from Central America are making their way on foot through Mexico and hope to seek asylum at the US border in the next few weeks. As of today, PBS NewsHour reports that they are about 1000 miles from the US Southern border.

President Trump has made outrageous claims about this caravan of migrants.

Daniel Dale, from the Toronto Star says, “Trump escalated his immigration dishonesty on Monday morning. Seizing on a groundless claim from a host on his favourite Fox News morning show, he tweeted that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” to a caravan of Latino migrants that began in Honduras.”  

Anne Gearan and Jeremy Duda in the Washington Post write – “Democrats, Trump said, want to give immigrants free livelihoods with no strings. “Next thing you know, they’ll want to buy ‘em a car,” Trump said. Maybe, he said, a “Rolls-Royce, made not in America so I hope that’s not what we do.” Vice President Mike Pence joined the chorus saying it’s inconceivable the caravan includes nobody from the Middle East. These are statements made to inflame sentiments of all Americans that there are Honduran freeloaders who want to just come here and make the American taxpayer pay for everything in their lives.

This inflammatory rhetoric has to be called as lies, not false claims said Daniel Dale emphatically on the PBS NewsHour evening news report today. On Twitter, he wrote “I’ve fact-checked every word Trump has uttered for two full years. This is one of his most dishonest weeks in political life. He’s lying about so many different things at once, and in big ways — not exaggerating or stretching, completely making stuff up.” Today’s editorial in the New York Times has a title that says it all – Donald Trump is Lyin’ Up a Storm: Is there an election or something?

Even if Dale and others are constantly calling out the lies as they seem to swarm the news cycle every day, they are working. They are working to create the narrative of the us versus them. They are working with the Republican base that pushed him into power. They are making insidious inroads into the minds of Democrats too. Comments in the New York TImes articles in the past few days from registered Democrats mirror this split, with some readers saying – “I am an avowed Democrat; but, I do not want open borders.”

In this dangerous us vs. them rhetoric fanned not by elements on the right or the left but by President Trump who stands behind the seal of the Government of the United States when he speaks, conversation based on facts is lost; historical reasoning is completely shoved aside; reasons for why this is happening don’t even figure in the conversation. When men and women leave behind all that is familiar to come to this country, there must be compelling reasons which makes life unbearable for them in their home country. Really compelling reasons, don’t you think?

Take this 2017 report on human rights abuses committed in Hondurans by their own government. A report filed by the US State Department. “There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.”

A drug czar who was working assiduously to change the stranglehold  that the drug trade had on high ranking members within political circles and law enforcement was gunned down by his country’s policemen. In 2009, according to TIme magazine, Julian Aristides Gonzalez had just dropped off his daughter at school. A ‘fake’ police block was set up and eleven shots were fired into the car by policemen. The article goes on to state – “The drug conflicts have pushed up the Honduran murder rate, which hit 53 per 100,000 last year — one of the worst rates in the world. Few homicides are solved.”

Joseph Nevins, professor at Vassar College says, “The mainstream narrative often reduces the causes of migration to factors unfolding in migrants’ home countries. In reality, migration is often a manifestation of a profoundly unequal and exploitative relationship between migrant-sending countries and countries of destination. Understanding this is vital to making immigration policy more effective and ethical.”

The unequal relationship extends all the way to the beginning of the 20th century where the name of the game has always been to exploit. Nevins says, “U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.” By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.”

Fast forward to the 1980s. Nevins writes, “As part of its effort to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua and “roll back” the region’s leftist movements, the Reagan administration “temporarily” stationed several hundred U.S. soldiers in Honduras. Moreover, it trained and sustained Nicaragua’s “contra” rebels on Honduran soil, while greatly increasing military aid and arm sales to the country. The Reagan years also saw the construction of numerous joint Honduran-U.S. military bases and installations. Such moves greatly strengthened the militarization of Honduran society. In turn, political repression rose. There was a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, “disappearances” and illegal detentions.”

