Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose presents Si Se Puede

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019 4pm

Mexican Heritage Theater (1700 Alum Rock Avenue, San Jose, 95116)

Abhinaya Dance Company with Indian musicians and a Mariachi Guitar Duo – Ignacio Alvarez & Gil Cruz

Abhinaya Dance Company of San José presents ‘Si Se Puede’, choreographed by Artistic Director Mythili Kumar and featuring the company who will be accompanied by live music by master musicians. Presented in the classical Bharatanatyam idiom, the concert portrays the struggles of Cesar Chavez and his fight for farmworker rights. The concert is presented in association with San Jose Multicultural Arts Guild.  The company presents vivid portrayals of Cesar Chavez’s life, his struggles as a hardworking farmworker, his awareness of Gandhi’s non-violent principles and his leadership through forming the United Farmworkers union fighting for the rights of the farmworkers. The fight for decent wages and working conditions continues to this day.

“It is ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.”… Cesar Chavez

Tickets: $20 General; $ 15 Seniors/Students; $50 VIP


Free for Friends of Abhinaya

Box Office: (408) 871-5959, abhinaya.org

Cut To Fly

My fingers weave through the mess of my hair, smoothening the strands and arguing with the tangles. Poking against the knots until slowly and silently, they come undone. Like an ancient scroll finally discovered, my braid unravels and a curtain of ebony cascades down my shoulders.

The way it’s always been. Dark, narrow alleys twisting and turning down corners, leading up to a single green hairband coiled in place. A map of my years spent growing. From crawling to walking. Velcro to laces. Short hair to long. It’s not just a crown meant to adorn, but a relic meant to represent who I am and why.

Gleaming scissors inching towards me. A blur of metal underneath the white barbershop light, growing fuzzier by the minute as my vision is blinded by my tears. Seconds turn into ages, while my trembling fingers long to weave through my hair one last time, instead of being imprisoned behind the cold plastic of the barber’s cape. Every tangle is now a blessing, every knot is a gift. Every strand is a memory I desperately cling to, wishing to spend another minute with the thing that knows me the best: my long, dark, Indian hair.

Snip. Snip.
And the strangled silence is slashed to pieces, like the clumps of black gently touching the ground. Inch after inch. Comfort after comfort. The most painless piece of me, the most coveted, the most loved—clearly hurts the most. My mind, scattered with the dark masses on the blue tiles, struggles to collect words.

“They fell like birds,” I thought.

A strange phrase, but something true. Maybe I want my hair to have wings. To land gently on the ground. To reach the barbershop floor in a flurry of feathers, silently waving to me as I cry. As everyone else, from the makeup-caked hair stylists to my own mother, watches.

Lining the glossy windows. Some of them advertise lipstick and gleaming brunettes, and others scream in capital letters about the latest blow dryer available at my nearest Walgreens. And one poster in the corner, with the image of a child, hospital-bed ridden, who dreams of hair. Her eyes are small, and yet she looks like she has seen much more than anyone else. I stare at her image as the barber places my clumps of hair into a plastic bag, all the while assuring me that short hair is “just totally the new style.”

A map of my years spent growing. From crawling to walking. Velcro to laces. Short hair to long. It’s not just a crown meant to adorn, but a relic meant to represent who I am and why.

A word, a step in another direction altogether. My tears crust along the brims of my eyes, and I remember the feathers. The hair. The ground. And the poster.
“Maybe, they fell like birds.”

I say to myself, emerging from the barber’s cape, changed. The girl in the poster smiles, and I find  hope in a thick plastic bag handed to me.
“Maybe they fell like birds, so that someone else could fly.”

Kanchan Naik is a dreamer. Writing is  an ocean to her where she dives to find the right words, drowns to breathe emotions, and dabbles in darkness to find the light. She is an eighth grader at Quarry Lane School in Dublin.

First published in June of 2017.

Date/Time Event
Feb 17, 2019 - Feb 24, 2019
5:00 am - 5:00 pm
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Feb 19, 2019 - Feb 22, 2019
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IHGF Delhi Fair Spring 2019
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India Exposition Mart Ltd, Knowledge Park – II Gautam Budh Nagar Greater Noida Uttar Pradesh
Feb 22, 2019
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Taube Family Auditorium, San Francisco CA
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Parampara 2019
Harbeson Hall, Pasedena City College, Pasedena CA

2020 Census: No Citizenship Question

The Constitution provides that, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the Several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state.” So starts the 277 page ruling by Judge Jesse Furman opposing the Trump government’s decision to include the citizenship question in the 2020 US Census. Billions of federal dollars are apportioned based on census numbers.

The Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to try and include the citizenship question has been opposed by the very body that advises the Bureau – the Census Scientific Advisory Committee composed of economists, demographers and researchers. The Commerce Secretary went against the Committee’s recommendations to issue his proposal. The Judge declared that Secretary Ross’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”

How will this affect Indian-Americans? Just one example given below.

In 2017, among those securing the legal H-1 B visa, 76% of all H-1Bs went to highly skilled tech professionals drawn from India. The average wait time for a green card is around 15 years. Once the green card is processed, they have to wait an additional five years to apply for citizenship. As the years drag on in legal wait times, these individuals directly contribute to the US economy and pay taxes, while using services.

We are not standing up for Indian-Americans alone, but for every minority group that needs to be counted for the 2020 census.

Incorrect representation of any group provides a baseline measure that will lead to disproportionate use of federal, state and local resources. To use the Voting Rights act as the premise for the inclusion of the citizenship question, is a dystopian scene in the making in front of our eyes.

My word as a naturalized US Citizen should have standing – so, too, should the voices of the many that stand behind me.

Our elected officials need to stand true to the document that starts with the words –

We, the people for the stated objective in the document that guides us is the “more perfect union.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.

#LetLoveBe — On a New Road

The first two months of 2019 are seeing the release of two films — Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga and Evening Shadows that may just open up the conversation around same-sex relationships in Indian families. January 11 saw the release of Evening Shadows, a film that talks about a gay man coming out to his conservative family and the consequences of his decision.

Feb 1 will see the release of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga (ELKDTAL) that is strongly hinting at lesbian love and family acceptance. Could these films bring about a conversation between Indian LGBTQ children and their parents, many of whom find it hard to accept alternate sexuality?

Evening Shadows tells the story of Karthik (Devansh Doshi), a photographer who goes back to his home town from Mumbai and reveals to his conservative mother (played by Mona Ambegaonkar) that he is gay. The film is about the mother’s journey to come to terms with her son’s homosexuality. It’s also the story of a woman in a patriarchal set up standing up to her husband (Ananth Mahadevan) for herself and her son.

Evening Shadows released to mixed reviews from critics but has been universally acknowledged for its theme and intention. ELKDTAL is already creating a huge Twitter buzz thanks to its trailer that says #LetLoveBe. Produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, what’s getting the film’s trailer a lot of eyeballs is a mainstream actress like Sonam Kapoor playing the lead. The trailer shows Sonam speaking of a secret she cannot share with anyone and ends with her holding hands and sitting with another girl.

Films broaching the subject of homosexuality have rarely made noise for the right reasons in India. Film maker Deepa Mehta’s 1996 film Fire (1996) sparked a controversy; Onir’s My Brother Nikhil (2005) wasn’t noticed much. Aligarh (2016), based on a true story, was released in 2016 after Censor Board cuts. It was critically acclaimed but didn’t make an impact on a mass scale.

There are hopes for a change, though.

On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 377, a colonial law that criminalized homosexuality. Despite the positive judgement and an emerging conservation around India on LGBTQ rights, talking about sexual orientation remains a taboo topic in India, especially among families.

Shelley Chopra Dhar, the director of ELKDTAL, hopes her film might be a catalyst in some people’s lives. In a voiceover to the film’s trailer she adds, “There is nothing, no problem, no issue, no entanglements in our brain that cannot be cleared by just changing our perspective.”

Evening Shadows’ director, Sridhar Rangayan, feels the film has already made a dent in some ways. “Those who have seen Evening Shadows in India and many parts of the world have said this film mirrors the kind of conversations that they have had with their parents already, or offers them hope to begin conversations. There has been a barrage of requests on social media for the film to be available widely so youngsters can show it to their families. Many want to come out to their parents by showing this film. Even non-LGBTQ youngsters have said that the film shows the divide between generations and the need for conversations.”

Evening Shadows

Saagar Gupta, creative director and dialogue writer of Evening Shadows, thinks such films could be the flashpoint in starting that dialogue of understanding and acceptance within families.

Queer representation in Hindi cinema has usually been more caricatures than sensitive — remember the shocked Kantabai from Kal Ho Na Ho (2003)? Despite occasional gems like Aligarh, movies focused on a queer theme have not made much of a social impact either. In a post-377 environment, the release of two movies focused on the queer theme and family acceptance could probably be a sign of times to come.  

