Concord Temple Yatra: Unique Feat

Walking to a temple to celebrate devotional fervor is a well-understood facet of Hinduism in India. This very devotion drove over 6000 Indian-Americans to walk together to celebrate the festival of thaipoosam with great fervor. Thai is the Tamil name for the month that extends between January 16th to February 15th each year, while poosam is the name of the star poosam in the astrological chart. Bay Area devotees undertook a walk from San Ramon to the Shiva Murugan temple at Concord. The walk has grown exponentially since its start in 2011.

Says Solai Alagappan, the founder-organizer, “In 2011, I participated in a kavadi walk in Singapore, and that was the primary inspiration. With the help of a few friends, we found the trail (Iron Horse regional trail) by biking throughout to make sure that we could navigate the way from San Ramon to Concord without hitting highways or crowded roads. About 150 of us walked in 2011, and this year, we had over 6000 people participating.”

Since last year, I have been volunteering to serve refreshments at one of the snack stations that are set up en route. I helped serve rose milk and sukkumalli coffee (dry ginger coriander coffee) a unique Tamilian recipe for coffee. At our station, we also had small oranges which devotees could eat to restore their energy. From 8.30 am onwards, there was a steady flow of devotees. Some of them stopped at our station to rub vaseline on their feet to avoid sores, others adjusted the multiple layers of socks to fit just right, and all of them refilled their water bottles to continue their trek. Some preferred the cool rose milk, while others made a beeline for the coffee. Either way, what emanated was a sense of camaraderie and a shared sense of community and well-being. Many families had young children with them; some parents were even pushing their youngest in strollers as they walked.

Excellent arrangements through the tireless work of volunteers helped support the devotees. Over 100 volunteers had signed up for various tasks to support the 20+mile walk. There was a bike patrol, car parking patrol, and several volunteers who helped serve breakfast, lunch snacks and water along the way. Breakfast was served in San Ramon. After walking eleven miles, at Las Lomas high school in Walnut Creek, a traditional hot lunch was served on banana leaves and plates to over 2500 people. The lines were orderly and were kept moving smoothly thanks to the volunteers who worked tirelessly. When they reached the temple, the devotees received darshan of Lord Muruga, and shuttles ferried them back to their original parking spots after a long day.

Given the growth of the walk and the enthusiastic support of Indian-Americans, a non profit ( has been set up to run the activities every year.

A wonderful yatra to keep alive the devotional fervor, community spirit and the spirit of volunteerism within the community.

Nitupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.








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 14, 2019 - Feb 17, 2019
All Day
Purusha Sukta Yagam &  Rajatha Dwara Sthapana
Purusha Sukta Yagam & Rajatha Dwara Sthapana
Shiva – Vishnu Temple, Livermore CA
Feb 16, 2019
2:15 pm - 7:30 pm
*US West Coast
Carnatic Concerts
Community Of Infinite Spirit, San Jose California
Feb 16, 2019 - Feb 17, 2019
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
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Beginner's Mind - a level 2 course.
ZenVidhya, San Jose CA
Feb 16, 2019
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Hindu Hymns: Ancient Yet Modern Inspirational Music
Hindu Hymns: Ancient Yet Modern Inspirational Music
East West Bookshop, Mountain View CA

“My mother was the greatest source of inspiration in my life.” Kamala Harris

“My mother was the greatest source of inspiration in my life. She taught me that I had a responsibility to fight for justice.” – Kamala Harris on Twitter. Senator Kamala Harris launched her campaign for President in Oakland, California. Given below is the text of her speech launching her campaign.

I am so proud to be a daughter of Oakland, California. And as most of you know, I was born just up the road at Kaiser Hospital. And it was just a few miles away my parents first met as graduate students at UC Berkeley where they were active in the civil rights movement.They were born half a world apart from each other. My father, Donald, came from Jamaica to study economics. My mother, Shyamala, came from India to study the science of fighting disease.

They came here in pursuit of more than just knowledge.  Like so many others, they came in pursuit of a dream. And that dream was a dream for themselves, for me and for my sister Maya.

Pic: Kamala Harris as a baby with her mother Shyamala Gopalan

As children growing up here in the East Bay, we were raised by a community with a deep belief in the promise of our country – and, a deep understanding of the parts of that promise that still remain unfulfilled. We were raised in a community where we were taught to see a world, beyond just ourselves. To be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people. We were raised to believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility.In fact, my mother used to say “don’t sit around and complain about things, do something.” Basically I think she was saying. You’ve got to get up and stand up and don’t give up the fight!

And it is this deep-rooted belief that inspired me to become a lawyer and a prosecutor.