In 2006, Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist came to power hoping to change his country’s destiny and its entanglement with the military establishment.  Nevins says, “He tried to organize a plebiscite to allow for a constituent assembly to replace the country’s constitution, which had been written during a military government. However, these efforts incurred the ire of the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.” He goes on to say, “The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration has played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country.”

This is why men, women and children are walking. Not because the Democrats are ready to hand them the keys to a Rolls Royce – let’s get some historical perspective about this migrant caravan.

Most importantly, let’s get some truth into the national conversation on the caravan to counter the lies of the President. His lies dominate the news cycles. He’s loud and brash. He cares about the midterm results – we do too. We don’t have to speak lies. We should not support them.

We just need to walk into that voting booth and vote, quietly.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing Editor of India Currents magazine.

 

Date/Time Event
Oct 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019
All Day
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
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
Learn to Meditate Class
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose CA
Nov 22, 2018
3:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Thanksgiving Dinner and Concert
Thanksgiving Dinner and Concert
Badarikashrama, San Leandro CA
Nov 23, 2018
6:00 pm - 10:00 pm
3iii Fashion ICON 2018
3iii Fashion ICON 2018
Redberri Convention Center, Plano/Sandwich IL

Delivering Diasporic Diwali Dreams: A Story, An Epic

 

My parents moved from the South Asian subcontinent to the North American continent in the mid-1960s, never to again celebrate Diwali in the country of their birth.  But over the past 50 + years, they’ve never failed to light diyas, do pujas, enjoy mithais, and convey Shubh Diwali to their loved ones.  

This is how Mom and Papa conveyed their sense of Diwali to me:  As detailed in the Ramayana, one of India’s two magnificent epics, a royal couple – Prince Rama and Princess Sita – are banished from their homeland, Ayodhya.  With Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, they spend 14 years in exile during which Sita was kidnapped by Lanka’s demon king, Ravana. The arc of the story is how the brothers, supported by well-wishing devotees such as the monkey God, Hanuman, rescue Sita and return home to Ayodhya.  The jubilant citizens of their homeland excitedly welcome Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana by lighting diya oil-lamps on the night of the new moon, Amavashya.  Sweets and gifts are distributed as Ayodhya celebrates with firework and dance. This is the delightful, somewhat facile story of good triumphant over evil.  There are alternative narratives, including those which privilege Sita’s perspective, Lakshmana’s role, and Hanuman’s point of view; there is even a reading which is sympathetic to Ravana’s plight.  Also quite interesting is how other goddesses and gods make their way into the celebration. As the victory of good over evil is said to bring prosperity, the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, is worshipped.  And with King Rama rightfully back on his throne, Lord Ganesha represents a new start for Ayodhya. But for the diasporic traveler that I am, the story of Diwali is ultimately about desh and pardesh – home and away – and how we reconcile the two.

Bombay Baby and Calcutta Maybe

Although my parents had a comfortable life in Bombay (not yet called Mumbai by English newspapers), Papa left for Ontario, Canada in early 1965 as a scout of sorts, to get a lay of the snowy-white new land that would pave the path to more prosperity.  Mom stayed back in Mulund, Bombay with her four children, awaiting the green light to move the family across the kala pani, the dark waters that her father insisted would result in familial fracture.  While that feared fracture never quite happened, India and Pakistan fought yet another of the subcontinent’s internecine wars which ended days before Diwali, 1965.  With our parents separated by an ocean, my brothers, sister, and I tried to make sense of our changing world: windows of our apartment flat in Mulund were darkened with brown paper to ensure that Pakistani fighter planes could not see the light inside our home; my elder brother, who was then not yet ten years old, had to fight his way home from school one day when all the trains and buses stopped, causing great worry for Mom; and my five-year-old self fought with inner demons at night as I would sleepwalk throughout our 3rd-floor flat looking out of our balcony for my absent father.