Rangayan, who with real-life partner Gupta, started writing the Evening Shadows screenplay almost seven years ago ends with a note of hope: “though the verdict regarding Sec 377 kept changing in between, but our film’s end remains the same right through as our intention was to bring forth the much-needed dialogue between Indian LGBTQ children with their families and vice-versa.”

Hindi films often act as a social impact catalyst for issues that Indians find difficult to talk about. They also have the power to introduce new ideas. Earlier in 2018, a Hindi film called Padman went a long way in starting conversations around menstruation. Perhaps films like Evening Shadows and ELKDTAL could work towards easing the conversation in Indian families around having same-sex partners.

Not an easy road yet

With 15 international awards and a 54 film festiva run, Sridhar Rangayan and Saagar Gupta thought there will be a beeline for distributing Evening Shadows. “But we realized soon enough that a LGBTQ feature film with no known star cast is a tough sell in India. The distribution system still goes by the book, as much as the Censor Board – only here the rule book is commercial viability. There are no risk takers,” says Rangayan.

Evening Shadows is directed by Rangayan and written by Rangayan and Gupta. They eventually released the film themselves by turning distributors with their company Solaris Picture. Rangayan adds, “We did a limited release of 15 shows in 6 cities and are now planning to release the film in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in India where such films can make a huge difference.”

The tepid reaction Rangayan and Gupta got from mainstream Bollywood producers and directors is probably reason enough to make more films that focus on taking the queer conversation forward.

Evening Shadows (2019). Director: Sridhar Rangayan. Writers: Saagar Gupta  & Sridhar Rangayan. Cast: Mona Ambegaonkar, Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, Devansh Doshi. Music: Shubha Mudgal. Producer & Distributor: Solaris Pictures.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga (2019). Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar. Writer: Gazal Dhaliwal. Shelly Chopra Dhar. Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Rajkumar Rao, Regina Cassandra. Music: Rochak Kohli. Producer: Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Distributed by: Fox Star Studios, 20th Century Fox.

Reshmi Chakraborty is a freelance writer based in Pune. She writes on diverse themes and co-runs a startup for older adults. Read more at www.silvertalkies.com.

Photo credits: Solaris Films, Imdb.

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

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Dasha Tarangini: Community Of Youth And Their Music

Carnatic Chamber Concerts (CCC) celebrated its tenth anniversary with a musical production – Dasha Tarangini which included sixteen gurus, 204 children and hundred plus volunteers. The event was held on Sunday, January 21st at Santa Clara Convention Center to a packed audience.

Carnatic Chamber Concerts was conceived of and founded by Ms. Padma Mohan in January of 2009 to serve as a hub for musical exchange and learning for children pursuing the learning of Carnatic music here in the United States. Monthly concerts were held in rasikas’ homes, and children presented short musical segments based on their level. The monthly opportunities served to motivate the participating students to practice harder, and while attending the concerts, all the students benefited by listening to and encouraging their peers. Another aspect helped all students grow musically – a student learning vocal music learned to work with instrumental and percussive accompaniment, while those learning instruments got to hone their skills accompanying vocalists. The segments ranged from ten to thirty minutes, allowing all students an opportunity to present songs of varying complexity.

This organization soon grew from its humble roots into a large organization that started presenting monthly concerts at the auditorium at Shirdi Sai Parivar in Milpitas. In spite of is growth, the organization has stuck to its original principle and does not charge for membership; it only requires that students attend the monthly concert series regularly.

For the tenth anniversary event, the 204 students were split into ten groups, with each group focusing on compositions that highlighted something unique about a number from 1 to 10. Veteran gurus Akila Iyer, Arvind Lakshmikanthan, Gopi Lakshminarayan, Hari Devanath, Kasthuri Shivakumar, Natarajan Srinivasan, Rama Thyagarajan, Ravindra Bharathy Sridharan, Saravanapriyan Sriraman, Savita Rao, Sandhya Srinath, Snigdha Venkataramani, Srikanth Chary, Srinath Bala, Shivkumar Bhat, and Vivek Sudararaman worked with the groups of students for over a year, training them to present songs tied to each number. In each group, students were drawn from various schools and there was a lot of coordination involved in having the students perfect the material under the watchful guidance of the lead gurus assigned to each group.

The work done over several months came together beautifully onstage – no detail was overlooked. Vocalists sang the sangathis in unison, percussionists and instrumental accompanists on the violin, veena and the flute served to dovetail in sync with the melody, the beats of the mridangam, ghatam and the ganjira added a delightful rhythmic punch to the songs one after another. In keeping with the theme of rivers, the songs seemed to flow and cascade from these committed youngsters onstage. Coordinated outfits added to the visual neatness and organizational logistics were planned to work seamlessly,, considering that there were over 200 children drawn from multiple music schools.