It was just a couple blocks from this very spot that nearly 30 years ago as a young district attorney I walked into the courtroom for the very first time and said the five words that would guide my life’s work:

“Kamala Harris, for the people.”

Now, I knew our criminal justice system was deeply flawed.  

But I also knew the profound impact law enforcement has on people’s lives, and it’s responsibility to give them safety and dignity.

I knew I wanted to protect people. And I knew that the people in our society who are most often targeted by predators are also most often the voiceless and vulnerable. And I believed then as I do now, that no one should be left to fight alone. You see, in our system of justice, we believe that a harm against any one of us is a har against all of us. That’s why when we file a case, it’s not filed in the name of the victim.  It reads, “The People.”

This is a point I have often explained to console and counsel survivors of crime, people who faced great harm. Often at the hands of someone they trust – be it a relative or a bank or a big corporation. I would remind them. You are not invisible. We all stand together.

That’s the power of the people.

My whole life, I’ve only had one client: the people.

Fighting for the people meant fighting on behalf of survivors of sexual assault – a fight not just against predators but a fight against silence and stigma.  

For the people meant fighting for a more fair criminal justice system.

At a time when prevention and redemption were not in the vocabulary or mindset of most district attorneys, we created an initiative to get skills and job training instead of jail time for young people arrested for drugs.

For the people meant fighting for middle class families who had been defrauded by banks and were losing their homes by the millions in the Great Recession.  

And I’ll tell you, sitting across the table from the big banks, I witnessed the arrogance of power. Wealthy bankers accusing innocent homeowners of fault, as if Wall Street’s mess was of the people’s making.

So we went after the five biggest banks in the United States. We won 20 billion dollars for California homeowners and together we passed the strongest anti-foreclosure law in the United States of America. We did that together.

For the people meant fighting transnational gangs who traffic in drugs and guns and human beings. And I saw their sophistication, their persistence and their ruthlessness.

And folks, on the subject of transnational gangs, let’s be perfectly clear: the President’s medieval vanity project is not going to stop them.

And in the fight for the people to hold this administration accountable, I have seen the amazing spirit of the American people.

During the health care fight, I saw parents and children with grave illnesses walk the halls of the United States Congress, families who had travelled across the country at incredible sacrifice.

They came to our nation’s capital believing that if their stories were heard, and if they were seen, their leaders would do the right thing.  

I saw the same thing with our Dreamers. They came by the thousands. By plane, train and automobile. I’m sure they were sleeping ten-deep on someone’s living room floor.  

They came because they believe in our democracy and the only country they’ve ever known as home.  

I met survivors who shared their deepest, most painful personal experiences – who told stories they had never before revealed, even to their closest loved ones – because they believed that if they were seen, that their leaders would do the right thing and protect the highest court in our land.

Together we took on these battles.

To be sure we’ve won and we’ve lost, but we’ve never stopped fighting.

And that’s why we are here today.

We are here because we have another battle ahead.

We are here knowing that we are at an inflection point in the history of our world.

We are at an inflection point in in the history of our nation.

We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before.

We are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question.

Who are we? Who are we as Americans?

So, let’s answer that question. To the world. And each other. Right here. And, right now.

America, we are better than this.

When we have leaders who lie and bully and attack a free press and undermine our democratic institutions that’s not our America.  

When white supremacists march and murder in Charlottesville or massacre innocent worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue that’s not our America.  

When we have children in cages crying for their mothers and fathers, don’t you dare call it border security, that’s a human rights abuse and that’s not our America.

When we have leaders who attack public schools and vilify public school teachers that’s not our America.

When bankers who crashed our economy get bonuses but workers who brought our country back can’t even get a raise that’s not our America.

And when American families are barely living paycheck to paycheck, what is this administration’s response?

Their response is to try to take away health care from millions of families.

Their response is to give away a trillion dollars to the biggest corporations in this country.

And their response is to blame immigrants as the source of all our problems.

And guys lets understand what is happening here: People in power are trying to convince us that the villain in our American story is each other.

But that is not our story. That is not who we are. That’s not our America.  

Our United States of America is not about us versus them. It’s about We the people!

And in this moment, we must all speak truth about what’s happening.

Seek truth, speak truth and fight for the truth.

So let’s speak some truth. Shall we?

Let’s speak truth about our economy. Our economy today is not working for working people.

The cost of living is going up, but paychecks aren’t keeping up.  

For so many Americans, a decent retirement feels out of reach and the American Dream feels out of touch.  

The truth, is our people are drowning in debt.

Record student loan debt. Car loan debt. Credit card debt. Resorting to payday lenders because you can’t keep up with the bills.

People are drowning in America.

We have a whole generation of Americans living with the sinking fear that they won’t do as well as their parents.