I imagine that Papa and Mom telepathically communicated all these troubles along with their more hopeful visions in the way of young people in love separated by long distances.  While it seems inconceivable to me that Papa sent any poems to Mom during festive nights away from home and family, perhaps we can do a bit of revisionist history and dream that he sent a few lines from Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” (1981):

Home. These walls, this sky

Splintered with wakes of light

These mud-lamps beaded round

The eaves, this festive night,

 

These streets, these voices…yet

The old insensate dread,

Abeyant as that love,

Once more shifts in my head.

 

After the war was over, on the eastern side of India that makes the shape of its map look like a woman holding a sari aloft on her outstretched arm, there was a girl about my age who was celebrating Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali.  While the rest of her family members in diya-lit Calcutta had their eyes closed during the Lakshmi puja, praying to the Goddess of Wealth, this bold lass saw her mother’s jewelry on a silver tray and quietly hid the jewels so as to protect them from anyone who might not be a well-wisher for the family’s prosperity.  But as open as that girl’s watchful eyes were, they could not have been as open as my own eyes when Mom prepared me for our flight to Canada.

Canadian Cold

Our stay in Chatham, Ontario was a makeshift one, with the only other South Asian family in our town being the Hasnains from Pakistan.  In those early years there were no Indian grocery stores close to home, though there was an uncle who owned a French-Indian restaurant in a nearby city.  My memories of Diwali celebrations in Chatham are blurred by the struggles of my parents making their way in the world. Both would work multiple jobs including picking tomatoes as farm hands, Mom sewing clothes as a tailor, and during an economic downturn Papa, trained to be a procurement manager, was laid off from a multinational firm and took on odd jobs as a security guard and then as an orderly at a mental hospital.  All I can really remember about India was the pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal and blue aerogrammes to and from family back home in Rajasthan.

For those of you not old enough to know about aerogrammes, kindly follow these instructions:\

  • Find a thin, lightweight piece of blue paper approximately the size of 8 ½”  x 11” printer paper.
  • Fold into three sections as if you were enclosing it in an envelope (if you are too young to know what an envelope is, please proceed to the Silicon Valley part of this article).
  • The top fold is for parents to pay respect to elders in India, write that “all izz well” in Canada, and for special holidays wish everyone “Happy Diwali,” “Happy Holi,” or “Happy Raksha Bandhan.”  Just keep things joyous, suggesting that Goddess Lakshmi is smiling upon us in this land of milk and honey. Hidden from family in India are the hardships, the hard facts of our cold Canadian Diwali;  no time with an uncle who was too busy with his restaurant, no agarbati to fill our home with sandalwood incense, no exploding firecrackers to let neighbors know about “our Christmas,” no flickering diyas to guide Lakshmi to our home, no shining new jewelry or dhan except the maple-leaf pennies that my parents earned; all we had were the six of us performing the puja around a silver coin of Lakshmi safeguarded from India,  our foreheads dotted with kumkum powder carried in Mom’s suitcase as a vermilion reminder of our ancestry, and our mouths sweetened with saffron-less rice pudding pretending to be kheer with wrinkled black raisins substituted for plump golden ones.  
  • The middle fold is for more serious matters:  replying to previous requests to send more money; sharing news about children’s educational accomplishments; and deferring the visit home to Rajasthan with a “we will soon return when we have accrued enough vacation” (while never disclosing that Goddess Lakshmi’s smile has been a bit pinched, and we don’t have funds for tickets to fly back to India; the illustration of an airplane on the front of the aerogramme is as close as we’ll come to a flying machine for almost a decade).
  • And squeezed into the bottom fold on the inside of the aerogramme is space for the elder two siblings to write their pranams; inevitably the respectful salutations bow down to the end of the page and climb over to the other side where the younger two siblings (my younger brother and myself) write in larger font to grandparents, uncles, and aunts whose fully-fleshed memories slip away into two-dimensional black and white photos.
  • Lastly, the address section on the front has Papa’s confident upper case hand-written memory of his or Mom’s village homes, before the gummy edges of the paper are moistened with parental saliva, pressed together, and the aerogramme is dropped in a mailbox.