The theme song at the end – Aananda saagara lahari was penned by Vidwan Shivkumar Bhatt in four languages – Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil. As I walked out of the auditorium, I heard several audience members humming snatches from various songs that were presented. When young voices unite and sing in sincerity and abandon, the songs are sure to make a mark in the hearts of listeners, and that is what I heard in the lobby and beyond. A concert by young students which left a mark on all those who attended!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.



A Decade Passes: On The National Mall When Obama Spoke


Jan. 20th 2009: Inauguration of Barack Obama

“Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers,… shaped by every language and culture

drawn from every end of this earth and we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united….” – apt words delivered with perfection. .

For that one day, most of us set aside our work, our worries, held hands in a celebration that illumined our love for this nation, that validated the democratic principles it stood for.

My ears were still echoing with all the jubilant chants of the millions, of a variety of hues as Obama had talked about, as we were herded en masse towards L ‘Enfant Plaza station only to be reversed to head towards the Smithsonian. The purpose of everyone’s visit had been fulfilled.  It was as if the hundreds of thousands of us were drunk in the moment, still dazed and in an absolute reverie of what we had experienced. No one seemed to mind the wrong directions given earlier by the mounted police and any number of security guards lining Jefferson Drive. People were chatting, laughing and some were still crying. Jumbled music played from roadside stereos. The pavement belonged to feet and the power of limbs, not wheels.

The sun was merciful easing the sting of the brisk wind that we had experienced earlier. Groups of students rested on sidewalks. Steps and ledges were filling up with men, women and kids proudly donning gear emblazoned with the words – Hope or Change. His face was everywhere along with plenty of pictures of the first family. We would all get to our destinations before sundown, but now was no time to hurry.

Eight hours had passed since we had arrived at the National Mall in the early hours before sunrise. My husband Raghu, a dear friend from Canada Kumar, and I strode into the Mall in the early pre-dawn hours, wearing many layers of warm clothes,  and we huddled together along with thousands of others and soon secured a good vantage spot by the first jumbotron to the right of the Capitol.

Our early morning trip to the National Mall had been rehearsed the previous day. With thousands of people descending on Washington D.C., we had left nothing to chance.


Rosslyn Metro was just a few blocks from our hotel and we walked down the previous day,  getting our first taste of the bitter chill. Not since our Michigan days over 20 years ago, had I felt so cold – too frozen to talk, the lips would not comply, even as the mind felt ready to take on  adventure. The snows of Lake Tahoe had definitely not prepared us for this. I was determined to not be daunted by the bone-chilling wind or the silently cold, cruel sky.

We were here for a purpose, to witness history in the making; to be part of that oral and written history felt like a rare privilege. We wanted to relate this experience to our children, family and friends here and in India.  Riding down what seemed like the tallest escalator we soon found warmth five stories down on the Metro train!

A fellow passenger, a cheery young, African-American woman struck up a conversation with me. “You remind me of my children’s doctor,” she said.. When I asked her about where she came from, she replied, “I’m from Miami. You look so much like Dr. Patel, a calm and sweet presence whenever I take my kids to see her.” I felt simple joy at this expression of likeness and remarked, “We’re from California, and originally from India. And, interestingly, I am a pediatrician as well.” Hearing this coincidence, she was obviously delighted.

We got off at the  Smithsonian, and walked on the dry grass and dirt of the Mall. Twilight rolled into darkness and tall giant flood lights lit up the way. Barricades  were set up around us. A television crew with pole cameras and bright lights drew a small group of curious onlookers. We saw the logo of CNN and stamped on one of the cameras. We learnt that the celebrity  was Soledad O’ Brien. We moved on.

We moved to see the seated section for the privileged quarter of a million who had managed to secure tickets. We saw a huge portable caravan with more floodlights with a transparent wall sheeting and a deck inside. Wow, the Keith Olbermann show was being taped live in there! Keith O. was sitting at his desk, teleprompters on monitor screens several feet from him on both sides. A few hundred who had gathered around cheered “Obama” every time the telecamera spanned over the crowd. Oh – I’d almost forgotten – the first celebrity I saw was at the airport when we landed. I had seen Jesse Jackson browsing in a bookstore.