Let’s speak another truth about our economy. Women are paid on average 80 cents on the dollar. Black women, 63 cents. Latinas, 53 cents.

And here’s the thing. When we lift up the women of our country, we lift up the children of our country. We lift up the families of our country. And the whole of society benefits.

Let’s speak another truth. Big pharmaceutical companies have unleashed an opioid crisis from the California coast to the mountains of West Virginia. And people once and for all we have got to call drug addiction for what it is: a national public health emergency. And we don’t need another War on Drugs.

Let’s speak truth. Climate change is real and it is happening now. From wildfires In the west to hurricanes in the east, to floods and droughts in the heartland, we’re not gonna buy the lie. We’re gonna act, based on science fact, not science fiction.

And let’s speak an uncomfortable but honest truth with one another: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia are real in this country. They are age-old forms of hate with new fuel. And we need to speak that truth so we can deal with it.Let’s speak the truth that too many unarmed black men and women are killed in America. Too many black and brown Americans are locked up. From mass incarceration to cash bail to policing, our criminal justice system needs drastic repair. Let’s speak that truth. Let’s speak truth. Under this administration, America’s position in the world has never been weaker. Democratic values are under attack around the globe. When authoritarianism is on the march. When nuclear proliferation is on the rise. We have foreign powers infecting the White House like malware. Let us speak truth about these clear and present dangers.

And let’s speak the biggest truth, the biggest truth of all: In the face of powerful forces trying to sow hate and division among us, the truth is that as Americans we have much more in common than what separates us. Let’s speak that truth.

So, let’s not buy into that stuff that they are trying to peddle. Let’s never forget, that on the fundamental issues, we all have so much more in common than what separates us. 

You know, some say we need to search to find that common ground. Here’s what I say, I say we need to recognize that we are already standing on common ground.

I say we will rise together or we will fall together as one nation, indivisible.

And I want to be perfectly clear: I’m not talking about unity for the sake of unity. Hear me out. I’m not talking about unity for the sake of unity.

I’m not talking about some façade of unity.

And I believe we must acknowledge that the word unity has often been used to shut people up or to preserve the status quo.

After all let’s remember: when women fought for suffrage, those in power said they were dividing the sexes and disturbing the peace.

Let’s remember: when abolitionists spoke out and civil rights workers marched, their oppressors said they were dividing the races and violating the word of God.

But Fredrick Douglass said it best and Harriet Tubman and Dr. King knew.

To love the religion of Jesus is to hate the religion of the slave master.

When we have true unity, no one will be subjugated for others. It’s about fighting for a country with equal treatment, collective purpose and freedom for all.

That’s who we are.

And so, I stand before you today, clear-eyed about the fight ahead and what has to be done—with faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother. I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States.

I’m running for president because I love my country. I love my country.

I’m running to be president, of the people, by the people, and for all people.

I’m running to fight for an America where the economy works for working people.

For an America where you only have to work one job to pay the bills, where hard work is rewarded and where any worker can join a union.

I am running to declare, once and for all, that health care is a fundamental right, and we will deliver that right with Medicare for All!

I am running to declare education is a fundamental right, and we will guarantee that right with universal pre-k and debt free college!

I am running to guarantee working and middle class families an overdue pay increase. We will deliver the largest working and middle-class tax cut in a generation. Up to $500 a month to help America’s families make ends meet.

And we’ll pay for it by reversing this administration’s give aways to big corporations and the top one percent.

I’m running to fight for an America where our democracy and its institutions are protected against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Which is why I will defend this nation against all threats to our cybersecurity.

We will secure our elections and our critical infrastructure to protect our democracy.

And we will honor our service members and veterans – so no one who has served this country has to wait in line for weeks and months to get what they are owed when they return home on first day.

I’m running to fight for an America where no mother or father has to teach their young son that people may stop him, arrest him, chase him, or kill him, because of his race.

An America where every parent can send their children to school without being haunted by the horror of another killing spree.

Where we treat attacks on voting rights and civil rights and women’s rights and immigrant rights as attacks on our country itself.

An America where we welcome refugees and bring people out of the shadows, and provide a pathway to citizenship.  

An America where our daughters, where our sisters, where our mothers and grandmothers are respected where they live and where they work.

Where reproductive rights are not just protected by the Constitution of the United States but guaranteed in every state.  

I’ll fight for an America where we keep our word and where we honor our promises.

Because that’s our America.

That’s the America I believe in.

That’s the America I know we believe in.

And as we embark on this campaign, I will tell you this: I am not perfect. Lord knows, I am not perfect. But I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will speak the truth.

And of course, we know this is not going to be easy guys. It’s not going to be easy.