 

Chicago Communities

After Papa was laid off from his job, he explored an opportunity in Chicago.  In the same year that Apollo 11 made like a powerful Diwali firecracker and rocketed the first men to the moon, our family made like Diwali phuljharis and sparkled our way to the United States.  While the Windy City was as cold as Ontario, its Midwestern heart felt so much warmer.  Cosmopolitan Chicago had universities with graduate students from India, had a group of Gujarati friends that reminded Papa of Pravin Parikh, his best friend in Bombay, had a Patel Brothers grocery store to cater to the growing Indian population, and even had a Hindu temple.

In Chicago, Mom found other women who wore saris everyday, just as she had in Canada and would continue to do for decades in the United States.  But these were not Indian women whose jet-black hair flowed down to their waists over the saree’s pallu.  They were fair-haired wannabe gopis of the ISKCON movement.  But no matter, my parents had a temple, albeit a temple shared with former hippies chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” And we had a place to go on Diwali, before returning home to feast with newfound friends and dance in dandia circles.

Just as Papa and Mom built an Indian community that enabled them to recreate a semblance of what they had left behind, their children turned toward another community, playing baseball with our American friends and singing rock-and-roll songs that our parents did not appreciate.  Filial piety demanded that we attend family pujas, but while Mom and Papa celebrated Diwali with their friends, we rolled our eyes during prayers and began to surreptitiously make fun of our parents’ friends’ funny clothes and oily hair, and, out of adult earshot, mimicking the thick Gujarati accents in a way that presaged Hank Azaria’s diminishing Apu character on The Simpsons by a couple of decades.  We were becoming defiantly Americans while steadfastly remaining loyal to, and protective of, our parents’ core values.  

As the years went by, it appeared that Yankee defiance might win out:  Blue jeans left no space in our closets for kurtas and pyjamas; Hollywood pushed Bollywood into the distant background; and for a while it seemed that television families like “The Brady Bunch” were the norm that we aspired to.  The so-called “boob tube” delivered cultural context and our Americanized tongues became more comfortable saying “Happy Thanksgiving” rather than “Shubh Diwali.”  While my parents did not overtly show anxiety around cultural loss, it must have seemed to them that their Diwali diyas could not hold a candle to Nat King Cole’s Christmas lights accompanied by chestnuts roasting on an open fire; while the former was easily extinguished, the latter illuminated much more of our Midwestern zeitgeist.  It was as if Vikram Seth’s poem about Diwali was describing the cultural conflict between my birthright and the ascendant West’s claim on my impressionable teenage years.

Macaulay the prophet of learning

Chewed at his pen: one taste

Of Western wisdom “surpasses

All the books of the East,”

 

And Kalidas, Shankaracharya,

Panini, Bhaskar, Kabir,

Surdas sank, and we welcomed

The reign of Shakespeare.

Silicon Valleys

College was a turning point.  The summer before my freshman year, our family returned to Rajasthan to celebrate the weddings of my two older siblings.  I returned to the U.S. with a commitment to learn about India, to be more of an Indian, to never remove my janoi, the sacred thread with which I had been invested days before my elder brother’s wedding.  At college, only the Indian graduate students seemed to know anything about our shared heritage.  There were three other undergraduate Indians in my freshman class, and all of them were on the right side of the Indian-American hyphen.  It was only through coursework in Indian history, political science, art, religion, and anthropology that I found my way back to my own Indian identity.  And then there was Satayjit Ray’s Apu Trilogy that clinched the deal with its masterful cinematic verisimilitude.  On my road to self-discovery, I discovered Pather Panchali, the Song of the Little Road.  I fell in love with village India and with the Bengali aesthetic.  I saw Diwali through Apu’s eyes in Aparajito (The Unvanquished), the second of these three classic films.  I found a way to vanquish my years of exile from India.