A security  guard told us that the gates would open the next morning at 4 a.m. and asked us about the time we planned to be there. When she heard that we were planning to be there by 7 a.m. she pointed to a spot, halfway close to the Washington Monument – uh, oh, we better get in here real early in the morning, I thought to myself! We rode back to Arlington. Too tired to find a place to eat that night, we ate the delicious, spicy hot idlis our friend had packed for us. There were only  a few hours left for us to get ready and leave again for for the Mall and this time for the real deal! The Great day!


The station was already filled with people around 4:45 when we got in. Obama’s face was everywhere! The skies had not even revealed a trace of light, a crisp chill gnawed at my exposed nose but if it worried me, I was not going to let that show!

Having read the list of prohibited items online, we each took only our waist bag with wallet and ID and a small fold-out zippered shopping bag. But on the Mall when we arrived at 5:30 a.m. there were people with huge blankets, flasks for coffee, hot chocolate, and big flags. I did not see any security guards checking any belongings or people. Yet, it was interesting to see silhouettes of dark figures with rifles in hand atop buildings all around us – I learnt later that they were sharpshooters. Ever so often, a bright-eyed helicopter hovered by, with rays streaming down and out.

We must have stood for about an hour –  having jockeyed for position through the first wave of thousands of people, by which time I felt the piercing sting of cold in my fingers under my ‘warmest’ liner gloves and my ski gloves. Raghu’s toes were going from burning to numb. Wiggling the digits constantly to warmth was in vain. Despair was setting with the mind numbing cold. We saw some folks huddled by an Ingersoll generator – it seemed to be powering up a floodlight above. At its rear it was spewing out some heat and we crossed over the little fence to get close to those snuggled by it. Yes, it was a makeshift warming station! I leaned over, shivering to catch some warmth. A pleasant large black woman put her arms around me and pulled me in – Oh, my God, honey, you seem frozen she said, pushing aside a couple of people and pulled my arms to reach the hot exhaust, the pungent aroma spreading the warmth. Disregarding the noxious fumes, the heat it put out kept us there for a while. My blood flow seemed to respond and my heart warmed up; the woman and I exchanged a happy note and we managed to return to our places.

Music videos from the previous day entertained us and dancing to it kept us warm. The amazing speech announcing his candidacy from Illinois played on the big screen. The acceptance at the Democratic convention to the cheering crowds in Colorado enthralled the eagerly building throngs. The ever-inspiring and emotional, “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King transported us back over 40 years to another historic day. The crowds listened intently and in silence – the power and intense passion of that speech truly transcends time and place, I thought.

The bands of Will.i.am. and Usher played and Bill Bono enlivened his audience with his musical tribute to Obama. Stevie Wonder got thunderous cheers and Beyonce and Seal, and some whose names I was not familiar with (sign of my age!) made beautiful music. Though we had missed the pre-inaugural concerts at the Lincoln Memorial, it seemed live and present on the jumbotron. I thought of how the masses at MLK’s speech must have listened on the speakers, not being able to see the podium on jumbo screens like we did.


The most important hour was soon to be here! Excitement mounted as motorcades streamed live on the screen. The screen images also revealed the astounding crowd of humanity that stretched behind us. It was simply fabulous – black, white, brown, small, big, medium, young and old and in-betweens, all with a single mission, impassioned by the power of the day. All of us waved the American flags passed out earlier by the Girl Scouts. It was great to feel that oneness.

Having emigrated from India, this was a pivotal time in this nation we chose, a land that has fostered immigrants from far and wide for over three centuries. So, when the bards, Seeger and Springsteen sang, “This land is your land, this land is my land…” it was simply exhilarating! They brought tears to my eyes. Oh, I should mention that the words and the lyrics were also shown on the big screen for us to sing along

I recalled the time our son sent us pictures and blogs from when he volunteered in the Iowa caucus in the depths of winter, pondered over the energy of all the youth who worked  on this campaign for change, igniting the absolute faith which enveloped this nation and a good part of the world. I took in the scene we were in and reflected on all that I had thus far learnt about this country.

The congregation stood together, cheered on wildly, but remained quite orderly. Kids were propped up on the shoulders of their dads, moms, grandparents, young girls atop their stronger boy-friends, all poised to capture the vision – the ‘darshan’ as we call it in India. Some were perched as high as possible on leafless tree limbs. I was reminded of the strong baobab tree in Africa, a tree with such character revered by the Kenyans, that Barack talks about in his memoir, – Dreams from my father.

The dignitaries were announced as they began arriving. Ted Kennedy was cheered on loudly. The Clintons were welcomed with applause, President Carter and on and on. Our binoculars brought the scene up close, but was cumbersome to use with the bulky gloves. I resigned to watching the scene unfold on the jumbo screen and took in the joyous uproar each time.