We know what the doubters will say.

It’s the same thing they’ve always said. They’ll say it’s not your time. They’ll say wait your turn. They’ll say the odds are long. They’ll say it can’t be done.

But America’s story has always been written by people who can see what can be unburdened by what has been. That is our story. That is our story.

As Robert Kennedy many years ago said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

He also said, “I do not lightly dismiss the dangers and the difficulties of challenging an incumbent President, but these are not ordinary times and this is not an ordinary election.” He said, “At stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country. It is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”

So today I say to you my friends, these are not ordinary times. And this will not be an ordinary election. But this is our America.

And here’s the thing. It’s up to us.

It’s up to us. Each and every one of us.

So let’s remember in this fight we have the power of the people.

We can achieve the dreams of our parents and grandparents.

We can heal our nation.

We can give our children the future they deserve.

We can reclaim the American Dream for every single person in our country.

We can restore America’s moral leadership on this planet.

So let’s do this.

And let’s do it together.

And let’s start now.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

#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

Photo credits: Solaris Films, Imdb.

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

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Vasundhara Gupta: From Kolkata To Boston


We’ve all heard the saying – music is truly universal. But, how many musicians can truly claim to “know” and “feel” the truth of this statement? Meet Vasundhara Gupta, young musician and sound designer from the Berklee School of Music in Boston – “ Every class that I took at Berklee had 9 out of 10 musicians drawn from different parts of the world,” she said in wonderment. She used that exposure and has moved forward in ways that truly demonstrate confidence and artistic leadership.

Growing up in Kolkata in a large joint family with cousins, uncles, and aunts, the musical influences in her life were varied and started when she was very young; some relatives listened to Western classical music, her father listened to the Beatles, her brother to Bryan Adams and her mother to Hindustani music. From this musical amalgam, emerged a keen student of Hindustani music groomed under the watchful eyes of her mother and grandmother. Both of them played the Hawaiian slide guitar and even when she went on vacations to her maternal grandmother;s house in Varanasi, lessons continued through the hot, summer months. This early discipline nurtured the young girl and soon she was singing and practicing on her own with true love and dedication.

In high school, unsure of what to do next, a friend’s suggestion to apply to the Berklee School of Music changed her life. She first went to Mumbai for 3 rounds of interviews with music professors from Berklee. The fact that her in-person interview with two professors turned out to be an impromptu jam session must have guaranteed her admission to the highly selective institution, I surmise, as she talks of how her mind opened to global musical influences on arrival in Boston. Sound producer, sound engineer, music orchestrator – when she heard these various paths to making and producing music, her first reaction as a student was to exclaim – “My God – you can do so much in music! “I was amazed that all of these pursuits originated from that same place within – a deep love for music,” she said with visible excitement.  

Apart from these various career paths that opened up in front of her, her musical sense resonated with an understanding of history, migration and acculturation. For instance, she was able to examine Indian music, the music that she was most familiar with, “in a different way.” The Middle Eastern Berklee ensembles, bore the same root as forms of Indian music since they originated in Persia centuries ago, she realized.  She described the Berklee environment as “an explosion” of music from all over the world that stimulated her fertile artistic mind in myriad ways.

As part of the Indian ensemble at Berklee, she took on leadership roles, and helped produce mega shows that involved multiple moving parts in terms of sound design, production and performance. “I gained a lot of confidence as a musician as well, since I was encouraged to sing solo sharing the stage with eminent musicians like Vijay Prakash.” AR Rahman, Shankar Mahadevan and Shreya Ghoshal were the other artists who worked with the students through their work with the Indian ensemble.

Given these multicultural musical influences, it is no surprise that her first collaboration in college was a multicultural one with Olivie Perez, a Spanish pianist.  “We didn’t know each other’s capabilities and slowly we learnt a lot about listening, and through musical sensitivity developed a piece together.” Here’s a clip of their performance together.

Live Performance of ‘Together’ at Berklee Performance Centre in 2015:

Song from an EP released in Dec. 2017:

The name she chose for her first EP – One – reveals the coming together of this growing international musical sensibility within her.  Fittingly, the journey for this EP started in Spain, moved to Kolkata and then came together at Boston. All the music was composed, produced, mixed and recorded by her. Using her ear for music, she has also been working in all aspects related to sound post-production at Slick Sounds in Southern California under David F. Van Slyke, a formidable name in the music business.

Talking of her dream of bringing artists on various paths – dancers, visual artists, writers and musicians within one physical space to create art, Vasundhara seems poised, confident of her unique musical abilities while articulating her vision – something that only artistic leaders can do at such a young age!

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing 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 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, or contact the author at  

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 ( You can reach her at

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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