Upon graduation from college, I returned to India for my own wedding.  I married Mangla, that not-quite Bengali girl who in the mid-1960s had safeguarded her mother’s jewelry on Dhanteras.  Through the years, my wife has taught me more about Diwali then all the professors, books, films, and years that preceded her.  Like so many mothers before her, Mangla has safeguarded much more than shiny baubles. She has kept alive the traditions of our ancestors and passed them along to our children and their spouses like a treasure that can be held only in one’s heart.

It is true that we no longer wait twelve days for our Diwali letters to cross the ocean and do the postal handshake/namaskar.   Yes, we’ve been blessed by Silicon Valley innovations like email, Skype, and WhatsApp that enable us to have our Diasporic Diwali dreams delivered to us in an instant.   And for those of us who are old-school, we now even have a Diwali stamp should we be inspired to send our loved ones Diwali greetings that consist of more than ephemeral bits and bytes.  

Of course, the number of Indians in North America has gone up exponentially through the years.  Unlike my parents and the Hasnain family of 1960s Chatham, Mangla and I have nearly a dozen Indian families living within walking distance from our Palo Alto home, each celebrating their own vision (and each other’s version) of Diwali/Deepavali; North India, South India, East India, and West India all centered around our California abode.  Despite our neighborly friendships, our past has its hold on us and we hold on to vestiges of ancestral tribalism with our RANAs (Rajasthan Association of North America), GCANAs (Gujarati Cultural Association of North America), TANAs (Telegu Association of North America), CABs (Cultural Association of Bengal), and more.

To be sure, there have been some clunker Diwali celebrations like the RANA function in the early 1990s when I read aloud  every word of Vikram Seth’s “Diwali” poem, leading almost the entire audience to head for the food before it was ready (I think Mangla was the only one who listened to me! )  But we’ve come a long way, crossing the bridge between here and there. Here might be Morgan Hill, and there might be Mt. Abu. Perhaps here is modernity, and there is tradition.  And courtesy of our multiple and virtual Silicon Valleys that are anywhere, here and there could be everywhere, facilitating the building of our own Rama setus, our own bridges to (re)discover the loves of our lives. And we merely need a diya to light the sky, to show us the way back home to make peace with our disquieted heart.

It holds me-till the strain

Of exile, here or there,

Subverts the trance, the fear

Of fear found everywhere.

 

“But freedom?” the notes would sing…

Parole is enough. Tonight

Below the fire-crossed sky

Of the Festival of Light.

 

Give your soul leave to feel

What distilled peace it can;

In lieu of joy, at least

This lapsing anodyne.

 

“The world is a bridge. Pass over it,

Building no house upon it.”

Acceptance may come with time;

Rest, then disquieted heart.

Rajesh Oza truly hopes one day soon to celebrate Diwali in India, perhaps with a grandchild in tow.  As Founder and President of OrganiZationAlignment Consulting Group, Inc., he specializes in helping senior executives better align their organizations to achieve success.

 

How Not to Spring Clean This Diwali

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.

 

Photo credit: a Creative Commons image by Soumyadeep Paul

 

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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Meet Vijay Gupta, MacArthur Genius Award Winner

Vijay Gupta’s trip to being one of the winners of the 2018 MacArthur genius grant started with questions – questions only a musician would know to ask. Nathaniel Ayers was the questioner and Vijay, a violinist with the LA Philharmonic was immediately intrigued. The space where he met Ayers was at Skid Row, where upwards of 60,000 homeless people camp in Los Angeles. Vijay says, “Nathaniel was one of the first African American men to be admitted to the Juilliard school in New York in the 1970s. Due to mental illness, the therapy that he received left him a mere zombie, and he lived within walking distance of where I played in one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the city. Along with other musicians, I read about him in the Los Angeles Times, and when I met him, I was pretty devastated to see such a brilliant musician living in abject conditions.”