Oh, then the Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, tall and beautiful walked up to rousing cheer and love from the people. And then charming Michelle, our first black first lady entered in an almost regal yellow gold dress, so fitting and so reminiscent of a line of powerful and elegant black women, her mother included.

The crowds went wild and ecstatic as Barack walked up in his black suit and red tie, dapper and stately. How utterly proud must his recently departed grandmother feel watching from heaven, I thought; she was the one who had raised him with firm affection. And his grandfather, whose endearing picture carrying his grinning grandson on his shoulders had adorned a thousand magazine pages in the run up to the election.And the free-spirited dreamer of his mom he called as the one constant in his life, the one to whom he felt he owed the best in him.

If those who left this earth would for once reveal their being, there undoubtedly would be loud cries of laughter, tears and “yeahs” uttered by countless people – the African slaves who had endured the punishment they never deserved, their American children deprived of the good lives that they did deserve, the spirit of Dr. King and Abraham Lincoln, of Mahalia Jackson, of the emancipated slaves of the Great Migration – the path paved by them! And, there would also be whites who tirelessly and quietly helped their black neighbors as brothers and sisters.

The quintessential moment came amidst thunderous chants, cheers and joyful tears, the waving of millions of American flags and Barack Obama, the first non-white American President took the most sacred oath in the land. Perfect strangers hugged each other, at the Mall and across the nation. Tears brimmed my lids. Many were sobbing. I could not imagine the joy, the pride, amidst disbelief that those who lived during the civil rights era must have felt of this sweet moment.

The Oath was served, his hand on the very same Bible which President Lincoln used for his great inaugural. The justice mixed up the words slightly which I only learnt later. The reveille of the 21-gun salute, the highest honor in this land ushered in the rule of the first African-American president. Hail to the Chief boomed from the Navy Band.

President Obama began his speech to explosive cheers, and the waving of millions of American flags – it was hard not to feel proud of being American. I held up my cell phone as he spoke the first few lines, to have the recording heard by our kids, my mother and my siblings since they could not be part of the immediate scene. I could not help thinking of how keenly my father, who passed away recently would have enjoyed all this.

His was a humble and inspiring speech, captivating, flawless delivery in a lilting baritone, addressing our whole nation and to some extent the world at large, rightfully praising the “reaffirmation of our enduring spirit and the greatness of our nation……” It was certainly a speech truthful about our troubled times and calling on all the people to work through the burden, to take responsibility and for the government to help and to lead. It showed the humility of a community organizer and revealed the scholarship of a statesman.

Dazzled as we were by the events of the day, the tenets proposed by our President, and most certainly reluctant to leave yet, the benediction of Rev. Lowry came with his poignant speech lively in his gravelly voice. Then when Elizabeth Alexander delivered her poem/lyrical prose of “Praise song for the day,” extolling the hard work of people, of love and of hope, our hearts rejoiced along with the millions. Oh, and we heard the Bush helicopter depart from Washington D.C. flying over the Mall.

We slowly streamed out onto the roads. As we were finally directed to the Federal Center SW Metro, queues for the Orange and Blue lines, there were earfuls of interesting conversations as we waited and inched along. No one was in a hurry. The whole city was in a state of revelry.

The sun almost lulled me into a stupor as I half listened and moved. We were now allowed to go down the escalator to the station and I was sad thinking that the ticket slot would soon eat up the special Obama-printed tickets. I soon realized that the metro rides all across the city were free for the day. We got to keep our Obama tickets!

We boarded the train, nary a sound, but our thoughts in a delighted chatter, and joined the returning masses. Too content in our hearts, we sat almost too absorbed in the festivities for some time. The colonnade of the Mall stretching from The Capitol to the Washington Monument bore witness to the extraordinary Inaugural Day.

Having lived in Philadelphia and visiting the Capital often, I thought of the love one of my sisters felt towards Washington, DC.

I was beginning to feel some of that same giddiness myself!


South Asian Heart Health: Increased Risks Explained

Julie Beck tells us that throughout much of history the heart was the essence of what made humans human. We use heart metaphors very often: “he has a heart of stone,” or a “heart of a lion,” or a “heart of gold.”’  She “poured her heart out.”‘“He broke my heart.” We use the heart to express ourselves and to serve as the counterpoint to our logical minds.  