The inequality that existed between playing at LA Philharmonic and the poverty at Skid Row revealed places that were worlds apart. Meeting Nathaniel pushed Vijay to wonder whether, “there were other musicians like Nathaniel who were languishing in a place like Skid Row, silenced by homelessness and poverty

That thought was the impetus for starting Street Symphony an organization dedicated to providing free music programs, mentoring opportunities to budding musicians and much more in LA’s Skid Row. They have now grown to include over 100 professional musicians and have given over 500 concerts at homeless shelters and county jails.

Of playing at Skid row and other facilities, Vijay says, “I was aware of the HIndustani tradition, where the audiences are extremely well-versed and give critical input to the musicians. At the LA Philharmonic, I was used to sitting on stage, with all of us wearing tuxedos in bright lights, with a “wall” between the performers and the audience. Our audiences for Street Symphony would break that decorum. They would applaud between the pieces. We could not just play and leave. They would ask is questions about the composer, and then add telling comments about their feelings when they heard certain parts. It was truly a humbling experience.”

And, at one of these concerts at a county jail, Vijay spoke about the composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856)  who was committed to a mental asylum and who died there, before playing a piece written by him. And then Vijay confides, “I was dumbfounded to have an audience member at the jail look around him and say – Schumann must have been in a place similar to this one. He was comparing his own story to that composer, even if I hadn’t done that as a performer.”

And, these humbling interactions and experiences drive Vijay to this day in running Street Symphony. He says with wonder, “This audience is made up of emotionally astute intelligent empathic and creative people. We make the mistake of looking at the arts as a luxury item.  Why are you taking music to ‘those’ people? – is a question I get asked often. And, the undercurrent is that those people are somehow unworthy. To me, the arts is a way of believing in everyone’s humanity and when we take that away from certain groups, what we are saying is that they don’t deserve access to their own humanity.  Art allows me to connect with people. The way I was brought up, art is a form of sadhana, an act of devotion. In my native Bangla language, I was taught that you worship Shiva in the form of people. To me, a performance by Street Symphony feels like that – a puja performed with deep reverence, committed to the restoration of humanity.”

The MacArthur genius grant comes with a purse of $625,000 with no strings attached and he hopes to use this to chart the future course of Street Symphony.

Learn more about his work at http://streetsymphony.org/

A Poem for Karva Chauth

THE BANGLE SELLERS
Bangle sellers are we who bear
Our shining loads to the temple fair…
Who will buy these delicate, bright
Rainbow-tinted circles of light?
Lustrous tokens of radiant lives,
For happy daughters and happy wives.
Some are meet for a maiden’s wrist,
Silver and blue as the mountain mist,
Some are flushed like the buds that dream
On the tranquil brow of a woodland stream,
Some are aglow wth the bloom that cleaves
To the limpid glory of new born leaves.
Some are like fields of sunlit corn,
Meet for a bride on her bridal morn,
Some, like the flame of her marriage fire,
Or, rich with the hue of her heart’s desire,
Tinkling, luminous, tender, and clear,
Like her bridal laughter and bridal tear.
Some are purple and gold flecked grey
For she who has journeyed through life midway,
Whose hands have cherished, whose love has blest,
And cradled fair sons on her faithful breast,
And serves her household in fruitful pride,
And worships the gods at her husband’s side.
by Sarojini Naidu, 1912

Photo Credit: A Creative Commons image by Saravanan Rangaswamy.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.
Cover photo credit: Creative Commons image by Supratim Ghosh.
In-text photo credit: Creative Commons image by Saravanan Rangaswamy.

Three Ethnic Soups for Autumn

The changing of the seasons is often difficult to notice in the Bay Area, compared to other regions of the United States, but the arrival of autumn is definitely marked by shorter days and cooler temperatures.

Appetites increase with the colder weather, and working people, who may have discovered easy short-cuts for light, summer menus now find it difficult to prepare warm, satisfying, and nourishing food after a busy fall day.

Soups are among the simplest of food preparations, yet they can also be creative, attractive, tasty, and nutritious. And soups can act as entrees or even whole meals. On a chilly evening there is nothing as welcoming to come home to as the smell of hot soup simmering on the stove! After working in a stuffy office, or a long commute, soups can satisfy and hydrate our bodies.

Soups can be made using almost anything you find in the kitchen. Soup recipes are flexible and versatile, enabling adjustments to meet all kinds of individual preferences or dietary requirements. Vegetarians and vegans can easily omit meat from a soup recipe without compromise. Tofu, soymilk, or soy yogurt can be substituted for meat, cream, sour cream, or yogurt to lower cholesterol. Bean or lentil-based soups contribute significantly to a healthy vegetarian diet. Served with rice or bread, soups can provide a complete protein-rich meal.

Here are three soup recipes from three countries. Each of these soups can be prepared quickly, especially if you have their common denominator, the chopped and sautéed vegetables made ahead of time. So prepare the vegetables in your spare time and refrigerate them. When ready, use them to make a hearty soup in minutes. Enjoy!

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


Make Ahead Vegetable Preparation

A few days or even a week in advance, prepare the vegetables for the soups as follows. Other vegetables can be added or substituted, depending on availability and preference.
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Ingredients:
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup cauliflower or broccoli florets, cut  small
2 cups each carrot, celery, and zucchini, cut into ¼” cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons of canola, corn, safflower or olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons, freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and saute the chopped onion briefly until limp. Add the bell pepper and garlic. Stir fry for a few minutes. Then add rest of the vegetables.
Saute the vegetables for several minutes until they begin to soften and are coated with oil. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, and sprinkle them with the lemon or lime juice.
The above list of ingredients makes approximately 9 cups of vegetables.
Refrigerate the vegetables in a covered container until you are ready to make the soup.

Greek Lentil Soup with Red Wine or  Vinegar

Ingredients:
6 cups water
¾ cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
3 to 4 cups of the prepared vegetables
¼ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
½ teaspoon minced fresh or dried oregano
a few tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
cup red wine or vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the lentils. Cook the lentils over moderate heat until just soft, about 20 minutes. Add the prepared vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more until all of the ingredients are well blended. Then add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, and wine or vinegar.

Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Check seasoning and serve with rice or bread.

Sambar

Sambar is a type of South Indian dal (an Indian lentil-based soup) that can use many vegetables to create a substantial one-pot meal.
Ingredients:
8 cups of water
1 cup toor dal (yellow lentils)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 fresh hot chili such as jalapeno,minced after removing core and seeds
½ teaspoon each coriander and turmeric powders
2 whole dried tamarind pods (with their shells intact)
or 1 tablespoon unsweetened tamarind concentrate
or juice of 1 lemon mixed with a tea spoon of sugar (a sweet and sour substi tute)
3 cups or more of the prepared vegetables
1 tablespoon dry, shredded coconut
1 cup fresh or canned chopped tomatoes
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon peanut, corn, or safflower oil

For tempering:
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 or 3 whole dried hot chilis
a pinch of asafetida

Rinse the lentils in very hot water a few times to remove dust and any oil they may have been coated with. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot and add the lentils. Simmer briskly for 15 minutes. Add the salt, powdered spices, ginger, and minced chili. Cover and cook the lentils for about 30 minutes on a moderate flame while preparing the other ingredients.

If using whole tamarind pods, remove the outer shell. Then take out the pits from the pulp and discard. Soak the pulp in ½ cup of warm water for 15 minutes to obtain a sweet and sour sauce.

Add the previously prepared vegetables, shredded coconut, tomatoes and the soaked tamarind sauce, tamarind concentrate, or the sweet and sour substitute to the soup. Simmer the soup while preparing for the last, important step, tempering—which sets the dal apart from other soups.