Pause to think about the amazing machine and what a marvel of evolution the heart is and how hard it works – you stop if it does. A muscular organ located between your lungs, it’s the size of your clenched fist and weighs about 11 ounces. If you live to be 70, it will have exceeded 2 billion heartbeats. It circulates all the blood in your body about 1,500 times every day.  If you used it as a pump, it would empty a 2,000-gallon tank of blood in a day.

Are you doing all that you can to look after this precious organ that “works its heart out’ for you?” You may be shocked to learn that South Asians in the Bay Area have four times greater risk of heart disease and a much greater chance of having a heart attack before age 50 than the general population. I sat down to discuss this with Dr. Abha Khandelwal, a cardiologist at Stanford and a leader of the Stanford South Asian Translational Heart Initiative (SSATHI) . “South Asians are the fastest growing minority in the Bay Area,” she says, “and their #1 health risk is cardiovascular, and they tend to be typically ten years younger than their Caucasian counterparts when they present for their first event.”  Although many do not have traditional risk factors such as smoking and obesity, SSATHI has identified other risk factors for South Asians including insulin resistance, hypertension and certain genetic factors. “Some genetic cholesterols like lipoprotein(a) that are independent risk factors for coronary disease are more prevalent in South Asians,” Dr. Khandelwal continues, “and such people are not identified and intervened early enough” to prevent a cardiac event. Additionally, some advanced imaging parameters such as LV Mass typically used to assess risk may not be indexed to account for the body surface area of people of different frames.

What can you do? “Recognize things within your control,” she says “exercise, diet, whether you smoke, your weight, how much you sleep, and to some degree how well you control your stress. Work to the best of your ability to improve each of these.” Each of us should make the time to address our health, just as we take time out for other things like educating our children.

The earlier you make health a priority, the more likely you are to enjoy good health in the long term. Most studies show that plaque buildup begins by the age of 25. Start with your primary-care physician to establish your own baseline and determine if you have any traditional risk factors such as hypertension or diabetes. The Heart Foundation says that the best way to look after your heart is with a healthy lifestyle comprising eight steps: 1. Be smoke-free. 2. Manage blood cholesterol. 3. Manage blood pressure. 4. Manage diabetes. 5. Be physically active. 6. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. 7. Enjoy a variety of nutritious foods. 8. Look after your mental health.

If you have a family history of heart disease, Dr. Khandelwal recommends you consider a special program such as SSATHI at Stanford or AIM To Prevent at El Camino Hospital’s South Asian Heart Center to get an advanced evaluation, personalized guidance and counseling. SSATHI uses the specialized calculator QRISK2 – the only diagnostic tool that has been developed and validated in South Asians – that is tuned to provide a more accurate assessment of the true risk for ethnic populations. The result from such an evaluation is usually around 1.4 times the standard risk score.  

Dr. Khandelwal has a message for South Asian women in particular. “Whether they like it or not, they are the cornerstone of their family unit and invest so much time in taking care of their family members that they often neglect their own health. When the woman is fit, eating well and exercising, the family benefits.” In particular women should be targeting exercises to minimize fat around the waistline and hips.

Promote a heart-healthy lifestyle. “If you have young children, start talking to them about nutrition and healthy eating,” Dr. Khandelwal recommends, “my son is 5 ½ and he looks at what he eats, and has opinions about what he will eat, what’s heart healthy and what’s not. Children are never too young to start; exercise and outdoor activity are equally important as math and science.”

Your heart. Love with it. Live with it!

Sukham Blog – This is a monthly column focused on health and wellbeing.  

Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community.  Sukham provides information, and access to resources on matters related to health, aging, life’s transitions including serious illness, palliative and hospice care, death in the family and bereavement. If you feel overcome by a crisis and are overwhelmed by Google searches, Sukham can provide curated resource help. To find out more, visit https://sukham.org, or contact the author at sukhaminfo@gmail.com.  

The Poetry in Burmese Cuisine

My grandmother loved to reminisce about her life in Palakkad, Kerala. She would talk about many local characters: some bums, some quirky and a few fascinating outliers. When we moved to Coimbatore, we got to meet one such outlier, Mani Kuttan. He was dressed “tip- top and clean-cut,” as she would describe it. A high school dropout, he had managed to find work in faraway Calcutta, and from there moved on to Burma. The rumor was that he had married a Burmese woman and had a family there. He would come down South to spend time with his aging mother. On his way home, he would stop at our place with a small tin of Burmese tea. I distinctly remember the Burma that he would describe with so much love, saying “the sizzling, hot Burmese road-side food will make you forget that you are a vegetarian!” This is an ode to Mani Kuttan, who had introduced Burma to me.