For tempering, heat the oil in a small saucepan. (A stainless steel measuring cup works fine for this step.) Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds and dry chilies. Add the asafetida, and then quickly pour all of this smoky oil mixture into the pot of soup. Dip the small pan right into the dal to get it all off quickly, then immediately cover the pot. Turn off heat and keep the pot covered for five minutes. Uncover, retrieve the small saucepan and stir to mix.

Garnish the sambar with chopped fresh cilantro. Check seasoning and serve. Instruct your diners to remove the whole chilies from sambar before they eat.

Minestrone Con Pesto

Ingredients:
½ cup kidney or pinto beans soaked in 3 cups of water overnight or for 6 hours, then drained
Or l 12 oz. can of beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups of water
2 to 3 tablespoons of pesto, a basil paste (recipe below)
3 cups of the prepared vegetables
1/3 cup uncooked pasta noodles (any type) or rice
½ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

For pesto:

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, thick stems removed
3 tablespoons parsley, thick stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
a few pinches of salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the drained beans. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
To prepare the pesto, place the pesto ingredients listed above in the jar of a blender or food processor and puree thoroughly. (As you will need only a small portion of the pesto, store the rest in a jar and freeze for the future use.)

Add the prepared vegetables, pasta noodles or rice, tomatoes and a few tablespoons of pesto to the cooking beans. Cook for 20 minutes more until all the flavors are well blended. Taste for spiciness, adding salt, pepper and/or more pesto to taste. Pass around parmesan cheese for garnish.

First published in October 2010.

The Turmeric Is Gone

Air India flight 101 touches down at 6:07 am. She enters your Queens apartment and rushes into the 10 x 1 ½ foot kitchen, still wearing her sneakers. In search for something specific, she rummages through your pre-war, knob-less wooden kitchen cabinets. Finally, she spots a bottle full of the bright, saffron-colored powder she’s been looking for. She opens the cap, takes a whiff, and places a pinch-full on her tongue. When the bitter-tasting, pungent-smelling, known to be antiseptic spice is deemed to be fresh, she takes off her shoes and rests her tired, swollen feet on the Ikea coffee table. She takes a short nap.

Despite the time difference, her eyes crack open exactly one hour before 1 pm. One hour is all she needs in the kitchen. She changes into her cooking gown and begins the preparation. Fifteen minutes pass. You stand outside and peep into the kitchen, just like you did when you were little. You hear a crackling sound. Within seconds, your eyes start watering from the intense chili, onion, ginger, garlic infusion. Then, she adds teaspoons full of the ground spice, and that does it! Like magic, it gives rise to an invisible cloud that envelops you.

You run towards the living room, but the overpowering cloud follows you till you can’t hide anymore. When you eat your mother’s food, you can no longer taste nor smell the bitter, pungent spice. It either assimilates or hides, you’re not sure which. You enter the kitchen to clean the dishes. You see that the cooking vessels are slightly burnt from all the frying; the stove, the counter, and the refrigerator handle have been dyed a deep yellow.

Twenty days of cooking, dodging the fog, eating, and a kitchen growing more and more saffron, and it is time for Air India flight 101 to take off. You hug her and wave many goodbyes. Back in the Queens apartment, you enter the kitchen. It is noon and you are hungry. You open the refrigerator, and see a plate of food she left for you. You smile.

You run your hands along the contours of the stubborn yellow splotches, where her tireless hands had been. You place your thumb and index finger where hers had left many a dull golden print. You think about her and you try to retrace how each of these impressions was possibly created. You look at the culprit bottle, and find that it is devoid of any turmeric. You search for the turmeric, just as you search for her.

Ratna Goradia is a writer who lives and works in Southern California. She was raised in Mumbai and is currently working on her first short story collection about growing up in India, reimagining childhood memories of innocence, adventure and joy. 

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