Burma has been the favorite of many a poet. As Kipling says in “Mandalay:”

“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”

No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

There is a lot of poetry in Burmese cuisine, as we are discovering right here in SoCal, through restaurants such as Daw Yee Myanmar Cafe and Yoma Myanmar. The cuisine is a distinct blend of its neighbors, from Indian (lentils and spices) to Thai (chilies, lime and peanuts), Chinese (noodles and soy) and Bangladeshi (seafood). It has the subtlety of Chinese, the spiciness of Thai, and the depth of Indian spices. Yet Burmese food has a distinct and unique flavor that is all its own.

The rich fertile land has enabled the abundant supply of  fruits, vegetables and crops throughout the year. Rice is the main staple and constitutes 70% of the meal. A Burmese meal starts with a spicy soup, opening one’s palate to the complex flavors of dishes to follow. Then an array of fresh salads (thoke) with fresh, raw, fermented, crunchy, and crispy textures add as accompaniments. The main dishes are fish, meat and vegetables simmered in curries. The rice in the center is surrounded by all the dishes. People sit on the floor and eat with their right hand. The desserts resemble many familiar Indian desserts like jamuns, sweet parathas, halwa and more. Here are some famous Burmese dishes for you to try at hom.

Praba Iyer is a Chef Instructor who teaches team- building through cooking classes and custom cooking classes in the bay area. She is a consulting Chef at Kitchit (www.kitchit.com). You can reach her at praba@rocketbites.com.

Sizzling Spicy Samosa Soup

This is a great soup to make with leftover samosas and falafels.  I used black and white chole (garbanzo beans) instead of falafels in this recipe.

1 cup toor dal (split pigeon peas)
(cooked in 4 cups of water)
½ cup cooked black garbanzo beans
½ cup cooked white garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon ghee
3 large shallots chopped fine
1 tablespoon ginger/garlic paste
1 vine ripe tomato chopped fine
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1½  teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1 cup Napa cabbage torn into pieces
6 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 cup sprouts
½ cup scallions chopped

Salt to taste
¼ cup cilantro chopped
5-6 mint leaves chopped
Squeeze of lime at the table
6-8 hot samosas
6-8 falafels (optional)
Heat ghee in a saucepan and add the shallots and saute for a few minutes until slightly brown,
Now add the ginger garlic paste, tomato, turmeric, cayenne, black pepper, coriander and cumin powders and mix well for a minute. Add the napa cabbage and tamarind concentrate and mix well. Season with salt. Now add the cooked toor dal with water, cooked black and white garbanzo beans along with the vegetable broth. Let it simmer on medium heat till all the flavors are mixed. Now add the garam masala, sprouts and scallions. Check seasonings and adjust. Place the hot samosa into each soup bowl. Cut it in the center to open and then pour the hot soup on top. Then garnish it with cilantro, mint and squeeze of lime if needed.

Fermented Tea Leaf Salad (Lahpet Thoke)

This is a show stopper salad. It takes a little time and four meticulous steps, but guaranteed to win you accolades. I used a combination of all unused tea leaves like jasmine, green, white, oolong to make the salad.samosa_soup

Step 1: Preparing the Tea Leaves
1 cup tea leaves
Steep the tea in hot water for 15 minutes, strain and repeat the process a few times. This removes the bitterness of the tea. Now steep it in cold water overnight. Drain and squeeze out the liquid next morning.

Step 2: Fermenting Tea Leaves
1 cup kale leaves
3 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece fresh ginger
½ cup cilantro
3 scallions
2-3 green chilies
salt to taste
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon salt

Place all the above ingredients in a food processor and chop it up into tiny pieces along with the tea leaves. Place this mixture  in a glass bowl. Cover it tightly and place it in a dark place for two days. Remove and place it in the refrigerator. The fermented tea is ready to be served.

Step 3: Garnishes
2 cups shredded napa cabbage
½ cup roasted green peas, coarsely chopped
½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds, coarsely chopped
½ cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed
1 Tablespoon garlic chopped and fried in oil (save the oil a handful cherry tomatoes halved
Lime slices

Step 4 : Assemble and Serve
Place the shredded Napa cabbage in a large bowl Assemble all the garnishes in small bowls around this large bowl. Tightly pack a greased bowl with the fermented tea leaves. Flip the tea leaves on to the center of the shredded Napa cabbage.

When ready to serve, add all the garnishes green peas, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds, fried garlic with oil and cherry tomatoes and to the big bowl and mix the tea leaf salad. Squeeze a little lime and serve.

This was first published in April of 2015.


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